The crackdown is back.
A Richmond District medical cannabis dispensary is the latest local law-abiding marijuana provider to be put on notice by the federal Justice Department.
The Hemp Center, on Geary Boulevard near Park Presidio, has been in business for nearly 14 years and has been in its current location for 11. Its landlords recently received a letter from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. The letter warned of property seizures and prison sentences if the dispensary was not shut down, according to dispensary operator Kathleen Capetti.
Similar letters, which claim the clubs are too close to parks or schools, have been responsible for the closure of eight San Francisco dispensaries since Oct. 2011 -- many of them longstanding, respected operations with one other thing in common.
The Hemp Center is in a unique position: it's the only dispensary in the Richmond or Sunset Districts, and is only one of two dispensaries left in San Francisco -- that we can think of -- that allows on-site smoking or vaporizing.
Other dispensaries that allowed on-site lounging, like Lower Haight's Vapor Room and SOMA's HopeNet, were both shut down following receipt of letters from Haag last year.
Cannabis users say that the social activity of sitting and smoking with other users provides significant therapeutic benefit.
The letters are what the Obama Administration's Justice Department has done to "crack down" on California's burgeoning but federally illegal medical cannabis industry. In Oct. 2011, the four United States Attorneys for the state announced a coordinated effort that led to the closure of "hundreds" of dispensaries across the state, according to an estimate by Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana patients' advocacy group.
Haag's office has since Oct. 11. offered no comment on the letters. Her position on the issue evolved slightly before her office instituted a silence policy: First, she said her office would only go after dispensaries that violated state law. Then she said that only dispensaries near parks or schools would be targeted.
Capetti, whose dispensary is licensed by the city's Department of Public Health, found out about the letter from her landlord on Monday. The letter cites a park, 900 feet away, as the reason why the dispensary is targeted for closure, she said.
"This is a very small park -- I haven't even seen it," she said via telephone on Tuesday. "I think it's just any excuse they can find."
State law says that dispensaries cannot be within 600 feet of schools or recreation centers which serve youth. City law puts a 1,000-foot barrier between those uses but does not address city parks.
Capetti says she isn't yet sure exactly what action the dispensary will take, but that "we're going to fight it."
"I don't understand why bars are in every hotel, and up and down every street of every town are liquor stores and bars where people can drink themselves into oblivion -- and that's okay, that's a good, social time," she said. "Obama promised they wouldn't go after the clubs that are in compliance... now they're just going after people willy-nilly."