No matter if neighbors opposing a medical cannabis dispensary in the Outer Sunset have their way, pressure is mounting for the marijuana industry to grow in San Francisco and its outlying neighborhoods.
Neighbors say opening a new storefront of the Apothecarium, a medical marijuana brand co-owned by former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and her husband Dr. Floyd Huen, would endanger children and increase crime in the Outer Sunset. The plans are under review Thursday at the Planning Commission.
The conflict is likely a sign of struggles to come as the industry takes root in San Francisco. Of 29 pending applications to open medical cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco as of today, five are in the Sunset, according to city health officials.
Furthermore, city officials will soon begin to permit businesses to sell pot for recreational use after it becomes legal in January 2018.
There are 38 permitted medical cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco, though a handful share the same building, one is delivery only and none are in the Sunset District.
Terrance Alan, head of the San Francisco Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, said he expects at least 10 million tourists interested in using marijuana to visit The City in a year. Forty percent of tourists visiting states that have legalized weed seek out the “cannabis experience,” he said.
“What do we think is going to happen?” Alan said. “I predict a bit of chaos as those dispensaries have been well designed and many times serve at near capacity their medical cannabis patients. Adding millions of customers when they currently serve thousands will break the system.”
The owners of the Apothecarium hope to expand to Noriega Street and 32nd Avenue, but need conditional use authorization from the Planning Commission to use the vacant storefront as a medical marijuana dispensary before opening.
Apothecarium co-founder Ryan Hudson said in a letter to city planners that he searched for two years for a location to expand the Apothecarium to until landing at 2505 Noriega St., a former pharmacy owned by Gerry and Sally Davalos.
“They loved the idea of their pharmacy being turned into a dispensary and said they had always thought they should sell medical cannabis at their pharmacy,” Hudson said. “Plenty of their patients used it already. Gerry reminded me, ‘Unlike marijuana, we sell all kinds of things that can kill you if you take too much of it.’”
A spokesperson for the Apothecarium declined to comment due to time constraints until after the hearing.
The expansion has been met with outrage on a strip of Noriega Street in the predominantly Asian neighborhood that features liquor stores and a bar as well as churches and a preschool.
The nearby Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit and Ark of Hope Preschool are two standout opponents.
The Rev. Christopher Ng said in a letter to city officials that the church collected some 5,000 signatures in opposition to the Apothecarium opening down the block, noting the two liquor stores and bar nearby.
“I have no wish to vilify anyone’s legal use of substances, but I see potential risk of having them in close proximity, much like household chemical products in earthquake safety and preparedness,” Ng said.
The owners of the Ark of Hope Preschool, who hired an attorney from an anti-LGBT group called the Pacific Justice Institute to represent them, said in a strongly worded letter to city planners that they consider weed “a hazard to our children.”
“We do not wish to be a testing nor proving ground for marijuana tolerance at the expense of our children,” Will and Mary Ping wrote, comparing weed to tobacco. “Do it where there are no children.”
Alan, the head of the cannabis task force, said he hopes the hearing today “wakes people up” to the benefits of cannabis.
“For a good neighborhood to not want a good thing to happen in its neighborhood means that they are basing their decisions on inaccurate information,” Alan said.
“Cannabis is not the start of another opium war, cannabis is not a gateway drug, cannabis does not create violence,” Alan said. “It does the opposite and decreases alcohol consumption.”
Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents the Sunset District, could not comment directly on the Apothecarium plans because today’s decision could be appealed to the Board of Supervisors, but said the concerns about weed are not just from certain residents in the neighborhood.
“There are some folks who think, ‘Oh, how come it’s just the Chinese people who don’t support it, or what not,’ but it’s not that,” Tang said. “There’s a lot of different factors that people think about, traffic and so forth, impact to the neighborhood, and they come from all different communities.”
City officials are still figuring out the legislation that will regulate who can sell, grow and distribute marijuana for recreational use in San Francisco in alignment with Proposition 64, which legalized weed for sale beginning next January.
Tang did not take a stance on how she wants new recreational use laws in San Francisco to apply to the Sunset next year. Tang has previously authored legislation requiring more stringent reviews at the Planning Commission of proposed medical marijuana dispensaries in the Sunset.
“There’s so many new rules being developed,” Tang said. “I don’t even know what they look like at the moment.”
The cannabis task force is expected to work with city health and planning officials to recommend recreational-use legislation to the Board of Supervisors by September.