Friday, June 24, 2011

Leland Yee Promises to Fight for Medical Marijuana, Except When He's Opposing It

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 8:15 AM

click to enlarge Leland Yee REALLY wants to be mayor, even if it means supporting and not supporting medical marijuana
  • Leland Yee REALLY wants to be mayor, even if it means supporting and not supporting medical marijuana

State Sen. Leland Yee will stand up for medical cannabis. Even against his own interests and against the cannabis-opposed Chinese community of San Francisco, the mayoral candidate is your man, he told a meeting of cannabis activists on Tuesday evening.

Except, that is, when he isn't.

Along with fellow mayoral hopeful Joanna Rees and district attorney candidate David Onek, Yee attended Tuesday's meeting of the San Francisco chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana patient and activist group.

Yee's voting record is cannabis-friendly -- along with state Sen. Mark Leno, Yee was the only California lawmaker to vote against a recent antipot bill. But in front of a room full of medical marijuana patients, dispensary operators, and herbal activists, Yee, whose detractors say has a habit of telling folks whatever they want to hear (he once promised the same job to 12 people, a political consultant  told us) waxed downright heroic, saying enough to draw cheers shortly before being called on to answer why he opposed a controversial Sunset District dispensary last year.

Yee drew raucous applause for statements like, "There should be no laws restricting dispensaries," and "We don't tax other nonprofits -- we ought not to be taxing your nonprofits," both paeans to the taxation and zoning issues causing stirs in the legal marijuana world. Yee addressed the question of too many dispensaries with a grand dismissal, saying: "There may be an over saturation of Walgreens ... but until I see an MCD [medical cannabis dispensary] on every corner, there's no saturation issue."

Lastly, he drew cheers when he promised to go to war for medical marijuana, saying: "To the extent that they [the feds, Board of Equalization, other local politicians] are going to come after you, they're going to have to come through me and knock down this mayor first, and there's no way that they'll take me down without a fight."

Yet he also drew confused looks -- and a jeer or two -- from a few would-be dispensary operators that Yee had opposed in the past. Yee's mixed-message performance also drew a call from from Yee's spokesman, who phoned your correspondent before the meeting had ended "to clarify" a few of the senator's statements.

Yee didn't mean to say that no laws should regulate the placement and operation of medical marijuana collectives, Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin told SF Weekly late on Tuesday.

"Senator Yee doesn't believe there should be any blanket policies against dispensaries," Keigwin wrote (though to be fair, Yee did support in 2003 the passage of statewide medical marijuana regulations in SB 420). "That doesn't mean that the community shouldn't have a voice in where dispensaries are located, though."

It was that community voice that led a few attendees Tuesday evening to lock horns with the lawmaker, specifically Greg Schoepp and Paul Hansbury, two erstwhile business partners who worked to open up a medical cannabis dispensary on Taraval Street in the Sunset. That dispensary, Bay Area Compassion Health Center, was approved by the Planning Commission in May 2010 but had its permit revoked in November. A lawsuit against the city is reportedly pending.

Yee wrote a letter to the Board of Appeals supporting the revocation of the permit (a copy of which Schoepp handed out to anyone present, including Yee). Yee told the crowd that he wrote the letter because of overwhelming community opposition, but asked the local Supervisor, Carmen Chu, to find an alternative location in the Sunset for the dispensary. "Never happened!" replied Schoepp.

SF Weekly asked Chu whether Yee did indeed issue a call for a brokered compromise which went unheeded. Chu, the Board of Supervisors' Budget and Finance chair, won't be available for comment until after the budget is approved, according to an aide.

It was odd to hear Yee say in almost-consecutive breaths that he'd stand up to the Chinese community, which has been long supportive of alternative medicine, and then offer a reason he didn't do so in the above case (and in fact opposed alternative medicine).

"He feels it's important to make sure all perspectives are heard -- his letter was to give a voice to the community's concerns about that particular dispensary," Keigwin explained.

As for the disconnect between the valid medical use of marijuana -- "You are legitimate medical providers," Yee told the crowd -- and why it was heartily rejected by Yee constituents in the Sunset? "The district supervisor ought to provide the kind of leadership that would help people understand the rationale behind a medical cannabis dispensary facility," Yee told SF Weekly shortly before departing.

Does the leadership extend to state lawmakers? Perhaps the most pithy remark of the night was reserved for Rees, who upon mulling the Sunset dispensary scenario, observed, "If this was anything other than medical cannabis, we wouldn't be having this discussion."

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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