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SF to launch cannabis oversight committee to monitor industry

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A jar of cannabis sits on the counter inside The Apothecarium on Lombard Street in San Francisco. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Ten months after San Francisco permitted retail sales of cannabis, officials are developing plans for a new committee to assess how the regulations are working.

The Cannabis Oversight Committee, proposed by Supervisor Sandra Fewer, is intended to examine the work being done by the Office of Cannabis, gauge the effectiveness of existing regulations and make sure those hardest hit by the War of Drugs are benefiting through retail permits and living wage jobs.

One of the more glaring issues is that The City has yet to approve permits for applicants impacted by the War on Drugs under the cannabis equity program established as part of The City’s recreational cannabis regulations, as the San Francisco Examiner previously reported.

The City allowed existing medical dispensaries to use temporary permits to start selling retail cannabis, which they did beginning in January, but has not issued any new permits.

One reason cited for the delay is the heavy workload for the three-person staff in the Office of Cannabis charged with doing all the permitting and regulating.

City Administrator Naomi Kelly, who oversees the office, acknowledged the staffing issues in an Oct. 2 letter to the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee opposing the creation of the Cannabis Oversight Committee proposed by Supervisor Sandra Fewer.

Kelly said the proposal would create increased responsibilities for the Office of Cannabis to provide “extensive data” and reporting, without added funding. Those concerns were subsequently addressed, however, and she no longer opposes Fewer’s proposal.

But in the letter she notes that “with a workload of over 260 permit applications, implementation and further development of the Equity Program, coordination of city enforcement activities, advocacy around state related matters, and community outreach, the continued and growing responsibilities of the Office of Cannabis have already left the three member staff with a workload that has stretched them thin.”

Kelly said in the letter that she is working “to address the current and temporary staffing needs in next year’s budget submission.”

The Rules Committee approved the legislation Wednesday creating the Cannabis Oversight Committee, and the full board will vote on it Oct. 16.

Fewer identified Department of Public Health funding to help fund the committee and amended the legislation to require the City Administrator to provide administrative and policy support, not the Office of Cannabis as initially proposed.

The committee would be charged with overseeing the work of the Office of Cannabis and making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors and mayor on changes to the regulations. It would provide basic tracking details on permits issued, how long it takes to issue permits, number of employees a permit holder has and their pay rate and demographics.

The committee would also evaluate how effective the equity program is in “fostering equitable access to participation in the cannabis industry and providing assistance to communities unfairly burdened by the War on Drugs” and recommend changes to regulations “to maximize the creation of living wage jobs and economic opportunities for communities hit hardest by the War on Drugs.”

Fewer had initially proposed creating a city commission which would have more powers over permitting and personnel in the Office of Cannabis, but instead opted for the committee after the industry pushed back.

“We really want to hear on the ground, is it working?” Fewer said. “Does it need amendments? How should we amend this? How should we meet the needs of our equity applicants?”

The committee would have nine voting members and five non-voting members, with representation of labor unions, cannabis business owners, equity applicants and workforce training and medical cannabis patients.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai said that “the time for this is right.”

“There is still a lot of unanswered questions,” Safai aid. “I receive a lot of inquiries, concern and feedback from equity applicants. Also patient advocates.”

Fewer said she hoped to have the oversight committee established by Jan. 1. An initial report would be due within six months of its inaugural meeting.

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