03/08/2012 02:40 pm ET Updated May 08, 2012

San Francisco Marijuana Smokers: More Pot Users Than Black People?

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

By Chris Roberts

The medical marijuana movement and hyperbole often go hand-in-hand. It wasn't more than a few years ago that the office of George W. Bush's drug czar spread the rumor that there were more pot clubs in San Francisco than Starbucks coffee shops, a drum they banged loudly and proudly (and one that, upon the slightest inspection, turned out to be mostly made up).

Some statistics you can prove, some you need to estimate. Numbers from the US Census -- which say there are 48,000 African-Americans in San Francisco in 2010 -- are a mixture of both. The number of medical marijuana patients in San Francisco is almost entirely an estimation -- there's no "master list" of people recommended marijuana by a physician sitting around in a cop's drawer -- but is guessed to be about 30,000 on the low end, and over 50,000 on the high end (it was about 45,000 a few years ago, according to medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access).

So: More medical marijuana patients than black people in San Francisco? Quite possibly. And, if not now -- as the black population dropped 20 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to Census figures -- almost definitely soon.

The reasons for African-American out-migration are too numerous and heavy for us to properly delve into here, but the trend has been going for some time, according to reports issued in 2008 and 1993.

Meanwhile, the paper trail created when a person becomes a medical marijuana patients is very short: The clinic -- be it legitimate doctor or plywood booth on Venice Beach -- keeps a copy of the recommendation, and the patient has a copy. One can go a step further and request a state-issued ID card through the local county health department, but it is voluntary, and no entity at the state or county level has a registry or list of all patients.

Colorado and Montana do have these lists, however. In those states, 2.5 percent and 3.0 percent of the total population respectively are medical marijuana patients (123,890 people in Colorao and 29,948 people in Montana). If those numbers are used as a range, there are between 750,000 and 1.2 million medical marijuana patients in all of California, according to an estimate California NORML did last year.

Using that math, there are between 20,000 and 28,000 medical cannabis patients in San Francisco, according to CA NORML's Dale Gieringer. Yet Americans for Safe Access thinks that's a bit low.

The tally is almost certainly higher in liberal urban areas than in suburban, more conservative areas, according to ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer, who pegged the number of pot patients at 45,000 just a few years ago.

"And it's almost certainly grown since then," she says, with anecdotal stories of college students in town receiving recommendations and other folks moving to San Francisco specifically for the weed-friendly atmosphere -- an unknown phenomenon, but possible (though sounds more Oaklandish to us).

"Between 30,000 and 50,000," Sherer told us via text on Tuesday, "that sounds right."

But we don't know, and until admitting to a federal felony is included on a Census form, we won't know. Yet the trends are moving in clear directions, meaning there's one eventuality -- it's just a matter of when.

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