After pushback from local activists caused a five-month delay, a Mission District cannabis dispensary and smoking lounge gained their support and was granted a conditional use authorization by the Planning Commission Thursday.
“We feel really good that we’re going to get the permit today,” Joseph Hunt, the sponsor of Union Station dispensary, said in an interview with The Examiner before Thursday’s meeting. “It’s been a long road for me and, as a former dispensary owner and someone who was arrested numerous times for cannabis back when it was illegal, I’m just finally kind of getting my day of redemption here if it all goes through. But we just want to make sure we pass the hearing first and then just focus on creating a good place for the community and hiring local, Mission District natives.”
Thursday’s hearing drew a diverse crowd of City residents, some in suits, some in street clothes, but most wearing square white pins emblazoned with the letters U and S to show support for Union Station.
It was originally recommended that planning approve the permit for 2075 Mission St. with conditions, the primary one being no on-site consumption of cannabis. However, the more than a dozen people who spoke in favor of Union Station during public comment helped convince the commission that Mission residents need a safe social setting where they can enjoy their cannabis and the company of others.
The only commissioner who wasn’t swayed was Frank Fung, who did not approve of on-site consumption. He provided the only “no” vote during the hearing.
Others were more enthusiastic about the project.
“It’s a thrill to see city kids opening up a business in The City with the support of other city kids,” Commissioner Joel Koppel said after hearing the public outpouring of support.
Hunt will be the second San Francisco resident to open shop under the SF Cannabis Equity Program. The program launched after recreational cannabis use was legalized in California and is designed to lower barriers to cannabis licensing for those hit hardest by the War on Drugs. Equity applicants don’t have to pay the $5,000 permitting fee and have other resources made available to them by the SF Office of Cannabis.
Hunt formerly owned the medicinal cannabis dispensary Mr. Nice Guy, which he closed in 2011 after being threatened by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration with prison time and property forfeitures.
His dreams were almost dashed again when the United to Save the Mission coalition, or USM, protested his proposed permit during a July 25 Planning meeting. The activist group feared his establishment would contribute to the gentrification gripping the Mission.
That protest developed into a conversation. The conditional use permit hearing was pushed back twice to give the two sides time to reach a consensus, which they finalized with a memorandum of understanding. That document was completed and signed Wednesday.
“[Hunt] is from San Francisco, previously owned another [cannabis] club in the Mission, has his own children and worked hard with United to Save the Mission to address a lot of those concerns. He also signed an agreement with the Teamsters union,” said Larisa Pedroncelli, a local business owner and member of USM, in an interview with The Examiner before Thursday’s hearing. “And so with all of that, we were able to reach an agreement and we are supporting his project. So there will not be opposition from us today.”
Hunt said he understood their concerns and never took their criticisms personally. Now that his permit has been approved, he hopes to get Union Station up and running within a year, if not sooner.
“We would be the first equity dispensary in the Mission,” he said. “I think none of the clubs in the Mission are owned by any local, native San Franciscans. We would be the first and almost one of the only ones that’s 100% owned by locals. Also, just the fact that we are local and native, we’re really going to be able to offer a more authentic San Francisco experience when you come to our dispensary and lounge.”
Editor’s note: This story initially misnamed the dispensary due to an editing error. The correct name is Union Station.