At San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, a Fight over Marijuana Ensues

July 24, 2006

Jake Tapper and Dan Morris, ABC News Nightline

San Francisco has more cannibus clubs — the dispensaries of marijuana for the medical treatment of the nasty side effects of chemotherapy, glaucoma or AIDS — than any other city in the nation.

Yet, that doesn't mean cannabis clubs make welcome neighbors, even in bluest of the blue San Francisco, a city that prides itself on being tolerant of almost every lifestyle. A ballot proposition in 2002 that called for the Board of Supervisors to explore the possibility of establishing a program whereby the city would grow its own medical marijuana and distribute it was supported by 62 percent of voters.

But the reality of the program is apparently harsher than the notion. However accepting San Francisco may consider itself to be, the city may also be showing standard-issue NIMBYism.

 

The Green Cross is one of about 40 cannabis clubs in San Francisco. It is owned and operated by Kevin Reed, who explains that there are differences among the 55 different types of marijuana his store offers.

 

"'Indica' would be used more for the body pain, somebody that had extreme body pain or insomnia. It would help people sleep. It is what most people identify when they think of marijuana is," explained to Nightline. "'Sativa' is the more euphoric high. It is what most people use for depression."

But the controversy in San Francisco isn't about what Reed is selling, but where he wants to do it.

 

Touristy Fisherman's Wharf is known for families of tourists, cable cars, and seafood. But many business owners and neighbors there do not want marijuana users added to that mix — even if they have prescriptions to buy it.

 

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom sees their point. "I'm not sure that's the message we want to send folks. 'Get your crab and maybe your clam chowder and sourdough bread, and maybe walk next door and see a medical marijuana club.'"

 

But the mayor himself is in part responsible for the eruption of this controversy.

 

Last summer the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that stricter federal drug laws overrule more permissive ones passed by the states, like the medial marijuana provision passed by California.

Since then, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has arrested some cannabis club owners. Those arrests led Newsom to draft news rules and regulations for his city's cannabis clubs, so as to fend off future DEA busts.

 

 

 

 

 

"In the past there was no process," Newsom explains. "You could just open up. All of a sudden you're a neighbor and you look next door and all of a sudden there's a medical marijuana club and you had no input, and no ability to have any feedback."

 

 

 

 

 

Newsom adds: "I believe very strongly in medical marijuana. So does the rest of the state of California. And I would argue the majority of Americans. But it's got to be done right."

 

 

 

 

 

When the clubs first opened, neighbors were complaining that they attracted too much traffic, crime and customers who didn't seem to have any actual ailments. Some of those customers smoked marijuana right outside the store, or resold it.

 

 

 

 

 

So, now the Bay Area cannabis clubs have restricted locations. They are no longer allowed to be within 1,000 feet of a school or community center. They are barred from certain residential neighborhoods. And every club has to go through a registration process, with a $10,000 application fee.

 

 

 

 

 

"We felt we needed to put in some common sense restrictions. Because if it is being abused — if we're flaunting ourselves in an arrogant way — if we're jumping up and down and saying, 'We don't care about the federal government's feelings,' clearly we're inviting ourselves to put the whole program at risk," the mayor says.

 

 

 

 

 

The Green Cross is the first cannabis club to go through the city's new regulation process. And because of the restrictions, it had to move from its semi-residential location, and find a new place to do business. Joe Elford, the attorney for Green Cross's owner says the Fisherman's Wharf location was one of the few options his client had.

 

 

 

 

 

"You end up with only very small slivers of the city even being available for cannabis dispensaries to operate," Elford says. "And that's why Mr. Reed (the owner) in large part, chose this location.".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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