In San Francisco, there’s seemingly a committee for everything. Only one group, however, has the honor of helping to decide the city’s cannabis policies.
Established by the Board of Supervisors two years ago, San Francisco’s Cannabis Oversight Committee (COC) is the brainchild of Sup. Sandra Fewer. And no other city in the U.S. has anything quite like it.
Composed of nine voting members and five non-voting members, all approved by the board, each seat on the COC is also tied to specific criteria. This ensures the full COC represents a cross-section of the cannabis industry’s equity applicants, medical patients, business owners, and labor representation. As a group, they’ve made some significant progress during their limited time together.
“I do believe that our committee, as a whole, has been very effective in working with the OOC and other City Departments,” says Ali Jamalian.
Jamalian currently holds Seat 8 on the COC — the equity applicant seat. He is set to hit his term limit in December. That’s why the Sunset Connect founder is now running for Seat 9, which is reserved for the operator of a cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, or distribution business with fewer than 20 employees. In addition to his own personal interest in continuing with the COC, Jamalian is now encouraging others to see if they’re qualified, and to apply for a vacant seat, as well.
“I want to encourage more of my peers from the industry to apply,” he says, “as I feel we have accomplished some major tasks.”
Recently, the COC worked to figure out how to prioritize the distribution of nearly $5 million in social equity grant funding made available through the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) in partnership with the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control. Announced in April, the Cannabis Equity Grants Program for Local Jurisdictions left San Francisco’s OOC with a large chunk of change and the responsibility to determine how to disperse it.
Asked for comment, the OOC praised the COC’s efforts in a statement.
“The San Francisco Cannabis Oversight Committee is playing an important role in representing and shaping the city’s cannabis industry. Through the Oversight Committee, the city has created an opportunity for the community and representatives of local government to gather, listen, and engage in a transparent space that welcomes and encourages everyone’s voice and participation.”
Beyond offering guidance to the Board and OOC, the group also provides a needed opportunity for various factions of the market to come together and share their knowledge and concerns. As active participants in the industry, the opinions of COC members on matters like tax rates, permitting processes, and more are informed by first-hand experience and thus extremely valuable in a moment defined largely by trial-and-error.
Given how young the adult-use industry remains, the thoughts and recommendations of the COC have become a vital tool in reshaping and improving local cannabis policy. And now the COC is hoping to attract a new crop of San Francisco cannabis experts to join their ranks.
Upcoming openings include the aforementioned Seats 8 and 9, as well as seats reserved for dispensary owners, organized labor representatives, cannabis laws and regulations specialists, medical patients, and more. Those interested in applying are encouraged to submit applications via the Board of Supervisors website as soon as possible ahead of term limits ending in December.
COC member Jesse Stout, an attorney and drug policy reform activist, also shared enthusiasm at the prospect of new faces joining the party.
“The San Francisco Cannabis Oversight Committee is a good opportunity for the public to engage with the Office Of Cannabis, and ultimately, the Board Of Supervisors, to improve SF cannabis policy,” Stout says.
His endorsement, however, should not be confused with satisfaction for a job well done.
On the contrary, Stout listed a number of issues that he feels the COC must focus on in upcoming sessions: they include delaying the implementation of Prop D tax increases, ensuring the medical cannabis identification cards for indigent patients are free of charge, establishing an equity seal for use on qualified products, and hiring an “equity permit expediter” to streamline the process of passing a permit through the Planning Commission, the Department of Building Inspection, and the Fire Department.
Such a hiring would “reduce the months of delay that new businesses wait for conditional use permits,” Stout noted.
It’s an area drawing Jamalian’s attention as well, with the idea being that cannabis could serve as the catalyst for broader changes in how San Francisco processes permits. Given the OOC recently cleared its backlog of all outstanding applications, the idea is to snowball from their example of local permitting done right.
“There is so much more potential to streamline a number of bureaucratic processes in SF based on this cannabis permitting model,” Jamalian says. “It could become a blueprint to make [these departments] way more efficient — which is an issue a lot of other industries besides cannabis have to deal with too.”
As for his advice to any thinking of potentially joining him on the COC: “To anyone that is interested in applying for a seat, I would just say City Hall is very helpful when it comes to guiding applicants through this process and that it is a very humbling and amazing experience to take part in shaping our city’s policies.”