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San Francisco Readies for Legal Marijuana

Officials in San Francisco can see legal marijuana coming, and they’re already getting their ducks in a row before it arrives.

San Francisco SkylineLawmakers and government leaders in San Francisco have formed a task force to write regulations for a legal cannabis industry in the city. Legalization is a good bet in California in 2016, and officials say they want to deal with a raft of issues in advance, from potency to siting of pot shops.

Almost 50 people applied to join the new Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, and just 14 people will be approved. The Rules Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors chose the first 11 in December. They include dispensary owners, healthcare providers, and cancer patients, among other members.

Legalization Task Force being formed

Supervisors will select the remaining three applicants in 2016, and the task force will hold its first meeting in January. There is no detailed mandate for the group yet, but its goal is to prepare the city for retail pot shops once they’re legalized.

That is likely to happen in November, when the issue could appear on the statewide ballot. Public support for reform is strong, and fundraisers are pooling millions of dollars to get the initiative before voters. Two of those groups recently joined forces to push a legalization proposal led by tech billionaire Sean Parker, whose plan is widely considered the most likely to pass.

Merger was critical to enact reform

The merger was critical to the future of legalization, as it removes a major competing initiative from the running. Voters typically reject all ballot proposals when two or more seek the same goal. Infighting among activists doomed two previous attempts to legalize.

The first died at the ballot box in 2010. The second, in 2014, fell apart before making the ballot as competing groups fought among each other. That infighting has been the biggest obstacle to legalization in California, but the merger should ease some of that conflict.

Several concerns are already central to the task force and its work. The biggest is the need to rezone portions of the city so marijuana stores can operate there, said Erich Pearson, founder of a local dispensary.

Marijuana plant“We need to determine how many cannabis users we are going to have in San Francisco and how many stores that’s going to take to distribute that cannabis once it’s legal,” Pearson said.

Zoning issues

Zoning is an especially difficult issue, since new pot shops tend to bring complaints from neighbors, while pro-legalization activists say there are too few shops in too small a portion of the city. This so-called “green zone” is where all MMJ stores are located.

The task force doesn’t yet have plans to deal with zoning needs, but the concentration of dispensaries in the green zone leads to frequent neighborhood complaints. There are about 30 shops currently operating in San Francisco.

City officials hope to create “smart local regulation” before legalization arrives, said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who created the task force. The panel could help avoid the need to respond to a “fire drill” after legalization takes effect.

Residents who live in the green zone would be “severely” affected by the presence of more marijuana stores, said Kevin Reed, who owns a San Francisco dispensary. There are simply too many shops already, Reed said.

“We do need more dispensaries in the city to handle legalization,” he said.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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