Medical Cannabis Task Force: So Long, Farewell

These are hard times for medical cannabis. The federal Justice Department crackdown has closed nine marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco and, in contrast to the days when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom sent letters to Washington demanding the feds back off the state-legal industry, Mayor Ed Lee required a sit-in to be reminded that these city-licensed, taxpaying entities merely exist.

In a City Hall addicted to task forces — there's one for peak oil and one for food security — marijuana has an advisory body, too. But in its two years in existence, the Medical Cannabis Task Force hasn't accomplished much.

Formed in 2010, when marijuana legalization in California seemed to some a done deal, the 15-member body has since been paralyzed by parliamentarian rules and infighting. Its first annual report to the Board of Supervisors went largely unheeded, and seats left vacant since a walkout last year haven't been filled by a disinterested board. Low turnout at monthly meetings means the Task Force hasn't had quorum — minimum attendance required for votes and action to be held — at a meeting since May, and likely won't before it is scheduled to sunset (aka fold) Dec. 31.

Agreeing on a basic mission is part of the problem. Activist Shona Gochenaur claims credit for crafting the legislation. Gochenaur, who doles out free cannabis donated to her by growers to low-income patients via a network called Axis of Love, didn't want “big box pot” — large-scale dispensaries — taking priority. “If they want a cannabusiness chamber of commerce, build one,” she says. “I'm not going to support having my work turned into a business lobby.”

No representatives from the city's registered medical marijuana dispensaries sit on the Task Force. Kevin Reed, CEO of cannabis delivery service The Green Cross, once one of the city's most visible dispensary operators, was one of the Task Force members who resigned last year, citing the Task Force's ineffectiveness and Gochenaur's often antagonistic behavior. Former SPARC President Erich Pearson, one of the sitting members who refuses to show up, says that until the empty seats are filled and the body's mission is reaffirmed, there's not much point.

Those left on the Task Force are “committed” to working together, Gochenaur says, but they might not have much time. Privately, several marijuana activists think that a low profile may be a good thing. Rather than lobby for a more moderate Board of Supervisors to revisit the city's dispensary laws, better to hunker down and wait for better times.

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