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Apothecarium fight heats up

by Sari Staver

The Apothecarium's Ryan Hudson. Photo: Sari Staver
The Apothecarium's Ryan Hudson. Photo: Sari Staver  

As the Castro medical marijuana dispensary the Apothecarium inches toward approval of its new facility in the Sunset district, an anti-LGBT hate group has intensified its efforts to block the project.

On June 28, a handful of right-wing activists from the Pacific Justice Institute led a demonstration in front of City Hall, calling cannabis a danger to their children and calling for city officials to deny the Apothecarium's application for a new business at 2505 Noriega Street.

The demonstrators carried several "caskets," a reference to their earlier contention that they have heard of a number of cannabis-related overdose deaths, although a search of the medical literature does not confirm that.

PJI's protest came shortly before a July 13 hearing where the Apothecarium will present its case to the San Francisco Planning Commission, where a majority vote will allow the dispensary to move forward with its plans.

"We are working around the clock" to get ready for the hearing, Eliot Dobris, director of community outreach for the Apothecarium, said in a telephone interview. "We have volunteers, staff, and owners knocking on every door within 1,000 feet of the project site."

The Apothecarium has gathered over 1,500 letters in favor of its proposal and is expecting 75-100 of its supporters to attend the hearing, Dobris said.

"We want to demonstrate to the planning commission that the Sunset is a pro-marijuana neighborhood – that has repeatedly voted to make marijuana more accessible," Dobris said. "We want to show them that we have many neighborhood patients and supporters – and that we will be a safe, quiet neighbor."

According to Dobris, the majority of voters in the Sunset supported Proposition 215 in 1996 that allowed the use of cannabis for medical purposes, and another measure last November, Proposition 64, which legalized adult use of marijuana throughout the state.

The Apothecarium's proposal has been opposed by PJI from the get-go. In early March, members of PJI, a Sacramento-based nonprofit with offices throughout the state, shouted down Dr. Floyd Huen, medical adviser to the Apothecarium, who was invited to speak about the proposal to neighborhood residents at a community meeting.

In a letter to the planning commission to explain their opposition to the new dispensary, PJI said approval of the dispensary would "violate California's public policy of shielding children from the evils of drug trafficking."

PJI spokesman Frank Lee, who attended the June demonstration, did not return emails from the Bay Area Reporter at press time.

PJI's opposition to the Apothecarium's application has been "extremely costly," said dispensary co-founder Ryan Hudson in an interview at his office.

According to Hudson, the Apothecarium has donated over $350,000 to community organizations since it opened six years ago. Because of the costs of hiring attorneys and other professionals to prepare and defend the application, its rate of donation has had to be "whittled back," said Hudson.

When the Apothecarium applied to open in the Castro in 2009, "there was not a single person in opposition" to the application, said Hudson. In the Castro, where medical marijuana has been used by people living with AIDS for decades, people are "keenly aware that cannabis has been a lifesaver to many people and certainly does not cause any societal harms," said Hudson.

PJI's opposition to cannabis comes on the heels of unsuccessful anti-LGBT campaigns, said Hudson, a straight ally.

"PJI has their own agenda to raise funds so they're creating a stink about cannabis," hoping the Sunset residents will donate to their organization, Hudson said.

"It has been very frustrating to witness their bigotry and homophobia," he added.

Those interested in attending the hearing in support of the Apothecarium can email Dobris said that timing is fluid and that people will be sent a text message about when to arrive at the meeting.



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