Medical marijuana is not a political issue for Leon Chow.
Or so the labor organizer insisted Saturday morning, when he led about 100 mostly Chinese men, women, and children on a mile-long march in opposition of three proposed medical cannabis dispensaries down Mission Street in the Excelsior.
"This is not about my candidacy -- this is about the issue," said Chow, who recently filed papers to challenge incumbent Supervisor John Avalos in the November election.
Challenges could be filed as early as this week with the Board of Appeals, according to Chow.
Chow also worked on the effort, led at the time by Sunset District Supervisor Carmen Chu, to organize neighborhood opposition to a pot club approved for operation at 31st Avenue and Taraval Street. That dispensary was also blocked at the Board of Appeals.
The same issues there are at play in the Excelsior, Chow told SF Weekly. "Adults are concerned about the accessibility [of marijuana] to children," said Chow, who said that kids who are caught using marijuana after school say they get it from customers of pot clubs. "I support medical marijuana -- why can't we just have deliveries, instead of storefronts?"
There are currently 22 operating medical cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco, according to records at the Department of Public Health, which writes the rules and collects a permit fee from the city's dispensaries. San Francisco began licensing and regulating dispensaries in 2005. The Green Cross went delivery-only after neighbors, irate with customers double-parking, helped kick it out of its 22nd and Valencia location.
Among the few non-Chinese folks present for Saturday morning's rally were Ahsha Safai, who lost to Avalos in 2008; Steve Currier, president of the Outer Mission Merchants and Neigbors Association; David Hooper of the New Mission Terrace Improvement Association, and several people who identified themselves as longtime neighborhood residents and property owners.
"Marijuana is illegal," said property owner Laurie Hahn, who says she owns a building near the Green Cross's proposed brick-and-mortar location on Mission Street near Silver Avenue. "It's out of control. It should be delivered [to patients], or put into pharmacies where it can be monitored and controlled."
That seemed to be the prevailing thought -- that there's nothing wrong with marijuana per se, but that the city's rules allow for too much "clustering," and the situation on the 5200 block of Mission Street -- where the Planning Commission green-lighted two dispensaries -- is indicative of a need for more regulation.
Less important, it seemed, was marijuana advocates' insistence that the industry generate tax dollars for City Hall as well as to Sacramento, while creating jobs with health care and other benefits.
The marchers took about an hour and a half to march 11 blocks, holding signs reading: "Keep Marijuana Away from Kids" in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. "Gas station yes, marijuana no! Nursing home yes -- marijuana, no!" shouted Chow into his megaphone, to a few scattered responses. "Okay," he said, "we'll try some Chinese."
That seemed to work better, though the marchers' rally cries alternated between Mandarin and English. "No new pot clubs!" a young boy yelled into the microphone. "Nail salon yes, pot club no!" Chow said. "Liquor store yes -- pot club, no!"
The rally drew support as well as derision. Several cars honked their horns while whizzing by in seeming unison. Another vehicle carried several young gentleman holding what appeared to be thin cigars. "This is my neighborhood!" a 49er-gear-clad passenger yelled. "And I love weed."
Also on hand for the rally was Kevin Reed, president and CEO of the Green Cross (which later that day published a request on its Facebook page for Chinese-speaking dispensary customers to speak with media). Several onlookers seemed to side with Reed and three other dispensary employees, who held signs saying "Marijuana is Medicine" and "Respect Local Law" in front of Chow as he climbed into his car.
Not everyone had visceral reactions to the prospect of dispensaries in the Excelsior. A resident of an apartment next to the Green Cross' location said he was "apathetic." Two men who emerged from the barbershop next to one of the 5200-block dispensaries said the crowd was bad for business.
In any case, Chow will have other issues to use as platform planks. With a broad tent, a grassroots network, and close alliances with the Chamber of Commerce and other resourced political operations, he may be a formidable candidate. "The current supervisor is very nervous," he said.
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