When a group of San Francisco activists recently disrupted a Nancy Pelosi news conference where she was advocating for amnesty for the “Dreamers”, she was shouted down because she is not using her place in Congress to demanding amnesty for all of their families and friends. Those out there in the rest of the country might have asked “What were they smoking?” Good question.
When 56% of California voters agreed in November to legalize recreational marijuana it seemed like an easy deal. January 1, 2018, no problem. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome had made it a plank of his nascent campaign to replace Jerry Brown as governor. A former staffer at the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission has been hired to run the new California Bureau of Cannabis Control, filling in the holes in state legislation governing cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and retailing. There are no standards or testing methodology for “driving while stoned”, it will take a number of court cases to define the boundaries for workplace discipline, and there is not enough time for adequate background checks before licenses are granted, but the $1 billion in tax revenue will start rolling in. The real task for the new Commission is to get the big growers in northern California – including the Mexican cartels – to come out of the shadows, but production in the state serves demand well beyond California, and the underground economy will retain much of its vigor.
That’s the big picture. Taking it down to the local level in San Francisco the regulators will not be ready for the New Years Eve Party. Not because they don’t understand marijuana – there are already 38 medical marijuana dispensariesin the City. Not because they do not know how to regulate the details of the lives of fragile citizens – plastic bags are banned, flavored cigarettes are about to be, and soft drinks are prohibitively taxed. No, the problem is that some of the City Supervisors need to keep up with Oakland where 50 percent of cannabis business licenses must go to former marijuana felons and to residents of several neighborhoods considered especially damaged by the war on drugs. In densely packed San Francisco, that leads to clusters of dispensaries in lesser neighborhoods where the $240 million homeless industry is centered. So much for fixing urban blight.
Finding the equation for marijuana is not the only drug opportunity for San Francisco’s progressive Supervisors who compete to demonstrate “out of the box” thinking. Earlier this year Board President London Breed began serious study of City-provided drug injection sites for the estimated 22,500 heroine and meth addicts in the City. Caught between an intractable population of 7500 homeless folks and a citizenry who are becoming less tolerant of the sidewalk sleepers and the used needles which litter some of the best tourist spots, the probable outcome will be clean, City-staffed cubicles with showers and social workers. Visions of 19th century Chinese opium dens. Back in the day, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and The Salvation Army held the central tenet that addicts need to accept responsibility for their actions and commit to a program involving self discipline. In San Francisco, it is “whatever”. Unfortunately, when the sites are built, “they will come” from close and afar.
And how does the underclass pay for its drug habits? One factor – car burglaries which have grown dramatically to a reported 30,000 per year in San Francisco in the three years since California reduced the penalty for theft under $950 to a slap on the wrist. That followed a 2013 decision by the state to respond to overcrowding in the state penitentiary system by transferring less serious offenders to the county jails, which in turn made the local district attorneys virtually stop prosecuting “smash and grab” burglaries even when the offenders were caught.
San Francisco is increasingly becoming a Tale of Two Cities. A $10 billion budget with 14,000 city employees (including bus drivers) making over $100,000 per year, and an exodus of the private sector working class. Virtually no middle class housing growth while the population has grown by 50,000 in the last seven years. The home of Uber, Twitter, Lyft, Wells Fargo, and Sales Force, and an army of drug users sleeping under bridges. By measures large and small, the government of San Francisco has moved beyond the traditional liberal solutions offered by Nancy Pelosi’s generation, and, despite all of its financial resources, has not yet found common sense solutions to basic requirements for the middle and lower classes.
As an aside: One might ask why a conservative would remain behind enemy lines. The climate is perfect; the topography is stunning; entertainment is diverse and top notch; good friends; and when it comes to politics, it is easy to be the smartest guy in the room.