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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mayor's Office Says Medical Marijuana Is a "Nuisance" Akin to Liquor Stores, Strip Clubs

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Same classification as a pot club
  • Same classification as a pot club

It took some doing, but Mayor Ed Lee at last gave medical marijuana the lip service it had been seeking for months with a statement where Lee dubbed state-legal medical cannabis "legitimate," and expressed "concern" over more city-licensed dispensaries risking federal closure from the United States Justice Department.

This came after Lee's office referred to medical marijuana dispensaries as "'nuisance' retail" in a document released last year by the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, which is being used by the Planning Department as reason to deny a permit to a pot club proposed for a vacant building in an alley off of Sixth Street.

The good news is that licensed pot clubs are only a nuisance near Market Street between Fifth and 10th streets, per the Central Market Economic Strategy, which was released in November after 10 months of production. The bad news is that pot clubs, which provide the medicine "oncology patients, HIV/AIDS patients, and people with debilitating pain rely on ... to treat their conditions," are in the same category as "liquor stores, adult uses," and "pawn shops" (most of which are zoned and regulated far less heavily than cannabis dispensaries).

With the "soft launch" of a new dispensary near Bernal Heights last month, there are currently 22 city-licensed dispensaries operating in San Francisco, down from 26 last year and somewhere in the 40s in 2005, before the city passed its Medical Cannabis Act regulatory scheme.

More have received permits but have not opened. It took Herbal Mission nearly a year after it won its permit to open its doors; another dispensary that received zoning and Department of Public Health approval in April 2011 to operate on the 900 block of Mission Street is not yet open.

The applicant for the pot club at 471 Jessie St. is Troy Kashanipour, according to records. Kashanipour, who Google reveals as a Dogpatch-based architect, is represented by attorney Daniel Bornstein, who's done work for other medical marijuana clients like Medithrive, one of the five medical marijuana dispensaries shut down since November by United States Attorney Melinda Haag.

Pot clubs are often unpopular with neighbors, and this one is no exception: Several nearby residents as well as Daniel Hurtado, the executive director of the local Community Benefit District, wrote letters asking Planning to deny the permit, citing other pot clubs within a mile radius -- there are several -- and a need for "other storefront uses that are positive, community-serving businesses."

Of course, some say that by occupying vacant space and creating jobs, dispensaries serve a community. But in any case, Planning needs a legal reason to deny a permit, such as proximity to schools or playgrounds. In this case, calling it a nuisance suffices, because in the Central Market Economic Strategy "MCDs were identified as a nuisance uses [sic] that do not contribute positively to the safety, quality of life, or desirability of the Central Market area," planner Elizabeth Watty wrote in her report.

The sole basis for declaring pot clubs a nuisance is one line on page 35 of the 52 pages of graphs, photos, and charts in the report, in section D under the heading "Objective 6) Improve Safety." There's a vague reference to a need to reduce crime, but no statistics or definition of a "nuisance" is given, and the notion that pot clubs equal crime has been exploded time and again.

It's unclear how the "nuisance" reference was insert, and on what basis. For now, nobody at City Hall appears willing to own up to calling pot clubs nuisances or comparing them to strip clubs.

When reached late Wednesday, mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey directed us to the Department of Public Health. DPH bristled at the notion that it would call something it licenses a "nuisance." "We would not use that kind of judgmental language," said DPH spokeswoman Eileen Shields, who directed SF Weekly back to the Mayor's Office.

At the risk of being a nuisance ourselves, we e-mailed Falvey again, but she did not respond.

It's true that the Economic Strategy plan is not city law. But it's meant to be taken seriously. "Please take time to carefully review the action plan presented here, which lays out a vision for the revitalization of the district," Lee writes in the plan's introduction, which if followed, promises to be quite a nuisance itself.

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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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