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Outer Sunset pot shop clears Planning Commission despite uncertainty over recreational weed sales

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People wait at City Hall on Thursday to attend a hearing deciding whether a medical cannabis dispensary will be opened in the Outer Sunset. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Decades-old fears of reefer madness invoked on Thursday at the Planning Commission could not stop plans to open a pot shop in the Outer Sunset from moving forward.

Hundreds of neighbors argued that opening a medical marijuana dispensary on the corner of Noriega Street and 32nd Avenue would endanger children at nearby churches and a preschool.

A sheriff’s deputy told the commission that an estimated 700 people were waiting to speak on the opening of the Apothecarium, a high-end medical marijuana chain co-owned by former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and her husband, Dr. Floyd Huen.

“A lot of people were told lies,” Quan told commissioners. “I would never do anything to hurt children.”

Opponents in the crowd of mostly Asian seniors shouted the conservative refrain “save the children,” claimed the legal substance was a “gateway drug” and complained about its pungent stench.

“When the children smell the smoke, they all ask, ‘what is that stinky smell?’” said Bernie Chung, senior pastor of San Francisco Chinese Baptist Church. “So it is affecting our children’s health and outdoor activity.”

But the Planning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of the Apothecarium expanding to the traditional neighborhood, as the clock neared midnight on Thursday. Commissioner Dennis Richards voted against.

Several commissioners expressed uncertainty about voting in favor of the dispensary since city officials are slated to introduce new legislation in September regulating the recreational sale of marijuana come January 2018.

The commissioners worried that medical marijuana dispensaries would automatically be able to sell cannabis for recreational use without review at the commission.

“It’s not known if it will actually come to [the commission] yet,” said Planning Director John Rahaim. “It would be very unlikely that it would just be automatic.”

Apothecarium co-founder Ryan Hudson said the Apothecarium is interested in selling weed for recreational use next year.

“I think personally that the dispensaries that are currently existing should be allowed to convert to recreational,” Hudson said. “I do not see any [negative] impacts on the community.”

Before the vote, Hudson argued for the community benefits of the pot shop, which has a storefront on Dolores and Market streets.

“In the six years on Market street, we have never had a police incident,” Hudson said. “Families with children live in our building above our current site without any problems.”

Quan said the Noriega Street location is right for a dispensary because there are 37 medical institutions in the area. The building itself is a former pharmacy.

“We call it the medical mile,” Quan said. “That’s why it should be located there.”

Hudson said he was dismayed that the main opponents to the dispensary hireder an attorney from the Pacific Justice Institute, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers an anti-LGBT hate group.

On behalf of the Ark of Hope Preschool, PJI attorney Ray Hacke warned planning commissioners of the “harassment and threats and physical endangerments to children that a business with large quantities of cash on hand and illegal drugs will draw to the neighborhood.”

“You will be facilitating a federal crime,” Hacke said. “The people of the Sunset District will hold you accountable if you approve this MCD.”

Longtime child advocate Jill Wynns, who served on the Board of Education for 24 years, made an appearance at the hearing to dispute the concerns about the welfare of children.

“Child advocates are not concerned about medical marijuana,” Wynns said. “Medical cannabis dispensaries in my opinion are one of the most important ways that people who need medical marijuana can have access and that children are protected.”

The decision to approve the conditional-use permit for the Apothecarium could be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.

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