San Francisco is encouraging cannabis manufacturing and cultivation operations to obtain state and city permits now that recreational marijuana is legal. In exchange, The City may waive fines for building code violations. (Courtesy photo)

SF to forgive fines assessed to cannabis businesses after building inspectors visit

San Francisco officials working to legalize cannabis-related businesses like grow houses may cut them a break by forgiving fines for building code violations.

The City is encouraging previously underground cannabis businesses, which includes manufacturing and cultivation operations, to obtain state and city permits in the wake of the passage of Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana on Jan. 1. To do so, the businesses are required to register with the Office of Cannabis and undergo site visits by the Department of Building Inspections.

In many cases, however, inspectors are finding violations and issuing notices of violations, which come with fines.

SEE RELATED: SF to clear thousands of marijuana convictions under Prop 64

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, with the support of Office of Cannabis Director Nicolle Elliott, wants to forgive those fines and waive future ones in the spirit of bringing the illegal businesses out of the shadows. Legislation Sheehy introduced is working its way through the approval process, and was most recently approved by the Building Inspection Commission on Wednesday.

“This registration process was meant to serve as kind of a quasi-amnesty process for these operators,” Elliott told the commission. “The City, at the time, made a clear policy decision to prioritize bringing operators out of the shadows and to work with them to move them into a regulated and compliant space.

“This is the only way to make a legal marketplace work,” Elliott added. “It is in the best interest of public and consumer safety to do this.”

Cannabis-related operations were eligible to register with the Office of Cannabis in September 2017 in preparation for legalization.

Sixty-one sites have been inspected so far, and multiple business types can operate at each site. Across the inspected sites, 34 included cultivation businesses, 33 were manufacturing, 34 were distribution, one was testing and 16 were delivery services, Elliott told the San Francisco Examiner.

Elliott said the inspections are “proven to be helpful in quickly addressing life-safety issues that are apparent at the time of inspection” and correcting the numerous violations found at most of the sites.

Edward Sweeney, the Department of Building Inspections’ deputy director of permit services, said $16,244 in penalties have been assessed so far for violations.

“It’s usually electrical,” Sweeney said. “Electrical seems to be the heavy one.

“We had a fire two weeks ago in one of the grows,” he added. “This person, he just took off. The owner of the property has never seen him again.”

Sweeney said the department is willing to “sacrifice” the penalties.

“We will be getting some fees for when they come in and get the permits to make this right,” he said. “It’s not like we are not going to get any money.”

SEE RELATED: Senate Bill 1127 would allow K-12 students to use medical cannabis at school

“We would like to see every operator focus their financial resources on meeting these new standards, not on paying a punitive fee that was not intended to be part of this amnesty process,” Elliott said.

Building Inspection Commissioner Gail Gilman said, “I think in the scope of a multimillion dollar budget, it’s nominal.”

Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker said, “We want to encourage everyone in The City to take advantage of this for fire safety.”

Sweeney said the department has the same three inspectors focused on cannabis-related inspections.

“We are doing two a day,” he said. “I don’t know how many there are.”

Elliott said she couldn’t estimate how many inspections are left to do. The number largely depends on whether businesses follow through on the application process.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the legislation in the coming weeks.

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