At least one California city is already moving to get its ducks in a row before voters legalize marijuana.

San Francisco SkylineOfficials in San Francisco are forming a task force to draft proposed regulations for a local legal cannabis industry. With legalization almost a sure thing, they say they want to tackle a host of concerns, from marijuana potency to zoning.

The new Cannabis State Legalization Task Force will include 14 members, and it will advise the city’s Board of Supervisors on regulatory issues for the industry. Nearly 50 people, including dispensary owners, cancer patients, and healthcare providers, submitted applications to join the group.

Eleven of them were selected by the supervisors’ Rules Committee in December, while a decision on the remaining three seats was delayed until next year. The Board of Supervisors is expected to approve the full membership, and the task force has scheduled its first meeting for January.

Several fundraising groups are seeking to get legalization on the November 2016 statewide ballot. The two biggest groups recently joined forces, putting their money behind the legalization proposal introduced by tech billionaire Sean Parker.

Highly likely to legalize in 2016

Public support for reform is very strong in California, strong enough that most observers predict it will pass at the polls. The only real obstacle is infighting among the various groups pushing for legalization, and the recent merger should alleviate some of that conflict.

In San Francisco, activists said the task force faces several issues. The biggest, said Erich Pearson, who founded one of the city’s largest medical marijuana dispensaries, is the need for zoning changes to allow more cannabis shops to do business.

“We need to determine how many cannabis users we are going to have in San Francisco and how many stores that’s going to take to distribute that cannabis once it’s legal,” Pearson said.

It’s not clear what approach the city will ultimately take to zoning questions, but neighborhood complaints are common when new dispensaries open. That suggests the city may have to deal with some blow back once it starts siting legal retail pot shops.

Zoning concerns must be addressed

Marijuana LeavesSan Francisco currently limits all MMJ stores to an area of the city known as the “green zone.” That means shops are clustered in a small area, a fact that itself leads to frequent complaints from neighbors. The city has roughly 30 dispensaries in operation.

City leaders wanted to get ahead of legalization and create “smart local regulation,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who formed the task force. The group, Wiener said, could save the city from having to deal with a “fire drill” once legalization passes.

Kevin Reed, owner of a local dispensary, told the Supervisors’ committee that legalization would “severely” effect neighborhoods where dispensaries are already permitted. The concentration of shops would be too great, Reed said.

“We do need more dispensaries in the city to handle legalization,” he told the committee.

Reed and fellow activists have proposed that San Francisco open new areas to shops, including the Bayview neighborhood. And stores should be allowed to operate above the ground floor of the buildings where they’re located, he said.

“You have an entire Financial District of tall buildings that you can open up,” Reed said.


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