Pot club growth in SF on hold until state Supreme Court ruling

Examiner file photoAt least 11 medical-marijuana dispensaries are in the permitting process with San Francisco

Examiner file photoAt least 11 medical-marijuana dispensaries are in the permitting process with San Francisco

New pot clubs are on hold in San Francisco while The City awaits word on whether the state Supreme Court will uphold a ruling that could change the relationship between medical cannabis dispensaries and municipalities.

A court ruling in Long Beach said the Southern California city had authority to limit where dispensaries set up shop, but could not issue permits or legal permission. Long Beach has appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.

That decision could have statewide implications, which is why The City is holding off on new permits, said Jack Song, deputy press secretary for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

“We really want to see what the Supreme Court decides,” Song said. “It would provide more of a definition and guidance to municipalities dealing with [medical-marijuana dispensaries].”

The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether it will review the Long Beach case by Jan. 26.

The Planning Commission was scheduled to consider permit requests to open three new dispensaries at its meeting Thursday, but put off all three on advice from the city attorney.

At least 11 prospective dispensaries are in various stages of the permitting process with The City, said Stephanie Tucker, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Taskforce. Between 26 and 29 dispensaries are already permitted in The City, she said.

Medical-cannabis proponents Americans for Safe Access say it is not necessary for The City to sit on its hands.

“The idea of holding back on licensing certified facilities when they are ready to be authorized is counterproductive and not in the best interest of patients, let alone the greater community,” said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Berkeley-based Americans for Safe Access.

The debate falls within the context of a larger controversy — the threat of a federal crackdown on cannabis clubs.

In October, U.S. attorneys in California announced they would work to shut down dispensaries, which they said were operating in violation of federal law. Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for Northern Calfornia, said at the time she would focus her enforcement efforts on pot clubs near schools or parks.

Though The City has said it won’t issue new permits for the time being, the threat by federal prosecutors to crack down on pot clubs has not deterred some growers from seeking a storefront.

“It’s obviously a difficult business decision,” said Joram Altman, who represents the Los Angeles-based dispensary Sunset Organics, which wants to open a second location on Mission Street. “It’s a gamble.”

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