SAN FRANCISCO -- Medical marijuana clubs will need a permit and will have to follow new zoning under regulations passed Tuesday by San Francisco supervisors.
Until now, the clubs have operated without government oversight. But elected officials in this liberal city sought to strike a better balance between their compassion for medical marijuana users and residents who have complained about noise, traffic and odor associated with the clubs.
The new rules, crafted with input from Mayor Gavin Newsom, require pot dispensaries to pay a total of $9,710 for a permit and business license.
The clubs also will be prohibited from opening in industrial or residential areas, and be barred from operating within 500 feet of schools or within 1,000 feet if pot-smoking is allowed on the premises.
Officials acknowledged that the zoning rules and fees would probably force a handful of the city's 35 clubs out of business.
"There is always a fine line - do you restrict or just allow - and we erred on the side of allowing," Newsom said. "We said to the clubs, 'Do what you do and do it appropriately,' but they got a little out of control."
Kris Hermes, legal director of the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said most patients and club owners were generally pleased with the new rules and see them as a stamp of approval from the city.
California is one of 10 states where medical marijuana is legal. Under the Compassionate Use Act approved in 1996, people with a doctor's recommendation are supposed to be able to smoke pot without fear of state or local prosecution.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health has issued ID cards to nearly 8,000 people who claim they need the drug to ease symptoms for afflictions ranging from AIDS to arthritis.
The clubs operate despite the U.S. Supreme Court's July ruing that medical marijuana patients can be prosecuted for illegal pot possession under federal law, regardless of state ordinances