Though the clock is ticking down to January 1, 2018 when recreational marijuana sales become legal, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors just called for a time out. In a Tuesday board vote at which the phrases “take a pause” and “hit the pause button” were used at least half a dozen times, the supervisors approved a 45-day interim moratorium on the approval of new cannabis dispensaries by a 9-2 vote, with only Jeff Sheehy (D8) and Mark Farrell (D2) voting against it.
”I would never dream of stifling any patient’s ability to have access to much-needed medicine,” the bill’s sponsor Malia Cohen said prior to the vote. “This is not about banning the industry, or shutting the industry down, or putting businesses out of business. This is about taking a short pause so that we can work on the long-term vision of an industry that is projected to be $20 billion by 2022.”
The moratorium hopes to creates a level playing field in the San Francisco cannabis racket, by avoiding clusters of dispensaries in certain neighborhoods and encouraging more ethnic diversity among the current 35 medical cannabis dispensaries operating in San Francisco.
Sup. Sheehy argued pretty passionately against the moratorium. “Thirty-five [dispensaries] may seem like a lot, but how many Walgreens and CVSs are in this city?” Sheehy noted. “What we’re talking about is medicine that has been proven to help people with certain conditions.”
He also argued that a moratorium would actually hurt attempts to make dispensary ownership more ethnically diverse. “In terms equity, those operators with deep pockets and good connections can wait it out,” he argued. “Those that have less resources would necessarily not be able to continue because they won’t be able to afford to keep [their application] in the pipeline.”
The trickiest issue with this moratorium was how to handle those dispensaries who already have applications pending in the Planning Department pipeline. An amendment to the moratorium specifically grandfathered out those dispensaries who already have have approval hearings scheduled. That’s good news for the proposed Barbary Coast Collective at 2165 Irving Street, San Bruno Wellness at 3015 San Bruno Avenue, Connected SF at 5 Leland, and an infused chocolate shop at 865 Market Street that hopes to score a license. Those applications can all move forward as planned.
But the seven other proposed San Francisco dispensaries without hearings scheduled will simply be forced to wait the 45-day moratorium out.
What seems to give every California elected official the heebie-jeebies now is the question of whether medical cannabis dispensaries will be able to automatically convert into adult use dispensaries. “This is going to be a separate and independent conversion process,” Sup. Cohen warned. “Because you’re able to sell medical-grade cannabis now at this time, there are no guarantees that you will be able to do recreational [use] as well.”
No guarantees, but it also happens to be the only plan on the table. San Francisco officials, including supervisors, have repeatedly indicated the city may give priority and special processing to medical cannabis dispensaries when deciding who will get adult use sales licenses.
The moratorium does not begin right now. While approved, the temporary ban would not go into effect until Sept. 22 at the earliest. On that timeline, the moratorium would continue through Nov. 7.
In the meantime, you still have 35 other medical cannabis dispensaries doing business as usual here in San Francisco.