San Francisco Dispensary Closures: Activists Hold Funeral Procession For Shuttered Shops
August 01, 2012
Carly Schwartz, Huffington PostMedical marijuana advocates were dealt the latest in a seemingly endless blow to California's cannabis industry Tuesday when two of San Francisco's most cherished dispensaries, the Vapor Room and HopeNet, were forced to close their doors.
The following day, local pot enthusiasts made it clear they were none too pleased by holding a funeral procession for the shuttered shops, culminating in a rally outside U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag's office, located in the city's federal building.
"The Justice Department's attempts to undermine the implementation of state law and to deny thousands of patients a safe and legal means to obtain their medication must be stopped," Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access, said in a statement. "U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag must be held accountable for her actions."
Haag, along with other U.S. attorneys across the state, has been targeting Bay Area dispensaries since the Justice Department launched an aggressive crackdown on medical marijuana last fall. She cites the businesses' proximity to parks and schools as justification.
More than a dozen local pot shops and hundreds throughout California have closed as a result, and thousands of jobs have been lost.
Californians became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996 after voters passed the landmark Proposition 215. Since then, the industry has flourished into one that generates more than $100 million in tax revenue annually.
The drug, however, remains illegal under federal law, and the current administration has made it a priority to go after medical marijuana operations in states where it's currently legal -- a direct about-face from President Barack Obama's campaign platform.
The closure of The Vapor Room and HopeNet particularly hurts the cannabis community, as both businesses served as more than just a place to purchase marijuana. The Vapor Room provided a gathering space for patients to socialize with one another, and HopeNet offered veterans support groups, afternoon teas and a variety of life skills workshops.
"We like to think of ourselves as a family," HopeNet founder Cathy Smith told The Huffington Post in April after her shop received its first notice to vacate. "We don't just sell pot here -- we help people."
According to Smith, the neighborhood surrounding HopeNet has become dramatically safer in the nine years since her business opened its doors. Crime has dropped significantly, largely due to the increased presence of lighting and surveillance cameras her store installed in order to adhere to the city's strict regulations surrounding cannabis clubs.
"Nine years ago I wouldn't be open past 5 p.m. because I was worried about our female customers," Smith said. "Now we're open until 9. The neighborhood has improved that much."
So much, in fact, that a few years ago, a private school opened around the corner.
Last month, pot proponents gathered in Oakland to protest the Justice Department's actions in light of President Barack Obama's appearance at the nearby Fox Theatre.
But despite persistent demonstrations, the war on weed shows no signs of waning: The Los Angeles city council recently voted to ban dispensaries outright, and cannabis clubs all over California continue to receive warning letters from U.S. Attorneys.
The marijuana community vows it will continue to fight back.
"It's only emboldening us and bringing us together," Tom Angell, spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, explained to HuffPost of the crackdown. "People who used to compete in the marketplace are now standing shoulder to shoulder."