SOMA Pot Club Surprised to Learn of Ban on SOMA Pot Clubs

Categories: Marijuana

Steve Smith HopeNet.jpg
The city would prefer HopeNet's Steve Smith -- and his buddy -- to stay right where they are. And only there.
​South of Market's been a de-facto "containment zone" for medical cannabis dispensaries for a variety of reasons: The still-gritty neighborhood has cheaper rents, more vacant storefronts, and fewer upwardly mobile, politically connected neighbors to raise a stink over a pot club ruining their block than other parts of the city.

Ergo, almost half of the city's pot clubs are in or around SoMa, in supervisorial District 6 (see our handy map).

These factors all contributed to Cathy and Steve Smith's decision to open HopeNet at 223 9th Street (and why they stuck there after a DEA raid in 2005). So when Cathy Smith tried to expand her successful small business -- she had the lease on 221 9th Street, just a wall away from her current enterprise -- she was shocked to find out she legally could not.

A last-minute provision sneaked into the city's medical cannabis laws, passed in 2005, imposed a permanent ban on new medical cannabis dispensaries in the South of Market Zoning Districts, according to city planner Dan Sider

(Not every block of what you'd call "SOMA" is in the "South of Market Zoning Districts," by the way. Confused? You should be -- it's zoning law).

"I can't expand next door, I can't move across the street, I can't move down the block," Smith told SF Weekly. "I'm stuck."

This restriction doesn't apply everywhere in South of Market: A new club called SPARC opened for business at 1255 Mission Street - about a block and a half away from HopeNet - in what most folks would consider South of Market, and the Planning Department last month issued a permit for a new medical cannabis dispensary to open on First Street near the Transbay Terminal, which is definitely south of Market Street.

Who's to blame for this odd kink in the city's zoning laws? David Goldman of Americans for Safe Access, who sits on the city's Medical Cannabis Task Force as the patients' representative, laid the blame squarely on two people: Supervisors Chris Daly and Sophie Maxwell.

View Medicinal Cannabis Map in a larger map

That pair of supes tweaked board colleague Ross Mirkarimi's 2005 medical cannabis ordinance to defend their districts: Mirkarimi's law pushed pot clubs to districts 6 and 10, the city's poorest. Maxwell pushed back hardest, excluding nearly all of District 10 from consideration for pot clubs (there are none in District 10 today). Daly didn't put up as much of a fight.

"It all goes back to the idea that dispensaries are bad for a neighborhood, and people who go to dispensaries are bad people," Goldman said. "They bring crime and drugs and problems to the neighborhood, and that's offensive. I take personal umbrage to that."

Daly defended his record. "Ross' legislation was going to push all of the pot clubs to districts 6 and 10, then Sophie nixed 10," he told SF Weekly. "I like the [dispensaries], but I didn't think they should all be in D6. Not good for access."

Only future, affirmative legislation re-allowing medical cannabis dispensaries in these districts could change the situation, according to the Planning Department's Sider -- or else places like HopeNet won't even be able to expand to next door. How likely is that?

It's not.

"In the future, with overlapping use districts, it's only going to be more difficult," said Jim Meko, a community planning wonk who's also running for supervisor.

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