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Friday, August 12, 2011

Board of Supervisors Seems Afraid to Address Medical Marijuana

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2011 at 7:35 AM

click to enlarge Supervisors won't acknowledge the green leaf in the room
  • Supervisors won't acknowledge the green leaf in the room

Urban planning in San Francisco is a very big deal -- and so is the city's Planning Commission, the appointed officials who call the shots on urban design. So what does one of the city's more important entities need to do to get some respect around here?

Almost a month has passed since Planning Commission president Christina Olague wrote to the Board of Supervisors, asking legislators and elected neighborhood representatives to do something about medical cannabis dispensaries, specifically the "clustering issue" (city law essentially herds San Francisco's permitted dispensaries into roughly 10 percent of the town's real estate; the rest is off-limits).

And in that time, the Planning Commission has heard squat in reply, perhaps signaling just how reluctant city politicians are to touch the medical cannabis question.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing: Currently, San Francisco is the only major city in California that neither taxes nor limits the amount of dispensaries allowed in town with a "hard cap." Depending on who exactly opens the Pandora's box of reexamining city law -- and if the city's leaders follow the examples of Los Angeles, San Jose, and Oakland -- things could easily get worse.

It's important to note that there are fewer medical marijuana collectives in town today than there were in 2005; the city's Medical Cannabis Act zoned many of these dispensaries out of existence. Local restrictions are much tougher than state law, which says dispensaries must be 600 feet away from schools, while city law says they must be 1,000 feet away. In short, San Francisco forbids dispensaries from operating in nearly 90 percent of the city.

Hemmed into the remaining 10 percent, the city's 26 dispensaries by nature often cluster near one another; the intersection of Ninth and Mission streets is a good example, where there are five dispensaries within walking distance of one another. Some neighbors don't appreciate this -- they've complained at Planning Commission hearings, which spurred Olague to fire off her letter to the Board of Supervisors, she told us.

"If we don't get a handle on the issue now, down the line it can become a bone of contention," she says. "We'll see more appeals, more challenges, and create more work for everyone involved."

It's hard to say who the leader is on the medical pot issue at City Hall these days. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, legislative author of the Medical Cannabis Act, is running for county sheriff, and appearing pot-friendly is probably not a good idea for a would-be cop facing a legitimate electoral challenge.
Several other supervisors contacted by Olague said they hadn't even seen the letter, dated July 14, 2011. And the issue is so far off board president David Chiu's radar, that it would take "a week or two" to ascertain whether Chiu, who is also running for mayor, had seen the letter, according to Judson True, his legislative aide. It's worth noting here that Chiu recently made an appearance at an event for Axis of Love, a medical marijuana patients' support group.

For her part, Olague doesn't blame the Board for punting the issue. "Who knows how many things they get from planning?" she said. "Maybe they really did overlook it."

What could happen is that supervisors will call a committee hearing where pot-fearing neighbors and medical cannabis providers can air their grievances. At this stage, however, it seems more than likely that the cannabis question will be kicked down the road to after the November election. We have a mayor to elect, after all.

And for now, that's fine with Olague.

"We're not seeking any kind of [particular] outcome," she tells SF Weekly. "We just want people to look at it and discuss it -- maybe they don't want to change anything."

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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