You might expect an anti-LGBT hate group to receive a chilly reception here in San Francisco. But we are living in strange times. The Pacific Justice Institute has been remarkably successful in getting its message across to Supervisor Katy Tang — despite being labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. PJI also scared the hell out of me at a recent community meeting.
First, a little background …
Former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and her physician husband, Floyd Huen, have teamed up with The Apothecarium to open a medical cannabis dispensary in the Sunset. Here in the Castro, we know The Apothecarium as a quiet business that gives generously to nonprofits and never causes trouble.
Two weeks ago, I went to a Sunset-Parkside neighborhood group to share my experience with the dispensary. It should have been straightforward: a presentation by Dr. Huen, some questions, maybe some opposition. Instead, 100 protesters mysteriously showed up with matching signs. Shouting, chanting, yelling — they refused to even allow the doctor to speak. The mood in the room was ugly and out of control.
Where did this come from? It turns out PJI is rallying Asian Pacific Americans with a campaign of disinformation and fear mongering about medical cannabis.
PJI knows how to whip up fear. For two decades, it has fought domestic partnerships, marriage equality and, more recently, transgender rights. They even support “reparative therapy,” the discredited practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Their attacks on cannabis are based on the same basic argument: Evil forces are coming after your kids. And it seems to be working.
After their protest, Supervisor Tang told KPIX she is hearing “broad opposition” to the dispensary. That is a chilling comment, one that suggests PJI’s campaign of misinformation has successfully manipulated Tang. I am not suggesting she agrees with them on LGBT issues. However, I am deeply concerned to hear her responding so positively to this hate group’s campaign of lies.
Crucially, the supervisor’s suggestion that the neighborhood opposes a dispensary contradicts the best information available on the subject. Sunset voters overwhelming voted for marijuana, twice. Sixty-six percent of voters in Tang’s district supported medical marijuana in 1996, and 58 percent voted to increase access to marijuana this past November.
The notion that dispensaries are a danger to kids is just as pernicious. At a recent PJI news conference, two local Democratic activists, Marlene Tran and Teresa Duque, appeared alongside two PJI officers, Brad Dacus and Frank Lee. There was much talk about the supposed dangers dispensaries pose to neighborhood children, with no serious evidence presented.
These false fears were then treated respectfully by several local media outlets, despite San Francisco’s 25 years of positive experience with dispensaries — and the reassuring data coming out of Colorado, where teen use of marijuana has gone down since legalization. Additionally, states with legal marijuana see a 25 percent drop in opioid overdoses. So safe access is reducing dangers to young people.
Medical marijuana is personal for me. I’ve lost two husbands — and countless friends — to HIV/AIDS. Cannabis eased their suffering like nothing else. It kept other patients alive long enough to access life-saving treatments. In the 1980s, we had to find marijuana on the street, like criminals.
Things changed in the early ’90s, when Dennis Peron and Brownie Mary provided safe havens like the S.F. Cannabis Buyers Club for patients with HIV/AIDS to obtain their medicine. That’s why there is a deep connection between the cannabis community and the LGBT community. The same bigots that fought against our civil liberties are now fighting our access to medicine.
Whatever she thinks of a dispensary in her district, Supervisor Tang has a duty to call out lies about medical cannabis and to shine a light on the group spreading them in the community she represents.
Daniel Bergerac is president of Castro Merchants and the co-owner of Mudpuppy’s Tub & Scrub.