Pubdate: Thu, 16 Jul 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


Last month, a collection of food trucks and vendors with portable 
tables under pop-up tents gathered on a strip of pavement in South of 
Market for a pancake breakfast. The Saturday morning meal was 
noteworthy enough to draw the attention of The New York Times and San 
Francisco Chronicle, because it involved cannabis.

The "loaded" pancakes were the opening ceremony for the "Get Baked 
Sale," a cannabis-laced food emporium that took over the space for 
the day. Attendees with a medical marijuana recommendation - 
available from doctors on-site, as always - could sample THC-laden 
treats until they became comatose, and buy an armload of their 
preferred super-strength brownies to bring home from the vendors. If 
you wanted a bag of regular old cannabis flower without the hassle of 
going to a dispensary, you could buy that, too.

The baked sale was a smashing success. According to organizer Jared 
Stratton, Get Baked drew 1,000 guests who paid up to $30 a head ($45 
if you wanted the loaded breakfast). A series of follow-up events, 
with the first scheduled for Aug. 1, was quickly planned.

It also drew attention from the city's Health Department, the only 
entity of any kind regulating commercial marijuana activity in San 
Francisco. Under the current interpretation of city law, cannabis 
cannot be legally sold in a farmers market environment. The story of 
how it came to be sold in that way, for a day at least, is a 
microcosm of the confused conditions in which California's 
multibillion-dollar cannabis industry operates. It's also an example 
of how the wild "Green Rush" is attracting a stampede of unscrupulous 
hucksters willing to bend or create rules on the fly in order to 
secure their piece of the market.

Republicans love to talk about how overregulation is strangling 
California's $2.3 trillion economy. If that were true, Donald Trump 
should adore the local marijuana free-for-all. No special state 
license is required to sell cannabis. Nor does any state agency 
outside of law enforcement regulate cannabis production or sales.

In San Francisco, the Department of Public Health is solely 
responsible for permitting and licensing the city's roughly 30 
medical cannabis dispensaries, known as MCDs. Anyone distributing 
cannabis to nine or more people in the city needs an MCD permit, and 
the distribution can be in one of two places: a licensed dispensary, 
or the end of a delivery conducted by that licensed dispensary. This 
means, technically, that the dozens of marijuana delivery outfits 
offering their services online are breaking the law.

This suggests that the city's rules are unenforceable. They may be. 
They are, for sure, rarely enforced.

Larry Kessler is the city health inspector who took over control of 
the city's MCD program on July 1. Kessler is "new" only to Green Rush 
greenhorns; he ran the MCD program for a long while before stepping 
aside a few years ago. After hearing about the first baked sale, 
Kessler laid it out clear: temporary, pop-up marijuana sales are not 
allowed. Stratton then informed him of the plan to have the event 
anyway, and to get around the nine-person rule by organizing as many 
nine-person cannabis collectives as necessary to service the demand 
from a thousand people. Kessler responded by informing the city's 
dispensaries via e-mail that any vendor who participated in such 
gamesmanship would no longer be able to sell their products in San 
Francisco - at all.

That sent some of the bigger, more reputable vendors packing. It also 
sent Stratton on a righteous tirade. "He's talking out of his fucking 
ass," Stratton says of Kessler. "I want what was promised to me and 
what the law states."

But the Get Baked Sale did more than play in the margins of vague 
rules. In order for any of the sales to have been legal in DPH's 
eyes, Stratton needed a licensed MCD on hand to "sponsor" the event. 
Under that sponsor's name - and, more importantly, under the 
sponsor's MCD permit - the cannabis products on hand at the Baked 
Sale could be sold. Stratton told Health Department officials that he 
had a licensed MCD to "sponsor" the event. That appears to have been 
a misrepresentation. The dispensary cited by Stratton as the sponsor 
claims it was not sponsoring anything, and was there only to sell 
non-psychoactive merchandise at a vendor booth Stratton offered them 
free of charge. That point may now be headed to litigation. In the 
meantime, that bit of hustle has been exploded: One of the two MCDs 
that Stratton identified as "sponsors" for the August event was 
similarly planning only on selling merchandise at a vendor table, its 
president told SF Weekly. That MCD has since dropped out entirely.

If you wonder why events like the High Times Cannabis Cup and HempCon 
only ever skirt the edges of San Francisco - their local home is at 
the Cow Palace, across the border in Daly City - the reason why lies 
in this squabble. At Cannabis Cups, attendees can walk around and buy 
marijuana products from anyone wishing to sell it (and there are 
plenty of people looking to sell). San Francisco will not abide that.

The Get Baked Sale may move to a more hospitable clime - to wit: 
Oakland, though a permit had not been secured by press time - but in 
the meantime, the dustup has also spelled the end of other cannabis 
pop-ups. At least two regular events, a chef-catered cannabis-infused 
dinner (which also received NYT coverage), and a monthly, women-run 
"speakeasy" called High Society that drew ou the dab crowd, have both 
gone to ground. "He's ruined it for a lot of the rest of us," one 
organizer said of Stratton.

It's not over, either. In the hurry to secure a segment of the 
pre-legalization cannabis market, Get Baked Sale kicked over a 
hornet's nest - of regulation. The deliveries may be next.

"You can't, just because you have a permit, hand out medical 
marijuana wherever you want in San Francisco," Kessler told SF 
Weekly. "The number of unpermitted deliveries going on in San 
Francisco right now is shocking."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom