Commander John Loftus of the SFPD Office of Investigations stood before the Police Commission at Wednesday night’s meeting to present on the issues surrounding SFPD’s medicinal marijuana policy. The main goal of the collaboration between the SFPD, city agencies and medical marijuana advocacy groups, Commander Loftus said, is to ensure that qualified patients have safe and legal access to their medicine.
At their most recent meeting on July 14, the SFPD met with marijuana advocates–including the Axis of Love, a local medical cannabis patient advocacy and social service organization, and other groups–the Planning Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Public Health to identify the problems impeding this goal and the solution to these obstacles.
“We’d like to see some more defined ordinances giving us a little better guidelines. We’d like to see a little more work on behalf of the city and city departments on permitting [and] licensing of these clubs, and also some inspection and compliance work,” Commander Loftus told the Commission in his presentation.
Other primary concerns the commander discussed were the safety, the electricity needs, the proper irrigation and waste systems, ventilation, and security at the grow sites.
“I’m not a plumber, I’m not an electrician, I’m not a building inspector. And that’s where the problem comes. At some point, in San Francisco, if you want a residential grow, you go down, you apply for a permit, just like you do when you’re trying to remodel your bathroom. You get inspections, you have plans, licensing, the permits…and when you go through all the steps, you’re set,” Loftus said.
Though he admitted there needs to be changes and it will take time and a number of steps, one of which is to create a system to sort out the legitimate grows from the profiteers.
Shona Gochenaur, executive director for Axis Of Love and compassionate coordinator for their community garden, has been working with the SFPD for better protection of the medical marijuana community. She told the commission that she is aware 80 raids in one area, which is more than the federal raids for the entire state. Police raids by untrained officers aid profiteers, cause destitution for families and anguish for suffering patients, she explained, having been a victim of a raid herself.
Gochenaur, who has worked with three different police chiefs on the issue of compassionate policy, is pushing for changes to protect the community from raids, such as: standardization of collective documentation, much like the MCD legislation or article 33, which provides a name and 24 contact number for a liaison; more education for narcotics officers; code violations to be reported to the DBI and not straight to the SFPD; and other levels of compliance to ensure safety.
Other advocates stood before the commission in support of these measures. Stewart Rhodes, who for the last six months has been running a subcommittee for the Medical Cannabis Working Group, has had several meetings with Commander Loftus to discuss the enforcement of cannabis law in SF. Rhodes commended the SFPD for their dealings with weapons, hard drugs and other illicit activity, but said his community was not involved in these things.
“We’re like medics on a battlefield… a lot of people like me in this community that need to be recognized as the assets to the community that they really are,” Rhodes said.
He agreed with Commander Loftus and Gochenaur that there needs to be a formal program process, but also agreed that it’s not going to happen immediately.
Little has changed with the legal issues around medicinal marijuana since the July 14 meeting and the SFPD still struggles with ambiguities and conflicts between local ordinances and state ordinances. For instance, there is a minimum statewide guideline of 6 mature plants or 12 immature plants and up to 8 ounces of processed cannabis flowers, but San Francisco’s collectives allow 24 plants per qualified patient, and 9 patients in a house. Which means 216 plants.
“And it’s when you have 216 plants in a house, in a grow that it creates some of the problems we’re discussing,” Commander Loftus said.
Commissioner Petra DeJesus was the most outspoken member of the commission, and was visibly perturbed by the fact the commander could not identify where he got the pictures from the SFPD presentation on safety concerns. When asked whether the pictures of tangled electrical wires and amateur plumbing systems were from the homes of compassionate growers or illicit growers, the commander was unsure.
“When I see pictures and I don’t know where they come from, and they’re illegal activity, I think that really skews the presentation. We’re trying to work hand-in-hand with the medical dispensaries because they have a stated right to have medical cannabis and I just don’t want people infringing on their right,” Commissioner DeJesus responded.
To which Assistant Police Chief Jeff Godown retorted, “I don’t think its fair to take it out of context; I think it’s fair for the commander to talk about the issues that we deal with on a daily basis…This presentation was never put together to show any negativity towards the compassionate growers.”
Dejesus spoke of her concern about what the SFPD will do in the future to educate the department. To which the Commander said he will see to it that all officers will be trained.
There has been a surge of growth in the applications for medical dispensaries in SF just this year. Between 2007 and 2009, the Department of Public Health received only one application for a new dispensary. Since the beginning of 2010, they’ve already received eight. The SFPD expects for this process to continue and hopes to see a lot more development in the cannabis dispensaries in SF.
“We’re in new territory here and we’re not going back the way it was ten years ago. We are moving forward. There are municipalities throughout the nation taking steps to legalize medicinal marijuana, it’s just how each city is going deal with it and what guidelines they’ll put in place,” said the commander.
There will be a meeting on Tuesday of next week with many of these city agencies to discuss the issues that they’re seeing in the cultivation of marijuana and what the future will hold for them.