S.F.’s Grass Supply is Growing, With New Dispensaries on the Way

The city’s next crop of cannabis dispensaries will bloom this year, including one in the heart of the Castro.

Weedmaps and Yelp are not the most accurate websites to find San Francisco dispensaries. The most reliable, up-to-date list is actually the Planning Department Cannabis Retail Map — which, unlike the others, does not rig results in favor of advertisers, and displays every existing or soon-to-open dispensary across the city.

And there are many more new dispensaries on the horizon. The Planning Commission just approved two last week. One is smack-dab at Castro and Market Streets, at the former Wild Card gift store, and the other is at the site of a shuttered Nob Hill dry-cleaning shop. The latter has an interesting team behind it; the co-owners are behind local bars Tonic, Bullitt, and Teeth, and include the person who owns most of the strip clubs in North Beach.

The city has not approved many new dispensaries since the dawn of recreational weed in January 2018, but they’ve approved a half dozen in the last few months. This increase is not a coincidence. A new and completely different set of criteria for approval created a substantial permit backlog, one that’s just now beginning to clear.

Under the new rules, the San Francisco Office of Cannabis will only consider permit requests from equity applicants — people who have been hit the hardest by the War on Drugs. But these new rules also allow larger and wealthier ownership groups to meet that criteria by forming “incubators” that provide assistance to equity applicants, or to merely add an equity applicant to their ownership group.

So people who operate popular bars, strip clubs, or other establishments can now qualify as equity applicants too, and that’s coming sharply into focus when looking at who the next wave of San Francisco dispensaries might be.

Only a couple dispensaries have opened since January 2018 — like the reborn Vapor Room and Love Shack by SPARC, whose applications were already in the pipeline. But new dispensaries are coming, including four that have received approval in the last few months.

The brick-and-mortar version of delivery service Posh Green Collective received approval last month, and hopes to open in Hunter’s Point in July. The Upper Haight got its first recreational dispensary accepted in February, awarded to a still-unnamed operation that plans to open at the site of the current Silver Sprocket comic shop this coming October. The now-closed croughnut-and-burger joint CDXX received City Hall’s OK in May to reinvent itself as a dispensary with a smoking lounge at Third Street and LaSalle Avenue in the Bayview that’s shooting to open by the end of the year. Another proposed Castro dispensary is the Flore Store, right across from the legendary Cafe Flore, whose operators say the Planning Commission is scheduled to hear their dispensary request on July 18.

The future site of California Street Cannabis Company. (Image: Google)

Last week, two more were given the green light. San Francisco’s most prolific strip club owner has been authorized to open a dispensary, as part of the ownership group of Nob Hill’s proposed California Street Cannabis Company. Interestingly, Planning Commission documents disclose that Joe Carouba is among its co-owners. While not a household name per se, you’re probably familiar with his work: Carouba owns BSC Management, which operates 10 San Francisco exotic dance venues, including the Gold Club, the Condor, and Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club.

California Street Cannabis Company’s owners also include San Francisco Entertainment Commissioner Ben Bleiman, and nightclub owner Duncan Ley, of Tonic and Bullitt.

But the Office of Cannabis equity policy considers all members of the ownership group, not just one or two. And it also mandates an owner have at least five years’ attendance at a San Francisco Unified School District school, as part of the equity requirement.   

California Street Cannabis’ co-owner and CEO Drakari Donaldson, who attended San Francisco schools and grew up in Section 8 housing in Potrero Hill and North Beach, fulfills that need.

“I’ve lived in San Francisco my entire life, with the exception of the four-and-a-half years I spent in college,” Donaldson told the Commission, shortly before the Upper Polk dispensary was approved.

The Castro will be getting a new dispensary too. Eureka Sky is slated to open at the intersection of Market, Castro, and 17th streets.

“We’re really looking forward to having a popular impact on that corner. Jane Warner Plaza is kind of a funky little space,” Eureka Sky co-owner Chris Callaway tells SF Weekly. “We’re going to do our best in working with the neighboring businesses to make sure that space gets a little breath of fresh air.”

The future site of Eureka Sky. (Image: Google)

Callaway endured the kind of brushes with the law for which the equity policy hopes to make amends, back when he was a legal and licensed home cultivator.

“Early one morning, I was greeted at my door by the sheriff’s department, who claimed there was a strong odor of cannabis coming from my home,” he told the Commission. “They tore my paperwork in half and took me away in handcuffs.

“Looking back, this may be where I lost my confidence in doctor’s notes,” Callaway joked, before turning serious. “The equity program is creating an opportunity to transform the worst experience of my life into one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had.”

Ironically, the Planning Commission chastised Eureka Sky for not requesting more privileges. They’d hoped the dispensary would ask for an onsite consumption permit, since the Castro has no legal place to smoke marijuana, and there are concerns people might just blaze up on the streets or sidewalks.

“This is a needed retail service offering for the neighborhood,” commissioner Dennis Richards said. “I couldn’t think of a better place to consume it rather than onsite.”

In total, a mere six equity applicant dispensaries have made it to the Planning Commission this year, despite hundreds of applications sitting in the pipeline. That’s because the Office of Cannabis remains backlogged and way behind on processing applications. But the Examiner reported Sunday that Mayor Breed’s proposed budget calls for doubling the office’s staff and pumping an additional $400,000 a year into the department. 

That could be money very well spent. Vacant retail storefronts are one of San Francisco’s most depressing contemporary problems.

Meanwhile, cannabis is one of San Francisco’s most exciting growth industries. City Hall hit the brakes on issuing new marijuana storefront permits for more than a year, but with this new wave, it appears they’re starting to hash out who the next generation of San Francisco dispensaries will be.

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