UPDATED: SF reverses course, will allow cannabis outlets to remain open

by Sari Staver

Eureka Sky in the Castro had closed Tuesday due to the city's shelter in place order. Photo: Sari Staver
Eureka Sky in the Castro had closed Tuesday due to the city's shelter in place order. Photo: Sari Staver  

San Francisco health officials late Tuesday afternoon reversed an earlier decision that had caused cannabis dispensaries to announce their closures as of March 17. In a tweet sent out via its Twitter account, the city's Department of Public Health said such businesses are essential and can remain open for their customers, many of whom use cannabis for medicinal reasons.

"Cannabis is an essential medicine for many San Francisco residents. Dispensaries can continue to operate as essential businesses during this time, while practicing social distancing and other public health recommendations," stated the tweet from DPH.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman hailed the move, as he had denounced the decision to close the cannabis dispensaries earlier in the day.

"We just got word from the San Francisco Department of Public Health that cannabis dispensaries can continue to operate as essential businesses during the shelter in place order while practicing social distancing and other public health recommendations," he wrote on his Facebook page. "I couldn't agree more with SFDPH - Cannabis is an essential medicine for many San Francisco residents. I'm glad we were able to work with DPH, the Office of Cannabis and the Mayor's Office to get this clarified."

Officials at the Apothecarium said the Castro dispensary would reopen this week.

"Now that SF has decided dispensaries may continue to operate during 'shelter in place' we will be restarting sales as soon as possible," representatives wrote Tuesday evening. "Our staff will be paid for any shifts missed due to the temporary shutdown. We will share details, including opening date and plans for safe operations, shortly."

The Apothecarium announced Wednesday afternoon that its Castro and Marina locations would reopen Thursday, March 19, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. for online preorders only. The South of Market dispensary remains closed. Customers can preorder on the phones, tablets, or computers for pickup. People should visit the dispensary once they've received a text that their order is ready.

Representatives also said that the Apothecarium is not doing delivery right now. It is also not doing in-person consultations.

As the Bay Area Reporter had initially reported Tuesday, following the March 16 San Francisco public health order to shelter in place except for essential needs due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Public Health clarified the regulation in a memo to cannabis industry, ordering retail stores and dispensaries to close, effective March 17.

It was to have been effective through April 7 and "may be extended," the memo said.

"At this time, cannabis businesses and delivery services are not considered an essential business," said a memo published Monday night by Mohannad Malhi, principal environmental health inspector with the cannabis program in the city's health department.

The line was long at the Apothecarium on Monday, as people flocked to the Castro dispensary ahead of the temporary closure. Mandelman had written on Facebook Tuesday that the dispensaries should be open.

"I've heard from many cannabis consumers and businesses about the status of the city's dispensaries as part of the COVID-19 shelter in place order," he wrote March 17. "I share their concerns and believe we must keep cannabis businesses open for the many San Franciscans who depend on them for their physical and mental health. Cannabis businesses should be treated the same as pharmacies and other essential businesses. I am working with the Department of Public Health, the Office of Cannabis and the Mayor's office to ensure continued access to cannabis in a way that maintains and supports public health."

In the East Bay, Alameda County officials apparently have given cannabis dispensaries an exemption, enabling Cannabis Buyers Club Berkeley to remain open, said longtime employee Jimi Devine.

Debby Goldsberry, founder of Oakland's Magnolia Wellness, told the Bay Area Reporter that the dispensary will reopen Wednesday after a one-day closure to plan for the transition.

Other East Bay dispensaries, such as Have A Heart, were also open Tuesday.

Harborside, a large dispensary with several locations in the Bay Area, said it was readying to add a curbside pickup program at some of its outlets.

"For your safety and convenience, we will be adding a curbside delivery option at our Oakland, San Leandro, and San Jose locations beginning Wednesday, March 18 at 10 a.m. PST, in addition to our existing home delivery service to Oakland, Greater East Bay, Peninsula, and San Jose areas at www.shopharborside.com," representatives wrote.

But for those in San Francisco, the situation up until the change was announced was a downer.

"Like all San Francisco dispensaries, the Apothecarium is closed through April 7," wrote spokesman Eliot Dobris in an email to the B.A.R.

"We are in conversation with the city and are waiting to learn more," he added. "We hope we can find a way to provide continuing access to our guess that is safe for them and our team members,"

Officials at the San Francisco Office of Cannabis and the mayor's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Apothecarium officials said they understand clients' frustration.

"We are taking the COVID-19 shelter in place directive very seriously," officials wrote in an email Tuesday, referring to the illness caused by coronavirus. "We recognize the hardship this presents for so many of you. Rest assured, we will work tirelessly with city and county officials to explore safe options for providing you with continuing access to cannabis. Please check back to our website and social media for more updates as things progress."

Purple Star, another San Francisco dispensary at 2520 Mission Street,, sent an email to members Tuesday stating it is closed due to the shelter in place order. It reopened Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, it announced that it would begin a curbside pickup program for all customers. People are asked to place their orders online and then pull up to a designated loading zone with payment. For more info, visit www.purplestarmd.com

In an email to members, Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the , urged cannabis users to "be more mindful of our day-to-day consumption practices," suggesting people not share "conduits" for marijuana, including bowls, pipes, vape pens, and joints.

NORML urged people to "continually keep your personal collection clean, using 90%-plus isopropyl alcohol ... to clear any germs or pathogens.

"Further, because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, some may wish to limit or avoid their exposure to combustive smoke — as this can put undue stress and strain on the lungs. Alternative delivery devices, such as vaporizer heating devices can significantly mitigate combustive smoke exposure, and of course, the use of edibles or tinctures can eliminate smoke exposure entirely."

Updated, 3/17/20: This article was updated to include the city's reversal on closing cannabis dispensaries and to note when the Apothecarium is reopening. Also updated to include new hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Comments on Facebook