SF Officials Target Proliferation of 'Pot Clubs'

SF Officials Target Proliferation of 'Pot Clubs'
Posted by CN Staff on July 17, 2005 at 08:27:27 PT
By Bobby Caina Calvan, Globe Correspondent 
Source: Boston Globe 
San Francisco -- When California considered becoming one of the first states to allow the sale of medicinal marijuana a decade ago, nearly three-fourths of this city's voters embraced the idea. Elected officials, including the district attorney, the city's top law enforcer, openly campaigned for passage of the statewide measure.But now nearly as ubiquitous as coffee shops in some San Francisco neighborhoods, marijuana dispensaries are the subject of increasing scrutiny by city officials who say the proliferation of so-called pot clubs has gone unabated for too long. In April, the city imposed a moratorium on new pot clubs.
''We have more medicinal cannabis clubs than Burger Kings and McDonald's combined," said Sean Elsbernd, a member of the city's Board of Supervisors who has called for a cap on the number of such clubs -- to as few as eight, far less than the dozens currently operating. The board serves as the city's legislative branch.No one is sure how many pot clubs exist in San Francisco -- because the city currently has no regulatory control over them -- but estimates range as high as four dozen, many concentrated in the city's Haight-Ashbury district, the birthplace of this city's counterculture.California is one of a dozen states, including Maine and Vermont, with medical marijuana laws that allow those with a doctor's prescription to use the drug to alleviate often-painful symptoms from a vast array of ailments, including glaucoma, muscle spasms, cancer, and AIDS.San Francisco's scrutiny comes amid increasing anxiety over the possibility of an impending crackdown by the federal government. Last month, the US Supreme Court decided 6-3 that marijuana users, even with a doctor's prescription, can be prosecuted under federal drug laws, although the decision did not strike down medicinal marijuana laws in California and other states.About two weeks after the Supreme Court decision, federal agents raided three pot clubs as part of an investigation into money laundering and gang activity. A spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Francisco office said the clubs were not targeted specifically for selling marijuana.As for a potential crackdown on the city's pot clubs, ''We're not going to discuss whether we will or will not take any enforcement action," said Special Agent Casey McEnry, the DEA's spokesperson in San Francisco.Meanwhile, the recent court decision has prompted the state to rethink its plan to issue state- issued identification cards that were intended to help people prove -- particularly to police -- that they had legitimate reasons for possessing marijuana.While some city officials doubt that drug agents will seek to shut down pot clubs en masse, local regulation of the clubs could forestall federal action.''In an environment where federal authorities are clearly watching for any misstep, our best hope . . . is to bring accountability and transparency to the operation of medicinal cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco," said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.''The failure to enact any kind of regulation has left our neighborhoods without a voice in the decisions for far too long," Mirkarimi said.In a 60-page proposal introduced late last month, Mirkarimi wants to require medical marijuana dispensaries to apply for permits from the city's Department of Public Health and to pay annual license fees. Criminal background checks would be conducted by the Police Department, and public hearings would take place before any permits could be approved.Pot clubs would be prohibited from residential neighborhoods and sites near schools. And to help ensure that owners of pot clubs aren't in it purely for the money, Mirkarimi is proposing that the clubs operate as collectives or cooperatives to limit ''excessive profits."Enacting local regulations ''would give less reason for the DEA to come and raid these clubs," Mirkarimi said.Many pot club operators declined to be interviewed for this story. Soon after passage of Proposition 215, the 1996 ballot measure that made medicinal marijuana legal in California, pot clubs began popping up across San Francisco, ranging from hole-in-the-wall outfits that offer ''take-out" marijuana, in its raw form or in baked goods, to larger clinics that allow customers to smoke the drug on the premises.In some cases, residents were unaware that a pot club was moving into their neighborhood until they were already open. Some residents have complained about noise, loitering, littering, and traffic.''It isn't so much the medicinal marijuana people are complaining about," said Elsbernd, ''but all the activity -- some of it criminal -- happening all around."Noting that the city of Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco, has only four pot clubs, Elsbernd said a cap of eight would be appropriate for his city. ''We have twice the population as Oakland, so it would make sense to cap the number at eight. The vast majority of the clubs would have to close."Until the city can develop acceptable regulations, he and other elected officials say the moratorium on new clubs must remain in place. The Board of Supervisors probably won't take up the matter until the fall. When it does, most agree that the debate could be contentious.''Clearly, we're not just talking about any other type of business. Massage parlors and fortune tellers are the subject of more regulation" than pot clubs, said Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, who says his city needs to make it tougher for pot clubs to open. ''It shouldn't be a matter of right."But despite the call to rein in marijuana dispensaries, elected officials don't support their outright ban.''There's nothing intrinsically wrong with allowing [pot clubs] to supply medicinal cannabis. In fact, just the opposite," Sandoval said. ''For the ill who need it, we should be making it easier and just as convenient for them to get it as it is to get drugs from a pharmacy." Note: Unregulated sites anger neighbors; DEA makes raids.Complete Title: San Francisco Officials Target Proliferation of 'Pot Clubs'Copyright 2005 The New York Times CompanySource: Boston Globe (MA)Author:  Bobby Caina Calvan, Globe Correspondent Published: July 17, 2005Copyright: 2005 Globe Newspaper CompanyContact: letter globe.comWebsite: Articles: When Medical Marijuana Is Misused Follow Searches in Marijuana Raids Reins In Marijuana 
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