San Francisco prepares for marijuana legalization

If California legalizes marijuana next year, it remains to be seen whether San Francisco will be prepared.

However, a 22-member task force is in the works to formulate The City’s strategy, as state voters next year will consider legalizing recreational use of the drug.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote in support of the task force during a meeting next week.

“If we don’t formulate policies in advance of legalization, we are going to end up having a chaotic fire drill,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who proposed the task force.

The board’s Rules Committee unanimously supported it Thursday. “Good planning is key here,” Wiener said.

Terrance Alan, co-founder of California Cannabis Voice, said the task force will answer the difficult questions, such where and how people can use the drug.

“I would love to see this task force bring cannabis into every aspect of our economy. I would love to go to the store and have not one but five choices of cannabis-infused shampoo.” He added, “You want to get
a chocolate volcano cake with cannabis frosting; here’s how you do it legally.”

The task force has a diverse membership. There are seven non-voting members who serve in an advisory role, including representatives from police, fire and city planning. The voting members are representative of neighborhood groups, restaurants, hotels, small and large businesses, along with medical and recreational marijuana users. The task force is expected to meet at the end of the summer and spend one year before reporting back to the board on legal, social, land use and enforcement issues.

The task force has its work cut out for them. Marijuana politics have proven to be very challenging in
San Francisco. While medical marijuana dispensaries are legal, strict zoning controls have restricted these businesses to only certain neighborhoods, drawing complaints from all sides of the issue in the past several years.

Fiona Ma, a former supervisor and elected member of the state’s Board of Equalization, which will also have an advisory seat on the task force, has been researching the issue around taxation policies. “Prop. 215 passed 20 years ago. We have not passed one [piece of] state legislation regulating this industry,” Ma said. “Kudos to the industry for setting up all the framework over the past 20 years…to really get to where we are today where in 2016 we are talking about legalization.” Ma said she expected at least two initiatives on the ballot.

Marijuana laws across the nation are in a constant flux as states defy federal law, under which the drug remains illegal. To date, 23 states, the District of Columbia and Guam have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have legalized marijuana similarly to how alcohol is regulated.

Next year, ballot measures for legalizing marijuana is expected to come before voters in other states as well, including Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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