I am worried because hate groups and fake news are on the rise, even here in San Francisco.
In a couple days, an anti-LGBT hate group will have the opportunity to address the Board of Supervisors and ask for their votes. They are appealing a decision by the Planning Commission — and they might even win, which is why I’m raising the alarm.
On Tuesday, the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) and its local allies will ask my former colleagues on the board to stop The Apothecarium from opening a medical cannabis dispensary in the Sunset District.
This should be simple. Sunset voters have overwhelmingly supported marijuana at the polls every time the issue has come before them. The Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve the dispensary, and The Apothecarium is one of The City’s most respected dispensaries. But PJI and its network of right-wing, conservative Christian allies are pushing back.
This fight matters because the truth matters. PJI is a group that does not dwell in the realm of truth. Like our president, the group lies easily, reflexively and constantly. They have held news conferences claiming that people have died of marijuana overdoses. They have predicted gunfire in the Sunset if the dispensary opens.
These are fear-mongering lies. It’s important that we call them out clearly and simply for what they are: lies. In all of recorded history, no one has ever died of a marijuana overdose. And gunfire? That’s laughable. For 25 years, San Francisco has had medical cannabis dispensaries, peacefully. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a serious issue arising because of a dispensary.
PJI isn’t an ordinary hate group. They combine a veneer of legal respectability with outreach to communities of color — especially my own community, Chinese Americans. This is a new force in San Francisco politics: right-wing Christian groups successfully organizing in the Chinese community.
So far, they’ve been effective. A couple months ago, PJI and its partners turned out 700 people — the vast majority of them Chinese American — to testify against the dispensary. Virtually every word spoken against the project was based on PJI’s lies and propaganda.
Some claimed that traffic deaths would rise. (That’s a lie; states with legal marijuana see traffic deaths go down by around 10 percent.) Others claimed that teen use of marijuana would skyrocket. (That’s also a lie; teen use of marijuana has stayed flat or gone down both nationally and in Colorado.) Still, others said a dispensary would bring crime to the Sunset neighborhood. (This is another easily disproved lie; peer-reviewed data shows that dispensaries deter crime.)
If all these arguments have a familiar ring to them, that’s no surprise. For decades, PJI has used a version of these false arguments against the LGBT community. That’s why they have been designated an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
PJI has pushed the lie that homosexuality is caused by child abuse. They have promoted the harmful and discredited practice of reparative therapy, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation. Now, they are directing their “What about the children?!” hysteria toward cannabis patients.
It is tempting to dismiss PJI as clowns. But they successfully overturned an earlier attempt to open a medical cannabis dispensary in the Sunset and have clearly made inroads with conservative Christian Chinese organizers in the Bay Area.
While many San Franciscans are rightly focused on fighting hate groups at the national level, we must not allow PJI and its allies to gain a further foothold in our city or our political discourse.
If a right-wing group can convince the Board of Supervisors to vote with them — undoing the clearly expressed will of the voters — then we are in very deep trouble.
Eric Mar is a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Board of Education. He is also a cannabis patient.