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 Full House for Pot Club Hearing

Former D.A. says he'd advise against any record keeping


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Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Author: Suzanne Herel, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, April 26, 2005 - Page B - 2
Copyright: 2005 San Francisco Chronicle 
Contact: [email protected]

S.F. Calif. -- Former San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan told a Board of Supervisors committee Monday that strict regulation of pot clubs in San Francisco isn't feasible.

Now a defense lawyer, Hallinan said, "I'd certainly advise any client of mine not to sign any document ... or keep any records that a federal grand jury could subpoena."

Hallinan, a longtime champion of medical marijuana, spoke at a public hearing of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, which is trying to figure out how to rein in the burgeoning pot dispensaries in the city.

The hours-long meeting drew dozens of speakers and a packed crowd at City Hall.

With an estimated 43 such dispensaries, San Francisco is home to more pot clubs than any other California municipality. The growth has spawned complaints about smoking at the clubs, loitering, noise, double-parking, people buying marijuana who don't have a medical need for it, and people reselling the product on the street, said Larry Badiner, the city's zoning administrator.

The hearing was called by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who last month got passed a 45-day moratorium on new clubs. He reassured the crowd that the supervisors are dedicated to preserving access to medical marijuana in San Francisco.

Using medical marijuana at the recommendation of a physician is legal in California under the 1996 Compassionate Use Act, also known as Proposition 215. However, any use of the drug is still illegal under federal law.

"Why we're congregated here today is not to ban clubs. We are trying to simply say something smart," Mirkarimi said. "There's nothing wrong with saying that if you are going to allow patients to consume cannabis, then having a proper ventilation system is not unwise."

Proper ventilation is one of a number of recommendations that Mayor Gavin Newsom has submitted to the Board of Supervisors.

Badiner, of the Planning Department, was asked to testify regarding current requirements applying to pot clubs and what authority the department could offer to a city law regulating them.

"The land use regulations are the weakest they could be and still be considered regulations," and are based on a decade-old interpretation of the zoning law made by his predecessor, Badiner said.

However, he said, the city does require that any business, including a pot club, fill out a change-of-use form.

"Only two of those have actually happened," Badiner said. "Only two of those have gone through the legal process, leaving the rest of them without the benefit of permit."

The Planning Department could follow one of Newsom's recommendations and prohibit pot clubs within 1,000 feet of public schools, youth and child-care centers, drug treatment facilities and parks, he said.

But, Badiner said, "There are not many areas under that criteria that make it legal to operate these. It would be very difficult to locate under these rules."

He said that supervisors could consider the majority of the clubs illegal, since only two have any kind of permit; or, they could grandfather in existing clubs.

Proponents of medicinal marijuana fear that increased regulation of the clubs would create a paper trail that federal drug enforcement officials could use to clamp down on dispensaries. But others, including Mirkarimi, argue that though the threat of a raid is always there, it's in the best interest of the city and the patients to make sure the clinics are well run.

San Francisco has become a magnet for the businesses since surrounding municipalities have started regulating the clubs in their areas.

Related Articles & Web Site:

Medicinal Cannabis Research Links

City Hearing Examines Options for Regulating

High Time To Regulate

Newsom Offers Plan To Regulate Pot Clubs

Newsom Declares Moratorium on Marijuana Clubs



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