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
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
“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
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
“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.”