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SF tries to put cannabis laws ‘back on track’ ahead of legalization

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San Francisco residents show support for a 600-foot buffer between schools and cannabis outlets on Monday at a Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Despite a five-hour hearing Monday in which members of the Board of Supervisors acknowledged a stricter regulation patchwork proposed last week moved San Francisco in the wrong direction, The City’s future weed laws remain hazy.

While some progress was made, the toughest planning decisions remain unresolved such as how far from schools The City should allow cannabis outlets — 600 feet or 1,000 feet — and whether the distance requirement should also apply to child care centers.

The debate will resume Nov. 13 as negotiations continue, following Monday’s hearing before the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee.

SEE RELATED: Wiener warns proposed SF cannabis restrictions will ‘kill off’ industry

There appears to be at least some agreement about allowing current medical cannabis dispensaries to apply for a temporary permit with the Office of Cannabis to begin selling recreational use cannabis on Jan 1, under an amendment proposed by Supervisor Jeff Sheehy.

The temporary permits could be appealed to the Board of Appeals. There are about 46 MCDs, with 16 delivery services, and seven in the approval process.

SEE RELATED: How to grow legalized cannabis industry in SF hotly debated

Meanwhile, the board’s Rules Committee will discuss today administrative regulations, including possibly tying recreational permits to the entity that applies for them and not to the actual building. There are concerns that once a permit is granted a landlord will evict tenants every time someone with deeper pockets can pay higher rents, as has been seen at past dispensary sites.

The board is running up against the clock, with recreational use to become legal throughout the state on Jan. 1.

Last week, the Land Use Committee voted to increase the distance required between schools and cannabis outlets from the proposed 600 feet to 1,000 feet, and discussed other regulations that would make it more difficult to open a cannabis outlet than it currently stands today to open medical cannabis dispensaries.

That had led to a backlash from supporters of recreational cannabis. State Sen. Scott Wiener, a former San Francisco supervisor, posted on Facebook a statement that the board’s increased regulations would “kill off” the industry.

In addition to the distance increase, members of the board also proposed bans or caps for the neighborhoods they represent.

But on Monday the board pivoted with both board President London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin addressing the direction the board took last week.

“We have to dial things back. We can’t develop good policy focusing on a district-by-district approach,” Breed said.

She added that the state took a step forward on cannabis with the passage of Prop. 64 legalizing recreational cannabis, but “some of what is being discussed here at the board is really taking a step backwards.”

Part of the challenge is a segment of the Asian community regularly opposes medical dispensaries and are turning up at public hearings to call for tougher regulations. They view the drug as harmful and worry about it adversely impacting their children.

Peksin called this demographic’s opposition the “elephant in the room,” but also spoke about the need to be “culturally sensitive” with regulations.

“It is not about pushing away a business, it is also about respecting the cultural values of some members of our city,” Peskin said.

But some were critical of respecting the desires of opponents who’d prefer not to have any cannabis in their neighborhoods.

“I object to the characterization of their opposition as cultural,” said Sonja Trauss, head of the pro-development group SF-BARF and a district 6 supervisor candidate.

“The science is very clear. When I hear their rhetoric it’s like being back in the ‘80s. You don’t have to respect clearly disproved scientific theories,” Trauss said.

Members of the board defended the desire for limits along commercial corridors.

Peskin said that “retail gentrification” was a worry with the big money behind cannabis that could lead to increased rents and evictions.

“I do have concerns about a green rush,” Peskin said. “If you end up with too many [cannabis retailers] coming to a neighborhood that already has those pressures you might you might end up inadvertently killing things you love.”

Supervisor Jane Kim said that having neighborhood limits on cannabis is not about opposing the drug.

“We want to make sure we have a diversity of retail businesses in our all of neighborhoods,” Kim said. “It’s not that we think cannabis is bad and that’s why we are putting a cap on it.”

What the balance is, however, continues to remain the focus of the debate.

The committee technically duplicated the cannabis regulation legislation, which was introduced by Mayor Ed Lee with the support of Sheehy.

One version was loaded up with the toughest restrictions discussed by board members, and another version without them. That way the board can continue to negotiate without delays since adding requirements prompts additional meetings but decreasing them doesn’t.

“We are a little bit off track and I wanted to get us back on track,” Peskin said at the start of Monday’s hearing.

Just how “back on track” The City is will be determined by whether they can pass regulations with broad support to go into effect by Jan 1.

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