A Board of Supervisors committee voted Wednesday to relax the city's new medical marijuana regulations to give pot clubs operating in residential neighborhoods a grace period before they have to shut down and relocate.
An ordinance passed in November establishing rules for where cannabis outlets can be located, how they are run and by whom restricts them to commercial and industrial areas.
The proposed change -- approved by the supervisors' Land Use Committee and sent to the full board for the first of two votes on Tuesday -- would give clubs in residential areas at least a year longer to remain in business while searching for a new location.
Critics of marijuana clubs assailed the move as tolerating neighborhood nuisances, while supporters said it was important not to cut off access to the drug as suppliers adapt to the new rules.
"This area in the Haight is known as a drug-dealing corner," said Arthur Evans, referring to a section of his neighborhood that is home to a cannabis outlet. "Supervisors, this club has a record of lying in representing itself, and it continues to be in violation of the law that you yourselves passed and promised to enforce."
But Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, an advocate for legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes and author of the new pot club regulations, said it isn't surprising that adjustments need to be made to ensure the results are what lawmakers intended.
, and that should not be a surprise given that that this was an 84-page document initially. This is the first time as a city and county that we have invented a complex regulatory system."
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215 legalizing pot for people who have a legitimate medical need. Mayor Gavin Newsom, all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors and the city's elected district attorney are on record in support of making marijuana available for medical purposes even though sale of the drug remains illegal under federal law.
Until supervisors took action last year, San Francisco officials were in legal limbo, watching as the number of clubs dispensing marijuana grew from nine to more than 40 in a five-year period. Residents across the city complained that the clubs were operating in close proximity to each other, attracting drug dealing and other criminal activity and in some cases doing business near schools or youth centers.
The new ordinance, which took effect Dec. 30, prohibits a club from operating within 1,000 feet of a school or youth facility, bans the clubs from residential neighborhoods and requires all clubs -- including those already in business -- to apply for permits from the Planning and Health departments starting next July.
Last month, the city's Planning Commission voted down a proposed club near Fisherman's Wharf after area merchants and residents protested.
Today, between 30 and 40 clubs are believed to still be in operation, city officials say.
The amendments proposed by Mirkarimi and approved by the committee Wednesday would allow a club operating in a residential area since April 1, 2005, to stay in business provided it submits an application by June 30, 2007, for a permit to move to a new site. The club would be able to stay open while the permit application is under review.
The amendments also would clarify notification rules for permit applicants, saying that all residents and owners of property within 300 feet of a proposed club must be advised before the city takes action.
One other proposed change that has troubled some residents is the elimination of employment history checks by the San Francisco Police Department for anyone wanting to work in a pot club. Police would still perform a criminal background check on dispensary workers.
Mirkarimi said his office has been contacted by dozens of people objecting to his proposed amendments, with some of them "calling us drug lords or potheads."
The supervisor said he wants to be responsive to complaints from residents, but added: "I'm also very concerned about the alarm that has been manufactured by various entities in the public who are misinterpreting or misconstruing these amendments."
Medical marijuana advocates lauded Mirkarimi's proposed amendments as sensible. Dale Gieringer, of the California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said a pot club "adds to the local color" of the city.
"This is San Francisco. This isn't Los Altos. I really think we have to take a common-sense view on this," he said.
E-mail Charlie Goodyear at email@example.com.