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Drug policy: Pot-club paranoia 

Wednesday, Mar 24 2010

Marijuana is alive and well in the Sunset District — just not the legal kind. San Francisco police bust illegal grow houses on the city's west side with a comforting regularity, but one must travel a minimum of two miles to find the nearest medicinal cannabis dispensary.

This dearth of legal green is not likely to change, if the story of the Bay Area Compassionate Health Center (BACH) is any indication. BACH wishes to do business on Taraval at 32nd Avenue, but since it signed a five-year lease in November, neighbors and merchants along the corridor, the local police captain, and the Sunset's elected representative, Supervisor Carmen Chu, have all come out against the club.

The safe money is against BACH opening at that location, as city planners listen when neighbors object. But there's now fear among pot advocates that BACH might foul the waters for clubs citywide, after earning Chu's ire.

Currently, a fast-food restaurant or an American Apparel store must jump through more permitting hoops to open its doors than a pot club. Those merchants must get what's called a conditional use permit, which often has a host of extra requirements tacked on. The upshot: Conditional use permits are stricter and tougher to get than the discretionary review permits required for pot clubs.

So what if pot clubs needed to get the stricter permits? Earlier this year, staffers from Chu's office and the Planning Department gave a detailed presentation to a city-appointed pot advisory group on what that would mean. "They said, 'We've been working together to change the [medical cannabis dispensary permitting] process,'" said David Goldman, president of the local chapter of Americans for Safe Access, who attended the meeting.

Chu has not introduced any legislation, but did tell SF Weekly that tougher rules citywide on pot dispensaries are "a potential option." "I think whenever you open any business, you would want to have the tools to be able to enforce things when things go wrong," she said.

Still, some pot advocates think Chu has had a hand in fomenting the opposition to BACH, and ask why a change is needed at all. The Green Cross, after all, went to delivery-only after neighborhood opposition scuttled its existing site on Valencia and a proposed one at Fisherman's Wharf. They note that Chu was one of two supervisors to vote against creation of a new medical marijuana advisory board, and that she told the Examiner that she's considering a moratorium on new pot clubs.

"To me," said Paul Hansbury, one of BACH's operators, "that sounds like a closed mind."

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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