The countdown for the legalization of recreational cannabis is on, with only 54 days until Proposition 64 takes effect. But will San Francisco be ready?
We might be known for our progressive and forward-thinking policies, but in recent weeks, there has been a stream of misinformation being thrown about by anti-cannabis forces in hopes of poisoning what should be a new, positive economic sector in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors has been reacting to this negativity and offering some stringent regulations that, if adopted, will strangle this nascent industry.
The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has convened a coalition that includes the San Francisco Travel Association, the Council of District Merchants, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and the California Music and Culture Association, along with cannabis industry leaders and policy advocates who believe that San Francisco should be at the forefront of the statewide effort to implement responsible adult use of cannabis.
The board needs to refocus on treating cannabis businesses as actual businesses with realistic regulations, not rules that make it functionally impossible to operate. This is a new industry, and we need to address its unique characteristics as we create a legal framework. But at the end of the day, these are business owners trying to hire employees, sell their services or products, contribute to their community and pay their taxes like every other business in San Francisco.
There are several issues that must be addressed as the Board of Supervisors tackles this topic in the weeks to come.
Most importantly, on Jan. 1, 2018, San Francisco’s cannabis businesses need to be able to operate legally and successfully. This includes all elements of the supply chain, from cultivators and labs to dispensaries to retail. It’s imperative that San Francisco have a permitting process in place, otherwise our existing local cannabis businesses will be in a position where it’s illegal for them to operate.
We need to have reasonable “Green Zones,” where cannabis retailers can conduct business, if we are to reduce clustering and meet demand that will certainly exist in every neighborhood. The state has recommended that dispensaries be 600 feet from schools — a reasonable buffer to address concerns from those who don’t want dispensaries near schools. But there is discussion about extending this to 1,000 feet and adding childcares in addition to schools, which many consider to be overkill. Although well-intended, adding a buffer around childcare facilities that take care of children ages 0-5 is not protecting anyone from access to cannabis. This is really just a backdoor way of limiting neighborhood commercial access for this business.
We also must address consumption, as people must have safe spaces designated to use cannabis that also don’t negatively impact the quality of life of other residents. We have places where it is legal to consume alcohol, and for that reason we (mostly) do not see people drinking while walking down the street. We need the same for cannabis. What we do not want is an ordinance that results, for lack of other options, in an increase in cannabis smoking on public sidewalks, parks and plazas, which is exactly what state law is trying to avoid. The city of Denver enacted a consumption pilot program ordinance that the Board of Supervisors should consider as a model for San Francisco.
The vast majority of San Franciscans expect our elected officials to legislate a clear path to a safe and reasonably regulated adult-use cannabis industry, which will be looked upon as a model for other local jurisdictions. Much remains to be accomplished over the next weeks if we have any hope of protecting our local cannabis businesses and creating opportunities for new entrepreneurs to enter the market, as well as provide access for residents and tourists.
This week, the Board of Supervisors expressed a renewed approach to the issue, recognizing that regulating cannabis must be treated as a citywide issue and not broken up in a district-by-district approach full of neighborhood specific exemptions. That’s a good first step. But we must be diligent in ensuring that we are creating an industry that allows cannabis businesses to grow responsibly and become a contributor to San Francisco’s economy.
The business community is eager to launch a system that fosters growth in this newly legal industry. We support thoughtfully considered policies that protect residents’ quality of life but also encourage the successful introduction of a new product that is made, sold and consumed in San Francisco.
Tallia Hart is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.