San Francisco Approves Medical Cannabis Dispensary Ordinance

Nov. 22nd, 2005. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a long-awaited medical marijuana dispensary ordinance, which allows most of the cityıs existing facilities to continue in operation.

The ordinance was sponsored by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, a supporter of medical marijuana, who strove to protect patient interests while addressing complaints by vocal neighborhood groups upset at nuisances caused by certain clubs. After lengthy negotiations, Mirkarimi managed to hammer out a compromise that won unanimous approval from the Board.

The ordinance effectively ratifies the status quo. It allows all but a couple of the cityıs existing 34 dispensaries to remain in operation, but makes it much harder for new facilities to open up. New facilities would have to be located at least 1,000 feet from schools or recreation buildings, a requirement restricting them to a few remote corners of the city.

Dispensaries would be required to pay a $6,691 permit application fee and a $3,100 annual renewal fee. All dispensaries would have to provide wheelchair access and could not be located in residential neighborhoods. Customers would be required to have a valid city or state identification card. Sales would be limited to one ounce per customer so as to discourage redistribution, instead of the eight ounces currently allowed by some clubs.

Proponents managed to fend off a proposed ban on smoking at clubs located within 1,000 feet of schools. The provision had been inserted at the insistence of the City Attorney on the erroneous assumption that state law SB 420 bans smoking within 1,000 feet of schools. California NORML lobbied strongly against the provision, producing expert testimony that SB 420 did nothing more than authorize local communities to ban public smoking near schools if they wanted. The provision was finally scotched by adding the qualification, "unless not required by state law." The final decision as to whether the smoking ban is required will be in the hands of the state attorney general, whom advocates expect will rule favorably.

The ordinance also establishes new guidelines for patient cultivation. Patients will be allowed up to 24 plants or 25 square feet of growing area, instead of the current state limit of 6 to 12 plants. Dispensaries will be limited to a total of 99 plants and 100 square feet.

Advocates were generally relieved that the ordinance did not drastically restrict the dispensaries, as had been proposed by some critics, such as Sup. Sean Elsbrend, who had proposed cutting back to just eight clubs, However, they criticized the ordinance as a victory for "Big Pot," saying that it would hamper future growth and competition by new clubs.

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