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Latest Medical Cannabis Dispensary Dust Up Shows City Policy Needs Scrutiny

With two existing medical cannabis dispensaries on Mission Street near Mt. Vernon Avenue on the border of the Excelsior and Outer Mission neighborhoods, residents and merchants poured out their reasons for opposition to a third MCD at an October meeting of the Planning Commission.

Their voices were heard, and the commission did not immediately approve the new MCD—called SPARC—but instead continued the hearing until December.

With two existing medical cannabis dispensaries on Mission Street near Mt. Vernon Avenue on the border of the Excelsior and Outer Mission neighborhoods, residents and merchants poured out their reasons for opposition to a third MCD at an October meeting of the Planning Commission.

Their voices were heard, and the commission did not immediately approve the new MCD—called SPARC—but instead continued the hearing until December.

SPARC is a high-end MCD that operates on Mission Street south of Market Street and is attempting to expand to 5420 Mission St. The owners of the MCD will have until then to once more plead their case to neighboring residents about why they should be allowed to move into the area.

District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, whose district includes the Outer Mission and Excelsior, did not weigh in on the pro or con side of the debate, bust instead he asked once again for the Planning Department and the commission to change the rules for where MCDs can be located. However only the Board of Supervisors can change the green zone rules, and it hasn’t taken up the issue since its adoption despite a report documenting problems with the status quo.

“I will say that SPARC has a documented record of being a good neighbor in the South of Market Area, and I appreciate the work they have done to engage with the Excelsior and Outer Mission neighborhoods,” Avalos said in a statement presented to the Planning Commission. “I would not welcome any other potential dispensaries in District 11 that do not offer an extraordinary level of community benefits. And I ask that in the future you reject any conditional use applications for MCDs within 500 feet of another MCD in the Excelsior Outer Mission district.”

Among several passionate comments to planners and commissioners during the hearing was Marleen Norman, a board member of the Outer Mission Merchants and Residents Association.

“Outer Mission and the Excelsior is becoming the pot district, the pot center of San Francisco,” Norman told the commission. “This isn’t the reputation we want for our neighborhood.”

Norman and other residents relayed their concerns over traffic, drug dealing and safety issues during the hearing, but it was the clustering together of MCDs that commissioners most grappled with.

The biggest problem any new MCD faces when moving into San Francisco appears to be the city’s laws. So called green zones were developed a decade ago to limit where MCDs could open in the city, and Mission Street in the Excelsior is part of one green zone. That’s why TreeMed and Mission Organic Center picked the area to open their clubs in 2012—there were few other places for them.

In response to the Excelsior-Outer Mission green zone becoming too dense with MCDs, District 11 Supervisor John Avalos put forward and had passed legislation to create an anti-clustering ordinance. While the rule has curbed a dramatic increase in MCDs in the area, there are still open areas for more to move in.

Limiting a type of business with a moratorium is generally perceived as unpopular and difficult to do.

TreeMed and Mission Organic Center don’t seem to be the best neighbors, residents repeatedly told commissioners, and SPARC’s presence might not make much of a positive impact on its competitors. Would a seemingly high-class company like SPARC put the other MCDs to shame, and either force them out of business or to alter their day to day operations? Or would the demand for medical cannabis in fact allow all three to operate with abandon?

These are questions at the heart of the debate, and whatever happens to SPARC, the answers could potentially affect the application of a fourth planned club in the same area. An application for an MCD at 5201 Mission St. has been submitted, but no hearing has been scheduled yet.

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