SF Dispensary Run By Former Marine Is Feds' Latest Medical Marijuana Target

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Not in our town
There are few places Michael Welch can go and feel welcome; there are even fewer places where he can go and survive.

The South Carolina native is a former Marine. He is also a 45-year-old gay man with AIDS who uses medical marijuana to alleviate the side effects of his antiretrovirals. This puts San Francisco at the top of a very short list of possible habitats.

Welch also operates Sanctuary, a medical cannabis collective on O'Farrell Street in the Tenderloin. At 220 square feet -- including its ADA-compliant bathroom, and the wall on which a letter of support from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is framed -- Sanctuary is possibly the city's smallest dispensary.

It was the first storefront medical marijuana collective to receive an operating permit from the city of San Francisco -- and on Friday, Sanctuary became the fourth dispensary to receive an ultimatum to shut down or face consequences from United States Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag, whose offices on Golden Gate Avenue are a few blocks away.

Legal weed and eight good-paying jobs appear to be the least of the Tenderloin's concerns. However, the Tenderloin Children's Playground is a few blocks away, Haag wrote in her letter dated the day before Thanksgiving, and ergo Sanctuary -- which had not generated a complaint since it opened seven years ago and was in full compliance of local law -- must close.

A spokesman for Haag, Jack Gillund, offered no comment other than to point out how close it is to the Tenderloin Children's Playground. The office has been largely silent on the issue, in contrast to the other three Department of Justice offices in California.

The shutdown would leave the Tenderloin -- which, according to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, has one of the highest concentrations of HIV/AIDS patients in the city -- without a medical cannabis collective. This means the marijuana street dealers -- who have been largely gone for the past half-decade -- will return, according to Welch. "We pay our taxes. The cartel doesn't pay taxes," he told SF Weekly. "And what is it worth?"

Divinity Tree, the Tenderloin's other dispensary, shut down on Nov. 11. Medithrive, in the Mission District, closed one day later. Mr. Nice Guy, on Valencia Street, is reportedly delivery-only, but its storefront is gone.

All were fully compliant with San Francisco law, according to records on file at the Department of Public Health. Sanctuary passed its latest inspection in June, and was deemed compliant with San Francisco law on Aug. 11, according to records.

Both Welch and property owner Mike Sarikakis are absorbing the news and figuring out what to do, but the example provided by the other dispensaries is not encouraging. Neither was the court opinion issued Monday, in which a federal judge said that Congress has declared marijuana a dangerous illegal drug with no medicinal value, making state law worthless.

Welch has done what he could so far, phoning the White House on Monday and Tuesday, and placing a call to Pelosi, in which he asked why President Barack Obama broke his promise not to use federal resources to put people such as him out of business and on the street.

This issue also comes at a very bad time for Welch, who last year suffered a blood clot in his aorta, and will undergo surgery Friday to repair an intestinal issue. "I have medical bills, and $600 in my bank account," he said Tuesday evening at the dispensary. "I can either stay here and become homeless, or go somewhere else and die."

Asked if the federal government would be given pause at the spectacle of putting a Marine Corps veteran in such a situation, Welch, for the first time in a recent interview became emotional; his bright eyes were moist, and his quiet, level monotone showed a hint of an edge.

"They don't care -- they have no compassion for anyone," he said.

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21 comments
wiseold snail
wiseold snail

instead of going after criminal bankers, our tax dollars are being used for this.  i'm getting so tired...

Naomi
Naomi

I also want to say they gave Compassion to my dying friend with AIDS.  It was a big, big deal.  And we really appreciated it.

Naomi
Naomi

Michael Welch was so great in putting in an ADA compliant bathroom in such a small space-- and did it without a lot of complaining like a lot of other dispensaries did so I really am pulling for Sanctuary which serves people with disabilities with justice and dignity -- mobility disabilities and AIDS as a well as a variety of others.  Go Mike, my hopes are with you.

Tl
Tl

I wouldn't be surprised to see federal regulation of weed once the homegrown infrastructure is crushed economically.

Johndou
Johndou

The feds (DEA) will continue to go after State laws until marijuana is removed as a Schedule 1 drug. Changing marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug (no medical use) has been tried in the past. The last time it was tried the DEA (an enforcement agency) was able to convince our lawmakers to maintain the Schedule 1 status. There's a problem when an enforcement agency is able to set policy. A problem much greater then threatening to close a few dispensaries. Why has the effort to change marijuana from a schedule 1 drug so ineffective? Where are all of the signed pettitions?   

Chuck Ludwig
Chuck Ludwig

"Neither was the court opinion issued Monday, in which a federal judge said that Congress has declared marijuana a dangerous illegal drug with no medicinal value, making state law worthless."

So Marijuana has no medicinal value. Then why does the U.S. Government hold a patent patent # 6630507 stating just the opposite?

And I would think the IRS and the states who have medical marijuana laws excepting tax payment's from dispensaries would make the IRS and the states just as guilty of distribution of a class one drug as anyone else would be.

cntrlscrutnizer
cntrlscrutnizer

Out here in Co.Co.County-we have NO dispensaries,and the Supes have busted the delivery caregivers.So most folks go back to the black market-(from where we all thought we crawled outta...)

Sebraleaves
Sebraleaves

Why does the government want to turn a legal operation into a criminal one?

