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San Francisco medical pot club draws outrage

San Francisco city planners are debating if the city should allow a local man to open a medical marijuana dispensary at Fisherman's Wharf. The proposal has drawn outrage from neighboring businesses.
Kevin Reed
Kevin Reed poses for a photograph at the location for a proposed dispensary for medical marijuana near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.Jeff Chiu / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fisherman’s Wharf is home to cable cars, postcard views of Alcatraz and the scent of sourdough. And now the fragrance of fresh marijuana?

City planners are considering whether to issue a permit for a medical marijuana dispensary in the heart of the city’s tourist hub, despite outrage from neighbors and businesses. The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote Thursday, and some have vowed to appeal any permit the city grants.

“The wharf is San Francisco’s Disneyland,” said Rodney Fong, president of the Fisherman’s Wharf Merchants Association. “About half the people who come are with kids, and the things they are looking for are family attractions — sea lions, dining. So a marijuana dispensary doesn’t really match the market we have.”

The Green Cross is the first cannabis club to seek a permit under strict guidelines the city adopted in November to curb street crime around its roughly 30 dispensaries and prevent sales to non-patients.

‘Nobody wants this in their back yard’
This left-leaning city quickly became a hub for cannabis clubs after voters in 1996 made California the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana. But the Fisherman’s Wharf fight highlights difficulties in the 11 states that allow medical marijuana as they seek to regulate the drug without banishing patients to dark alleys and rough neighborhoods.

The city made the Green Cross close its previous location in the Mission District in March after neighbors complained about rising traffic and crime, which owner Kevin Reed said were unfounded. He said he was forced into the wharf after being rejected by dozens of other landlords.

“Nobody wants this in their back yard,” Reed said. “They’re fighting for their beliefs and their family values. But if they continue fighting on the path they’re fighting now, they’ll put us all out of business.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom said Reed has been responsible and should not be punished for flaws in the new rules, calling it an “unintended consequence” that the club wound up at the wharf.

“The intent of the legislation was to generate less controversy, not more,” Newsom said. “We may not like what he is doing, but he is playing by the rules we set up.”

Strict regulations
San Francisco’s clubs were largely unregulated before the new rules, and according to some accounts, non-patients could freely acquire marijuana.

Now the owners of dispensaries must submit to criminal and employment background checks, pay for a permit and business license, and are forbidden from operating within 500 feet of schools. That buffer zone grows to 1,000 feet if pot smoking is allowed on the property, as it is at most San Francisco dispensaries.

The Green Cross storefront is already built out — minus the marijuana. It is all sleek sophistication, from the black walls and piped-in jazz to the swarm of security cameras. If the permit is granted, the Green Cross also would have to clear police and health department inspections before opening.

Patients who present a government-issued medical marijuana card and a doctor’s note will be presented with a selection of 55 different marijuana strains displayed in a glass counter studded with hundreds of tiny neon green lights. Prices are roughly $300 an ounce.

Pot smoking would not be allowed on the premises, and security guards would patrol the area, Reed said.

“The criminal element that breaks the rules just doesn’t want to come into a store like mine,” said Reed, 32. “I’ve done everything by the book.”

‘Reefer Madness’ frenzy
An official with an Oakland-based pro-medical marijuana advocacy group said fears of such dispensaries are misplaced.

“What we’re seeing ... is a ‘Reefer Madness’ frenzy that makes people act irrationally, and condemns dispensaries and dispensary operators,” said Kris Hermes, legal campaign director for Americans for Safe Access. “And it ultimately prevents them from coming to the aid of patients.”

Reed has earned some supporters in the neighborhood, including the managers of Pergamino Coffee and Tea, a crowded cafe around the corner.

“It’s not like he’s opening up a drug haven,” said manager Glendene “Peaches” Montague. “It’s well-monitored, well-secured, and obviously he’s done this before. But only time will tell.”