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San Francisco Medical Marijuana Dispensary Licensing Program Suspended Indefinitely

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This article comes to us courtesy of SF Weekly's The Snitch.

By Chris Roberts

San Francisco city officials indefinitely suspended the city's medical marijuana dispensary permitting program on Wednesday, according to the Department of Public Health.

Pending permits had been on hold since December, after a ruling in a state appeals court case halted similar permitting programs across California. That case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, and during the appeal, the city could resume processing permits, a spokesman for the City Attorney told SF Weekly last week.

But the city reversed its decision today. All medical cannabis dispensary permit applications are on hold indefinitely, according to Jim Soos, an assistant director of Policy and Planning with the city Department of Public Health, until the city can "receive assurance that it is in compliance with state and federal law."

DPH staff made the decision to put all permits on hold in consultation with the City Attorney's Office, which provides legal advice to all city departments, he said.

"We're waiting for more clarity from the state on our ability to issue permits," said Soos, who added that the federal Department of Justice's recent closure of five permitted dispensaries also weighed on the city's decision. "Until the Health Department can sort out the criteria driving the [Justice Department]'s actions, it will not be issuing permits."

A year ago, the city had 27 licensed dispensaries, with up to a dozen more applying for permits. Since then, five permitted San Francisco dispensaries have closed after receiving letters from Melinda Haag, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California. The letters informed the dispensaries' landlords that they were in violation of federal law, and were subject to forfeiture of their property and up to 40 years in prison if the dispensaries didn't close.

Jack Gillund, a spokesman for Haag, said the office had no comment.

The city was among the first in California to begin issuing permits to medical cannabis dispensaries in 2005, after the Board of Supervisors passed the Medical Cannabis Act, legislation authored by then-Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

San Francisco's medical cannabis dispensary program had been on hold following a state court of appeals ruling on Pack vs. the City of Long Beach. The court ruling said that a city issuing permits for medical marijuana by itself was a violation of federal law.

The state Supreme Court said Wednesday it would hear an appeal on the case. During the appeal, permits could start being processed again, the City Attorney said last week. A spokesman for the City Attorney's office said earlier on Wednesday that that legal advice offered last week has not changed.

It is not immediately clear what influenced the city's change of heart. Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the office could not offer further comment, citing attorney-client privilege.

Sources inside the medical marijuana community are speculating that Haag's office may have threatened San Francisco city officials with a lawsuit, in a manner similar to threats of a lawsuit issued to Mendocino County over its permitting process. That permitting process was canceled Tuesday.

It is also unclear who will issue legal advice to San Francisco on its ability to issue permits. In a letter sent to lawmakers last year, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said that the Legislature must offer more clarity on what the state's medical marijuana laws allowed. A spokesman for Harris was not able to immediately comment Wednesday when contacted by SF Weekly.

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