Supervisor David Campos' idea to create a task force for medical marijuana conjures up an image of a paramilitary pot enforcement unit - OK everybody, put down the brownies and step away from the bongs.
Actually, Campos insists, it couldn't be more innocuous.
"I see it holding hearings and providing feedback. It is a chance to provide expertise and guidance, not final policy," he said.
Regardless of how Campos explains it, this will still sound like a kookie San Francisco concept. Campos' plan is to gather a 13-person committee of medical marijuana patients, dispensary operators, neighborhood leaders and even (gasp) growers to discuss new directions in medical marijuana policy. He sees the group looking into tax revenue from dispensaries (already in place in Oakland), to standards for edible cannabis, to truly controversial issues like city-sanctioned cultivation of pot.
But let's be honest, the chances that this group is going to announce that marijuana should be severely restricted are very slim.
Quite frankly, this isn't a bad idea.
Campos says that when the Justice Department issued a policy memo in October stating that pot-smoking patients and their authorized suppliers should not be singled out for federal prosecution - it signaled a new world for medical marijuana enforcement.
"I think this is the future," he said. "Some people are probably not happy about that, but the federal government is signaling it will look the other way."
San Francisco isn't the only city exploring this idea. This week the medical marijuana task force for San Diego - never considered a liberal stronghold - presented recommendations for an improved permit process and zoning laws to the City Council.
"Certainly, there is a lot of political difference between San Diego and San Francisco," said Alex Kreit, a former San Francisco attorney who now teaches at a San Diego law school and is chairman of the local task force. "But what I think is interesting is only about 9 percent of the population here supported a complete ban of the pot clubs."
"Maybe," said Campos, when he heard about San Diego's task force, "we're not as radical as we think we are."
I wouldn't go that far.
Kreit says much of what San Diego is studying is based on what San Francisco has already done. There is discussion about keeping dispensaries away from schools, limiting the concentration in neighborhoods, and establishing a strict permit process.
What ground-breaking issues does that leave for San Francisco? Campos wonders if it's time to consider city-controlled growing. We allow people to buy marijuana, but where does it come from? The pot fairy?
Obviously, much of it is coming from illegal growers, including sleazy grow houses in local neighborhoods. It is a prescription for criminal activity.
"It's controversial, but if you could get the state to establish a clear and consistent set of rules for cultivation, that would make the most sense." said Bruce Mirken, the San Francisco-based communications director for the national Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.
And if the state won't do that, Campos says, "Maybe we should go down that road."
It sounds controversial. But consider the alternative - letting medical marijuana dispensaries expand without permits, restrictions or planning. Right now Los Angeles is attempting to get a handle on what city officials estimate is between 800 and 1,000 unrestricted dispensaries.
"If you wanted to write a textbook on how to screw up medical marijuana," said Mirken, "the first thing you should do is hire the Los Angeles City Council."
Sounds like Los Angeles council members could use a medical marijuana task force. San Francisco could offer them some advice. In exchange, they could help us form a task force on how to create a winning professional basketball team.
December 10, 2009
San Francisco Chronicle