SF Supervisors postpone vote on pot club limits

October 18, 2005

Rachel Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle

 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering a crackdown on medicinal pot clubs with proposed regulations that, if passed, would force some existing shops to close.

The board tightened proposed regulations on the clubs Tuesday but stopped short of adopting the new rules, which for the first time would put the dispensaries under city purview.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who has taken the lead on the legislation, walked into the board's weekly meeting thinking he could strike a deal that could win majority support among his colleagues. But hours later, after a series of amendments were adopted and rejected, the board opted to delay a vote on the final proposal for a week.

"We plowed through a lot today, but we're not done sculpting what will be an historic piece of legislation,'' said Mirkarimi.

Several operators of pot clubs complained that the proposed rules are too restrictive and would put them out of business. And there are those, primarily neighbors of some of the clubs, who are intent on doing just that.

Still, Mirkarimi voiced optimism that regulations would be adopted, and aides to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who supports medicinal marijuana but called for city regulation of the dispensaries, said the proposal was moving on the right track.

As now drafted, the proposed regulations would:

-- Require medical marijuana clubs, including those already in business, to obtain a permit to operate from the Department of Public Health. The Planning Commission would hold a hearing on each request as part of a discretionary review process, and could attach conditions, such as hours of operation and good-neighbor policies, on the permits.

In addition, the Fire Department and the Police Department would have to sign off on the permits. The Planning Commission's decision could be appealed to the city's Board of Appeals, a panel whose members are appointed by the mayor and the Board of Supervisors.

Operators would have 18 months to apply for a permit. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd's proposal to shorten the period to six months was rejected.

-- Limit to half-pound a day the amount a person with an official medical marijuana card -- which is issued to caregivers and patients -- could obtain from any one club a day. Mirkarimi originally proposed limiting the amount to a pound, but relented at the request of the mayor.

-- Prohibit the medicinal cannabis dispensaries from operating within 500 feet of schools. The prohibition would be extended to 1,000 feet for clubs that allow marijuana to be smoked on the premises. Clubs also could not be located on the same parcel as a substance abuse treatment program.

-- Forbid operation of the clubs in residential areas. They still would be allowed in certain commercial districts, such as those found downtown and in segments of the Sunset, the Haight, the Richmond, the Marina and the South of Market.

At the urging of Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who represents Bayview-Hunters Point and surrounding areas in the southeast sector, the board agreed to ban the clubs in industrial areas, which are located in her district. After that was done, Supervisor Chris Daly won approval of an amendment to add portions of South of Market to the no-club zone, fearing that the area he represents would be saturated.

-- At the request of Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, require the clubs to be wheelchair-accessible.

-- Mandate that advertisements for the clubs highlight the fact that only people with official medical marijuana identification cards can buy from them.

City officials estimate that there are 35 medical pot clubs now operating in San Francisco. The city has become a magnet for such establishments as other cities and counties have cracked down. For example, Alameda County sanctions only four clubs to operate within its boundaries.

San Francisco's pending plan would not have a cap, but the restrictions on location would surely dampen the number.

As the dispensaries began to proliferate in San Francisco -- the number surpassed 40 at one point, more than any other city in the United States -- they were opening in residential neighborhoods and elsewhere without regulation. Some neighbors have complained that the clubs mask illegal drug-dealing and cause quality-of-life nuisances around the premises.

Newsom and the Board of Supervisors imposed a temporary moratorium on new clubs in March until regulations are adopted. The moratorium is set to expire next month.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano urged his colleagues to move forward, to make sure medical marijuana will be available for people who need it. "It makes me weary that we're nit-picking this issue,'' he said.

California voters approved a measure in 1996 permitting marijuana use for medical purposes. More than 8,000 people hold city-issued medical marijuana cards in the city. Federal authorities have held firm, however, that medical marijuana clubs are operating in violation of U.S. law.

E-mail Rachel Gordon at rgordon@sfchronicle.com.



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