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Legal cannabis sales begin Monday in California, but not in SF

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The historic moment of legal marijuana sales begins today in cities throughout California, but San Francisco shops must wait at least until next weekend to begin selling the drug. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

The historic moment of legal marijuana sales begins Monday in cities throughout California, but those in San Francisco will have to wait until at least next weekend to buy recreational weed.

A number of San Francisco’s existing medical dispensaries are working through both City Hall’s Office of Cannabis and the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control to obtain approval to begin selling the drug to adults over 21.

Businesses need to obtain both a state license and local approval before that happens. None have yet.

Because the Board of Supervisors did not approve legislation regulating recreational cannabis sales until Dec. 5, the law won’t take effect locally until Jan. 6 — the earliest sales can begin.

The board had stumbled in meeting the Jan. 1 milestone amid significant political pressure from a segment of the Chinese community, who took an anti-cannabis stance and showed up en mass at City Hall to urge strict regulations — and even for The City to ban weed altogether. Ultimately, the board crafted rules to the satisfaction of the cannabis industry, such as by reducing the distance cannabis outlets must be from schools from 1,000 feet to 600 feet.

It was unclear Friday if retail sales will begin Jan. 6. Nicole Elliott, the Office of Cannabis director, said it’s possible — but not certain.

“The City is working hard to prepare operators for temporary adult use sales as early as Jan. 6 and we are reviewing operators’ security plans, good neighbor policies and equity plans at this time,” Elliott told the San Francisco Examiner.

She said not until she gives the approval can state licenses be officially granted to local shops, but dispensaries can go through the two approval processes concurrently.

Many already are.

The rollout has had at least one mixup. The state granted the first adult use cannabis sales permit in San Francisco to Flower Power Dispensary at 70th Second St., which was confirmed by Alex Traverso, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Cannabis Control.

That news, however, came as a surprise to Elliott, who said she hadn’t authorized any dispensaries to receive state licenses to sell retail cannabis and that “it will be undone.”

Sure enough, later that day, what was the first adult use retail cannabis license granted in San Francisco was revoked. “The adult use license was issued in error,” Traverso said in an email after being asked to respond to Elliott’s comment. “We’ve revoked the adult use license for now, pending city approval.”

Flower Power did not respond to requests for comment.

Elliott provided the Examiner with a list of 20 medical dispensaries that are furthest along in the local approval process to begin selling retail cannabis.

They include the three locations of The Apothecarium.

“We are hoping to start recreational sales at The Apothecarium’s Castro, SoMa and Marina stores on January 6,” Eliot Dobris, The Apothecarium’s spokesperson, said Friday. “We are hopeful that at least one of them will be permitted for recreational sales on January 6. However, like other San Francisco dispensaries, we are still waiting to receive our city permits.”

He added The Apothecarium has planned a promotion on Jan. 6 to celebrate the historic moment. There will be a 20 percent discount off one’s purchase if they bring their mother. “We want people to know that The Apothecarium is a safe and friendly place where you can feel comfortable bringing your mother,” Dobris said.

The City is most immediately focused on existing dispensaries starting to sell recreational cannabis. But The City will also soon start allowing new outlets to open, but only through an equity program meant to provide redress for the impacts of the war on drugs. To be considered for the equity program, applicants must meet certain criteria, such as having been arrested for cannabis crimes.

Applications for these new business are not yet available. “We are seeking to make applications available in the first quarter of 2018,” Elliott said.

Former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, California’s current lieutenant governor running for governor, said in a Dec. 21 tweet that, “Legalizing marijuana is, at its core, about criminal justice reform.”

He wrote, “It’s about ending the failed war on drugs and fixing a broken system that has disproportionately affected low-income and minority communities.”

The new era of legal cannabis officially begins Monday, after voters approved Proposition 64 last year. Statewide, the cannabis industry is expected to have more than $7 billion in sales annually and generate an estimated $1 billion in tax revenues. The industry is also expected to serve as a growing job sector.

The City is exploring creating a job-training program similar to the one it has for construction work to help residents gain employment in the cannabis industry, such as in retail, back office and manufacturing.

“We will leverage our robust training programs we offer today in hospitality, healthcare, and construction to train and connect residents to new jobs in the cannabis industry,” said Katherine Daniel, a deputy director with the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “Like any emerging sector we will look for opportunities to create new or additional training to better prepare residents for these jobs.”

As of Friday morning, the Bureau of Cannabis Control said it had issued 174 permits for cannabis operations throughout the state, including for medical, adult use retail, distribution and micro-businesses. There were 691 pending applications.

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