Medical marijuana patients don't seem to care where exactly their cannabis is grown. As long as the pot has been lab-tested and is free of mold and pesticides, they're satisfied.
But that information alone is no longer enough for the San Francisco
Department of Public Health. DPH, which licenses
and polices 26 storefront cannabis collectives, announced on Friday that it will
ask every dispensary to provide a list -- with names and addresses -- of every
grower with which it does business.
The result would be a catastrophe for the city's burgeoning
medical marijuana industry, according to Kevin Reed, president of The Green
Cross medical cannabis delivery service.
"It's unacceptable," he says.
But there is a good reason for this master list: safety and legality, according to Rajiv Bhatia, head of DPH's Occupational & Environmental Health.
"DPH is trying to ensure that permitted MCDs comply with all state and local laws," Bhatia said in a statement. "By ensuring this, the industry will be best situated to be protected from code enforcement and criminal prosecution."
That's not how the city's medical cannabis cultivators see it. A master list of names and addresses, available to anyone -- including the federal government and common crooks?
"It would be a disaster," Reed tells SF Weekly.
This "list" would push legal operators underground while doing nothing to change the habits of illegal growers. If the list were publicly available, it would do nothing more than advertise to allcomers -- criminals as well as neighbors -- the locations and sizes of legal pot grows.
Not every dispensary will be able to afford to run a grow the size necessary to supply all of its medicine. And not every group of patients will be able to shell out for the costly DPH permits and inspection fees. That means the quantity and quality of legal marijuana will decrease -- and with less competition, growers say the price will go up for patients.
And what if federal law enforcement could easily access this public list? "There's no way anyone on the city or state level can provide us protection from the federal government," Reed says.
That's not all. Soon, all dispensaries will be forced to operate their own grow sites, which will have to be legally tied to a dispensary. That might not sound like a big deal since tomato farmers, for example, grow and then sell their wares at a farmers' market. But it won't work for medical cannabis, Reed says.
"I don't want to be the grower and the seller -- that's too much," he says.
But why is the city's Health Department now concerned about whether dispensaries comply with state and local law -- more than a decade after the city passed its Medical Cannabis Dispensary Act?
Here are some of the theories: taxes, police, and an industry takeover.
Reed believes that DPH wants a list of all the city's legal grow sites so that it can eventually slap them with taxes. Possibly. But that doesn't explain why the city wants addresses of grow sites located outside San Francisco. And we don't know either, because DPH officials did not respond to that point.
Other growers are convinced that DPH is being pushed by the San Francisco Police Department, which has proven incapable of distinguishing between legal and illegal grows. Finally, conspiracy theorists think the stricter regulations would make it easier for a select few mega-operators to overtake the industry.
But what's most disturbing is that there is nothing in state or local law that explicitly says dispensaries must produce lists calling out federal-law-breaking cultivators.
"I understand DPH's frustration of being thrust into the middle of this confusing and contradictory system, but there is way too much risk to force full transparency in cultivation," says Brendan Hallinan, an attorney who handles permitting for medical marijuana collectives. "After the federal government specifically told Oakland 'no way' on their permitted-cultivation sites, it is ridiculous to ask SF MCDs to go right ahead and do the same thing."
Follow us on Twitter at @SFWeekly and @TheSnitchSF