As director of San Francisco's Office of Cannabis, Nicole Elliott is helping shape the city's regulations when it comes to cannabis sales. With California in January enacting Proposition 64, which legalized recreational use of marijuana, the city is the first in the U.S. to allow "consumption lounges" -- six for recreational consumption and two for medical consumption -- where guests can consume cannabis in a public space. Elliott spoke with hotels editor Danny King.
Q: You were appointed to this position in August. How's the job gone so far?
A: Sometimes it feels like it's been three months, sometimes it feels like three years. I work every waking moment. Everything is moving at lightning speed right now on the local and state level. There are many fire drills every day. Everything is urgent.
Q: Why did you take the job?
A: The decriminalization issue is very meaningful to me. When I was in college, I did volunteer work at San Quentin [State Prison]. You can see the racism [with marijuana convictions] in our criminal justice system. I didn't get to address that then. This allows me to do that.
Q: How are you working with San Francisco's tourism bureau in addressing legal cannabis consumption?
A: We want to make sure tourists are getting proper information: where to consume, how to consume safely and responsibly. We have federal land throughout San Francisco, so we want to make sure everyone understands the implications of possessing and consuming on federal property. We're encouraging people to buy [cannabis] in San Francisco to support our small businesses, but this is not a product you can take home with you if you live outside of California, so we're trying to educate the tourists on the nuances.
Q: Do you think San Francisco's allowing cannabis consumption in lounges is a potential tourism draw?
A: I do. For a lot of people who want to consume in a social environment, that's definitely a draw.
Q: What are your goals for regulating consumption lounges?
A: Those regulations fall squarely with the department of public health. They've done a lot of great work on clean air in workplaces, so it's a tricky line to walk. We've heard a lot from constituents about the desire to consume in a social setting within the confines of the law in a dense urban area. We have plenty of people who live in housing where they're not allowed to consume, so we want to make sure they have a place to do that, which is why we have our existing eight lounges.
Q: Are you concerned about pushback from residents or tourism-related companies with regard to the potentially negative connotation of cannabis use?
A: [Residential opposition is] a challenge with any activity, but it's not beyond the realm that it can be done in a graceful way. And I haven't heard from anyone in the hospitality industry expressing anxiety about consumption lounges.
Q: With cannabis consumption outlawed on the federal level, are you concerned about San Francisco being a target?
A: Almost three-quarters of our voters supported Proposition 64, so we have a mandate to put in a structure that properly regulates that. These mandates are meant to address the issues that are concerns of the federal government. And the federal government has indicated that their priorities would be focused on things other than cannabis activity. So long as we don't see things like youth [use] or cartels, we share those goals.
Q: How does it feel to be on the leading edge when it comes to public cannabis consumption in the U.S.?
A: It definitely feels very San Francisco. It feels like a lot of responsibility, but the city, in many issues, has been on the leading edge of progressive politics, and this is no exception.