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Monday, March 5, 2012

Park Popular for Bike Polo, Drunks Is Feds' Reason to Shut Down Latest Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Posted By on Mon, Mar 5, 2012 at 7:45 AM

click to enlarge pg2_e_bike_polo_576.jpg

As playgrounds go, Jose Coronado on 21st between Folsom and Shotwell streets is something of an outlier: the asphalt tennis and basketball courts are routinely re-purposed by players of bicycle polo.

But other than filling that niche, the park appears suspect to the predictable urban flavors for which that part of the Mission District is known, While children do use the playground, the city-owned recreation center has been closed for the past year or so thanks to budget cuts, and "drunks," "heroin users" and "hookers" frequent the block-long fenced-in area after dark, Yelp users tell us.

Yet neither sportspeople with sticks on bikes nor urban grit are why Coronado is on the minds of Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for Northern California. Haag cites the park as a reason why medical marijuana dispensary Shambhala Healing Center, four blocks away on Mission Street, must close.

Shambhala would be the sixth San Francisco pot club shuttered by Haag,

whose office has shut five dispensaries since November, and the most

politically connected: one of Shambhala's operators is a former

candidate for Congress with connections to progressive politicians.

Mission District activist and Dance Mission artist Krissy Keefer filed the permit paperwork to open Shambhala, which received a letter of support from Supervisor David Campos, who represents the area.

Shambhala is one of the city's newest dispensaries, opening for business in January 2011. The dispensary has a permit from the Department of Public Health and pays taxes to the state Board of Equalization. Some 15 people work full-time there, according to dispensary manager Al Shawa.

There are 21 city-licensed dispensaries currently operating in San Francisco. Shambhala was one of 12 dispensaries to have its paperwork requested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents in a records request sent to city officials last month.

Other dispensaries also recently received letters from Haag within the past few weeks, according to sources in the medical marijuana community, but SF Weekly could not confirm any others as of Sunday.

On Feb. 21, Haag mailed to property owner Ebrahim Poura of Beverly Hills a form letter that's arrived in five other dispensary landlords' mailboxes since Oct. 7, when California's four federal prosecutors announced a coordinated crackdown on the state's medical marijuana industry.

The letter gave Poura 45 days to close or risk "enhanced penalties" because of Shambhala's proxmity to Jose Coronado such as property forfeiture and "a penalty of up to 40 years in prison when operating within a prohibited distance of a school, playground, etc.," Haag wrote.

A spokesman for Haag, Jack Gillund, did not return a telephone message left on Friday, though the office has for the past few months has not commented on the offensive against medical marijuana.

Haag has chosen some interesting targets. Both of the city's Tenderloin dispensaries have shut down, though one remains on nearby Post Street. Two dispensaries in the Mission District -- on Valencia and at 16th and Mission streets, respectively -- and a dispensary on Upper Market have also closed after receiving letters from Haag.

Coronado's block is gritty but not terrible. Police responded to 66 crimes reported on the block in the past year (not bad, considering cops were called over 70 times at the corner of 21st and Folsom streets a few blocks away), mostly public intoxication, noise nuisances, and auto thefts or break-ins.

While there is a playground with slides and such, there's not much organized activity for youths at Jose Coronado. The S.F. Recreation and Park Department has not offered services at the Jose Coronado rec center since budget cuts decimated its ranks of recreation directors. The rec center was last leased by nonprofit Mission Neighborhood Services, but was listed as vacant with no proposals for its use as of last year.

No dispensaries have been raided and no operators have been arrested or taken to court during the current federal crackdown, mostly because nobody's called the feds' bet to see if they're bluffing.

In an interview at the dispensary on Friday, Shawa said that Poura may be willing to challenge the letter, but on Sunday, a message appeared on the dispensary's website under "Closing News" saying that the dispensary is planning to go delivery-only.

Haag's offensive is "regrettable," Campos said.

"Nobody is condoning legal action," he said. "We're lucky to have a system of regulations in place."

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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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