Chem Tales: Legal Cannabis Sales for 4/20?

Zack Ruskin, SFWeekly

A new permitting program aims to regulate pot purchases — but not consumption — at certain large-scale cultural festivities. Again: not consumption.

District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman readily admits that the development and implementation of cannabis regulations in San Francisco has been a bit of an adventure so far.

“We’re in a brave new world here,” Mandelman says. “We’re making new laws and figuring stuff out as we go along.”

The latest edict on Mandelman’s agenda is the matter of permitting local cannabis events. Thanks to the efforts of California Assemblyman Bill Quirk, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 2020 into law last September.

In essence, the bill allows cities in California to define and issue permits for local events that involve the commercial sale of regulated cannabis as long as the permit-holder also has the necessary state license.

In late January, Mandelman introduced legislation setting the parameters for what a local cannabis permit would entail. Slated to be heard in committee before the end of February, his hope is that everything may be in place in time for San Francisco’s annual 4/20 celebration at Golden Gate Park.

“We have a strong desire to have that happen and believe that it can happen,” he says. “I’ve gotten no indications from any of my colleagues that they have reservations that are significant enough to slow it down. We have six co-sponsors at this point, and we are moving forward on an expedited basis.”

Before anyone gets their hopes up, the 4/20 celebration having an official permit doesn’t also mean that everyone is free to light up to their heart’s content. While this proposal would allow licensed cannabis retailers to sell product on-site, it does not allow for consumption that supersedes the city and venue’s current laws.

The permit “allows someone who holds a license to operate cannabis events from the state to put on an event in San Francisco,” Mandelman summarizes. “It will be subject to requirements of the Office of Cannabis and the requirements of any other agencies with jurisdiction over the event.”

For example, Rec and Park won’t be changing its strict (but understandable) prohibition on smoking at any of the locations it oversees. 4/20 revelers may be able to buy pot legally, but they’ll be on their own when it comes to what they do next. This also means that the organizers of events like 4/20 will still require the necessary permitting from the appropriate office, be it the Port Authority, Rec & Park, or the Entertainment Commission.

“We don’t want to make people unnecessarily duplicate work,” Mandelman notes, “but we also don’t want to be taking away jurisdiction from agencies that already have a regulatory role.”

Another complication stems from state law banning the sale of cannabis at any event where alcohol is also sold.

On this score, Mandelman is more optimistic that a solution may be found — a potentially promising start to one day imagining events on par with the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival having an authentic cannabis element.

“It is being worked through,” he offers, somewhat coyly. “You cannot have alcohol sales and cannabis together in the same event, but there have been events in the state of California that have managed to have both cannabis and alcohol sales by basically creating two separate events that happen to be in close proximity to each other. Our Office of Cannabis needs to figure out how it wants to deal with this and interpret those state requirements and allowances.”

Should the Board approve this, the workload that will fall to the Office of Cannabis represents yet another task for the notably understaffed department. While news of Office of Cannabis Director Nicole Elliott’s departure to join Gov. Gavin Newsom’s advisory team had not yet broken at the time SF Weekly spoke with Mandelman, he still agreed with the assertion that the department needs more resources.

“They’re being asked to process an immense volume of new applications for various things,” Mandelman says. “The backlog is significant. I’m very impressed with them, but there are not enough of them in that office. I do think it would make sense to give them more resources to get the job done.”

For now, the goal is to help San Francisco events that already focus on cannabis go legit. There are even provisions to allow for reduced or waived fees for some equity operators and non-profits on an event-by-event basis.

“The Office of Cannabis is primarily going to be dealing with events that have already been happening, like 4/20, and mainly working on bringing existing events into a more regulated space,” Mandelman says. “San Francisco has a long history of having really great street events, and we want people to have a reasonable expectation that they’re going to be safe at these events. We regulate them for safety, and that’s what we’re trying to do here in the cannabis space.”