August 8, 2011

San Francisco MMJ Dispensary Rules In Flux

August 8, 2011
san francisco cannabis clubs
By: Joshua Sabatini | Examiner Staff Writer
City officials say there is a need to re-examine the impact of medical marijuana dispensaries and clarify some language and regulations.

Pressure is mounting to change regulations on San Francisco’s marijuana clubs, with talk about capping the number of locations and relaxing rules about where they can open up for business.

Five years after San Francisco’s groundbreaking regulations on pot clubs were adopted, there is a need to re-examine their impact, clarify language and address the “clustering” of clubs, according to a July 14 memo that Planning Commission President Christine Olague sent to the Board of Supervisors.

The commission has held several controversial pot club hearings and a dozen applications are pending for new dispensaries. There are now 26 permitted medical marijuana dispensaries.

The regulations, which prevent clubs from operating within 1,000 feet of schools or rec buildings serving youth, have “green zones,” where zoning laws allow them to open. That has resulted in a high concentration of clubs in the western South of Market Area.

“An over-concentration of any land use can be of concern to the commission; clustering can threat to disrupt the balance of goods and services available in a particular area and can alter a neighborhood’s character,” Olague said in the memo.

There is a debate over what qualifies as a recreation building “primarily serving youth.” Some have argued that preschools should be added to list.

In 2005, the Board of Supervisors adopted dispensary regulations as there were at least 40 such clubs operating without controls. The regulations were meant to address residents’ complaints, stamp out criminal activity and prevent a crackdown by the federal government. Medical marijuana is legal under state law but remains illegal under federal law.

Shona Gochenaur, the executive director of the Axis of Love medical marijuana activist group, said she favored the Board of Supervisors changing the regulations to improve access for low-income and disabled patients. But she saw no problem with “clustering.”

“We don’t need to review saturation,” she said. “We have little to no complaints. And there is way more of a saturation of bars than there is medical cannabis.”

Gochenaur said she would like to see the 1,000-foot limit reduced to 600 feet.

Olague’s memo advises the board that the time has come to examine pot club rules. “We see a mismatch between the evolution of our thinking and the evolution – or lack thereof – of the Planning code,” Olague said in the letter.

The Board of Supervisors goes on legislative recess Tuesday. They may return in September to take up the pot-club debate.

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