Dispensary Sues S.F. Over Corruption Allegations

The Apothecarium smells something funny at City Hall, with a lawsuit alleging backroom deals determine which dispensaries get approved.

Enrique Sanchez, SF Examiner

A marijuana boutique wants to smoke out the pay-to-play system at City Hall, and they just filed a lawsuit charging that cronyism and gobs of campaign cash led the Board of Supervisors to green-light a rival’s permit while denying theirs.

The Apothecarium was denied their Sunset district permit by a 9-2 board vote when Sup. Katy Tang said an “overwhelming majority” of her constituents didn’t want a dispensary in their neighborhood. But then she and the rest of the board voted 10-1 to approve a more generous campaign donor’s dispensary in the same neighborhood and district, just nine blocks away.

“A major donor’s dispensary gets approved by the board while the city’s most respected dispensary gets denied,” Apothecarium spokesperson Eliot Dobris tells SF Weekly. “The board has sent a clear message that if you want to open a new dispensary, you need to donate $75,000 to the board of supervisors.”

“The board of supervisors also sent a terrible message that being a good dispensary operator doesn’t really count. What matters is making financial contributions to the right people,” Dobris adds.

The “major donor” to whom the he refers is David Ho, the politically connected co-owner of the Barbary Coast dispensary. Barbary Coast had their Sunset location approved by the board on Dec. 5 after an appeal from concerned neighborhood groups. The Apothecarium’s permit was denied on Oct. 3 in an extremely similar appeal, with many of the same residents voicing the exact same concerns.

The lawsuit claims that of all cannabis industry donations made to the board of supervisors,  “roughly half of the donations were associated with Barbary Coast. David Ho, an investor and promoter of Barbary Coast, actively participated in independent expenditure efforts supporting the campaigns of Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Asha Safaì, and Norman Yee, and he was the campaign manager for Supervisor Jane Kim.”

Sup. Kim’s office declined to comment for this story, citing pending litigation. David Ho has previously worked as a field organizer for Sup. Kim’s campaigns for the school board in 2004, and her successful campaign for District 6 supervisor in 2010. Ho also operated an independent expenditure campaign supporting Kim’s race for state senate in 2016.

A Catholic San Francisco report from Dec. 2017 notes that the the board took nearly $95,000 in campaign donations from “Barbary Coast and affiliates,” though SF Weekly cannot confirm that each donor named is actually affiliated with that dispensary.

To be fair, the Apothecarium and its representatives have made campaign donations too — but only about $4,000 worth.

The Apothecarium’s proposed Sunset location would be co-owned by former Oakland mayor Jean Quan and her husband Dr. Floyd Yuen. SF Weekly did find it very curious that nine supervisors voted against the Apothecarium, despite speaking favorably of its permit request.

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