Jess90069
Jess90069

The registered voters of San Francisco should start a letter writing campaign to the White House, their city, State, Federal representatives NUMBERS of letters get attention.  If the dispensary is in compliance with all laws they should be left alone. If they have to move a bit future away from the school, let that happen.  Not sure if it would work or not, but how about a high-rise bldg which increases the distance from the school? Just wondering?    It is amazing, on the one hand repugnant Republicans say take authority away from the Federal Govt. and give it to the States, but on the other hand they want to 'cherry pick' what the Federal Govt. can over rule States. They want their cake and want to eat it too!    ALSO, a concerrted effort should be made to get rid of the thorn in their side, United States Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag, deposed from her throne!  ALSO, follow her day and night 24/7/365 and catch her in a compromising situation!  Very often people like her lead double lives!    

Clark
Clark

The Sanctuary has been giving away medical marijuana since it opened some six and half years plus that they have been operating as a dispensary. I know that this is true because I was on their compassionate medical marijuana give away list for the entire time The Sanctuary has been a dispensary.. The level of compassion was consistent like clockwork Monday The Sanctuary gave away whatever they had as growers would donate, or at the very worst they may have had to buy the medical marijuana they GAVE AWAY to those meeting the States criteria for the usage of medical marijuana.It is a crying shame that behind that million Dollar smile of Obama"s, was a big fat liar.His own mother who died of cancer who died the day before Obama was elected, If she had ,had access to medical marijuana prior to her death.I would bet almost anything that she would have seen her little boy become The President of these United States Of America in person rather than from wherever souls go after life.Obama is not as tough as he puts on.He promised that The Feds would not interfere in the operations of medical marijuana dispensaries in those States that have legalized medical marijuana. Obama is a liar and as a registered voter has just lied himself out of my vote for him come next election.I voted for him last election but if he can"t keep the smallest of promises to the medical marijuana community. He does not deserve our votes to remain in the highest office on earth saying one thjng and doing another makes him a man of no honor and no compassion for our citizens that are either really sick and or dying deserves to lose his office in the den of thieves otherwise known as Washington D.C.

YesIah Garvey
YesIah Garvey

we're gonna have to have some showdowns on states' rights here eventually, because california voters will be approving ever-broader marijuana legalization measures in the coming years, while the feds are too corrupt to be able to give up the decades of knowing lies, which have been the sole basis for marijuana to be criminalized in the first place. right now everyone is getting intimidated by these thugs from d.c, maybe that can changethese business are being closed with reference to technicalities such as the "too close to a playground" b.s. .. i wonder if melinda haag has ever set foot in Sanctuary's neighborhood ? Knowing the neighborhood a bit, i can say that Sanctuary is far and away the *least* dangerous influence there, & perhaps for miles around. They are some truly beautiful people, who have been operating what we feel is the most heartful and the best dispensary in the bay. Its really a shame that these feds are such *dikks* !

James Burtnett
James Burtnett

Our Government is RAN BY TERRORIST they have NO CONCERN'S OR COMPASSION for their OWN PEOPLE They will NEVER CHANGE they NEVER HAVE! We are but mere Peasants they LOCK UP more of their citizens than CHINA, AND RUSSIA COMBINED!

dinges
dinges

Obama is cynical and/or a sadist. That's really the only conclusion I can draw from him allowing these attacks on MMJ to happen.

Paulgustavo
Paulgustavo

You forgot about tenderloin-located Grass Roots on Post

Clark
Clark

OH, That"s nice of you to point that fact out brainless.

Clark
Clark

The Sanctuary has been giving away medical marijuana since it opened some six and half years plus that they have been operating as a dispensary. I know that this is true because I was on their compassionate medical marijuana give away list for the entire time The Sanctuary has been a dispensary.. The level of compassion was consistent like clockwork Monday The Sanctuary gave away whatever they had as growers would donate, or at the very worst they may have had to buy the medical marijuana they GAVE AWAY to those meeting the States criteria for the usage of medical marijuana.It is a crying shame that behind that million Dollar smile of Obama"s, was a big fat liar.His own mother who died of cancer who died the day before Obama was elected, If she had ,had access to medical marijuana prior to her death.I would bet almost anything that she would have seen her little boy become The President of these United States Of America in person rather than from wherever souls go after life.Obama is not as tough as he puts on.He promised that The Feds would not interfere in the operations of medical marijuana dispensaries in those States that have legalized medical marijuana. Obama is a liar and as a registered voter has just lied himself out of my vote for him come next election.I voted for him last election but if he can"t keep the smallest of promises to the medical marijuana community. He does not deserve our votes to remain in the highest office on earth saying one thjng and doing another makes him a man of no honor and no compassion for our citizens that are either really sick and or dying deserves to lose his office in the den of thieves otherwise known as Washington D.C.

Haggie
Haggie

For every truly sick pot smoker there are 1000 recreational users with 'prescriptions'. California marijuana laws have always been about legalizing its general use, not helping the truly sick.

rsteeb
rsteeb

What is truly sick is the prohibition of the planet's most potentially beneficial plant species.  The Compassionate Use Act specifically states "any [other] condition for which Cannabis provides relief.  Given the fact it is safer than aspirin, what exactly is your beef?

guest
guest

and how is this different than prescription pharmaceuticals, Haggie? if you want to change the criteria by which people are eligible for medical marijuana, that's one thing -- though i would expect that you would also dry up the well of oxy, vicodin, atavan, etc... going after dispensaries that are following state law and providing a service to the community not only by paying taxes but by discouraging street dealing isn't the solution.

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