Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Appeals fight heats up over Castro-area marijuana dispensary’s proposed Marina location

The Apothecarium would like to open a location on Lombard Street in the city's Marina district.

The Apothecarium would like to open a location on Lombard Street in the city’s Marina district.

A fight over a Castro-area medical marijuana dispensary’s proposed Marina location is heating up on the eve of a hearing that could halt the project, with the opponents being accused of using homophobic language.

The Apothecarium, which opened its first location near the intersection of Market and Church streets five years ago, won approval from the city’s planning commission last fall to open at 2414 Lombard Street despite vocal opposition to its plans. According to the dispensary, 2,650 of its patients live in the Marina area.

Both the Cow Hollow Association, a neighborhood group, and District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents the area at City Hall, object to having a marijuana dispensary operate at that address. Among their reasons for doing so, they have cited its being across the street from the Edward II housing complex for transitional age youth as well as its proximity to a nearby martial arts studio for children.

“Medical marijuana dispensaries do have a place in San Francisco, but do not belong next to a children’s martial arts studio and directly opposite of Edward the Second who houses formerly homeless transitional aged youth,” Farrell told the Bay Area Reporter in an emailed statement.

An online petition against the Apothecarium’s planned location had attracted 263 signatures as of early Tuesday afternoon. The Cow Hollow Association has appealed the planning commission’s decision, and the city’s Board of Appeals is set to take up the issue at its meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, June 22).

The appeal seeks either to have the permit be overturned, or if the board rejects that request, to then restrict sales at the medical cannabis dispensary, or MCD for short, to only those age 25 or older and restrict the hours of operation, thereby “minimizing the exposure to children in the neighborhood.”

The Cow Hollow Association’s board, in an email to its members urging them to attend the hearing, wrote, “There is no ‘necessity’ or other commanding reason why an MCD must be sited at 2414 Lombard. There are many delivery services and it appears that there have been and are other possible sites.”

The planning commission did impose a restriction barring the Apothecarium from serving clients aged 18 to 20 at the Marina location.

“My client has also promised the city (now found as conditions of approval) that they will not offer home delivery or allow service to persons under 21 years old to create ‘protections’ that appellant felt are needed. These conditions have never before been required of any dispensary in the city, but were accepted in the spirit of compromise,” wrote Brett Gladstone, an attorney and partner at Hanson Bridgett LLP, who is representing the Apothecarium, to the appeals board.

Email language provokes outcry

Language the Cow Hollow Association used in an email urging people to attend tomorrow night’s hearing has provoked an outcry from the Apothecarium’s backers. In a statement emailed to the B.A.R., Apothecarium spokesman Michael Colbruno specifically cited the phrasing: “The marijuana store owners have implored and transported their supporters (many customers of their store in the Castro) to come from all over the city to urge that such a store be opened in our neighborhood.”

Colbruno, who is gay, accused the association of using what he deemed a “keep gays away” argument.

“Members of the LGBTQ, as well as people in communities of color and religious minorities, have heard these innuendos before and we fully understand the message,” stated Colbruno. “This coded language has no place in our public discourse and needs to be called out for what it is: homophobia.”

He also criticized Farrell for opposing the Apothecarium’s moving into the Marina, tying it to the supervisor’s earlier opposition to the Edward II housing project opening at its Lombard Street at Scott location, as the B.A.R. noted in a 2011 article.

“Supervisor Farrell’s actions to deny the Apothecarium’s approval at the Planning Commission last November and his opposition to locating the Edward II transitional youth facility make this the third time since the beginning of 2011 that Supervisor Mark Farrell has joined CHA in opposing facilities to meet the needs of the sick or less privileged,” stated Colbruno.

The release also quoted Daniel Bergerac, a gay man who is president of the Castro Merchants group and also operates a location of his MudPuppy’s Tub and Scrub business in the Marina.

“Years ago, when my husband was dying of AIDS, I had to get his medical cannabis on the street. This stigma around gay men and their medicine was so strong especially
in some neighborhoods,” stated Bergerac. “You would think we would have moved beyond these issues by 2016, but clearly we are still fighting them.”

Leaders of CHA did not immediately respond to the B.A.R.‘s request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Farrell, in his emailed statement, harshly attacked Colbruno for implying his objections to the proposed dispensary had anything to do with the owners or anti-gay animus and called on him to “immediately rescind” his “baseless statement.”

“The claim of the Apothecarium’s paid lobbyist, Michael Colbruno, that I am opposing the proposed location on Lombard Street because the owners are LGBTQ  is outrageous and has no basis in truth whatsoever – Michael Colbruno should be absolutely ashamed of himself for making this accusation. I am and will always be an ally of our LGBTQ community and my life and record on the Board of Supervisors proves this without a doubt,” stated Farrell.

He added that, “Mr. Colbruno has a vested, paid interest in seeing this project through, and apparently is willing to do whatever it takes even when he knows his accusations are false. Mr. Colbruno’s desperate and baseless attacks are an attempt to pad his checkbook further.”

Housing agencies voice opposition

In a twist from when they were battling Farrell and Cow Hollow residents, Larkin Street Youth Services and Community Housing Partnership, which oversee the Edward II housing project, are now allied with them in opposing the proposed Apothecarium location, citing concerns for “the health and safety” of the residents there, who are aged 18 to 24 and include LGBTQ youth.

In a letter to the planning commission, signed by the two nonprofits’ executive directors, the agencies contended that, “similar to safety zones established around schools and other programs for minors, we believe that MCDs should not be located within close proximity of housing programs for youth.”

In a statement issued to the B.A.R. Apothecarium co-owner Ryan Hudson refuted the claims that its presence in the Marina would have a negative impact on nearby youth or facilities that cater to youth.

“The Apothecarium in the Castro has successfully operated for five years across the street from a church that hosts programs for youth at risk for addiction. We are also across the street from a martial arts studio that serves children. Both have written letters saying we are good neighbors,” stated Hudson. “The notion that dispensaries are a danger to children has been proven false by 20 years of legal cannabis in San Francisco. Children are on every block of our city. Those who suggest dispensaries cannot safely co-exist near children, are really suggesting there should be no medical cannabis dispensaries in our city. They are also fear-mongering.”

The appeals board has received numerous letters in opposition of the Apothecarium,  resulting in a 74-page PDF the body posted online. It has also received numerous letters in support of the dispensary, compiled in a 126-page PDF.

Among the 600 letters of support for the Apothecarium, including 140 from the immediate neighborhood, is one from state Controller Betty Yee, who contended the dispensary “should be viewed as a valuable addition to any community, as they have proven to be a model dispensary, having been cited by planning staff as the ‘gold standard’ among operators in San Francisco.”

Yee also informed the appeals board members that it is important for the city “to avoid clustering” MCDs in only a “handful of neighborhoods, primarily focused in SOMA and the Mission,” since medical marijuana users live throughout San Francisco.

“No person who is using cannabis to treat cancer, PTSD or debilitating pain should have to travel across town (often on public transportation) to access their medicine,” argued Yee.

The Board of Appeals hearing is set to begin at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Room 416 at City Hall, however, the Apothecarium’s permit is listed as the final agenda item so it could be some time before the issue is taken up by the oversight body.

— Matthew S. Bajko, June 21, 2016 @ 3:24 pm PST
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