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Sunset District Has a Pot Club, Bitter ‘Hood Battle to Follow

Anyone who says, “It’s just a pot club, what’s the big deal?” doesn’t live in the Sunset District along the Taraval Street corridor. There, a pot club has set off an oft-contentious, sometimes vicious squabble between neighborhood residents and merchants convinced that a cannabis dispensary would ruin the neighborhood and cannabis activists advocating for safe access to medicine. But it’s not just the residents and merchants that are driving the debate — documents obtained by the Appeal suggest that reports from the planning department were manipulated by official or officials unknown, for reasons about which one can only speculate.

However, one chapter in the fight wrapped up last night, or in fact at 3 o’clock this morning, when the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve the Bay Area Compassionate Health Center’s application to do business at Taraval at 32nd Avenue. Commissioner Bill Lee was the lone “nay” vote.

Paul Hansbury, one of BACH’s operators, said that he and co-operator Greg Schoepp, owner of Crown Lock and Hardware on Balboa Street, “pretty much expect an appeal” of the decision, which could ultimately end up at the Board of Supervisors.

Counted among BACH’s enemies were Supervisor Carmen Chu — who was accused of fomenting the opposition movement, which was largely Chinese-speaking Sunset residents — the local police station’s captain — who was accused of having a hand in “politicizing” the debate — and two neighborhood and merchant associations, who are worried that if BACH opens, the Sunset will turn into something resembling Sixth Street (it already has the bomb Vietnamese food; surely if the pot clubs go in, the human wreckage will follow).

On BACH’s side were most every medical cannabis activist in town, save the ones who operate delivery services, a police commissioner and Planning staff, whose staff report recommended approval for the dispensary.

In an odd twist, Cecilia Jaroslawsky, the staff planner who prepared the report, was relieved of her duties on Monday, according to sources familiar with the matter. According to emails obtained by the Appeal, Jaroslawsky noted that SFPD had not “submitted any information with supporting data for their statement” that dispensaries cause crime, an omission she wanted to add to her report. According to the emails, however, she was forbidden to include SFPD’s inability to support their statements in her report, saying that “I wanted to include that in the staff report but was instructed to remove that piece of information.” Her superior, Delvin Washington then replaced her, presenting the staff report at yesterday’s meeting.

It’s unclear who told Jaroslawsky to keep that information out of her report, or why she was removed from the project. In an email the Appeal sent Thursday morning, we asked the former question of Jaroslawsky, Washington and Planning’s Legislative Liaison and Policy Analyst, Tara Sullivan, as well as asking them the proper contact for Planning’s Sunshine Ordinance compliance (that is, the person responsible for making sure our our much touted open government remains open). Neither Jaroslawsky, Sullivan nor Washington have responded to that email.

By any metric, BACH could be a model facility — the would-be dispensary’s interior has the feeling of a friendly doctor’s office (the kind our insurance affords us not), there’s a strict 21-and-over policy with no on-site medicating, there’s a limit on how many patients can be onsite at any given time, and a video camera would record goings-on inside and out once the club opens for business.

When will that be? Well, depends on the appeal process. This Appeal contacted Chu’s office for comment and guesstimation on a likely appellant; we have yet to hear back. As far as the BACH crew? “I’m going camping,” Hansbury wrote us via e-mail.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone; there’s plenty of time for the fussing and fighting to come.

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  • Greg Dewar

    One thing to remember is that there are a lot of illegal grow houses operated in the Outer Sunset. These are not medical dispensaries and they are NOT being run to sell lovely medical pot, they are run by the cartels and are a HUGE danger. If one of those were ever to catch on fire, you could easily lose several adjacent homes if you’re not careful.

    Now, obviously that has NOTHING to do with medical pot clubs per se, but you can see how a lot of people just see the word “pot” (or cannibis or medical marijuana or whatever safe word we’re using this week) and freak the f*ck out. Is it fair to the pot club to carry this burden? Absolutely not. Is it going to have to deal with that prejudice? Absolutely yes.

  • Greg Dewar

    One thing to remember is that there are a lot of illegal grow houses operated in the Outer Sunset. These are not medical dispensaries and they are NOT being run to sell lovely medical pot, they are run by the cartels and are a HUGE danger. If one of those were ever to catch on fire, you could easily lose several adjacent homes if you’re not careful.

