Major Win for Weed in Marina District
Medical cannabis is coming to northern San Francisco. On June 22nd, the Board of Appeals denied an appeal brought forth by the Cow Hollow Association intended to deny a permit application by The Apothecarium to open a new dispensary location at 2414 Lombard Street. The applicants retained their approval despite strong lobbying by organized neighbors, Supervisor Mark Farrell, and Mayor Ed Lee.
Representatives from the Cow Hollow Association, a neighborhood group of approximately 350 member households, insisted that their opposition focused only on the specific location. Opponents asserted that locating a medical cannabis dispensary (MCD) within 1000 feet from the Edward II group home for at-risk young adults, and a martial arts studio serving mostly young students, posed a public safety risk. “We have no issue with that,” a CHA representative stated, referring both to the benefits of medical marijuana, and The Apothecarium’s positive business reputation.
These claims are contradicted by the numerous letters the Board of Appeals received supporting the appeal, citing concerns that children would be enticed into a life of drug addiction and that criminals would begin roaming the area. “I strongly prefer that my children not be exposed on a daily basis to the constant drug use occurring at an MCD,” wrote one local resident. (Consumption of cannabis products is not allowed in almost any MCD in the country, and The Apothecarium employs security staff to enforce this rule.) “The character of the City is changing, and we need families to continue representing well-rounded values. Doctor’s offices and hospitals are the places where medicine should be dispensed and administered—not the middle of busy Lombard Street surrounded by cheap motels and homeless youth treatment centers.”
Another opponent wrote that children in the area are “already exposed to a seedy element along Lombard. We should all be working to make that better, not worse.” Other opponents cited concerns over the location’s proximity to a massage parlor they allege is a front for prostitution. In one of the rare letters that did not follow a form template, one parent wrote: “The kids already learn and see a lot…so I don’t think we need additional exposure to the ups and downs of city life.”
In contrast, a citizen writing in support of The Apothecarium described them as “a quiet, considerate neighbor” near his residence in the Castro District. This supporter was one of many who cited increased foot traffic, safety, and clean sidewalks.
Speaking in person at the Board of Appeals, Supervisor Mark Farrell noted that he had told the applicants years ago that he did not consider 2414 Lombard a good location for a dispensary. “If they could bring a project somewhere that would not engender neighborhood opposition,” he said, “I would fully support it.”
Brett Gladstone, the land-use attorney representing The Apothecarium, says there’s more to the story. In a lengthy phone interview, he described how neighbors initially opposed the 25 units of supportive housing at 3155 Scott Street, known as the Edward II, operated by Larkin Street Youth Services. After the Planning Commission sided in favor of Larkin Street, the Cow Hollow Association threatened to appeal to the Board of Supervisors, while also lobbying Congress to withhold federal funding for the project. If all else failed, a lawsuit was strongly implied.
In response to these threats, Larkin Street Youth Center entered into a “neighborhood benefits agreement” with Cow Hollow, stipulating monthly meetings and ground rules, including “no hanging out on the sidewalk,” says Gladstone. “In addition,” he said, “Cow Hollow [has] access on short notice to inspect the site and make sure Larkin Street is meeting its agreements.” Edward II also agreed to support neighborhood groups over public safety concerns, which Gladstone suspects contributed to the opposition. The 25 units for housing-insecure youth, ages ranging from 18-25, opened in late 2014.
The argument ultimately hinges on shifting cultural attitudes toward marijuana: some still see it as a dangerous criminal activity, while others insist patients only stand to benefit from its medicinal consumption. Skeptics of Larkin Street’s opposition objected to the portrayal of Edward II tenants as prone to criminality, given that it is not a residence for ex-convicts or recovering alcoholics.
In his client’s opinion, Gladstone says, the implicit threat of litigation and “fearmongering” about lapsing into addiction was enough for Larkin Street Youth Services to be concerned. What they found most curious is that this alliance urged Larkin Street to overlook the fact that some of the residents in Edward II are already legal medical cannabis patients. “Larkin Street tenants are adults,” Gladstone noted, “and if they have a medical condition that can be addressed by medical marijuana, they have the right. It was made clear by Larkin Street that their rules for the building don’t prohibit use of marijuana: they can’t. It’s a medication.” He also noted that medical marijuana may already be available within Edward II habitations: “When they’re over 18, they’re allowed to grow several marijuana plants if they have a medical card.”
Supporters of The Apothecarium were surprised when Commissioner Ann Lazarus said on the record at the Board of Appeals meeting that the mayor had called her and told her to vote against The Apothecarium. “We were quite pleased that we could overcome what permit applicants can rarely overcome,” Gladstone told us: “lobbying from the mayor of the city and organized neighbors.”
Within a six-block radius of 2414 Lombard Street, there are four liquor stores, a wine merchant, and ten bars.
At press time, neither Supervisor Farrell nor Larkin Street Youth Services had responded to requests for comment.