San Francisco Creating ‘Office Of Cannabis’ For Marijuana Businesses

With California’s pot legalization fast approaching, San Francisco law makers have been scrambling to create a city department that will handle cannabis permits and complaints and serve as a centralized resource for the public and businesses.

This comes in the face of a hodgepodge of laws that even lawmakers haven’t quite deciphered, thereby creating an industry that is now only tentatively monitored. The city and state are now racing to create regulations and permit processes for non-medicinal cannabis sales as well.

Currently, the Department of Public Health provides permits and inspections for medical marijuana dispensaries.  In the city alone there are 39 dispensaries licensed to operate and another 28 applications in the pipeline, according to a report from the budget and legislative analyst.

This new centralized office, which will be part of the city administrator’s office, will not take over what the DPH once managed, rather add to its functions. Not only would the city’s new cannabis department be responsible for developing and managing a permitting process for all cannabis-related businesses, but it would also deal with public complaints, provide policy analysis and development and serve as the focal point of contact for businesses, the public and state regulators.

“The workflow will in many ways be the same. It will still go to planning. Then it goes to DPH, [and the Department of Building Inspection] has to do their inspections. The Fire Department still has to sign off,” said Adam Nguyen, finance and planning director, of the City Administrator’s Office. “The new Office of Cannabis would issue the final operating permit.”

This new list of regulations the office will develop are expected to be in place by Jan. 1, 2018, with the Board of Supervisors likely to vote on a local ordinance this fall.

State supervisors will vote on the measure to create a centralized Office of Cannabis, sponsored by Supervisors Jeff Sheehy and Malia Cohen, likely this week. The supervisors are also expected to vote on legislation extending zoning controls for marijuana production businesses through the end of the year to allow more time for permanent city regulations to be developed.

Mayor Ed Lee’s budget for the next fiscal year includes $700,000 for the office, which would include three positions and $225,000 for web site development, public outreach and overhead.

Not all are happy with this proposed cannabis department, however, as the sentiment that the department will simply add another unnecessary layer of bureaucratic hoops and fees seems to be growing.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer said last week that San Francisco is seeing more “larger corporate-style dispensaries supplanting smaller community-based operators” and asked if “adding an additional layer of bureaucracy and cost” would make it “even more difficult for smaller operators to operate in our city.”

Nguyen said that “the office is intended is intended to be lean, efficient and not create a burden.”

He added, “In terms of the fees and what they will be in the future, those will be proposed to the board.” The fees are intended to fund the office’s operating budget

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