SF Supes Allow Most Pot Clubs To Stay Open

November 15, 2005

Bay City News Service, Fox Reno

In a surprising change of heart, the Board of Supervisors this evening amended and unanimously passed San Francisco's first set of medical marijuana regulations, allowing nearly all of the city's 30-plus clubs to remain open instead of closing or relocating more than a dozen, as initially considered.


"We should all be very proud of what we were able to achieve today," said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, eliciting cheers from a large crowd of people who had come to witness the historic vote.


A vote on the legislation was delayed last month after Bill Barnes, a former aide to Supervisor Chris Daly, filed an appeal, arguing the ordinance would pose a serious problem to marijuana patients, who would be forced to travel significant distances when clubs in their neighborhood closed or moved across town.


Daly had shown support for removing the Planning Department's role in the legislation altogether, arguing that it unfairly pushed most of the clubs into his and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell's districts.


While new clubs and old clubs wanting to relocate will be subject to stricter rules, Daly got part of his wish tonight when supervisors voted to "grandfather" in all clubs in operation prior to April 1. Barnes agreed not to fight the appeal after he heard about the board's decision.


Existing clubs, currently estimated at about 35, would be exempt from all of the city's zoning requirements, but would still have to abide by the legislation's health provisions and state law, which prohibits pot clubs that allow smoking on their premises, from operating within 1,000 feet of schools.


City planner Dan Sider said he could think of two clubs that were in residential areas that would have to close or relocate, and Mirkarimi said there could be an additional two or so clubs that would also have to shut down or move.


Mirkarimi acknowledged that although the legislation would allow most clubs to remain open, it would make it harder for new clubs to come to the city and for existing clubs to relocate. For instance, all new and relocating clubs would have to be at least 1,000 feet away from a school whether there is smoking on the premises or not. Previously, the legislation allowed clubs with no smoking on club grounds, to operate with only a 500-foot buffer from schools.


In addition, the legislation, as amended today, contains stricter provisions for patients, including a maximum cannabis purchase of one ounce, as opposed to the eight ounces previously proposed, although patients could still possess up to eight ounces at a time. Patients would also be allowed to grow only 24 cannabis plants, down from 99 as originally proposed.


All clubs would still have to go through a permit process, first at the Department of Public Health and then at the Planning Commission, where officials could limit hours or create other restrictions based on city recommendations or input from residents.


San Francisco resident Suzi Chang, a medical marijuana patient and activist, said she was thrilled with the legislation's passage and relieved that a very small number of clubs would be forced to close or move.


"I'm very concerned with patient rights," said Chang. "I don't see myself as a criminal. The only thing I do is medicate myself. We are San Francisco, California, are we not? Why are we even fighting about this stuff?"


After the legislation receives secondary approval from the board next week, it will be sent to Mayor Gavin Newsom for his signature.


The mayor's spokesman Peter Ragone said Tuesday that the mayor was pleased with the legislation.


"We feel quite confident that this legislation will become law," he said.


Pot clubs began to bud in San Francisco after California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, allowing patients with permission from a doctor to purchase medical marijuana.


As the number of clubs continued to grow, at one point reaching more than 40, San Francisco enacted a temporary moratorium in March to allow city officials time to draft and adopt regulations.

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