One of America’s original legal medical cannabis markets, San Francisco, has passed regulations that should see the city’s cannabis operators be able to sell marijuana to all adults over the age of 21 starting Jan. 5.
A 10-1 vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week sealed the fate of legal cannabis in the city, after hope had begun to run thin with only one page left on the calendar before statewide sales are set to start on Jan. 1.
If Mayor Ed Lee approves the cannabis regulations quickly, 40 pre-approved dispensaries in the city could begin selling recreational cannabis at midnight on Jan. 5.
Prior to the vote, advocates staged a press conference and rally across the street from City Hall. While supporters were happy with the whole package before the board, they showed up to express particular support for the planned equity program that would see San Francisco issue cannabis permits to those whose had been most disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system’s war on marijuana. The rally was led by Nina Parks, co-founder of Supernova, an organization dedicated to women of color in the cannabis industry. As she spoke to the crowd outside City Hall, Parks pushed for a differentiation between storefront and non-storefront regulations in the equity program, because storefronts have a community impact, whereas delivery hubs do not.
As advocates crossed the road to enter City Hall, they discovered that they’d been beaten to the punch. San Francisco’s official anti-weed team, The Pacific Justice Institute, had arrived hours in advance of the meeting to pack the house. The Pacific Justice Institute was able to occupy all the main rows in the room, and only a few lucky cannabis folks — including Parks — were able to stand at the room’s back wall.
However, both cannabis supporters and detractors alike had to wait over two hours for the Board of Supervisors to complete the great semantics of parliamentary procedure, conduct an awards ceremony and resolve the Presidio Terrace scandal, concerning city ownership of a road in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Finally, the board got to the good stuff.
City officials voted on regulations that were very close to what had been crafted over the past two years by the city’s legalization task force. The task force — made up of city officials, dispensary owners and other advocates — has been seen as a preemptive strike, instituted in expectation of a successful legalization bid on the California ballot in 2016. In reality, the task force needed the head start to give the city just enough time.
All-star pot activist and industry lawyer, Jesse Stout — who has been on the task force since its inception — clarified that city is looking at a Jan. 5 start-date instead of Jan. 1 because of complicated legislative timelines.
Stout explained that the Board of Supervisors has to hold a second reading of the regulations and vote on them before the mayor can sign off.
“We’re expecting on Tuesday they’ll vote on it again, they’ll pass it,” said Stout. “Worst case we’re expecting it will have a veto-proof majority of at least eight. Then the mayor will have no reason to veto it cause they can override his veto anyway.”
Therefore, the earliest the mayor could sign off on the cannabis regulations is immediately after the vote on Dec. 5.
Stout mentioned one more complication that he thinks people aren’t taking into consideration. When they receive an application for a cannabis business, state regulators ask the city whether the business’s permit is valid and the city has ten days to get back to them.
“When people are saying Jan. 5, they are assuming that the city office of cannabis will apply immediately with the confirmation, however, it’s possible they could take a minute,” Stout said.
“They do have up to 10 days,” Stout said. “But if the city preemptively sends a list to the state there will be no delay.”
Stout said that the few things he was happiest to see in the final ordinance were the fact that the city’s proposed adult-use market will not have a major impact on the city’s decades-old medical cannabis market. In Stout’s opinion, the only difference will be at the cash register and he says the process for a dispensary to go from medical to both medical and recreational looks pretty streamlined.
Stout also was very supportive of the zoning changes for land use. The city moved from its previous buffer zone of 1000 feet around schools and daycare providers to 600ft from schools, which Stout called improvements in both definition and proximity. “Tuesday was a big day for San Francisco’s green zone,” said Stout. He also noted that in other cities and counties these kinds of restrictions had been placed on all kinds of businesses, but in San Francisco, they are only being placed on retail establishments, “but everybody else in the supply chain can operate regardless of their proximity to schools.”
Finally, Stout’s favorite thing in the regulations was the equity program and the fact that there is a “thorough and fair criteria for who can be an equity permittee.” Stout said it looks like the first two dozen permits after the dispensary permits will be equity permits and then there will be a one to one ratio with regular permits being issued after that.
Stout said that the regulations the Board of Supervisors passed were “very close” to the recommendations of the task force.
“For instance, we said 500 feet from a school because that’s what we do for tobacco retailers,” Stout said. “The board went with 600 feet, and that’s pretty close.” He also noted the equity program recommendations were a bit different when it came to definitions but, “it was still the same basic underlying framework.”
We also reached out to task force member Sara Payan, the director of education at famed SF dispensary The Apothecarium, to get her take on the vote.
“I believe the final package reflects the fact that we are still far from the normalization of cannabis in our state,” Payan said. “I appreciate all of the work that went into the regulations and recognize that we have a lot of work to do in the future. I hope that as the state engages with the industry it will see we need to make shifts to make the market more affordable and accessible for both consumers and entrepreneurs. Like it has been said before, it’s just a plant.”
TELL US, do you think San Francisco will be ready by Jan. 5?