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Friday, October 15, 2010

Axis of Love, 'Medical Cannabis Community Center', Faces Eviction

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2010 at 8:30 AM

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When is a pot club not a pot club? When you walk in the establishment in question but cannot buy medical cannabis, that could be a clue. When you can't walk in at all, that says something, too.

That's what Shona Gochenaur thinks: The proprietor of Axis of Love, a "medical cannabis community center" at 1260 Mission Street, provides "compassion" (i.e. free pot) to low- or no -income medical marijuana patients almost every day. But the "compassion" -- a free brownie, a free eighth once a week, and a daily smoke around (duh) 20 minutes past 4 p.m. -- is for members only. Every member is poor, no strangers are allowed past the door, and no medicine is for sale.

Yet Gochenaur has run afoul of the city's bureaucracy just the same.

Both she and her landlord received Enforcement Notices this week from the Planning Department, which informed them that an unidentified tipster complained that Axis of Love was operating as a bona fide pot club, selling medicine to patients off of the street without a permit. Ergo, it must pay the roughly $10,000 in required permit fees or be shut down entirely.

You can read that enforcement notice here: 1260 Mission Street Enforcement Notice.pdf

That medical cannabis is routinely consumed at 1260 Mission Street (which is next door to a fully permitted medical cannabis dispensary, SPARC ) is indisputable. The Planning Department's own investigation, conducted by enforcement officer Dario Jones, revealed a sign in Axis' front window reading "NO CANNABIS FOR SALE HERE," according to Jones' enforcement letter. Nevertheless, Axis of Love is on the hot seat, and Gochenaur is not pleased.

Shona Gochenaur may be back at City Hall -- dispensing pot - LUKE THOMAS, FOG CITY JOURNAL

"I provide nutritional snacks and social services" as well as a free brownie, a free weekly eighth and the daily smoke-out, she says, which totals up to about an ounce handed out every day (or what your average dispensary sells every 10 minutes). "That the city would waste time and resources on something so frivolous is ridiculous," she adds.

The Department of Public Health isn't happy either -- but DPH is angry at Planning, not Gochenaur, she claims. Dr. Rajiv Bhatia is the director of the DPH department which oversees the regulation of the city's 24 medical cannabis dispensaries (MCDs), and he has given Axis of Love free rein in the past. DPH has designated the "center" a satellite site for the compassion programs at licensed MCDs 1944 Ocean and HopeNet. Bhatia was "apoplectic" when Gochenaur informed him of the Planning letter, she said.

A DPH spokeswoman did not return a request for comment late Thursday.

In the meantime, Gochenaur is confident she can clear this up. The Stockton (that's the 209, not Stockton Street) family which owns her building is patient with her, she says -- this is not the first time someone's "snitched" on Axis. If need be, she'll apply for a permit to operate as a "social services center" from Planning.

Or there's the nuclear option: If Planning goes ahead and shuts her down, she's willing to dispense medicine at an alternate site.

"I'll dispense medicine on the steps of City Hall if I have to," she told SF Weekly. And she can do so legally, as can any medical cannabis patient, under Proposition 215. "Or, even better," she adds, gaining momentum, "in front of the Planning Department's front door."

Update, 3:10 p.m.: Dr. Rajiv Bhatia wasn't quite as mad as Gochenaur led SF Weekly to believe. In fact, he wasn't "apoplectic" at all, according to an e-mail from DPH spokeswoman Eileen Shields.

"That is wild and unfortunate mischaracterization," the e-mail read. "It is important to keep in mind that Planning and Health have separate jurisdictions on this matter. In meeting with Shona Gochenaur, the Department of Public Health suggested some solutions that might mitigate concerns raised by the Planning Department."

Shields didn't specify, but SF Weekly is fairly certain those solutions didn't include smoking joints on the steps of City Hall. But you never know.

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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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