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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Justice Department Closes Two More S.F. Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 7:30 AM

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The number of medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco will dip to a nearly 10-year low on Aug. 1, when two more permitted pot clubs will close under pressure from the federal Justice Department.

Vapor Room, located on Haight Street, and HopeNet, on Ninth Street, will both cease operations at the end of the business day on July 31, representatives from both dispensaries told SF Weekly.

Landlords of both dispensaries received letters from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in April, where she warned of property seizures or decades-long prison terms if the dispensaries were not shuttered.

The closures will mark the seventh and eighth storefront dispensaries shut down by Haag in under a year, which means San Francisco will have fewer than 20 licensed dispensaries for the first time in nearly a decade.

Martin Olive, Vapor Room's executive director said he is "unsure" what path the business will take. HopeNet will go delivery-only as of Aug. 1, the dispensary said.

A year ago, there were 26 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries operating in San Francisco. Haag's office has shut down six to date. A seventh pot club was put out of commission by a house fire. 

It's not entirely certain when the last time there were fewer than 20 dispensaries in San Francisco, but it has been at least eight years, if not longer. One new dispensary has opened, and several more have permits, but have not begun operation.

San Francisco began licensing and regulating medical cannabis dispensaries in 2005, nine years after California voters approved medical marijuana via the Compassionate Use Act. The state legislature approved storefront collectives in a 2003 bill. 

The state Board of Equalization and the city both collect sales taxes from dispensaries, which also pay more than $10,000 annually in permit fees.

At the time of regulation in 2005, there were more than 40 dispensaries in operation in San Francisco. The Medical Cannabis Act severely limited the area in which a dispensary could do business, setting strict limits on proximity to schools, parks, and residential neighborhoods.

Haag began shutting down San Francisco dispensaries last fall, when her office sent letters to select dispensaries deemed to be too close to parks or schools, despite the fact that they were in compliance with San Francisco zoning law.

The Department of Public Health, which oversees the regulation of San Francisco dispensaries, received very few complaints regarding medical marijuana clubs, according to records.

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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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