Despite a possible deal around San Francisco allowing existing medicinal cannabis dispensaries to start retail sales come Jan. 1, many details remain in flux heading into the Board of Supervisors meeting today.
It was suggested Monday that The City allow existing dispensaries to sell recreational cannabis so San Francisco can at least offer some retail sales as California ushers in the era of legalization.
The plan, which was proposed by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, could allow the board to pass on making some tough decisions in the near term — like deciding where recreational pot shops can open — which are the subject of intense political debate.
That plan came about after the board appeared incapable of establishing recreational cannabis laws in time to take effect by Jan. 1. San Francisco would allow the existing 30 cannabis dispensaries and possibly the 16 delivery services to sell the drug for recreational use beginning Jan. 1, initially with an expedited process and later through a temporary permit good for the year.
Supervisor Mark Farrell, however, suggested the board shouldn’t punt the major land use decisions, calling it the easy way out.
Heading into today’s vote, there was also another concern raised by supporters of an equity program, meant to give those disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs a foothold in the recreational cannabis industry.
Supporters of equity applicants have cried foul that dispensaries will get a leg up in starting to sell retail cannabis, making it more challenging for equity applicants, who would have to wait for what appears to be an uncertain period of time to be able to open.
Board President London Breed told the San Francisco Examiner late Monday that it was possible decisions about the equity program and land regulations could be decided in the upcoming weeks, but that the board would approve letting the dispensaries convert to retail.
“We still have some kinks to iron out,” Breed said of the equity program. She downplayed concerns that MCDs would have an advantage over prospective equity applications since they are already in operation and said “the reality is marijuana is already easy to get.”
When later asked to specify what issue she had with the equity program, she said by text message “none at this time.” The “kinks,” she said, “doesn’t mean a problem, just clarity.”
Breed also said she was even unsure if any aspect of the legislation would get approved today.
“Everyone has an opinion,” Breed said of the board members. “We’re not all on the same page.”
For weeks, rallies and hours-long public hearings have had industry backers and supporters calling for fewer regulations, and a segment of the Asian population calling for tougher regulations — even an outright ban.
Some want to see the existing 1,000 foot buffer between schools and dispensaries remain in place, or increase to as much as 1,500 feet and have the distance requirement apply to child care centers as well. But supporters want the distance requirement set at 600 feet from just schools.
Bans proposed for neighborhoods like Chinatown were criticized by industry supporters.
On Monday, two board committees settled on a package of regulations and voted to send them for the full board vote today, when changes are expected.
City officials said Monday that the existing medical dispensaries would be able to convert on Jan. 1 to also sell recreational cannabis and eventually apply for a permit with the Office of Cannabis to continue to operate for the year. That permit could be appealed to the Board of Appeals. Breed said she would like the initial conversion for MCDs to sell retail cannabis to come with neighborhood notice and an appeal process by residents.
While Peskin said he would like to see equity applicants be able to apply beginning Jan. 1, the success of those applications and the time for them to be approved would depend on the other rules passed, which remain in flux.
Leslie Valencia, who has issued a study on cannabis equity for Greenlining Institute and UC Berkeley, said, “I am highly concerned about [recreational] use permits being issued prior to equity permits.”
“Not only does this create a temporary monopoly of existing businesses that have been able to survive due to a certain level of privilege it also opens the doors for the opposition to continue to push inequitable zoning and land use restriction,” Valencia said.
Terrance Alan, who chaired The City’s Cannabis Task Force, had advocated for fewer regulations to ensure the recreational cannabis industry thrives by creating jobs, tax revenue and equity for those impacted by the war on drugs.
“There is nothing. There is no equity. There is no business. There is no future without land use,” Alan said. “Everyone has to have a place and the place needs to be fairly distributed.”
As for his expectations for the board’s vote today, Alan told the Examiner, “I have no hope.”