board of supervisors

Pot Club Appeal Headed to the Board of Supes

By Thomas K. Pendergast

 

Although a medical cannabis dispensary (MCD) proposed for Noriega Street in the Sunset

District got a green light from the city’s Planning Commission, opponents of the project

are seeing red and have appealed the decision to the SF Board of Supervisors.

 

The appeal hearing is scheduled to go before the board on Sept. 5; however, an aide to SF

Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents the Sunset, says she will make a motion to move

the hearing to Oct. 3 because the September date already has a full agenda.

 

The appeal was filed by an attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) – an organization

that describes itself as a defender of religious freedom and parental rights – on behalf of

the Ark of Hope Preschool and the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit. Both the

preschool and the church are on Noriega Street.

 

The preschool is two blocks west and the church is one block east of the proposed MCD

location, which is on Noriega Street at 32nd Avenue.

 

“The placement of a marijuana dispensary at this location is against the interest of the

community, as well as the guidelines that are there to protect places where children

congregate,” said Brad Dacus, PJI’s president. “In reviewing the approval of these

places, whether it’s a marijuana dispensary or liquor store or strip club … it’s the duty of

the City to ensure that they’re listening to the concerns of the community and take those

concerns into strong consideration. After all, it’s the people living in the community who

will have to be dealing with this decision on a daily basis. So, for them not to hear the

overwhelming, resounding  opposition to this approval would be a breach of trust with

that community.”

 

According to the SF Planning Department, as of July 13, approximately 1,000 e-mails or

letters in support of the proposal have come in, many of which are from residents of the

Sunset neighborhood who would utilize the proposed MCD. The department also

received approximately 767 e-mails or letters in opposition to the proposal, many of

which are also from residents of the Sunset.

 

“We simply want a choice for Chinese-speaking patients who live in the Sunset area to

get safe, local medicine. That’s all we’re doing,” said Dr. Floyd Huen, who with his wife,

former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, are planning to open the Apothecarium MCD on

Noriega Street (they currently run two others, one in the Castro and one in the

Marina). “We’re not interested in young people using it and we would support efforts

to not have them use it, just like alcohol and other drugs as well.”

 

A spokesperson for the Apothecaries, Eliot Dobris, said the MCD has criteria for

membership and restrictions as well.

 

“To come inside you have to have a recommendation from a physician or osteopath,”

said Dobris. “We verify your government I.D. and your recommendation with your

physician when you’re a new patient. And then, all patients sign a member-patient

agreement. They agree to a code of conduct, including that they will not use the product

inside or outside the dispensary, and that they will not resell it.”

 

The menu choices for marijuana show the price range for one-eighth of an ounce to be

between $40-$55. Efforts to bring MCDs into the Sunset in the last seven years have met

stiff resistance from many in the neighborhood.

 

In 2010, the Planning Commission approved the application of an MCD in the Sunset but

its decision was overturned at the SF Board of Appeals. In 2015, the commission flat out

rejected another proposed MCD because at the time they did not see the issue as having

any more traction. But, at least one commissioner knew the wind might be

changing direction.

 

“I support the medical use of cannabis,” said Dennis Richards as he cast his vote. “I

actually used to be on the board of a non-profit medical cannabis dispensary. I think

there is a positive benefit to the community to have one. However, with the

overwhelming community outpouring, I’m inclined not to support it, with one caveat;

2016 is coming and we’re going to have, probably, the legalization of cannabis in this

state, and we’re going to have to figure out how the Sunset is going to remain a

dry county.”

 

And indeed, the 2016 state vote changed the legal equation as California voters approved

recreational marijuana. But the PJI is challenging the decision on the Apothecarium site

on both state law and local ordinances. According to a brief filed by the PJI with the

supervisors, the decision by the Planning Department that the Ark of Hope is not a

“school” is a point of contention.

 

The brief says: “The California Health and Safety Code gives the board broad discretion

to adopt ordinances or policies that … restrict the location or establishment of a medical

marijuana cooperative, collective, dispensary, operator, establishment, or provider … to

places far away from locations where children frequently congregate. It clearly makes

sense to restrict businesses that can only serve adults, including MCDs, from areas which

are an intrinsic draw for children.

 

“Preschools, it should go without saying, are intrinsic draws for children. Churches are

also intrinsic draws for children because they may have a Sunday School class and have

regularly organized youth groups other days of the week.”

 

Planning Department staff and commissioners agree that the parcel containing the

proposed MCD is not located within 1,000 feet of a primary or secondary school, public

or private, nor a community facility and/or recreation center that primarily serves

people under 19 years of age. The board of supervisors will have to determine if

preschools count.

 

“Their main argument is ‘they are coming for your children. They are a danger

to your children,’” Dobris said. “San Francisco has had legal dispensaries since the 1990s,

for 25 years. There have been no problems.”

 

But there are those in the Sunset who call Huen and Quan “invaders,” as in outsiders

seeking to bring in unwanted influences. At a community meeting last February, some

people shouted Huen and Dobris down and did not allow either of them to speak.

 

“Our families have been in this area a lot longer than almost any of those people,”

Huen said. “I have many relatives in the Sunset, going way back to the 1900s.

Most of those (critics) are recent immigrants, so let’s not talk about invasion.

But never have I not been allowed to speak. That’s extremely un-American and

un-San Franciscan. I’m afraid those immigrants don’t understand that that’s part

of what makes up this country. You have a right to have a back-and-forth.”

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