Today I learned that marijuana dispensaries are not allowed to have roll-up security gates that are not transparent. But also today, the SF Planning Commission removed that restriction for pot shops.

District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai has had an interesting evolution when it comes to the exterior appearance of cannabis dispensary storefronts. In 2017, he complained that in District 11, “We don’t get the cigar-lounge, beautiful [dispensaries]. We get the bars-on-the-door, armed security guard.”

And yet today, at the San Francisco Planning Commission meeting, Safai introduced a measure that argues those bars on the door aren’t even effective. Safai’s ordinance would allow dispensaries to have solid metal roll-up security gates, in response to a rash of burglaries at dispensaries, particularly during the George Floyd demonstrations. The measure passed by an 8-1 vote.

This was a weird, nanny-state rule that likely few of us are even aware of. San Francisco dispensaries have a “transparency requirement” that “requires security gates to be at least 75% open to perpendicular view.” So the jail-bar version of security is compliant, but a solid-metal roll-up door, which is considered more secure, is not compliant.  

“This ordinance would allow businesses to use roll-up gates as a means of protecting themselves,” Safai told the commission. “Everyone in this room understands the amount of crime that has happened in this city, particularly towards businesses.”

“Ones that have been targeted heavily have been cannabis retail,” he added. “We’ve heard from a tremendous number of cannabis dispensaries, and they’ve told us that having transparent security systems on the front subject them to a higher level of burglary and vandalism.”

Because cannabis remains federally illegal, dispensaries cannot generally have bank accounts, so often have an exceptional amount of cash lying around. Moreover, their product is uniquely appealing on the illegal resale market.

How bad are the cannabis burglaries? “My dispensary was broken into about two months ago in a burglary that took a total of 3.8 seconds,” Flore Store owner Terrance Alan told the commission. “We had decided, because we could not have the roll-down gates, that we would rather they be able to enter the store without breaking windows and smashing down the front of the building.”

Because of the transparency requirement, dispensaries generally use something called a scissor gate. But Berner’s On Haight co-owner Shawn Richard argued these are uniquely ineffective.

“We had scissor gates put in at the very beginning, and no longer than a week after we opened up, our windows were busted out,” he said. “We’ve had to replace our windows four times in, we’re coming up on three years.”

But the commissioners pushed back on roll-up security gates. Commissioner Kathrin Moore, the sole No vote, said, “I have my own thoughts about roll-up doors, because it creates the impression of a fortified city of fear.”

Commissioner Sue Diamond added, “Those doors tend to be canvases for graffiti, and I am very, very worried about that.” She added, in a bit of an understatement, “We have anti-graffiti legislation in this city, but it’s not all that effective.”

Because of that concern, the ordinance only passed after the commission added a requirement that artwork would have to be added to any roll-down gates, to hopefully deter graffiti.

Though oddly, this is not permanent. “The exception for Cannabis Retail uses would expire 3 years after the legislation becomes active,” according to the Planning Commission materials on this matter.

Related: Cannabis Dispensaries Suffering Rash of Burglaries, Seemingly Indifferent Police Response