Wednesday, December 27, 2006

San Francisco Rejects Storefront Marijuana Shop

This Los Angeles Times article details the interesting story of Kevin Reed, a medical marijuana dispenser in San Francisco who had to close up shop despite the city's liberal reputation:

Kevin Reed launched his medical marijuana business two years ago, armed with big dreams and an Excel spreadsheet.

Happy customers at his Green Cross cannabis club were greeted by "bud tenders" and glass jars brimming with high-quality weed at red-tag prices. They hailed the slender, gentle Southerner as a ganja good Samaritan. Though Reed set out to run it like a Walgreens, his tiny storefront shop ended up buzzing with jazzy joie de vivre. Turnover was Starbucks-style: On a good day, $30,000 in business would walk through the black, steel-gated front door.

Today, the 32-year-old cannabis capitalist is looking for a job, his business undone by its own success and unexpected opposition in one of America's most proudly tolerant places. Critics in nearby Victorian homes called Reed a neighborhood nuisance. Although four of five San Francisco voters support medical marijuana, the realities of dispensing the contentious medicine have proved far more controversial.

It has been 10 years since California approved Proposition 215 — the Compassionate Use Act — becoming the first state to define marijuana as a medicine. The 389-word act aimed to ensure seriously ill Californians the right to use marijuana. But it said nothing about how they might get the drug — and left ample regulatory ambiguity.

Today, about 200,000 Californians have a doctor's permission to use cannabis, which they can obtain through more than 250 dispensaries, delivery services and patient collectives — 120 of them in Los Angeles County alone. Medical marijuana, activists say, has become a $1-billion business.

There's been plenty of blowback. Local governments have been grappling with how to regulate storefront sales, still prohibited under federal law despite California's tolerance.

Though two dozen cities and seven counties — including Los Angeles, Riverside and Santa Barbara — have approved regulations allowing dispensaries, more than 90 others have passed moratoriums on new suppliers or banned them outright. Earlier this month, a Superior Court judge rejected a challenge to the medical marijuana law by Merced, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.

Reed started the pot shop so he could satisfy his own demand for medicinal marijuana. His operation generated local controversy in San Francisco's Fair Oaks community -- located between the Mission District and the Noe Valley neighborhood -- when it started becoming more like a cannibus club for the healthy and hip than a weed vendor to the afflicted:

FAIR Oaks locals, most of them believers in medical marijuana, at first were laid back about the little pot shop. But feelings hardened as customers flocked in.

Reed says his big mistake was revving up business with a newsweekly ad offering a half-off special. Pot patients arrived from across the Bay Area, many bereft after a dispensary crackdown in Oakland's downtown "Oaksterdam."

Residents compared the revolving door of 300 daily patrons to a beehive on a sunny afternoon. They grumbled about customers double-parking, blocking driveways, flipping off homeowners. Aromatic smoke wafted. When Green Cross hired security guards to referee parking conflicts, problems simply moved up the block.

Neighbors watched some youthful customers emerge and share their wares with friends, high-fiving all around. A few reportedly harassed some eighth-grade schoolgirls. One patient was robbed at gunpoint. Crime worries grew.

"I saw people coming up on bikes and skateboards, with backpacks, healthy-looking young men," said Dr. Charles Moser, a physician who, like many in Fair Oaks, voted for Proposition 215.

Neighborhood critics said they were all for cannabis compassion, but not this free-for-all. Proposition 215 encouraged government planning for safe and affordable distribution, but it didn't mention pot clubs.
Well, I guess the Not-In-My-Backyard syndrome is not confined to suburban, Republican country club elites!

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