SF Planning Commission calls for moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN)-- Asked to endorse a cap on medical marijuana dispensaries in one district, the San Francisco Planning Commission today instead called for a citywide moratorium on new dispensaries until a new regulatory framework is developed.

The commission's unanimous vote in favor of a moratorium was made after a hearing on legislation introduced by Supervisor Ahsha Safai on May 2. The legislation would cap the number of dispensaries allowed in District 11, which includes the Excelsior District and Outer Mission neighborhoods, at
three.

District 11 currently has three dispensaries and two others operating just outside its borders. A number of other applications have either been rejected or pulled by applicants due in part to community
opposition, Safai said.

Safai argued that his district, which already has three dispensaries and two operating just outside its borders, has reached a saturation point. Residents and businesses complain about issues around parking and security and are united in their opposition to seeing further dispensaries move into the area, he said.

"I have no issues with medicinal marijuana, I support medicinal marijuana, but the folks in our neighborhood have spoken really loud and clear that the ones that service our neighborhood are sufficient," Safai
said.

The district has been particularly attractive to cannabis providers in part because it borders San Mateo County, where there is a full ban on dispensaries, and has easy freeway access.

"We know it's a stopgap measure, but we're under siege here," said Joelle Kenealey, president of the Outer Mission Merchants and Residents Association, in support of the proposed dispensary cap. "Until San Mateo
County makes any type of change we are going to be under siege."

However planning commissioners balked at supporting a cap for one district without looking at citywide policies and possible impacts on neighboring districts.

"My fear is by putting a cap in one district, it will put pressure on the other districts that don't have as much political power or representation," Commissioner Myrna Melgar said.

Following the approval in November last year of the "Adult Use of Marijuana Act," the city is developing local regulations that are expected to cover all aspects of the industry, including growing, processing,
distribution and both recreational and medical sales.

Those regulations are expected to be discussed and approved by the Board of Supervisors this fall, and take effect by Jan. 1, 2018, when adult use of marijuana is legalized statewide.

Planning department staff recommended the commission approve a full moratorium on dispensaries until those regulations take effect, a recommendation commissioners backed, saying they would like to see citywide
guidelines put in place instead of making piecemeal decisions.

"I have been troubled for some time that the planning commission and the planning department have been put between a rock and a hard place because we don't have a model like we have for other types of land use,"
Commissioner Christine Johnson said.

"Frankly, I would like to see a citywide moratorium until we see what the model is for adult use and then we can have specific guidelines around [medical cannabis dispensaries]," Johnson said.

According to planning staff there were 46 dispensaries either in operation or with land use approval in San Francisco as of July and another 16 applications currently pending.

They are not distributed evenly throughout the city, however. District 6, which includes the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods, has 15 approved and another six applications pending; District 3, which
includes North Beach, Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf, has 11 and District 9, which includes the Mission District, has 7 approved and one application pending.

At the lower end, both District 1, the Richmond District, and District 2, which includes the Marina District, have only one dispensary each. District 4, which includes the Sunset District, has none, but five applications are pending.

The planning commission's vote is considered advisory to the Board of Supervisors, which will still vote on Safai's proposed cap on District 11.

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