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Friday, July 30, 2010

Marijuana Dispensary Kneecapped by Disability Access Rules

Posted By on Fri, Jul 30, 2010 at 1:59 PM

Greg Schoepp is feeling a bit beaten down by the city...
  • Greg Schoepp is feeling a bit beaten down by the city...

Handicapped dispensary owner told his dispensary isn't handicapped-accessible

Greg Schoepp knows what it's like to be disabled -- the owner of Crown Lock and Hardware on Balboa Street has been in a wheelchair for almost 30 years since he was shot by a home invader.

Schoepp also knows what it's like to get in and out of a property he's renting at 2139 Taraval Street: Disability access is pretty easy. There's no bad slope, and though the sidewalk isn't quite level, it's nothing he can't handle. But there's a problem: Schoepp wants to operate a medical cannabis dispensary at 2139 Taraval Street, and while Schoepp appears to have no issue with disability access at the location, city leaders are another matter entirely.

Schoepp's permit to operate is stalled at the Mayor's Office of Disability, which -- thanks to legislation altered by Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, also a wheelchair user -- forces medical cannabis dispensaries to adhere to the strictest disability access requirements seen in San Francisco.

And right now, the MOD is telling Schoepp he needs to build a seven foot long level plane in his entrance way -- essentially a "tunnel," he says -- from the sidewalk to his front door in order for him to pass their standards. That's no small task for a small San Francisco storefront.

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"They're telling a guy in a wheelchair that I could somehow possibly tip over on my way through the door," Schoepp says. The slope in his doorway is less than three degrees, according to Gordon Atkinson, Schoepp's project architect, and the notion that a wheelchair-bound person could tip over on such a small grade is "ludicrous," Atkinson says.

"They already want me to redesign half of Taraval Street (MCD owners must also deal with any inclines on the sidewalks in front of their businesses)," he says, "and now they want the doorway to be in seven feet in from the front of the building?"

click to enlarge Greg Schoepp thinks he knows when a building is handicapped accessible and when it isn't... - CHRIS ROBERTS
  • Chris Roberts
  • Greg Schoepp thinks he knows when a building is handicapped accessible and when it isn't...
Schoepp's property used to be a chiropractor's office. In that iteration, it passed the access test given by the Department of Building Inspection. But since he wants to open a pot club, he must go through MOD. Only medical cannabis dispensaries go through MOD; all other privately funded buildings' disability access is screened -- less onerously -- by the Department of Building Inspection.

Schoepp applied for his business permit in November. After a contentious process and a marathon 12-hour hearing, the Planning Commission approved his permits in May. It's now nearly August, and the Mayor's Office of Disability is the final hurdle Schoepp needs to clear... before a 15-day window to appeal his permit opens up, and there are at least two neighbors on Taraval Street who will file appeals, according to the office of Supervisor Carmen Chu, who represents the area.

That means it could be well over a year from the time Schoepp filed his permit to when he can open his door -- and said door figures to be located well inside what he planned to be his waiting room.

Susan Mizner, the Mayor's Office on Disability's Director, said Schoepp's process isn't any different than the process some twenty other pot clubs have successfully navigated. MOD isn't doing anything other than requiring pot clubs to adhere to the letter of the law, Mizner said, and the process to ensure that compliance is both "fair and reasonable."

"We feel it's enormously important that a service that's supposed to help people with disabilities is accessible to people with disabilities," she said. "We don't require anything beyond what the law requires."

As of now, Schoepp and Atkinson have appealed the MOD's latest decision, the seven-foot tunnel/entryway. If the MOD relents, the would-be dispensary operators will be able to move forward with a more reasonable design; if not, a tunnel they will build. And meanwhile, Schoepp pays rent on 2139 Taraval.

It doesn't sound fair, and it doesn't seem to jibe with the notion of "equal and safe access" to medical marijuana, codified by the voters in Proposition 215. But it is what it is, Atkinson said, waxing philosophical.

"[The MOD] won't bend the law just because someone is in a wheelchair themselves," Atkinson observed. "Though it is ironic.

"And it is very onerous to get approval for [cannabis dispensaries]," he adds. "It doesn't seem to be fair to the people who are trying to get a business going."

*This story has been edited to include comments from Susan Mizner.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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