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SF commission supports farther than proposed distance between cannabis shops, schools

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The current 1,000-foot green zone has raised concerns about the clustering of dispensaries in certain neighborhoods. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Three years after recommending San Francisco allow medical marijuana dispensaries to open closer to schools, the Planning Commission has voted to maintain the 1,000-foot buffer between cannabis and kids.

The commission recommended last Thursday that San Francisco keep the 1,000-foot buffer rather than reduce the distance to 600 feet under proposed regulations for medical and recreational cannabis that the Board of Supervisors will decide on in the next two months.

The 1,000-foot buffer has caused medical cannabis dispensaries to cluster in certain areas of The City called green zones, where pot shops are permitted to open and have raised concerns for opening too close together in neighborhoods including the Excelsior.

Relaxing the buffer to 600 feet would expand the green zone throughout most of the commercial parts of San Francisco, increasing opportunity for new dispensaries to sell marijuana for medicinal or recreational use next year. The 600-foot buffer is the minimum distance required by state law.

Planning Commission President Rich Hillis, who voted with Commissioner Joel Koppel in support of the shorter distance between pot shops and schools, pointed to the “problems” the 1,000 foot-buffer has caused.

“We have seen the kind of clustering that comes from 1,000 feet now,” said Hillis said. “We actually recommended that the Board reduce to 600 and they didn’t take it up.”

In March 2014, the Planning Commission recommended the 600-foot buffer to the Board of Supervisors to expand the green zone.

City planner Aaron Starr told the commission the proposed expansion of the green zone under the 600-foot buffer would be “quite substantial.”

“What we do know after 12 years of having the MCD buffer of 1,000 feet is that it’s too limiting,” Starr said. “We’re finding MCDs locating only within a few neighborhoods and not enough space in other neighborhoods to locate.”

But Planning Commissioner Rodney Fong argued that the commission should “consider the youth” after masses of Sunset residents spoke out against medical cannabis dispensaries in recent months out of concern for children.

“The comments that we heard … were largely focused on the youth and not so much about the clustering piece,” Fong said. “While they do go hand-in-hand, for this particular area, for the west side of The City, the youth and access for the youth and the distance from the youth is the real number one, top priority.”

In July, the Planning Commission cleared the Apothecarium to open on Noriega Street despite concerns from elderly Asian neighbors, but the Board of Supervisors upheld an appeal of the decision earlier this month.

The commission later approved another dispensary, the Barbary Coast Collective, on Irving Street Oct. 12.

The commission is scheduled to vote on two more dispensary proposals Thursday before the new cannabis regulations are in place.

Marijuana consumption

The distance between schools and pot shops is just one of the issues that the Board of Supervisors is expected to discuss later this year.

Cannabis advocates have raised concerns about the regulation of consumption in the proposal. Marijuana users would only be allowed to smoke, vaporize or eat cannabis at the eight medicinal dispensaries that are already permitted for on-site consumption.

“This, plus the requirement that all consumption take place in areas that are not visible to the public means that cannabis is still being relegated to dark back rooms,” Ben Bleiman and Duncan Ley, co-chairs of the California Music and Culture Association, wrote in an Oct. 18 letter to city officials.

“If San Francisco is going to embrace the cannabis industry, these consumption restrictions will stand firmly in the way of normalization,” the letter continues.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the proposed regulations for cannabis before next year.

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