The on-again, off-again Jan. 1 legal sale of marijuana in San Francisco is off again, as the Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 Tuesday to postpone creating a city permit system for the adult-use cannabis industry. Though 73 percent of San Francisco voters approved Prop. 64 legalizing recreational cannabis use and sales to begin on Jan. 1, 2018, California counties and municipalities are allowed to prohibit or delay sales. The City and County of San Francisco has voted to delay sales within the city until Jan. 5, at the earliest.
“Not only is the entire city watching us, but I would venture that the entire country is watching about what’s going on here in San Francisco,” said Sup. Malia Cohen, who introduced the delay to encourage the formation of an ‘equity’ system that ensures women, people of color, and the formerly incarcerated are able to profit from legal marijuana. “I’m asking for us to step back and to continue this item until the next meeting of the the full board,” Cohen said, “which would allow businesses to be online by the first of week of January.”
Ironically, Sup. Cohen was not present for to vote on the postponement she proposed, a postponement which only Sup. Aaron Peskin opposed. According to deputy city attorney John Givner, if the board does not adopt citywide cannabis regulations until their Nov. 28 meeting, the earliest marijuana sales could begin in San Francisco is Jan. 5 or 6, 2018.
Sups. Peskin and Jeff Sheehy proposed an amendment that would have grandfathered in existing medical cannabis dispensaries (MCDs) to selling recreational marijuana on Jan. 1 to customers without medical marijuana ID cards, for an interim period of 120 days. “Not having something available January 1, it makes us look bad,” Sheehy said at the meeting. “We risk disintegrating the industry.”
But Sup. Cohen made an impassioned plea to delay marijuana sales beyond Jan. 1, “so that we are not leaving behind those people who we historically leave behind, and those are people of color, that’s women, that’s veterans, that’s people who are formerly incarcerated,” she said.
Cohen was particularly irked that six amendments were added on to her delay measure. “We have a responsibility to put together a policy that is comprehensive, not piecemeal, not put together, no favoritism, no deals being made, not slicing off a segment of the community that had been operating legally because they’ve had the privilege to operate legally.”
She refers to existing MCDs, which are primarily owned by white men, and would have had a head start if they could begin selling Jan. 1. “It sends a very perverse message to every other person that is not in the privileged class in San Francisco that they are a second class citizen.”
Sup. Sheehy lamented that missing the Jan. 1 date was missing an economic opportunity for the city. “There will be businesses operating in Berkeley and in Oakland that will able to transport product into our city and legally sell it through delivery systems,” he said.
The two-week delay will allow the board to hash out an equity program ensuring economic opportunity in the cannabis field for marginalized populations, an idea that has support across the board but has made little legislative progress.
And there’s no guarantee the board will approve something at their Nov. 28 meeting, so sales might be delayed even further. “Hopefully,” said Sup. Mark Farrell, “in two weeks time we pass something out that is the whole kit and caboodle, and we’re not slicing and dicing and just kicking the can down the road.”
But Sup. Cohen stressed the board shouldn’t be influenced by other cities’ progress on meeting the Jan. 1 deadline. “Right now it’s all about us, the people in this chamber, we are the only people that matter,” she said before the vote. “Those outside this building. Those that serve, thank you for your service, but you do what you gotta do. We have a duty to do something here.”
And with that, they delayed doing something here. The board is scheduled to reconsider San Francisco cannabis sales at their Nov. 28 meeting.