Clearing the Air: San Francisco Doesn't Want to Be Bothered by Drug Reform

This is not a weed-friendly town.

Don't get it twisted — there is plenty of marijuana in San Francisco. There are two dozen “pot stores” with city licenses ready to sell lab-tested, medical grade cannabis, with scores more grow-houses lurking on quiet avenues in the Sunset.

In certain places, at certain times, that distinctive stink and those clouds of smoke — so often conveniently captured on national TV — are so pervasive you'd think that's all people do here.

But you would be wrong. San Francisco puts up with marijuana — just barely.

How can this be? This is the town where “The Summer of Love Never Ends,” as proclaimed by the T-shirts produced by the police in Haight-Ashbury (for sale for $22 in the Park Station lobby), even as those same officers head out to nab street kids on felony charges for nickel bags with buy-bust stings.

If San Francisco were marijuana-friendly, there would be dispensaries in Union Square and in Fisherman's Wharf, with the city proudly proclaiming to our wide-eyed European visitors the palliative power of the magic plant, plus the economic opportunity presented by the end of drug prohibition.

But there aren't. Union Square is strictly off-limits to weed, as is the Embarcadero, anywhere near AT&T Park, and, after a dispensary spent years trying (and failing) for the wharf, it's off-limits, too.

You want to find weed? Find the poor people: Look in the Tenderloin and South of Market for your pot stores, not in Pacific Heights. Don't bother in Noe Valley or in North Beach, where the open-minded citizens ran out the legal weed-sellers on a rail.

This is no accident. Weed was never wanted here, except by a vocal minority, who ended up supporting a licensing law that cut the number of pot outlets allowed in town by half. Can you name another lobby that took 50 percent casualties — and then called it a victory? Welcome to drug reform in America.

If San Francisco was marijuana-friendly, former mayor and current Sen. Dianne Feinstein — in the constant running for title of most-powerful San Franciscan — would have used her legendary skills to take Justice Department drug warriors to task during the historic marijuana hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee two months ago.

Feinstein skipped it. She knows who her constituents are, and they're not twisting one up right now.

“Marijuana-friendly” would be the city happily collecting local tax levied on pot sales (Oakland), a crowd of elected officials standing up to the shutdown of legal businesses by the federal government (Oakland and Berkeley), and backing up those statements with lawsuits (all the 510).

In San Francisco, you're lucky to get a tepid statement on medical marijuana from Mayor Ed Lee. Almost 20 years after medical marijuana became legal, even the progressives at City Hall often act as if they wished marijuana would just go away.

When Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, paid a visit to town in September to promote legalization, he gave his talk behind four blocks of cyclone fencing on sun-baked Civic Center Plaza, where the city had sequestered a pot party that dared to do business here. Officials denied issuance of the actual, official permit the night before Fox touched down, preventing much in the way of promotion. Anyone caught smoking during the event itself got a ticket.

It could be worse. 4/20 in Golden Gate Park is not a civic holiday: To the locals, it's a civic nuisance and a menace that produces trash and ill will. The local elected representative as well as the captain in charge of the local police station are close to calling for it to be shut down — with full buy-in from the Haight-Ashbury locals.

Even the flower children have had it.

San Francisco isn't weed-friendly because the city doesn't need to be. Tourism, technology — those are real players with the real money. Right now, marijuana is just a sideshow, acceptable as long as it's amusing, but taken no more seriously than stories of snow on Mount Sutro.

Meanwhile, change is happening all around us. Voters in Portland overwhelmingly voted to legalize possession of a few ounces — that'd be Portland, Maine — as poll after poll tell us that a majority of Americans, from red state to blue state, want marijuana legalized.

But, somewhere along the way, San Francisco became conservative.

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