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SF supes ban cannabis businesses in Chinatown

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A man and a woman walk on Grant Street through Chinatown. (Evan DuCharme/2013 S.F. Examiner)

Some attributed it to reefer madness, others to fears of gentrification, but San Francisco banned Tuesday cannabis businesses in and around Chinatown.

The Board of Supervisors voted 8 to 3 to approve legislation banning cannabis-related businesses from the politically influential neighborhood, carving out an exemption from the citywide cannabis regulations enacted late last year under Proposition 64. Mayor London Breed had supported the ban during her campaign.

Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Rafael Mandelman and Vallie Brown opposed the measure.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents Chinatown on the board, said that the ban has broad support in the community. “This is really about paying some respect to a community that wants it, that deserves it,” Peskin said.

The approval came despite a recommendation from the Planning Commission to reject the proposal and criticism from cannabis advocates, who express concern that it would lead to other carve outs and perpetuates misinformation about cannabis. Some members of the Chinese community have called for an outright ban of the industry citywide and characterize the drug as harmful.

SEE RELATED: Supervisors back Chinatown pot ban despite Planning Commission objections

Mandelman said that “it is long past time to bring cannabis out of the shadows and to eliminate the stigma attached to its use.”

Supervisor Ahsha Safai said he viewed the proposal as more about protecting Chinatown from gentrification than about access to cannabis, since there are more than 10 cannabis businesses in the areas outside of but near Chinatown and more than 10 pending applications.

Board president Malia Cohen changed her position on the proposal during the meeting. She started out by first blasting Peskin for proposing the ban but later said she changed her mind.

“I find it not only irresponsible but also wholly inappropriate that any member of this board would take such a NIMBY approach to cannabis regulation. We are better than this,” Cohen said initially. “Not only does it give special treatment but it sets a precedent and it creates an entre to let every supervisor get an exemption in his or her district and I am nervous about that.”

Later, before voting for it, she said she changed her mind after Peskin’s comments. “There is enough access for anyone that wants to consume cannabis,” she said.

In a statement following the vote, Breed thanked “Supervisor Peskin, the residents, merchants and community leaders in Chinatown for their strong and overwhelming advocacy of this legislation.”

“As one of our most historical neighborhoods, we must consider the unique aspects of this community when making decisions,” Breed said.

The ban applies not only to Chinatown but also to its edges and entryway points including a portion of North Beach, such as along segments of Broadway, Columbus Avenue and Kearny streets. It also applies to a portion of Grant Avenue between Bush and California streets and portions of Commercial Street between Montgomery Street and Grant Avenue.

Last year, the ban for Chinatown and other carve outs were proposed as part of regulations to usher in the new era of recreational cannabis but ultimately an agreement was made to not impose special carve outs and treat neighborhoods equally. The Chinatown cannabis ban resurfaced in April when Peskin introduced the proposal.

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