Smoke and Mirrors in San Francisco

April 26, 2004

Ethan Fletcher , San Francisco Examiner

A new pot club opens, and there goes the neighborhood.

Not exactly, according to some denizens of the tight-knit inner Sunset District, who expressed little concern about the Sunset Medicinal Resource Center's recent opening at 445 Judah St. In fact, the medical marijuana distribution center has escaped the notice of some residents altogether.

'To be honest, I didn't even know it was there,' said Tyler Westcott, who lives across from the center. 'I didn't notice the sign change.'

Because of marijuana clubs' questionable legality under federal law, the city has developed a hands-off approach to marijuana distributors. Pot clubs do not have specialized zoning requirements like those such as liquor stores -- the only hurdle for opening a club is a fairly routine change-of-use business license, according to the Planning Department.

Clubs are usually found in the Haight and Mission districts, as well as south of Market Street, and the new center is one of the first to open in The City's western neighborhoods.

The Resource Center is not actually a club, according to the manager, as it distributes marijuana to its approximately 50 members and actual smoking is not allowed. The space has actually been licensed for marijuana use since 2001, but only under new ownership was it finally opened about two months ago.

The manager, who identified himself only as Nelson, said the center has taken great pains to fit into the neighborhood.

The club purposely designed the exterior to look like an anonymous office space, and discourages members loitering outside the club. It only serves people with a doctor's prescription and a valid cannabis identification card from the Health Department.

'We don't want to get in trouble, we keep the area clean and try to make sure nobody complains about us,' Nelson said.

So far they have mostly succeeded, as Inner Sunset neighbors say the center has kept a low profile.

'There's not much going on over there, so I'm not really concerned,' said Chris Ge, the owner of Trendy Cuts salon across the street. 'If there were a lot of people outside, then I might be concerned, but it's almost always like it is now.'

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