Cohen Focuses her Final Year on Cannabis Industry Equity

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District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen began her term in 2011, was reelected in 2015, and will complete her Board of Supervisors tenure in January 2019. She chairs the Budget and Finance and Budget and Finance Federal Select committees. This year, Cohen’s legislative attendance has exceeded 92 percent. She’s sponsored more than 100 pieces of legislation since January.

In February, Cohen filed to run for a State Board of Equalization seat, garnering endorsements from 16 labor and 74 political organizations and leaders, including outgoing Board of Equalization member Fiona Ma and six of her Board of Supervisors colleagues.

Governor Jerry Brown stripped the scandal-plagued state tax collection agency of most of its powers and duties last summer, prompting Assembly member Rich Gordon to withdraw from the race.  “I have come to the conclusion that, fundamentally, you can’t solve the problems that are surfacing at the Board of Equalization as long as the board is elected,” Gordon said. “The political process candidly interferes with the ability of the board to play its role as a quasi-judicial hearing body.”

According to Vermont Street resident, Marcy Fraser, Cohen’s lack of accountability to the public makes her a questionable pick for the Board of Equalization, though she doubts her main opponent, State Senator Cathleen Galgiani, will beat her. Fraser, a regular Nextdoor user, said that there’s a consensus on that social media platform that it’s fruitless to try and get in touch with Cohen or her aides; a response is highly unlikely.

Other community members expressed concerns over Cohen’s alleged acceptance of a $7,300 campaign donation from AT&T in advance of a key vote about relaxing local laws regarding utility box installation by that company, as reported by The San Francisco Examiner.

Tony Kelly, Potrero Hill Democratic Club president and a candidate to replace Cohen, interpreted Gordon’s comments as a warning against using the position as a stepping stone for other political offices.  Given an absence of significant opposition, he believes Cohen will likely win the seat. He hopes that during the remainder of her term she’ll prioritize issues facing District 10.

“Supervisor Cohen has said before that the issues plaguing the most vulnerable populations in District 10 were here before she was in office and will continue after she’s gone,” Kelly stated.  “I would hope that, in her last year in office, the Supervisor would attempt to listen to those populations more and work much more proactively on those issues.  But I hope that every year.”

Rose Marie Ostler, a Carolina Street resident who’s lived in Potrero Hill for 71 years, is frustrated that Cohen isn’t more responsive to District 10 residents. “All she wants to do now is move up the ladder,” she said.

Ostler related an experience as a St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church parishioner, in which she solicited Cohen’s help on parking issues during church services. Ostler said that at the time Cohen was running for a second term.  She came to the parish, but used the occasion to speak about her campaign, instead of showing interest in parking challenges. According to Ostler, churches in other neighborhoods have made special arrangements with the City for parishioners to park during services; Cohen took no action in this case.

According to a Wisconsin Street resident who preferred to remain anonymous, overall Cohen has done a good job representing District 10, but it was concerning that the Supervisor allegedly declined invitations to attend Potrero Hill Democratic Club meetings. Kelly stated that Cohen has only appeared twice at PHDC meetings since 2012, both times to ask, unsuccessfully, for election endorsements. Her aides have also been reportedly absent from PHDC meetings, but have attended Potrero Boosters gatherings.

“She’s had an open invitation to Boosters meetings, and her staff have attended them from time to time,” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president. “We have very good communication between her office; there’s open communication. I feel that we have developed a good working relationship and I look forward to that continuing for the remainder of her term.”

Eppler, who is contemplating running for the District 10 seat, commented that the Supervisor was instrumental in brokering a deal between the City and real estate developer Forest City to reduce the upper range set aside for commercial office uses slated to be built at Pier 70.  He hopes that Cohen makes the neighborhood’s infrastructure needs a top priority for the remainder of her term.

“I personally think that she’s done a really great job as Supervisor,” said Frank Gilson, Potrero Dogpatch Merchants Association president. “She’s very responsive to us. When we call her office, we get a call back. Also, either she or her staff have attended Merchant’s meeting, so we’ve definitely had access to her.”

Gilson echoed the sentiment that with the wealth of new development coming to Southside neighborhoods, infrastructure, such as roads, transit and open spaces, needs to be updated, hopefully with Cohen’s assistance. Gilson owns Potrero Chiropractors & Acupuncture, on Division Street, and has noticed more homeless individuals congregating outside his practice over the past year, which has negatively affected business. He hopes that Cohen will address the increase in homeless encampments in the community.

The range of legislative activities sponsored by Cohen in recent months has been broad, including a repeal of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, an amendment to the health code to prohibit retailers from selling flavored tobacco products, a resolution condemning the increase in incidents of anti-Semitism and other forms of bias, and a hearing on historic protections for the old Potrero Police Station on Third Street.

However, most of her recent work has been on issues pertaining to marijuana. In October, the Supervisor hosted a Cannabis Forum to introduce the District 10 community to the legal cannabis industry landscape. Forum panelists discussed topics such as criminal records expungement, job opportunities in the burgeoning industry and regulations.

“It is critical that we gather feedback at this event about the implementation and investments that people with lived experiences want to see take place,” said Cohen. “In particular, we want to hear directly from communities disproportionately burdened by the War on Drugs.”

Last fall, Cohen co-sponsored an ordinance to establish an Office of Cannabis. Unanimously approved by the Board, the entity will be the main regulating municipal body for recreational cannabis, and work to increase economic equity in the industry. State voters legalized recreational use of the substance for adults, effective next month.

State Senator Scott Weiner has criticized legislation introduced by Cohen that imposed a temporary moratorium on permitting new medical cannabis dispensaries, stating that the policy communicates a poor message about San Francisco’s attitude towards marijuana. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce similarly characterized the measure as a form of prohibition.