Newsom offers plan to regulate pot clubs
April 21, 2005
Rachel Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle
With the number of known medical marijuana clubs in San Francisco now up to 43, Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed on Thursday a number of regulations he hopes will 'address legitimate neighborhood concerns regarding the location, proliferation and security of these dispensaries.''
The recommendations -- many already outlined in state law pertaining to medical marijuana -- range from forbidding the clubs to operate within 1,000 feet of places where young people congregate, such as playgrounds and schools, to requiring that operators adhere to good-neighbor policies.
The mayor wants to make sure no one drinks alcohol on the premises, that minimum security, ventilation and lighting standards are maintained, and that enforcement procedures are put in place to assure that no one is selling or buying the controlled substance in violation of Proposition 215, the California law approved by voters in 1996 that sanctioned medical marijuana for qualified patients.
Dispensaries would have to open their books to city inspectors to verify that they're operating as a not-for-profit business cooperative or collective, as required by the state, and that only primary caregivers and authorized patients are buying the marijuana.
Advocates may fight that provision for fear federal authorities could seize those records in a raid. The U.S. government and federal courts have held that cannabis, even if used for medicinal purposes, is illegal.
Another Newsom recommendation: Prospective operators would be required to notify neighbors of their intent to open a club, and the Planning Department would have to OK the operation.
The closest municipal regulation pertaining to medicinal marijuana clubs the city now has on its books is the requirement that operators secure a building permit if the existing use of the property needs to be changed. However, only a handful of the dispensaries have complied.
'The fact is,'' said Newsom, who described himself as a strong proponent of medical marijuana, 'we're the one county left to our knowledge in the state (with) multiple marijuana dispensaries that has no regulations whatsoever.''
Among the issues still to be worked out is which agency or agencies would be in charge of regulation, and whether a special operating license would be imposed on the clubs in part to raise the money to pay for enforcement.
Many of the proposed restrictions would have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors; the mayor could enact a handful of others through executive fiat.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who has taken an active interest in the issue, called Newsom's plan a 'good generic outline'' that needs to be fleshed out.
'It's a starting point, and it presents an early forecast that we're all leaning in the same direction,'' said Mirkarimi, who also has been devising regulations. 'It's really at the level of legislative minutiae when there may be disagreement.''
Newsom, for instance, suggests banning clubs from operating within 500 feet of one another; some on the board may push to allow closer proximity to keep some existing clubs from having to close or move.
Mirkarimi is holding a City Hall hearing Monday to kick-start public discussion on the city's options.
In late March, the Board of Supervisors and the mayor imposed a 45-day moratorium on new pot clubs, which have been sprouting in the city with eye- popping speed -- including a few new ones between the time the moratorium was proposed and enacted. City officials wanted the timeout to keep more clubs from opening while they craft regulations. Newsom wants the moratorium, which expires May 15, extended.
Less than two years ago, there were fewer than 20 dispensaries in the city, but when Oakland and surrounding cities and counties set their own limits, San Francisco became a magnet.
'I think regulations could do nothing but help us,'' said Chris Montana, who operates the Love Shack medical cannabis club in the Mission, which serves about 200 clients a day and has a reputation of working well with neighbors and adhering to strict, self-imposed operating rules.
'Right now, some of the clubs are having problems,'' Montana said. 'Maybe some of them are in it just for the money, or for some illegal purpose. With regulations, they'll have a harder time getting into the system.''