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Citywide moratorium on medical pot shops recommended at SF Planning Commission

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The outside of Cookies SF medical cannabis dispensary in the Excelsior District. Supervisor Ahsha Safai’s proposal would prevent new medical canniabis shops from opening in the Excelsior, though commissioners prefer a temporary citywide moratorium. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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The Planning Commission recommended a citywide moratorium on new medical cannabis dispensaries on Thursday, while one supervisor is moving forward with legislation to ban the shops from opening in his district.

The recommendation for a sweeping moratorium will be heard on Monday when a Board of Supervisors committee votes on a proposal from Supervisor Ahsha Safai to ban new medical cannabis dispensaries in the Excelsior.

Dispensaries would be permanently prevented from opening in just one of the 11 districts in San Francisco under Safai’s proposal. Planning commissioners preferred a temporary ban on new dispensaries in all districts until citywide rules for regulating the recreational use of marijuana come into effect next year.

“If you isolate one district, it all of a sudden makes the remaining 10 hot spots,” said Commissioner Rodney Fong. “Then, it’s a race for other supervisors to follow your lead … and the last district standing is actually in a difficult position.”

Last week, the Planning Commission had to decide whether to approve the opening of a hotly contested medical marijuana dispensary in the Sunset when the owner said he wanted to use the space to sell weed for recreational use in the future. San Francisco will issue permits for businesses to sell weed recreationally next year.

“Deciding on the legislation as it is in front of us is something that leaves the rest of the city stranded,” Commissioner Kathrin Moore said of Safai’s proposal. “It does not help us at all because we will continue to have the same difficulties as we had in many other instances in the past few months.”

Safai, who said he will not amend his proposal to a citywide moratorium, argued on Thursday that there are already enough pot shops in the Excelsior to serve the medical needs of the neighborhood.

“When you put so many in one area, it begins to have additional externalities,” said Safai. “It begins to degrade the quality of life.”

There are three dispensaries in District 11 and two more within reach of the Excelsior on Ocean Avenue, according to Safai. In comparison, Moore said there are 13 dispensaries in District 6, which includes the Tenderloin and South of Market.

“If you’re at the corner of, let’s say, Seneca and Mission, or Silver and Mission, and go around the corner, you’re on someone’s doorstep or someone’s driveway,” Safai said. “Versus Ninth and Mission or 10th and Mission, where there’s a large clustering of MCDs in South of Market, it doesn’t have the same type of impact on the neighbors.”

Commissioner Myrna Melgar said she was anxious about the single-neighborhood ban with new legislation on the recreational use of marijuana expected to reach the Board of Supervisors by September.

“I am very concerned about the distribution and the equity,” Melgar said. “My fear is that it will put pressure on other districts that don’t have as much political power or representation.”

The Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee will vote on Safai’s proposal on Monday, which is expected to reach the full board the following day.

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