After hearing tearful testimony from medical marijuana patients and well-organized opposition from neighborhood residents, the Planning Commission on Thursday night denied an application to open a pot club in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
The commission’s decision to not issue a building permit for the Green Cross to operate at 2701 Leavenworth St., just blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf and near several tourist hotels, defeats the first pot club to come up for review since The City’s new permitting process went into effect last year. The commission voted 4-2 in favor of denying the permit.
The dozens of pot clubs that operate in San Francisco have until next July to either apply for a permit or close shop. California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which permits the sale of medical marijuana, though it remains illegal under federal law. There are about 8,000 medical marijuana patients in San Francisco, according to the Public Health Department.
During the four-hour meeting, commissioners heard from crying patients about how the Green Cross has helped them through their illnesses and from well-organized neighbors opposing the project. Neighbors wore stickers with messages reading "Places to get pot: dozens — Fisherman’s Wharf: one," to express their concern that a medical marijuana club would harm the character of the neighborhood and would be bad for the tourist industry. Many also cited increased traffic and the many children present in the area as reasons to reject the club.
Residents in other neighborhoods in the past have complained that marijuana clubs attract recreational drug users rather than medical patients and that they lead to increased crime, though statistics have not borne that out.
"It’s a struggle and a balancing act to see where these things should be," Commission President Dwight Alexander said. "If this operator turns out to be a bad operator I think the harm is greater … I think there are better locations to have a medicalcannabis facility."
Kevin Reed, the president of the Green Cross, chose the site, which used to be a restaurant, because it meets The City’s strict regulations under the new permitting process.
The Planning Commission said it denied the building permit because of extreme circumstances, mainly that a pot club in a tourist location was not appropriate. While noncommittal on whether he was in favor of the project, Mayor Gavin Newsom earlier on Thursday shared the commission’s concerns.
"To my knowledge to date, the individual [Reed] has played by the rules that were set up," the mayor said. "These are the new rules. So he’s actually worked within the frame that he was afforded. In that case we have to be thoughtful and sensitive to that. But I don’t think when we put those rules and regulations together that any of us thought we [would] push someone towards a tourist area. I don’t think that’s the message we want to send."
After the hearing Reed left before making a comment. He can still appeal the decision to the Board of Appeals.