Upper Haight Dispensary Gets City Hall OK

The San Francisco Planning Commission approved a pot shop permit for Haight and Cole Streets.

Joe Kukura, SF Weekly

People have been buying hella weed in the Upper Haight for decades, but these sidewalk pot sales have always been completely illegal. Legal cannabis is coming to the neighborhood, though, as the San Francisco Planning Commission authorized a dispensary permit Thursday for the 1685 Haight St. storefront that is currently the Silver Sprocket comic book and zine shop.

The dispensary makes history as the first legal pot shop in what is perhaps America’s most notorious neighborhood for black market marijuana sales. The still-unnamed dispensary, owned by a company called Cole Ashbury Group, is also the first permit approved under city’s new cannabis equity laws that aim to prioritize victims of the War on Drugs over wealthy corporate owners.

“It really is an honor to be the first cannabis social equity applicant moving forward in San Francisco,” said Cole Ashbury Group co-owner Shawn Richard at a packed Planning Commission meeting Thursday. Richard, a former vice president with the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP and executive director of the nonprofit Brothers Against Guns, said that four percent of the dispensary’s profits would go to community programs.

The commission was particularly impressed with the ownership group’s thorough preparation. Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards said “the team deserves accolades for bringing a fully baked cake,” perhaps realizing his play on words.

The approval of this dispensary came with some controversy. Three different ownership groups had applied to set up shop in the same Upper Haight “green zone” and San Francisco regulations only allow one to get the permit.

Cole Ashbury Group’s online permit application was time-stamped only a couple hours earlier than their two competitors. The runner-ups say they smell something funny at City Hall.

One of Cole Ashbury Group’s co-owners is Conor Johnston, who was Mayor London Breed’s Chief of Staff when she was District 5 Supervisor and President of the Board of Supervisors. A competing dispensary applicant alleges that Johnston used his City Hall connections to user-test the online application before other groups had access to it.

“My due process has failed because the other party was given an unfair advantage over me because that person is connected to The City,” said competing applicant and Pork Store Cafe owner Michael Musleh, in a letter to Planning Commission first reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

But Johnston has a much simpler explanation for why his dispensary’s application was completed more quickly.

“We worked our asses off,” he tells SF Weekly. “The Office of Cannabis made all of the requirements available to everyone well in advance, and we worked very hard to have everything ready to go.”

For their part, the San Francisco Office of Cannabis says in a statement that the user-testing process “did not provide an unfair advantage to any applicant,” and that “a complete list of the contents of the application was made available to all prospective applicants.”

Cole Ashbury Group boasted more than 100 letters of support, including those from nearby businesses like John Fluevog and Love on Haight. But the neighborhood is not unanimously thrilled with the selection process.

“The person that had the ability to type the fastest was the person that got the first bite,” says Haight Ashbury Merchants Association president Christin Evans. “If we’re talking about being community-centric and fair to the equity applicants, it makes sense to actually have a different process other than a timestamp.”

“The other group that is now second in line now for consideration is also an existing current merchant on the street, and is somebody who has a proven track record of being a responsible small business owner in  the area.”

The Upper Haight’s first dispensary still faces months of building inspections and construction before they can fire up legal marijuana sales. In the meantime, that Haight and Cole Street storefront will remain Silver Sprocket. The shop’s owner Avi Ehrlich said in a letter to city officials that the new owners “have always been very open with us and supportive of our business. They are absolutely not displacing us, in fact we probably would not have been here without them.”

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