San Francisco Board Votes to Ban Pot Shops in Chinatown

August 1, 2018 Updated: August 1, 2018

Marijuana shops will be prohibited in San Francisco’s historic Chinatown following a long discussion and vote by the city’s Board of Supervisors on July 31, 2018. At the meeting, supervisors voted 8–3 to amend the city’s planning code to prohibit the dispensaries, whether recreational or medicinal, from setting up shop in the neighborhood.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district covers the densely populated area, introduced the legislation, citing concerns that the pot shops would drive up commercial rental prices, displacing longtime Chinese residents and Chinese-owned and operated businesses. Supervisors Jane Kim, Ahsha Safai, Sandra Lee Fewer, and Katy Tang are co-sponsors of the legislation.

President of the Board, Supervisor Malia Cohen initially said she was “appalled to even be sitting here with this piece of legislation,” explaining that she was against a “geographic carve-out for a dispensary-free neighborhood.”

“I see this legislation as premature and a backdoor attempt to get special treatment,” she said. “We’re not a city that should be giving special treatment or deference to any neighborhood. Our role is to be objective.”

“I happen to represent the densest, most populous part of the city,” Peskin said, adding that Chinatown makes up roughly only 15 city blocks and that there are already more than a dozen pending dispensary permits in adjacent neighborhoods in District 3.

Supervisor Vallie Brown, suggested a temporary moratorium on the shops instead of a ban. “When you’re talking about a small merchant who’s been there for years, paying a small price per square foot, versus someone else who can come in and exorbitantly raise the rent, you’re no longer able to compete,” said Supervisor Safai. “In this particular conversation, for me, it’s really about preserving a part of San Francisco.”

“For me, this law is too new and I don’t see that gentrification threat happening at the moment because there are simply no applications for cannabis stores in Chinatown,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen said.

By the end of the discussion, however, Cohen had a change of heart. “I’m going to change my position,” she said, citing the handful of marijuana dispensaries already existing in District 3 and no current pending applications within Chinatown. “I’m comfortable that it’s within a 14-block, tight jurisdiction and also I think the argument is sound … and that there is enough access for anyone that wants to consume cannabis,” she said.

The eventual legislation passed with Brown, Ronen, and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman voting against it.

Reporting by Daniel Montes.