Pot Club Sues City Over Sunset District Vote

  • by Sari Staver
  • Wednesday January 17, 2018
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The Apothecarium's Eliot Dobris.
The Apothecarium's Eliot Dobris.

The popular cannabis dispensary the Apothecarium has cried foul, claiming that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors wrongly overturned "legally correct land use decisions to favor politically connected groups" when it rejected the city planning commission's vote to approve its new dispensary in the Sunset.

In a 20-page lawsuit, filed earlier this month, the dispensary, formally known as PNB Noriega LLC, asks the city to reverse the decision and allow the Apothecarium to open.

The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, stems from the supervisors' 9-2 decision last October, reversing the planning commission decision to allow the Apothecarium to open its fourth location in the city at 2505 Noriega Street (http://ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=72985).

The dispensary is owned by former Oakland mayor Jean Quan and her husband, Dr. Floyd Huen.

The suit points out that shortly after the Apothecarium's permit was overturned by the supervisors, they rejected a similar appeal for a different dispensary in the same neighborhood, when they approved the Barbary Coast Collective's application to open at 2161-2165 Irving Street.

The Apothecarium charges that the decision to allow the Barbary Coast to open, which was approved by a 10-1 vote, stemmed from financial donations from the Barbary Coast to political campaigns. Barbary Coast is co-owned by David Ho, a Chinatown power broker with ties to Supervisors Jane Kim, Ahsha Safai, Mark Farrell, and acting Mayor London Breed.

The Apothecarium's filing cites reports that roughly half of at least $153,000 donated to supervisors by owners, employees, lobbyists, and firms connected to the cannabis industry came from the Barbary Coast Collective, a dispensary at 952 Mission Street.

Apothecarium spokesman Eliot Dobris, in a telephone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, said, "This is a classic example of the Board of Supervisors talking out of both sides of its mouth. Why are the two decisions different? The answer is to follow the money," he said.

The Barbary Coast Collective did not return calls for comment.

Dobris said in the interview that "one of the official reasons we were denied was the false fears about children, although individually in comments the supervisors acknowledged that the fears were false."

Then, said Dobris, "a nearly identical application goes before them, based on the same arguments, and it sails through. You have to ask why the decisions are so different."

In an editorial board meeting with District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen Tuesday, January 16, she said the main difference between the board's two votes came down to deference to District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents the Sunset.

Ronen was asked about the cannabis votes, in part because the board's entire progressive bloc voted against the Apothecarium's dispensary. Only gay Supervisor Jeff Sheehy and Supervisor Malia Cohen voted in favor of the proposal.

"Katy Tang was very against the Apothecarium and I deferred to her," Ronen said, adding that she and other board members were critical of the anti-LGBT Pacific Justice Institute, which opposed the dispensary, during the meeting.

PJI is labeled as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, though its leaders dispute that. The group led the opposition to the Apothecarium's Sunset dispensary, along with the Chinese American Democratic Club.

Ronen said that she voted in favor of Barbary Coast because she believed that Tang gave the supervisors tacit permission to do so, even though she voted against that project.

Responding to the Apothecarium's lawsuit, Ronen said that the vote "had nothing to do with campaign contributions."

"The Apothecarium has a track record of good business, but according to Tang, she felt like they didn't do enough outreach," Ronen said.

Tang did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dobris, however, said the optics "are terrible" for the supervisors.

"A dispensary with a highly connected major donor gets approved and the most respected dispensary (in San Francisco) gets denied," he said.

Barbary Coast Collective has a "clear financial benefit" if it is the only dispensary in a neighborhood, he said.

Cynthia Laird contributed reporting.