    Now, obviously that has NOTHING to do with medical pot clubs per se, but you can see how a lot of people just see the word “pot” (or cannibis or medical marijuana or whatever safe word we’re using this week) and freak the f*ck out. Is it fair to the pot club to carry this burden? Absolutely not. Is it going to have to deal with that prejudice? Absolutely yes.

  • tomprete

    This is a long comment. Deal.

    My possible biases: I (and my wife and two kids) live a couple of blocks from the dispensary site. I know some people who have shopped for quack doctors to acquire a medical-marijuana card, but in principle I don’t have a problem with someone using marijuana for a real medical ailment when it’s prescribed by a competent doctor. If I find my neighbor uses it, big deal. I don’t care.

    Greg’s right about the presence of gut-and-grow houses in the Sunset. Many people I know in the neighborhood still don’t know these operations exist, while some others view them as either benign production facilities for medical marijuana, or see them as undesirable but no worse than the brothels and happy-ending joints that have existed in the neighborhood for years. In addition to the fire danger Greg mentions, most people don’t realize what an attractive nuisance these grow houses can be for violent criminals from all over the Bay Area.

    But if I read Greg’s comment correctly, I disagree about whether it’s fair to the dispensaries that they have to deal with the negative perceptions people have picked up about other aspects of marijuana use and industry. I don’t have strong feelings about whether this particular dispensary should be allowed at this location. But think about it as a nightclub instead of a pot club. Many nightclubs are loud, smelly, bring a lot of car traffic and attract a crowd of chuckleheads. Does that mean that any particular new club is going to be the same way? Nope. But is it reasonable for people who already live nearby to be concerned that the new nightclub *might* be that way? Sure.

    When I was editorial-page editor of the Examiner a few years back, the Ex’s editorial page supported Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s legislation to regulate medical marijuana clubs and dispensaries as if they were any other business operating in the city. It was a pretty unusual stance for the largely conservative editorial board to take. The idea was that if San Franciscans in aggregate were OK with such businesses in principle, fine — but at that time the City had no way to control any aspect of the clubs, because according to all the City rules there was no such kind of business. We thought that Mirkarimi’s regulations would accommodate the public desire to allow medical marijuana while setting up enough controls to discourage those dispensary operators who were putting a medical facade on what was really just a business of dope deals, or who just didn’t have their act together. The rules also were supposed to prevent repeats of an actual situation in which a South of Market dispensary set up shop next to a playground. Have those rules worked as intended? I’d say they have — mostly. Some restrictions probably should have been tighter, but the biggest unresolved problem seems to be the dispensaries’ inability to control what happens as soon as someone walks out the door with a bag of marijuana.

    I don’t know how you solve that problem with a system in which patients go to the dispensary. But delivery models certainly seem like they’re worth studying as a way to allow the continued operation of medical marijuana dispensaries while giving the city better control over the location and operation of those dispensaries and spreading out any potential impacts on neighborhoods. That also would shift the perception of responsibility for negative behavior away from the dispensaries as medical businesses and onto the individuals who actually do it.

  • tomprete

    This is a long comment. Deal.

    My possible biases: I (and my wife and two kids) live a couple of blocks from the dispensary site. I know some people who have shopped for quack doctors to acquire a medical-marijuana card, but in principle I don’t have a problem with someone using marijuana for a real medical ailment when it’s prescribed by a competent doctor. If I find my neighbor uses it, big deal. I don’t care.

    Greg’s right about the presence of gut-and-grow houses in the Sunset. Many people I know in the neighborhood still don’t know these operations exist, while some others view them as either benign production facilities for medical marijuana, or see them as undesirable but no worse than the brothels and happy-ending joints that have existed in the neighborhood for years. In addition to the fire danger Greg mentions, most people don’t realize what an attractive nuisance these grow houses can be for violent criminals from all over the Bay Area.

    But if I read Greg’s comment correctly, I disagree about whether it’s fair to the dispensaries that they have to deal with the negative perceptions people have picked up about other aspects of marijuana use and industry. I don’t have strong feelings about whether this particular dispensary should be allowed at this location. But think about it as a nightclub instead of a pot club. Many nightclubs are loud, smelly, bring a lot of car traffic and attract a crowd of chuckleheads. Does that mean that any particular new club is going to be the same way? Nope. But is it reasonable for people who already live nearby to be concerned that the new nightclub *might* be that way? Sure.

