Pot club advocates: S.F. permit process is too confusing

Planning Department backs restrictions; deadline for registrations in eight months

With less than eight months left before all medical cannabis dispensaries in The City have to be registered under new permitting regulations, some say the process is too ambiguous or difficult to understand.

Last year The City created a permitting process to better regulate the clubs and control where they opened. The dispensaries are illegal under federal law but allowed in California under state law, created by the voter-approved Proposition 215 in 1996, to serve patients with a doctor’s prescription.

After months of debates, the Board of Supervisors settled on an ordinance that prohibited clubs from opening within 1,000 feet of a school,youth center and community clubhouse or neighborhood center. It also limited patients to one ounce of marijuana per visit instead of the previously allotted pound. Since the measure was passed, 12 clubs, out of 28 in The City, have applied for a permit. All dispensaries have until July 2007 to apply for a permit or face closure. During the process, some club owners, residents and even city officials have complained that some of the restrictions, such as the definition of a neighborhood center, are confusing.

“I don’t think [the law is ambiguous],” said Dan Sider of the Planning Department. “Certainly there are allegations.”

What constitutes a neighborhood center was at the center of the debate when the Green Cross, the first dispensary to go through the permitting process, went before the Planning Commission this summer. The Planning Department said the proposed location for the club at 2701 Leavenworth St., near Fisherman’s Wharf, met all the requirements of the ordinance. But residents complained that there were several gyms, a park and other community gathering areas nearby.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s office, which drafted the regulations, said the ambiguities were already there because restrictions such as prohibiting the establishments from opening within 1,000 feet of a school or community center were taken from either state laws or existing planning documents. The Planning Department’s zoning administrator pulled the definition of a recreation center from the planning code just last Friday, according to Sider.

“In our experience, the city staff were all very friendly, but most of the clerks did not know what we were talking about,” said Kevin Reed, the owner of the Green Cross. “Let me be clear [that] city staff have all been incredible — responsive, supportive and helpful. But there is not a lot of coherence, and there is very little understanding about the regulations that were adopted.”

Before a dispensary can open it must be approved by the Planning Commission, the Department of Public Health Department, the Fire Department and the Police Department. Reed’s club was denied its permit before the Planning Commission in August. But last week the Planning Department approved a permit for a club for the first time, according to Sider. Hope Net, on Ninth Avenue, still has to be approved by the DPH, which is yet to look at a permitting application.

sfarooq@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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