Smoking and selling cannabis at San Francisco events have gone hand-in-hand for decades, but now The City will attempt to regulate it through permits.
Legislation introduced by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman creating the first ever permit for cannabis sales and consumption at events was approved 9-2 Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors. The proposal implements state legislation that took effect Jan. 1, giving cities throughout the state this legal authority.
The Office of Cannabis will administer the permits, which will initially only be available for events that have traditionally involved unpermitted pot smoking and cannabis sales, such as Outside Lands, Hardly Strictly, 420, How Weird, Clusterfest, Carnaval and Pride.
But given the tight timeline, the permits will not, as initially hoped, be ready in time for this year’s 420 event at Hippie Hill, according to Supervisor Vallie Brown, who represents the neighborhood where the event April 20 event occurs. Events also need to obtain state permits.
Supervisors Gordon Mar and Ahsha Safai both opposed the legislation, expressing concerns over the expected consumption of tobacco at the events.
Since state law doesn’t allow consumption of cannabis wherever tobacco smoking is prohibiting and non-smoking laws are pervasive in San Francisco, the legislation allows for a waiver of non-smoking laws for the area and duration of the event.
State regulations require that consumption would have to occur in designated areas only accessible by those aged 21 or over.
“I am concerned about how this may undermine our existing policies and protections from second-smoke exposure,” Mar said. He noted that board has passed 15 different anti-smoking ordinances over the years.
Last week, attorney Lou Ann Bassan, a November 2018 District 4 supervisor candidate who ran against Mar, told a board committee that the legislation “is the height of hypocrisy.”
“All of our government agencies are trying to enforce no smoking, no smoking, no smoking cigarettes,” she said. “Yet you turn around and you want to allow smoking of cannabis at public events.”
But Mandelman said the legislation is simply addressing the smoking that everybody knows is already happening.
“What we are recognizing here is that there are events, and have been for time immemorial, where people have been smoking cannabis,” Mandelman said. “This is a public health life and safety issue. We want to have these events to be legal, permitted, safe.”
He added, “As powerful as the City and County of San Francisco is, the notion that we can dictate that people stop smoking cannabis at 420 or other events is not something that I want to put to the test.”
Safai said that The City had spent a lot of time passing anti-smoking laws and allowing legal consumption areas inside existing cannabis dispensaries. He said it was a “contradiction” to the “policies that we spent a lot of time to put in place to not expose people to secondhand smoke, whether it is tobacco or marijuana.”
Permit applications would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and would require approval by the departments that oversee the event area, such as the Recreation and Parks Department if the event take place in a public park.
Brown said it was unclear how they could permit smoking at this year’s 420 event, which is expected to draw up to 25,000 people, since only those 21 year and old could have access to the area where consumption occurs.
“There just wasn’t enough time to develop the regulatory framework and get everything in place before this year’s event,” Brown said.
She added that she will be issuing notices to attendees not to purchase cannabis from those selling the drug in and around the park. Last year, she said, people were hospitalized after using cannabis laced with fentanyl.
“We’re asking everyone to please tell their constituents and friends to buy their cannabis from legal dispensaries before coming to 420,” Brown said.
Supporters of the legislation have highlighted the challenges around legal consumption spaces since recreational cannabis use was legalized by state voters beginning January 2018.
Bram Goodwin, a photographer and founder San Francisco Social Club, a cannabis social club, told the board committee that The City needs to “continue along this path” of increasing legal consumption areas.
“A lot of people cannot smoke at home because of the restrictions on smoking,” Goodwin said. “We need more consumption places. If you go to the ones in the city they are totally crowded and they bump you out. Why? Because there’s not enough places.”
Permit fees depend on the number of people who attend the event, ranging from $500 for under 500 people to $3,000 for more than 2,500 people.
The City intends to open up the permits to all events as early as January 2020.