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Special interests push Mayor Lee to support pot shop ban in Chinatown

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Mayor Ed Lee speaks at the launch of the new N-Judah Muni LRV on Friday. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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Look out, folks: The City’s anti-cannabis forces may be winning.

Earlier this month, I raised the curtain on Pius Lee, the Chinatown power broker who leveraged the many anti-cannabis forces across San Francisco to help score political wins against pot — and raise his own reputation as a political heavyweight.

Now, he’s basking in his victories in an email to supporters, which I obtained on Saturday.

“Glad to report to you that we have made a Proposal to Mayor Ed Lee to ban marijuana advertising in public bus [sic],” Pius Lee emailed his supporters. “Very happy to report to you all that Mayor Ed Lee has ordered [the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] to ban such ads.”

He then thanked his allies, including Bill Wong, a former presiding president of the Chinese Six Companies (which is widely influential and counts much of Chinatown in its ranks), and promised more victories to come.

So if Muni’s ban of cannabis ads was one of Pius Lee’s major asks in a Nov. 11 letter to the mayor, what else have he and the Six Companies asked for?

A ban on recreational pot shops in Chinatown, of course.

On Nov. 9, Pius Lee wrote the mayor as part of a “coalition” of groups asking for his support to “ban the opening of recreational dispensary marijuana shops in Chinatown.” Those shops would endanger public schools densely packed into its neighborhoods, he wrote.

The mayor can’t make amendments to the pot shop proposal, but he can ask his allies on the board to do so. He also carries a significant bargaining chip — veto power.

Both Mayor Lee and Supervisor Aaron Peskin are doing fantastic jobs at speaking out of both sides of their mouths on a potential Chinatown ban — and it’s no wonder. They have powerful pro-cannabis forces pushing for wider access on one side, and the Chinese constituents who elected them carrying pitchforks and (non-cannabis) torches on the other.

When I asked the mayor if he supported a ban on recreational cannabis sales in Chinatown at a Muni news conference on Friday, he told me, “I support the public registering what they feel needs to be done to create levels of safety and distances.”

Which, you know, isn’t saying much.

But he did add this: “The [medical cannabis dispensaries] have been operating for a few years now in The City. As far as I know, there hasn’t been that kind of danger around the MCDs,” directly addressing conservative Chinese residents’ concerns that pot shops endanger children.

“I think Chinatown may be missing a business opportunity moving forward, if they ban it,” Mayor Lee said. “I’m not saying there should be a ban or not, but this should be weighed in.”

On the other hand, Peskin continuously pointed to the mayor when questioned on a potential Chinatown ban. He told me Lee should come out and say whether he supports a ban or not, “rather than hide.”

If the mayor is hiding, Supervisor Peskin, then what should we call it when you don’t take a stance on a ban?

The Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the matter Nov. 28. 

* * *

Speaking of Chinatown, it seems the neighborhood’s biggest political heavyweight has given progressive District 6 Supervisor candidate Matt Haney a public black eye.

Rumors swirled around the neighborhood that David Ho, the powerful candidate-kingmaker, ripped into Haney following an Oct. 27 gala for the 40th anniversary of the Chinatown Community Development Center.

The pair was rumored to be arguing — ahem — loudly at the Marriott Hotel’s bar at the edge of Chinatown. Ho was pissed, and Haney was taking it; both confirmed the heated exchange. It was also heavily rumored that Ho had Haney thrown out of the Marriott, but both men deny it.

“I had an interview with him about D6 and he failed. That’s my version,” Ho told me.

Ho said he wouldn’t give me the details on why Haney “failed” his test — “that’d be embarrassing for me and for him” — but stated he would support “anybody but Matt Haney.”

That might mean trouble for the progressive candidate, as Ho is widely credited for helping Ahsha Safai secure his supervisorial win in District 11 last year.

Though neither would confirm the reason behind the falling out, sources told me Haney rankled Ho’s chains by not attending the gala fundraiser in honor of Rose Pak’s death. This makes sense: Rose was Ho’s mentor, and he cared for her dearly.

But Haney reportedly had an East Coast work retreat that had already been scheduled for months that same week of the gala.

For his part, Haney said, “I’ll continue to work closely with CCDC and Chinatown. I’ve got no issue with Dave Ho.”

It seems the District 6 candidate will be delivering political wins for Chinatown either way — a proposal by Haney at the school board would see schools with homeless students, or students living in SROs, receive more funding.

And many of those students live in Chinatown.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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