Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Three years ago, agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency
broke down the door of a South of Market medical pot club and raided
the premises. It looked like the first skirmish between federal
agents and the city, which passed liberal pot laws in 1996.

Instead, the city took the crackdown as a wake-up call.

Quietly, with little fanfare, San Francisco is on the way to becoming
a model for medical marijuana clubs done the right way. Exploitive,
profit-hungry drug clubs are being forced out and community-based,
patient-friendly ones are becoming the norm. Neighbors have shut down
dispensaries in school zones, and patient services have been increased.

Beginning in 2005, when Mayor Gavin Newsom worried aloud about "a
path that would allow for a club on every street corner," the city
has made a series of small steps that have improved a situation that
was nearly out of control. A moratorium on new clubs was enacted, and
Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Michela Alioto-Pier pushed for
restrictive legislation. Among other things, all pot clubs were
required to get an operating permit from the Planning Commission.
Neighborhood input, proximity to schools, and criminal and employment
background checks were all included in the consideration for a permit.

Since then, almost half of the clubs have closed.

And here's an indication of just how well the regulations have
worked. When state Attorney General Jerry Brown proposed strict state
guidelines for marijuana dispensaries in August, and Newsom's office
drafted similar regulations a month later, advocates responded
immediately - they said they were wholeheartedly in favor.

"We went through 10 years of an unregulated cannabis environment,"
said Kevin Reed, president of Green Cross dispensary, which delivers
medical marijuana to patients. "Now they are going to try something
completely different, and to see it run correctly is a wonderful thing."

Nothing speaks to the spirit of cooperation like the recent fuss
kicked up about a proposal by Newsom to require clubs to record the
names and addresses of patients. That requirement is stricter than
Brown's proposal that the clubs keep some sort of general "membership
records. "

Pot advocates are concerned about patients' confidentiality rights
and fear it may be a step toward bringing criminal charges against pot users.

But the mayor's office promises to continue working with the
responsible club owners and that any other suspicions about their
intentions are just paranoid fantasy.

"We understand the concern," said Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard.
"And we are happy to work with them on that. If there's a way to
protect patient confidentiality, we'd be interested in making the
changes so that could be accomplished."

That's the spirit of cooperation that has generally typified the pot
club issue in the last three to four years. The concern about
confidentiality demonstrates that there is still a certain amount of
suspicion between marijuana advocates and the city, but in general
they've been on the same page. When it became clear that some
unscrupulous dealers were in to make a quick buck, legitimate pot
club operators spoke up against them.

"This was never meant to be a moneymaking scheme," said the Rev.
Randi Webster, the former executive director of the San Francisco
Patients Cooperative. "A lot of those places were just money, money, money."

Shona Gochenaur, executive director of Axis of Love pot advocacy
group, said that in the last two years, fly-by-night dealers have
moved from city to city as officials strengthen the regulations.

"They knew they were only staying here until the gray areas were
defined," she said. "They made as much money as they could, but now
that we are setting guidelines, they are moving on."

Reed said that three to four years ago, the city had 42 clubs. Now it
is down to 25, and he thinks more will close soon, in part because of
how hard it is to get a final operating permit. Dispensaries have
until January to meet requirements to get a permit, which requires,
among other things, that the clubs get separate approval from a
number of city agencies and do background checks of employees.

"What is happening now will actually weed out a lot of the (clubs),"
Gochenaur said. "What we are saying is that excessive profit is not
OK. Not having direct patient services is not OK. These people are
going to say, 'This is not my entrepreneurial dream' and they are not
going to want to do it."

This is not only interesting because of how it is playing out in the
city, but there are also national ramifications. Gochenaur says as
many as 12 states are keeping an eye on how things play out in pot
clubs California, and San Francisco is leading the way in the state.

She thinks they will look to the city as a model of how to regulate
the clubs. God knows, the city has made plenty of mistakes along the
way. At one point a pot club was housed in the ground floor of a Care
Not Cash hotel that housed many recovering addicts. Those are the
kind of missteps that had to be corrected.

But Gochenaur thinks we're almost there.

"We've come a long, huge way from 2005 when neighbors were lining the
halls of City Hall to say they were concerned," she said.

There are still some neighborhood complaints, but today local pot
clubs are surprisingly dull and uncontroversial places. If you had
predicted that three years ago, critics would have likely had just
one question.

What have you been smoking?

Newshawk: http://www.canorml.org/news/2008electionroundup.html
Pubdate: Tue, 14 Oct 2008
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: B - 1
Webpage: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/10/14/BAS313G9VL.DTL
Copyright: 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.
Contact: letters@sfchronicle.com
Website: http://www.sfgate.com/chronicle/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/388
Author: C. W. Nevius, Chronicle Columnist
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/opinion.htm (Opinion)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/topic/dispensaries

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