How to Make Cannabis in San Francisco Work: Part I

Cannabis activist Terrance Alan shares his insights on the denial of a Sunset dispensary.

As Terrance Alan sees it, he’s come out of the closet twice.

The first time was when he came out as a gay man. Now he’s come out as a cannabis user.

“I don’t think people have that opportunity in their lives very often,” the 64-year-old Alan says, “to come out of two closets, where what they were doing was completely illegal but exactly what they should be doing, and to now come out in an environment where it’s legal.”

A partner of Alan, Kumin & Associates cannabis consulting firm and the chair of the San Francisco Cannabis Legalization Task Force, Alan has advocated for medical access to cannabis for the past three decades. He is also known for his role as a co-owner of the Castro’s Café Flore, and as a longtime ally of local medical cannabis pioneer Dennis Peron.  

Speaking to SF Weekly, Alan shared his personal insights from the 70-page ordinance on San Francisco’s adult-use cannabis regulations that District 8 Sup. Jeff Sheehy introduced on Sept. 26 — and the Board of Supervisors’ decision to uphold an appeal to reject an Apothecarium branch in the Sunset District.

“Everyone told me that each side made errors and divided the community and created problems,” Alan says. “To me, there’s that conversation and then there’s one we hear all the time: ‘We love medical cannabis but it’s just not right here.’ When you add those two things together, it gave the Board the indication that they politically should not allow Apothecarium to open, and I think that’s a huge mistake.”

Apothecarium was denied a permit for a Sunset location by a 9-2 vote with only Sups. Sheehy and Malia Cohen going in favor. Alan sees the Board’s decision to cave to the demands of outraged residents as a failed opportunity to support one of the “good operators” in the city’s medical cannabis community.

“I don’t think we could’ve found a better community partner to move this project forward,” he says. “There is nothing in the history of Apothecarium’s operations that suggests they will be a bad operator or bring crime to the neighborhood. It hasn’t happened. They [people] said that about their location out on Lombard Street, and it’s open. I don’t think anyone has noticed that it’s open except the customers, but it’s open.”

There is also the matter of the Pacific Justice Institute, a known hate group that was used by opponents of the dispensary to rally against its approval. District 3 Sup. Aaron Peskin described the attorney representing the PJI as “knuckle-dragging, homophobic, misogynistic, horrible legal counsel” before voting to side with them against the dispensary.

For Alan, the episode reflects a lack of leadership sorely missing from the city’s top executive.

“I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for San Francisco, because we do not seem to have the kind of leadership that I would’ve expected,” he says. “We don’t have what I saw in a mayor like Gavin Newsom around the gay marriage issue.”

The silence of Mayor Ed Lee and other top city officials leaves Alan worried that there is simply no great motivator for medical cannabis enterprises that “have spent decades perfecting their ability to not get discovered” to suddenly come out into the open.

He believes that one way to compel medical cannabis businesses to embrace a fully legalized market is for Mayor Lee to clearly state that San Francisco will protect those who seek legal permits. Just as former Mayor Newsom offered the city’s full protection in offering same-sex marriages, there is a need for reassurance from San Francisco’s political establishment that they will support and advocate for the cannabis industry.

Alan also stresses that education is vital. He is scheduled to participate in an educational forum in the Bayview by Sup. Cohen later this month. It is the only such opportunity offered by a supervisor to inform their constituents about what is happening with cannabis regulation.

“Leadership in the cannabis community is needed now,” Alan says. “It was needed two weeks ago, and it will certainly be needed every day until this legislation passes. I believe that that alone will bring these community members forward. I don’t think I can do it.”

Next week, Chem Tales will have more from Terrance Alan, as he breaks down the four areas of San Francisco’s new ordinance he feels hold the key to a successful regulated cannabis market.

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