S.F. law will neutralize pot prosecutions

An ordinance to put marijuana infractions somewhere below spitting on the sidewalk on San Francisco’s law enforcement priority list is slated for a vote after its language was changed to give police discretion to investigate marijuana offenses that may pose a risk to public safety.

But a neighborhood group that cried foul over the proposed ordinance’s first inception has not dropped their opposition.

The ordinance, introduced by Supervisor Tom Ammiano on Aug. 15, would officially make marijuana possession, sales and cultivation San Francisco’s lowest law-enforcement priority, with exceptions for driving while impaired, selling marijuana to children and endangering public safety. It would also create a seven-member advisory community oversight committee to monitor implementation.

But a small group of neighbors calling themselves the Fair Oaks Community Coalition is making a big noise over the legislation, which Ammiano’s office characterized as little more than a policy statement.

“It’s essentially a drug dealer protection act. It revokes the MCD (medical cannabis dispensary) legislation and sidesteps zoning restrictions that are in place,” coalition member Veronica Gaynor said.

The Fair Oaks group contends that the legislation, which does not impose a limit on the number of plants residents can grow, flies in the face of zoning laws put in place this year that limit the number of plants grown at medical cannabis dispensaries. They also claim it will give organized drug cartels a safe place to grow and sell the drugs that fund their violent operations.

But Ammiano’s office contends that the ordinance would not pre-empt the planning code. Any zoning ordinances already on the books concerning marijuana cultivation would continue to be enforced, according to the supervisor. The law would also allow police to investigate potentially violent or unsafe sales and growing operations.

Ammiano said he asked a police captain to help craft language in the draft ordinance that would allow police “to effectively investigate grow operations and to combat criminal activities associated with the sale and distribution of marijuana.”

The legislation specifically prohibits selling, growing or consuming marijuana on public property or in public view, but San Francisco Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes said increased demand because of the legislation would nevertheless increase street drug sales because the prices are higher in marijuana clubs. The legislation would also compel San Francisco to refuse federal funding for marijuana enforcement, which Delagnes said would be a mistake.

San Francisco passed legislation in 1978 ending marijuana arrests and prosecutions. Since then, a number of pro-marijuana policy statements have passed the Board of Supervisors, but none have been legally binding. Ammiano’s office claims the proposed legislation would simply eliminate the gray area between what is a crime and what isn’t.

The proposed ordinance goes before the Board of Supervisors’ City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee today at 1 p.m.

amartin@examiner.com

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