Debate stalls SF vote over legal pot rules


San Francisco supervisors Tuesday postponed by two weeks a vote on highly controversial cannabis regulations, making it likely that legal sales will not begin in The City until after the new year.

City supervisors have spent the past several weeks struggling to work through legislation governing the zoning and permit requirements for all types of cannabis-related businesses, in advance of the state legalization of adult recreational use on Jan. 1.

While more than 73 percent of city voters approved state legalization, board hearings have seen intense disagreement over issues such as how far cannabis retailers should be required to located from schools, childcare centers or other cannabis facilities.

Some members of The City’s Chinese community, in particular, have been vocal in their opposition to cannabis businesses operating nearby, and several supervisors have asked for outright bans or strict caps on cannabis retailers within their districts.

The board is also working to develop an equity program that would help ensure minorities and those with previous marijuana convictions gain access to the fledgling industry, although that component appears to be less contentious.

While cannabis will still be legal on Jan. 1, the lack of a city permit system means that businesses will not be permitted to sell cannabis for adult recreational use in San Francisco. Industry members fear this could hurt their ability to compete in the fledgling industry.

In an attempt to at least allow some legal sales to begin immediately, Supervisors Jeff Sheehy and Aaron Peskin offered an amendment that would allow existing medical cannabis dispensaries to begin adult recreational sales on Jan. 1, while the board continues to work out the rules for new businesses seeking permits.

However, Sheehy ultimately withdrew that amendment after Supervisor Malia Cohen pleaded with the board to hold off and vote on the legislation in one piece. Cohen said:

“We have a responsibility to put together a policy that is comprehensive, not piecemeal, no deals being made, not slicing off a portion for a community that is operating legally because they’ve had the privilege to operate legally.”

Postponing a vote to the Nov. 28 board meeting means the soonest regulations could take effect would be by Jan. 5 or 6.

The famously liberal city’s struggle to enact regulations has drawn national attention and criticism from some quarters. State Sen. Scott Wiener and David Campos, in particular, have been vocal in their opposition to what they see as restrictive proposals.

The two former city supervisors, who were frequently at odds on the board, Tuesday issued a joint statement saying they would introduce a ballot measure if the board did not enact reasonable regulations. The statement described proposals to require cannabis retailers to remain 1,000 feet away from schools and other facilities as so “broad and draconian” that they would effectively ban new businesses:

“The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is getting dangerously close to destroying the first new blue-collar industry to come to San Francisco in decades – an industry that is legal, highly innovative, and a strong source of good-paying jobs.”

However board members largely rejected those criticisms, with Peskin calling the statement by his former colleagues “inflammatory, provocative and unnecessary” and some recent remarks by advocates for less restrictive cannabis regulations to be “frankly racist.”

Supervisor Jane Kim noted that the board was in support of medical marijuana, and compared the issues surrounding permits and zoning for the cannabis industry to other land use and permitting issues such as short-term rentals and chain store restrictions.

Kim said:

“We’re not debating medical marijuana. What we’re debating here is a regulatory framework for a new industry.”

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