Marijuana was never Mayor Ed Lee’s chief concern.
Prior to his sudden death on Dec. 12, Lee’s public policy with respect to cannabis was to leave it for others to decide. While Lee approved legislation designed to define recreational marijuana sales for San Francisco earlier this month, his voice was largely absent from the subject during his seven years in office. Instead, he focused on the technology sector, affordable housing, congestion, and homelessness complicated by the city’s economic boom.
For Lee, cannabis was an issue he met with noncommittal sound bites and tentative actions.
Many in the Chinese community hoped S.F.’s first Asian-American mayor would side with them in protesting the growth in cannabis-related enterprises entering the city. Owing to past hardships wrought by the opium trade, the belief that cannabis sales pose a danger to the local community has led to vocal protests at a number of recent Board of Supervisors meetings to discuss potential regulatory plans.
As recently as last month, Lee publicly supported a proposal from Chinatown organizer Pius Lee to ban marijuana ads from city buses.
“Prohibiting cannabis advertising on public transit is the right policy to protect our future generations and communities of color the same way we have done with alcohol and tobacco ads,” Lee said in a statement issued less than two weeks after 30 members of the Chinese community held a protest at his home.
While the Examiner notes that both the Mayor’s Office and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said the ban has been in the works for months, the timing reflects a charged political atmosphere. On Dec. 8, two of San Francisco’s largest Chinese-language newspapers, The World Journal and Sing Tao Daily, ran full-page ads calling for Lee to be recalled due to his failure to prevent cannabis dispensaries from opening across the city.
District 3 Sup. Aaron Peskin, who represents Chinatown, has felt similar pressures. With Lee now gone, it’s likely that the demands for Peskin to limit dispensaries from opening in the neighborhood will grow.
However, while Lee will be the mayor who approved these rules, their implementation will be overseen by someone new.
Acting Mayor and Board of Supervisors President London Breed’s voting history shows her to be generally supportive of the cannabis industry. As an African-American woman whose younger sister died of a drug overdose, Breed may be uniquely positioned to help define and support the city’s newly conceived Equity Program, designed to bring parity to dispensaries by giving priority to individuals adversely affected by past drug policies.
Indeed, it was Breed who suggested San Francisco look to equity regulations installed in Oakland as a blueprint for how the city might manage its own affairs. While she’s yet to be forced into action on any cannabis-specific issues, observers will watch closely.
Pending the Board of Supervisors’ decision to appoint Breed as interim mayor — i.e., the caretaker who will serve as the city’s chief executive until the June 2018 election — one looming issue is a cannabis tax measure expected to be voted on in June. Determining how much to tax marijuana will not only reveal what the city stands to gain in tax receipts ,but will also undoubtedly play a huge role in determining whether consumers embrace the legal market or revert to illicit sales at more affordable prices.
Breed will also need to work with San Francisco Office of Cannabis Director Nicole Elliott, who, it’s worth noting, formerly served as Mayor Lee’s liaison to the Board of Supervisors and as his director of government affairs before being appointed to her current post. While there’s nothing to suggest the two won’t be able to operate in tandem, it’s another aspect of a complicated puzzle that has yet to fall fully into place.