Days before a pivotal vote on San Francisco’s recreational cannabis regulations, political tensions grew higher Wednesday with dueling rallies as one group of elected officials called for less restrictions and another group of Asian residents demanded an outright ban.
The Board of Supervisors is debating the regulations, with the biggest point of contention being where to allow cannabis outlets to open in San Francisco, as legal cannabis goes into effect statewide on Jan. 1.
Recent proposals to ban or limit the outlets in some areas, and to keep them 1,000 feet away from schools and possibly day care centers — which would make it more difficult to find a space to open a cannabis outlet than it is today — has recreational cannabis supporters fuming.
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State Sen. Scott Wiener joined local Democratic Party Chair David Campos, former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano along with supervisors Hillary Ronan, Jeff Sheehy and Malia Cohen at a rally on the steps of City Hall to urge regulations that would let the industry thrive. Namely, that would mean no neighborhood bans and a 600-foot buffer around K-12 schools.
“We cannot let a very boisterous vocal minority of individuals decide for the rest of The City that this industry should not be here,” Campos said.
That “vocal minority” held a rally outside of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s offices at 1 Post St. in downtown San Francisco an hour after the rally on the steps of City Hall. The drug remains illegal under federal law.
“We want her to take leadership in arresting people growing marijuana in San Francisco. We want her to close down all the shops that sell marijuana and we want her to put all those workers in jail,” Richard Ow, 87, a Chinatown resident and retired postal worker, shouted into a megaphone among a group of about 30 Asian residents holding signs opposing cannabis.
Ow told the San Francisco Examiner that he believes cannabis is as harmful as cigarettes to smoke and will lead to more driving accidents.
The rally was organized by the San Francisco Community Empowerment Center’s Ellen Zhou, a community organizer, and executive director Teresa Duque, who unsuccessfully ran in November 2010 in the District 10 Board of Supervisors race.
The center is a nonprofit that primarily serves Chinese residents and has received city funding. It is located in the Portola neighborhood and provides such services as English language lessons, classes to pass the U.S. citizenship exam and job training.
Zhou declined to give her last name to the Examiner but it is listed in the email address she used to send out the rally information.
“For The City to have risky business is not acceptable next to children and youth centers,” Zhou said. “Every life matters. Every culture matters. It is not acceptable for Mayor Ed Lee to ignore the children’s voice, the parent’s voice.”
Duque told the Examiner that the opposition is a “safety reason.”
“I do have friends that took marijuana and they feel very excited,” Duque said. She also said the businesses would attract crime. “Asian people, you look at the women, they are mostly very tiny. They are the targets of crime.”
Such comments are what recreational cannabis backers liken to the “reefer madness” propaganda of the 1930s that depicted the drug as dangerous and evil.
San Francisco has long been a cannabis leader. In the 1980s and 1990s the drug brought valuable health benefits to those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who along with the mayor, introduced the legislation to regulate recreational cannabis, became a medical cannabis patient after he was diagnosed with HIV in 1997.
“I take real offense at the lies that have come out around having cannabis near where kids are. It’s simply the big lie of this whole debate,” Sheehy said at the City Hall rally.
Matt Haney, a school board member and a District 6 Board of Supervisors candidate, also denounced the opponents’ bringing of children into the debate.
“We cannot have a situation where our young people, our students are being used as political ploys in fear mongering when the reality is that there is zero evidence that cannabis businesses are dangerous to our schools or our students,” Haney said.
Cohen said the existing limited areas where medical cannabis dispensaries can locate have proven unsuccessful by pushing them into clusters in only a few neighborhoods. “It is deeply concerning that the alarmist and misinformed rhetoric appears to be driving the decision making,” she said.
Ammiano, a longtime advocate of medical cannabis, said that while it appeared the board was moving The City backward, the recent outpouring against the tougher restrictions seems to be having an effect.
“I think because of our pushing back — and I compliment all of us for speaking out — I think we are finally getting some traction,” Ammiano said.
The board’s Land Use Committee is expected to vote Monday on the regulations.
Campos said that if The City fails to pass appropriate regulations he was prepared to support a ballot measure and then “voters of San Franciso can do what this building, at least until now, has failed to do.”