    When I was editorial-page editor of the Examiner a few years back, the Ex’s editorial page supported Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s legislation to regulate medical marijuana clubs and dispensaries as if they were any other business operating in the city. It was a pretty unusual stance for the largely conservative editorial board to take. The idea was that if San Franciscans in aggregate were OK with such businesses in principle, fine — but at that time the City had no way to control any aspect of the clubs, because according to all the City rules there was no such kind of business. We thought that Mirkarimi’s regulations would accommodate the public desire to allow medical marijuana while setting up enough controls to discourage those dispensary operators who were putting a medical facade on what was really just a business of dope deals, or who just didn’t have their act together. The rules also were supposed to prevent repeats of an actual situation in which a South of Market dispensary set up shop next to a playground. Have those rules worked as intended? I’d say they have — mostly. Some restrictions probably should have been tighter, but the biggest unresolved problem seems to be the dispensaries’ inability to control what happens as soon as someone walks out the door with a bag of marijuana.

    I don’t know how you solve that problem with a system in which patients go to the dispensary. But delivery models certainly seem like they’re worth studying as a way to allow the continued operation of medical marijuana dispensaries while giving the city better control over the location and operation of those dispensaries and spreading out any potential impacts on neighborhoods. That also would shift the perception of responsibility for negative behavior away from the dispensaries as medical businesses and onto the individuals who actually do it.

  • Burgos

    The argument that seems to frequently pop up is that MMD are magnets to people hanging out, etc. I walk past three MMD every day of the week and nothing could be further from the truth. People opposed to MMD in their neighborhoods would benefit from contacting these places and finding out what they’re doing right.
    I would say, invest in some investigative work and avoid the knee-jerk reactions.
    The ones that I walk past don’t allow loitering, cars blocking driveways, double parking, hanging on the sidewalk, etc.
    One of them went thru a thorough renovation, making the place wheelchair accessible, wood paneling, paint,etc., all in all, something that the neighbor can feel at ease having in the area.

  • Burgos

    The argument that seems to frequently pop up is that MMD are magnets to people hanging out, etc. I walk past three MMD every day of the week and nothing could be further from the truth. People opposed to MMD in their neighborhoods would benefit from contacting these places and finding out what they’re doing right.
    I would say, invest in some investigative work and avoid the knee-jerk reactions.
    The ones that I walk past don’t allow loitering, cars blocking driveways, double parking, hanging on the sidewalk, etc.
    One of them went thru a thorough renovation, making the place wheelchair accessible, wood paneling, paint,etc., all in all, something that the neighbor can feel at ease having in the area.

  • dantsea

    Well, you just can’t trust the police to be honest about anything. We’re supposed to take them at their word and not question them because that badge and uniform are a symbol of integrity.

    At least that’s what the POA flak was telling people before the Hayward City Council meeting a few months back when they decided to continue pretending that dispensaries are some other city’s problem. They really don’t like it when you tell them to prove things.

  • dantsea

    Well, you just can’t trust the police to be honest about anything. We’re supposed to take them at their word and not question them because that badge and uniform are a symbol of integrity.

    At least that’s what the POA flak was telling people before the Hayward City Council meeting a few months back when they decided to continue pretending that dispensaries are some other city’s problem. They really don’t like it when you tell them to prove things.

  • marcos

    The Planning Department and Department of Building Inspection are the City agencies responsible for ensuring that land use laws are followed by those occupying buildings.

    That many unsafe grow ops continue to operate in the Sunset is only due to the fact that Planning and DBI are being used to advance other political goals, largely giveaways to developers and nonprofit housing agencies, rather than enforcing existing laws.

    The cops, of course, are thoroughly politicized and cannot be trusted. We need to blow up the POA, bust that union down.

  • marcos

    The Planning Department and Department of Building Inspection are the City agencies responsible for ensuring that land use laws are followed by those occupying buildings.

    That many unsafe grow ops continue to operate in the Sunset is only due to the fact that Planning and DBI are being used to advance other political goals, largely giveaways to developers and nonprofit housing agencies, rather than enforcing existing laws.

    The cops, of course, are thoroughly politicized and cannot be trusted. We need to blow up the POA, bust that union down.