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SF planners like Sunset pot club despite outcry
    #417436 - 05/13/10 10:30 PM (8 years, 1 month ago)

May 12th, 2010
By Valerie Schmalz

The San Francisco Planning Department is recommending that a medical marijuana dispensary be approved in the Sunset District of San Francisco – despite opposition from St. Ignatius College Preparatory and area residents, who have flooded City Hall with 500 letters and nearly 3,000 signatures on petitions.

Greg Schoepp, a medical marijuana user and businessman confined to a wheelchair, says he expects thousands of Sunset customers at his proposed medical cannabis dispensary. Schoepp also co-owns Crown Lock and Safe in the nearby Richmond district.

St. Ignatius College Preparatory wrote a letter opposing the dispensary. A St. Gabriel kindergarten parent circulated a petition and the principal of St. Cecilia School alerted parents via email. Opponents affiliated with local Asian Protestant churches are publicizing the issue in Chinese language media. District 4 Supervisor Carmen Chu and the local police captain contend the dispensary would attract customers from outside the area, and likely increase violent crime and drug sales to youth.

“With all the diversity in the Sunset District, it has been amazing to see how unified the neighborhood is in opposition to this MCD,” said Supervisor Chu, whose office received at least 500 letters and 3,000 signatures on petitions. Twelve e-mails and 10 letters in support had been received by the office as of the first week of May, legislative liaison Cammy Blackstone said.

A Planning Commission public hearing and meeting to decide the issue is scheduled for May 20th at 1:30 p.m. in Room 400 at City Hall. The proposed dispensary meets city requirements and falls within a new Planning Department green-zone map that highlights commercial strips where dispensaries are permissible.

A Police Commission meeting April 28th brought out about 100 opponents and 40 supporters who spoke during the commission’s open comment period.

“The Safe Access movement will not retreat or surrender from the Sunset. Our laws apply equally to every neighborhood and to every precinct. You may not politicize people’s access to medicine,” said Shona Gochenaur, executive director of Axis of Love, a medical marijuana activist group.

A string of Chinese residents, many speaking through a translator, told the commission they oppose the dispensary. Abraham Lincoln High School is close by, said neighborhood activist Wendy Wong who spoke in Cantonese and English. “There are students who walk down the street to get their lunch, to hang out. This is absolutely not the place to put this place,” she said.

Schoepp argued the Sunset needs a medical cannabis club. “We found a place in the Sunset for safe access for medicine and that’s what it’s about,” said Schoepp. He told the police commission that the Bay Area Compassion Health Center at 2139 Taraval Street would be a safe place he could send his aunt if need be.

However, many residents say medical marijuana users can obtain cannabis at the city’s 22 other dispensaries – and could also utilize the two dispensaries that offer home delivery in San Francisco. Two also are open 24 hours. There is one in the nearby Richmond district, and two on Ocean Avenue. In addition, physicians may also write prescriptions for the pill form of the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, or marinol that patients may fill through typical pharmacies.

St. Gabriel parishioner William Conaway – the father of two elementary school-age daughters – says he watched a marijuana club decimate a thriving commercial area when he worked for AAA at 100 Van Ness Avenue downtown. “The loitering and aggressive panhandling made going to and from work, going out at lunch and patronizing the local businesses very uncomfortable,” Conaway wrote in a letter to the Planning Commission. “The muffin shop, Quincy’s delicatessen and the coffee shop have all since closed. AAA has also left the City and vacant buildings and storefronts are all that remain. I do not want to see the same happen for our neighborhood and community.”

“MCDs have proven an attractive target for violent criminals due to the large amount of marijuana and cash maintained on site,” wrote Taraval Police Captain Denise Schmitt in a March letter to the Planning Department. “Additionally, criminals target the pedestrian traffic in and around MCDs for strong-arm and armed robberies, knowing that the potential for these victims to be carrying either cash and or marijuana is highly likely.”

Police are already battling “grow houses.” Between April and November of 2009, police raided 53 homes in the Taraval Police District that had been illegally converted to marijuana hothouses and confiscated nearly 13,000 marijuana plants.

In addition, with children from St. Ignatius, Mercy High School, Lincoln and Independent high schools traveling the L Taraval streetcar corridor and stopping at the 7-Eleven across the street from the proposed MCD, “The potential for these children to be seen as a market for marijuana after sales by persons purchasing products at an MCD is predictable,” Schmitt wrote.

Medical marijuana remains controversial. Federal law currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance with no acceptable use although California voters approved a medical cannabis law in 1996. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws.

In California, regulation of medical cannabis dispensaries is largely relegated to local jurisdictions. Several California towns ban medical marijuana dispensaries outright. Concerns about crime and neighborhood decline prompted the Los Angeles City Council to enact a law, signed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa April 30, that will reduce the City of Angels’ 500-plus pot clubs to 186. State law allows anyone 18 and older with a California ID and a doctor’s letter the right to buy marijuana from a medical cannabis dispensary. The law does not limit how many dispensaries someone can visit in a day and there is no mechanism to track sales by dispensary or by person.

Father John Itzaina, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in North Beach, testified at a 2007 Planning Commission hearing against Holistic Solutions, located a block from the parish school. “We got it out of here,” but it took almost two years, said the Salesian of Don Bosco. “They were able to pass the medical marijuana law on the shirttails of those suffering from cancer, glaucoma,” said Father Itzaina. “If you went to the meeting that I went to in July 2007 maybe one person talked about medical marijuana, the rest just talked about legalization of marijuana. They want no laws really.”



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