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Regulators approve San Francisco’s first-ever recreational marijuana laws

After weeks of delay, San Francisco approved recreational cannabis regulations on Tuesday, allowing existing pharmacies to start retail sales on Jan. 5, four days after the era of legalization across California begins.

On the way to the meeting, the Supervisory Board was under noticeable political pressure. Hundreds of anti-cannabis and pro-cannabis residents held duel rallies outside City Hall and later filled the building’s corridors, waiting to cram the rooms where the legislature met. People filled the 253 seats and the rest were sent to an overflow room to watch the meeting on broadcast.

Board members were still working out details on how to regulate recreational cannabis in San Francisco, and some controversial aspects remained uncertain, such as how far new cannabis outlets should be from schools.

At around 9pm, the board of directors voted 10-1 to approve the regulations after taking up other cases unrelated to cannabis and overturning a series of tougher restrictions called for by some board members.

Under the approved regulations, new cannabis stores cannot be opened within 600 feet of schools, as advised by Proposition 64, the statewide measure that legalizes cannabis and approved by California voters last year, and must be 600 feet apart.

The city will allow 30 existing medical pharmacies and 15 delivery services to start, with their existing permits, with retail coming January 5. To do this, they would need to obtain a 120-day temporary state license and meet certain criteria as part of a stock program intended to repair some of the damage done by the war on drugs against people of color.

Criteria include filing a stock plan and hiring 30 percent of their staff who meet equity criteria, such as criminal convictions for cannabis offenses.

Supervisor Malia Cohen had requested that the Nov. 14 board vote on the ordinances be postponed until the ordinances were enacted to ensure the success of the stock program she had introduced. At that meeting, the board had considered allowing existing pharmacies to retail cannabis, but deferring land-use decisions to a later date.

For new cannabis stores, The City only allows share applicants until share applicants represent half of the market, at which point it would be a one-to-one licensing approval. That means, since there are 45 existing pharmacies, The City will allow 45 equity cannabis shops before applicants without equity apply.

Shareholders cannot apply to begin retail sales until the Office of Cannabis submits applications. Cohen said she expects applications to be ready by Jan. 5, although Nicole Elliott, the office’s director, hasn’t set a date yet.

While a well-organized group of anti-cannabis Chinese-American residents weeks ago appeared to have managed to pressure the board to pass tough regulations that some said would have killed the cannabis industry, pushing back pro-cannabis leaders appears to have prevailed in the end.

The board rejected some specific neighborhood cannabis limits, such as overturning an existing ban on just three cannabis shops in District 11, the Excelsior, which is represented by Supervisor Ahsha Safai. Safai, the only regulator to vote against the regulation, said it was disrespectful not to enforce the cannabis ban in District 11.

In lieu of a ban in Chinatown, as was considered, the board agreed to require a special conditional occupancy permit that could be appealed to the board.

Supervisor Katy Tang suggested demanding cannabis shops 300 meters away from both schools and nurseries. “My constituents have argued very strongly for this,” Tang said.

But Supervisor Hillary Ronen rejected Tang’s stricter restrictions, which were voted down by the board. She said The City “needs to embrace an exciting moment in our country’s history to finally wake up and say we’ve been wrong about how we deal with drugs in our society.”

She added: “I’m just shocked by my colleagues. I don’t understand why we act like this is so dangerous for children.”

The legislation will come before the board of directors for a second and final vote next week. Mayor Ed Lee then has 10 days to sign the bill.

This story first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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