potlede.jpgNeighborhood groups, cannabis advocates united against gym-turned-pot club at 350 Divisadero Street

A good way to alienate a neighborhood is to say you’re opening up a boxing gym and then try to open up a pot club instead. A good way to alienate pot advocates is to pull that kind of maneuver at a hallowed ground of the SF medicinal cannabis movement.

Small wonder, then, that 350 Divisadero Street has forged an uncommon bond between cannabis advocates and neighborhood groups in the Alamo Square/North of Panhandle ‘hood: they’ve succeeded in creating a proposed pot club nobody wants.

Medicinal cannabis advocates know 350 Divisadero Street as a special place: for over eight years, the Western Addition storefront housed the San Francisco Patients’ Cooperative. The place was much, much more than a medical cannabis dispensary: it was a community center, it was an outreach center, it housed meetings, it housed worship, it was exactly the kind of welcoming meeting place Dennis Peron had in mind when the cannabis club forefather authored Proposition 215.

It was a dark day for the medical cannabis movement in 2008 when the co-op shuttered, only after the property’s landlord caved to pressure from the DEA, who threatened fines and tax levies if the co-op stayed open.

Sometime in 2009, new renters signed a lease on the property and filed a permit to open up a health club/boxing gym. However, after retaining the services of (in)famous lawyer-about town and former SF District Attorney Terrence Hallinan, 350 Divis’s would-be operators pulled off an about-face, deciding to ditch the gym idea and open up a medical cannabis dispensary.

Better yet, they don’t seem to need to go through the usual public appeals process, San Francisco’s Planning department said: since the SF Patients Cooperative closed “voluntarily” under threats of a DEA raid, the Department of Building Inspection never processed land-use paperwork indicating a change of use; since 350 Divis never hosted another use, a new round of public hearings is unnecessary.

Who are these gym-to-weed renters? The SF Appeal would love to tell you, but we’re having a tough time figuring this out, ourselves. We’ve made multiple multiple requests for this tidbit to the office of Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the area, but have not received a response. The members of the cannabis community — arguably, a close knit bunch– to whom we spoke did not know who this new player in the pot game is, either. It’s a mystery we hope to solve soon, and we’ll update you when we do.

Whoever they are, according to the Rev. Randi Webster, SF Patient Cooperative’s operator, Planning’s got it all wrong. “I have [the old permit] right here,” she told the Appeal on Monday. “And it’s expired.”

Webster hopes that any future cannabis-related use of her old space would offer counseling and treatment services on top of merely slinging reefer. “I pray that they, too, would be open and compassionate to poor people, to all people, just as we were,” she said. And beyond that, “anyone wishing to operate a medicinal cannabis dispensary needs to follow the proper steps,” and that means public meetings.

It may be too late for that. Neighborhood groups like the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association and Alamo Square Neighbors are united in opposing the proposed club. And 350 Divis’s would-be operators have lost any chance of support from the cannabis community, a bad sign indeed.

As Shona Gochenaur of Access of Love SF (a patients’ rights network) put it: “They’ve tried to circumvent the planning process. We can’t have people like that on the map.”

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