San Francisco Indefinitely Suspends Medical Marijuana Licensing Program

 The San Francisco Department of Public Health has updated its medical cannabis website to include the following statement in big, bold letters: "UPDATE! Due to a recent court decision, the Department of Public Health is currently not accepting applications for a Permit to Operate a Medical Cannabis Dispensary. When the situation changes, this webpage will be updated. Thank you."

For medical marijuana advocates, this is very bad news: According to SF Weekly, medical marijuana licensing has been indefinitely suspended. The program had been on hold for several months, following the ruling in Pack vs. the City of Long Beach, which found issuing permits to distribute medical marijuana a violation of federal law. Last Wednesday, however, the California Supreme Court said it would hear an appeal on the case, and city officials said later in the week that during the appeal, permits could be processed again, according to SF Weekly. Thus, on Tuesday, SF Weekly reported "San Francisco has begun issuing medical marijuana dispensary licenses again."Just a day later, SF Weekly ran the opposite headline "BREAKING: San Francisco Suspends Medical Marijuana Licensing Program Indefinitely."

From SF Weekly:

"the city reversed its decision today, saying all permits are on hold indefinitely, according to Jim Soos, a spokesman 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.

What prompted the quick reversal is speculation at this point:

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 [U.S. Attorney Melinda] 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.

Another blow to Northern California's medical marijuana access came Tuesday: The Board of Supervisors for Mendocino County, just north of San Francisco, voted 4-1 to repeal a two-year ordinance that allowed medical marijuana collectives to grow up to 99 plants at a time, giving growers who provide for patients the same 12 plant limit as individuals growing for personal use. According to the Ukiah Daily Journal, the decision was a reaction to legal threats made by yet another U.S. pot prosecutor, Melinda Haag, and concern that the county may lose federal funding.

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at January 25, 2012, 3:22pm