Pot club loses bid to set up shop near Fisherman's Wharf

July 13, 2006

Robert Selna, San Francisco Chronicle

 

A pot club seeking to set up shop near Fisherman's Wharf was denied a permit by the San Francisco Planning Commission in a 4-2 vote Thursday night.

The Green Cross was the first medical marijuana outlet in San Francisco to undergo the city's new permit process, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors last year in an effort to more tightly regulate medical pot sales. Currently, 20 to 30 marijuana clubs operate in the city, planning officials say. All will need to submit applications by next June to continue operations.

The cannabis club faced strong opposition from neighbors and community groups at Thursday's commission meeting.

Opponents filled a City Hall hearing room to capacity and said they were concerned that a medical marijuana business situated at 2701 Leavenworth St. -- where the Wharf's bustling tourist trade meets residential Russian Hill -- would impair the quality of life in their neighborhood.

"The nature of pot clubs right now brings an element that's not appropriate for this neighborhood," Ryan Chamberlin, a nearby resident, said before the meeting. "There's myriad quality-of-life crimes associated with these clubs. ... This is a family neighborhood -- it's not right for such an adult-oriented and, to a great degree, counter-culture environment."

Commissioners seemed swayed by the public outcry.

"The people who were against granting the permit were from the neighborhood where it would have been located, and those in favor of it were mainly coming from the outside and asking that it be imposed on that area," said Planning Commissioner Michael J. Antonini, who voted against the permit.

Antonini said another reason he rejected the pot club's permit application was that he doesn't believe a marijuana dispensary is the best type of business for a heavy tourist area.

While many at Thursday's meeting spoke out against the Green Cross, others cautioned the commission not to be swayed by the majority view.

"This is a test case for the medical cannabis dispensaries, and you are going to hear vociferous opposition from neighborhood groups," said Michael Aldridge, who said he lives near the proposed location and would buy marijuana there for unspecified ailments. "Remember, in each place there are people like me who need the dispensary, and Green Cross meets your requirements."

Federal law prohibits the possession and use of medical marijuana. But California is one of 11 states with voter-approved laws that allow dispensing pot to treat specific medical problems.

San Franciscans overwhelmingly favored Proposition 215 in 1996. That statewide legislation legalized the use and sale of marijuana to those suffering illness, infirmity and chronic pain.

Nonetheless, some pot club operators have struggled to weave their cannabis commerce into the fabric of neighborhoods and commercial districts. Neighbors have complained that customers purchase pot not for health problems, but to resell it on the street, and that the outlets are a magnet for general drug use and increases in overall crime, traffic and noise.

Green Cross owner Kevin Reed had to close his first cannabis club in the Mission District last year after neighbors complained to the city that crime and noise had escalated after the club opened for business.

The city's new permitting laws, finalized in November, require owners to undergo employment and criminal background checks and to devise security plans and rules to control customer behavior. The permit process also includes land use provisions, which are reviewed by the Planning Commission. The laws prohibit pot clubs within 1,000 feet of a school or recreation center and force owners to comply with zoning restrictions, said Dan Sider, legislative liaison for the city Planning Department.

Sider said that given the combination of zoning restrictions, very few places in San Francisco meet the criteria for pot clubs. Chamberlin said he believed that regardless of how the commission voted, there would be an appeal.



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