City's First Union Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens -- Finally

Categories: Marijuana
They have medical cannabis behind that counter now
San Francisco may be a union town, but that doesn't mean it's easy for a union business to open up shop.

Especially if that business is a medical cannabis dispensary.

Nearly three and a half years after Mission Organic Center first applied for its dispensary permit -- or, in other words, three and a half years after Eugene Popok first began paying rent on a dilapidated Outer Mission storefront -- the union dispensary opened for business today.

If a nearly four-year waiting period -- the time necessary to navigate the permit process, survive a City Hall appeal, and then open for business -- seems egregious, then consider this: Had it not been for support from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, the entire enterprise may have failed.

Popok plans to employ about four people at the small shop wedged in between a convenience store and an apartment building, he said.

The barrier for entry into the medical marijuana business in San Francisco is higher than one might think. Local law prohibits a cannabis club from opening within 1,000 feet of a park, school, or other youth-serving facilities; as a result, it is estimated that less than 2 percent of commercial storefronts in town are eligible to host a medical marijuana business.

And a storefront needs to be rented before the application process can begin. Popok, originally from Southern California, began renting at 5258 Mission St. in 2009, and paid the Department of Public Health nearly $10,000 in permit fees -- and all this before the dispensary survived an appeal from pot-fearing neighbors in July.

To give some perspective, Mission Organic Center was one of three dispensaries approved to open by the Planning Commission in February. Nearly eight months on, only Popok is open for business.

Other dispensaries, like ones in the Mission District at a property owned by prominent and connected developer Gus Murad, seemed to sail through the process more quickly, Popok observed.

A protest organized by one-time supervisorial candidate Leon Chow -- who dropped out of the race after it was discovered he did not live in the district -- was counter-protested by UFCW members, who did not take kindly to Chow -- himself a labor organizer -- making political hay from opposing cannabis.

"That appeal alone cost me $70,000," Popok said.

Of course, once the locals are dealt with, there's more risk inherent: The federal Department of Justice has shut down at least eight licensed and tax-paying San Francisco medical marijuana dispensaries since last year. 

This leads one to ask why anyone would ever bother. But Popok is invested; he's here (he and his family found an apartment in the area) and he's open for business, seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., the maximum allowable business hours under city law.

"The city hasn't seen this quality of medicine yet," Popok said.
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