Waiting to inhale

Bay Area cities envision a post-Prop. 19 world of tax revenue and hash bars, but San Francisco opts to wait and see

It's an open question how recreational smokers will get their weed if Prop. 19 passes


Much of the controversy around Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in California for even nonmedical uses, involves speculation about what comes next. Hash bars on Market Street? Packs of joints next to the cigarettes in Mission District bodegas? Bags of green buds available with the bongs for sale on Haight Street? They are questions that have yet to get serious consideration in the city where the medical marijuana movement was launched.

The measure would give local governments almost complete control over how to regulate recreational-use cannabis sales in much the same way that cities set their own standards for medical marijuana dispensaries, a realm in which San Francisco has shown real leadership and created a well-functioning, successful, and legitimate industry (see "Marijuana goes mainstream," Jan. 27).

But San Franciscans have been slow to prepare for the post-Prop. 19 world, with some other Bay Area cities leaving it in the dust on these issues. Oakland City Council Member Rebecca Kaplan, who is now running for mayor, not only spearheaded that city's ballot measures on taxing recreational pot sales and permitting large scale growing operations, she's actively talking using the Amsterdam model to revitalize the city's downtown business district.

"[Hash bars] absolutely potentially would be part of the mix," Kaplan told us when we asked about the issue during her mayoral endorsement interview, seeing it as part of a multipronged economic development strategy.

When asked if Oakland should have places where people could go to blaze legally, something Oakland doesn't allow in its medical marijuana dispensaries, Kaplan said, "Yes. Oh yeah, we're definitely gonna have those. The only question is gonna be whether the consumption facilities are separate from [those for] sales," or if they're under the same roof.

Kaplan thinks this will be part of the winning strategy that takes cannabis use off street corners while acknowledging its appeal to visitors and "synergy with the restaurants. When I talk about wanting to replicate the Amsterdam model in Oakland ... it doesn't just mean that you have ... a regulated cannabis facility. You also have restaurants, shops, pedestrian safety, nice lighting, patio dining, musicians, artists."

She points out that although an Oakland-regulated cannabis industry may use current alcohol regulation as a template, the two substances would not be sold alongside each other. "Frankly, ABC [California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) will freak out." That means, at least in Oakland, you won't be able to purchase cannabis at bars, liquor, or grocery stores.

On this side of the bay, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi — who wrote the regulations on the city's medical marijuana facilities — says it is "extremely premature" to contemplate Amsterdam-esque hash bars. "That would have to occur within a strong regulatory framework," he said, one the Board of Supervisors has yet to envision. San Francisco attorney David Owen, who has helped advise some medical marijuana purveyors, said some dispensaries currently allow on-site medication, and San Francisco might legislate to extend the practice to bars.

Meanwhile other California cities such as Berkeley and Oakland are anticipating Prop. 19's passage much more proactively. Berkeley's Measure S would tax cannabis businesses, applying different rates to for profit med-use cannabis businesses, nonprofit med-use businesses, and rec-use businesses (which won't exist unless Prop 19 passes). The measure would secure medical-use cannabis for low-income patients and tighten regulations on Berkeley's current med-use dispensaries and cultivators regardless of how Prop. 19 fares. There's also a Measure T on the ballot that would establish a new committee that, in the event that Prop. 19 passes, would advise city officials on how to implement it.