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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mayor Ed Lee Blocks Plan to Let Shuttered Pot Clubs Operate on City Property

Posted By on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 7:25 AM

Should probably chill out and smoke a joint
  • Should probably chill out and smoke a joint
The boom and bust cycles that have created jobs and driven up rent and home prices in San Francisco apply to things other than technology. 

A year ago, there were nearly 30 medical marijuana dispensaries in town; they were paying permit fees and taxes. Now, a year after the federal Justice Department began an off-again, on-again, sometimes-apathetic, sometimes-strident crackdown on California's cannabis industry, there are 20.

Some of the shuttered dispensaries were close to reopening this year -- the Department of Public Health had a plan to allow the collectives shut down by the feds to vend their wares on city property. But that idea was nixed by the Mayor's Office, according to e-mails. It's not known who made the call in Mayor Ed Lee's office, but this setback is yet another pot-unfriendly move made by the Lee administration.

See also: Harborside Health Center: Oakland Files Lawsuit Against Feds to Prevent Closure of Pot Club

"How very disappointing," said Charlie Pappas, former operator

of the Divinity Tree on Geary Street. "Yet unfortunately consistent."

U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag began mailing letters to landlords of dispensaries almost 13 months ago. The letters warned of stiff prison terms and property forfeitures if the dispensaries didn't close.

To date, every dispensary that received a letter has shut down. Only Harborside Health Center in Oakland, which actually received a forfeiture notice in July with no letter, is standing up and fighting the feds. Harborside goes to court Nov. 1; the city of Oakland filed a lawsuit in support of the dispensary, which is the East Bay city's No. 2 commercial taxpayer.

Here, dispensaries don't make up much of our tax base. But they do contribute about $10,000 in fees every year on top of sales tax. They also don't seem to enter Mayor Ed Lee's mind too often.

In September, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, the DPH official who oversees the city's seven-year-old dispensary program, met with some of the dispensary operators who had their businesses closed by Haag's office. He proposed city property be used to temporarily house the dispensaries' operations while new locations could be found (a process that is laborious; the city's newest dispensary opened Friday after a three-and-a-half-year approval process).

This idea seemed to be working well, until Mayor Lee's office got involved.

"The Department did explore the use of city property for MCDs with the Mayor's Office," Bhatia wrote to Pappas on Oct. 17. "At this time, the Mayor's Office did not feel that it was feasible to advance the use of city property for this purpose."

"The Department will continue to support your dispensary in its relocation efforts as much as it is able."

Bhatia was out of the office on a medical emergency and was not available to comment, according to DPH spokeswoman Eileen Shields.

The mayor's office did not respond to multiple e-mails and telephone calls seeking comment.

Pappas, who operated Divinity Tree on what is now again an unsavory block in the Tenderloin, has tried to speak to Mayor Lee about the issue; The Berkeley resident even won a contest which awarded him 10 minutes with the mayor. That didn't do him much good.

"Myself, other [medical cannabis dispensary] operators, and indeed the entire medical cannabis community simply have difficulty remaining positive when solutions are lacking," Pappas said. "The plight of the most seriously ill patients, as well as City regulated and permitted tax paying businesses, are being ignored by our highest elected officials."

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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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