Supervisors draft pot club legislation

June 27, 2005

Justin Jouvenal, San Francisco Examiner

San Francisco's medical marijuana clubs would become the most heavily regulated in the state under comprehensive legislation unveiled Tuesday that requires permits and criminal background checks for owners and bans dispensaries in residential neighborhoods.

It is the first step city officials have taken to impose a regulatory scheme on The City's more than 40 pot clubs since California voters legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 1996 by approving Proposition 215.

The move comes a week after federal agents raided three city medical marijuana clubs for alleged money laundering and gang activity and amid rising concerns about the proliferation of dispensaries around San Francisco.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi drafted a 60-page ordinance, incorporating location, parking, ventilation, hours of operation rules as well as the accuracy of scales for weighing marijuana.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval introduced a more narrowly focused ordinance Tuesday.

Both Mirkarimi and Sandoval want to ban clubs in residential neighborhoods, while placing limitations on proximity to schools and neighborhood centers. Sandoval wants to limit clubs from within 1,000 feet of each other.

Mirkarimi said he wanted to ensure safe access to pot clubs and the privacy of patients and caregivers, while addressing concerns raised by neighborhoods and law enforcement.

'Every level of nuance that has been thought out with other businesses is in this legislation,' Mirkarimi said. 'If we want [medical marijuana] to happen in The City, this is the way to legitimize it.'

The centerpiece of the legislation is a permitting process that all existing and new clubs will have to complete. The ordinance requires clubs to pay a one-time $7,400 application fee and an annual license fee of $2,200.

Pot club applicants would be vetted by the Police Department through criminal background checks, and public hearings on applications to operate would occur. In recent months, some neighborhoods had complained that dispensaries had opened up without any public input or discussion.

Mirkarimi's ordinance received a positive, but guarded, reception from several medical marijuana clubs and advocates.

'Certainly, Ross Mirkarimi has done an admirable job to try to find a way to put in place a system of regulation,' said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. 'We want to make sure they do not impinge on patient access. If it has the affect of making large areas inaccessible — especially when dealing with patients with disabilities — then it becomes problematic.'

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said he would like to see a cap on the number of clubs in The City, something Mirkarimi's legislation does not do.

Since 2002, the number of registered medical marijuana users in San Francisco has increased from 2,200 to more than 7,000 today, according to the Department of Public Health. Mirkarimi's legislation would lift a ban on new clubs that has been in place since April 1.

Highlights of proposed medical marijuana legislation

Mirkarimi legislation:

All clubs would go through a permitting process similar to other businesses that would include criminal background checks for applicants, handicapped accessibility and proper ventilation. Once a permit is granted for a club, the Health Department would hold a public hearing. A $7,400 one-time fee and a $2,200 annual fee will be required to cover application costs.

Clubs would be banned in residential neighborhoods and within 1,000 feet of schools and community centers if marijuana is smoked on the premises. Clubs would not be allowed to locate within 500 feet of drug-treatment programs.

Alcohol could not be sold at clubs and they would not be able to operate between 12 a.m. and 7 a.m.

Patients or caregivers would be allowed to possess one pound of dried marijuana per qualified patient and 12 to 24 marijuana plants at any one time, or a greater amount with a doctor's permission.

Sandoval legislation:

Clubs would be banned in residential neighborhoods but would be permitted elsewhere on conditional use as long as they are 1,000 feet from another club. When issuing permits, city officials would also take into account nearby schools, playgrounds, neighborhood centers and other gathering places.

Dispensaries that open prior to April 1, 2005 would have 12 months to obtain a permit to operate once the legislation is passed.

Clubs could not operate from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.

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