Anti-LGBT group opposes medical cannabis dispensary
by Sari Staver
A longtime anti-LGBT hate group has taken on another cause: opposing new medical marijuana dispensaries.
The Pacific Justice Institute, which has a long record of opposition to a wide variety of LGBT-related issues, claims that new dispensaries located near facilities used by children are a danger to the neighborhood.
"We're concerned about the children," said Frank Lee, a vocal supporter of PJI, citing a refrain often used by so-called pro-family organizations, in a telephone interview with the Bay Area Reporter.
PJI announced a news conference for Wednesday, March 15 to detail its opposition to the dispensary.
The PJI's concerns about medical marijuana dispensaries came to a head at a raucous community meeting of the People of Parkside Sunset, held at the Taraval Police Station in early March. At the meeting, members of PJI, a Sacramento-based nonprofit with offices throughout the state, shouted down a representative from the Castro medical marijuana dispensary, the Apothecarium, who was invited to speak about the proposal to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the neighborhood.
Dr. Floyd Huen, an internist and medical adviser to the Apothecarium, began to introduce himself to the some 100 neighborhood residents crowded into a small conference room, he said in an interview with the B.A.R. But before he could finish his first sentence, a number of people in the audience shouted him down, chanting "no cannabis."
"Physically, it was very intimidating," said Huen.
Huen and his wife, former Oakland mayor Jean Quan, are hoping to open a dispensary at 2505 Noriega Street in partnership with the current owners of the Apothecarium, he told the B.A.R. in an interview.
Huen, a soft-spoken man who has prescribed medical cannabis for the past decade, said he "decided it would be best to leave." The former medical director of the Alameda County Medical Center and director of a pioneering Berkeley community health clinic for seniors, Huen now has a part-time private practice and consults for the state on the medical evaluation of injured workers.
Huen told the B.A.R. that there is a "great need" for a dispensary in the Sunset, where some 3,500 residents travel to the Castro dispensary.
"Our main interest is to introduce the product to that community," he said.
Huen said that the incident at the community meeting "makes me very sad."
Convinced of cannabis' effectiveness
Huen said that 20 years ago, he became convinced of the effectiveness of cannabis in treating pain in elderly patients, many of whom had been prescribed opiates.
"This is an important health care issue. The notion that dispensaries lead to crime is just not supported by any of the data," he said.
"I've been a community organizer for over 40 years," he said. "Here in San Francisco, and in this country, free speech is a sacred right and the basis for democracy."
Huen believes the community supports cannabis, citing statistics that the majority of voters in the Sunset supported Proposition 215 in 1996 that allowed the use of cannabis for medical purposes and another measure last November, Proposition 64, which legalized adult use of cannabis throughout the state.
PJI's Lee told the B.A.R. in a phone interview that he represents "the neighborhood" as well as the institute. PJI's founder and president, Brad Dacus, said that Lee is not an official spokesman or employee but "understands our goals."
"I'm not familiar with the particulars of this case," said Dacus, "but I'm confident that whatever Frank Lee says is accurate. He knows the neighborhood and the issues."
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, PJI has been listed as an "anti-LGBT hate group" for several years, following repeated incidents where members of the group publicly demonized the LGBT community.
According to Heidi Beirich, director of SPLC's Intelligence Project, Dacus "has a horrible track record" regarding LGBTs, including defending a pastor who wanted to stone gay people to death and saying that homosexuality was "more dangerous" than cigarette smoking.
In an announcement written by Lee, the purpose of Wednesday's news conference is to announce PJI's "serious protest" to the Noriega Street dispensary and other proposed dispensaries at 2442 Bayshore Boulevard and 3150 San Bruno Avenue.
In order to gain the city's permission to open, medical marijuana dispensaries must go through a lengthy and expensive application process, which typically sparks controversy from neighbors, who, for a variety of reasons, object to the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries. Most dispensaries try to meet with community groups during the application process, as the Apothecarium did with the Sunset residents.
According to Lee, the Noriega facility is in violation of city regulations prohibiting a medical marijuana dispensary within 1,000 feet of "registered children's facilities." Lee also said he believes dispensaries bring more crime to a neighborhood.
A query to the office of District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang was unanswered at press time.
Elliot Dobris, head of community outreach for the Apothecarium, said the dispensary "is totally confident" that its application to open a dispensary at Noriega and 32nd streets does not violate city regulations.
Dobris pointed out that while the city does prohibit dispensaries from opening near a private or public school or a city-run children's program, the regulations do not cover privately owned businesses that cater to children.
"If that was the rule," said Dobris, "we wouldn't have any dispensaries in San Francisco." Dobris noted that there is a children's ballet school near the Apothecarium on Market Street and a martial arts studio near the company's proposed location on Lombard Street.
The PJI representatives "are deliberately misreading the law," said Dobris.
According to Dobris, the city will hold a hearing about the Apothecarium's proposed location on Noriega, likely in late spring, with hopes that it might open in 2018. The Apothecarium is also building a dispensary in the Marina, scheduled to open in late spring and is planning to open a location in Berkeley in the latter half of 2017.
Terrance Alan, the chairman of San Francisco's Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, said that when it comes to cannabis, "a big part of the problem is that the cannabis story has been narrated for 50 years by untrue, fear-based proclamations from parts of our government."
"It has been a masterful hoax, which played on people's most devote values of family, children, public safety and community," said Alan.
"Today, right here in San Francisco, we have evidence those fear-based claims about cannabis are just not true," Alan added. "We need a new story about the role of cannabis in our lives written by experience and facts. I urge people on both sides of this issue to look at the realities of the other's position and help write this new story where the patients don't get forgotten."