Last Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2005, San Francisco took an historic step forward in the fight for medical marijuana when its Board of Supervisors unanimously approved legislation regulating the city’s medical cannabis dispensaries (MCDs). The Medical Cannabis Act, introduced by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, was passed in order to effectively address patient welfare and neighborhood safety, and offers a number of protocols and restrictions on MCD permitting and operation:

• MCDs cannot operate within 1,000 feet of schools and community centers (but does not apply to MCDs in operation prior to April 1, 2005)
• MCDs cannot be at the same location as a licensed substance abuse center
• MCDs cannot serve alcohol
• MCDs must install proper ventilation if smoking is allowed onsite
• MCDs must obtain a permit from the Department of Planning, which will hold discretionary hearings for new MCDs
• MCDs must abide by signage and advertising requirements
• Oversight of the MCDs will rest with the Department of Public Health, and not law enforcement.
• The new legislation also sets plant limits allowing caregivers, and patients to possess up to 8 ounces and 24 plants, or 25 feet of garden canopy, per patient.

By implementing these regulations, the City and County of San Francisco has once again demonstrated its longstanding support of medical cannabis. San Francisco’s legislation serves to secure patients’ access to their medicine, as well as sanction the distribution of medical cannabis by treating MCDs like other businesses. While other local governments in California have placed moratoriums or permanent bans on MCDs, the Alliance hopes that the passing of the Medical Cannabis Act in San Francisco will serve as an example of how regulations can, and should, consider the needs of both the patients and the community of which they are a part.

The San Francisco and Oakland offices of the Drug Policy Alliance have been involved in the formation of this legislation since the city halted MCD expansion in April 2005. In a committed effort to preserve San Francisco’s widespread access to medical cannabis for qualified patients, the Alliance organized lawyers, patients and activists to weigh in on the crafting of the legislation, offering sensible solutions and challenging unnecessary caps and restrictions. The Alliance met on many occasions with Supervisor Mirkarimi, coordinated numerous community meetings, hosted a forum featuring Mayor Newsom, generated media coverage such as Ethan Nadelmann’s July 26 op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, solicited endorsements, and continuously lobbied city officials (such as the City Attorney and the Mayor) to ensure the final legislation would address the most imperative concerns of all stakeholders involved.

This landmark legislation serves as the best example of how cities and towns across the state and country can regulate distribution of medical cannabis in a constructive and positive way.