The narrative of the cannabis industry often moves in nanoseconds. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for San Francisco’s equity program. The laborious process aimed at ensuring diversity within the local legal cannabis system is currently a multi-year affair. Fortunately, the journey for a trio of new equity-owned dispensaries in the city took a major step forward following a June 16 meeting of the SF Planning Commission.
In unanimous votes, the board approved plans for dispensaries at 1700-1702 Lombard Street and 899 Columbus Avenue. A third dispensary, located at 764 Stanyan Street, passed on a 4-1 vote.
“It took us over two years to get to the planning commission from the Office of Cannabis,” says Johnny “Love” Matheny, who is leading the effort for the Lombard project.
Matheny is a well-known San Francisco figure. His eponymous nightclub on Broadway at Polk was a popular destination in the ’90s, and he continues to hold investments across the city. In a phone conversation with SF Weekly, Matheny said his old club is where he first met his dispensary’s current CEO, Alexis Bronson.
As the project’s equity applicant, it is Bronson who will lead the show.
“He’s got some great ideas,” Matheny says of Bronson. “He is extremely knowledgeable and extremely smart. He’s a super guy.”
In terms of timing, Matheny says that the Lombard store opening by the end of 2020 would be ideal, but that it may take more time than that.
The other applicant to receive a 5-0 vote in their favor was Henry Chan.
Born in Hong Kong, Chan moved to San Francisco at the age of 8. In an email with SF Weekly, Chan explained that he first got involved with cannabis as a cultivator in 2009. Subsequently, he’s gone on to manage a sizable cultivation site for the Bay Area Safe Alternative (BASA) collective and, in 2018, he launched his own delivery service, Weedhub.
“The process to open any cannabis business is very hard,” Chan wrote. “There are many departments to go through, from the Office of Cannabis to the planning department to the building department to the Bureau of Cannabis Control. After you wait for all of these years, to get it approved? The feeling is definitely rewarding.”
Chan’s store, CannaClub, is hoping to open by December or early January.
The last dispensary to get the green light is FGW Haight. The 4-1 vote was due to Commissioner Fung’s hesitance over the location’s plan to host an on-site consumption lounge. For proprietor Damien Posey, having a safe place for people to smoke was of paramount importance.
“We want to have a place for people to consume safely, because we know that’s part of the problem that’s going on right now,” Posey says. “Cannabis is legal to purchase but it’s not legal to consume anywhere. Giving people a safe place to consume is definitely something that I’m passionate about, especially for our older, senior community.”
Born to a 16-year-old mother at San Francisco General, Posey spent much of his youth moving around the city. At the age of 11, he started selling cannabis as a means of providing additional income to a household that consisted of himself and a single mother. An arrest would eventually lead Posey to serve time in prison for cannabis-related charges.
Since his release, Posey has made a name for himself as a mediator and mentor. As part of that work, he spent five years working as a case manager for United Playaz, the San Francisco youth violence prevention program founded by Rudy Corpuz Jr. It was through Corpuz Jr. that Posey learned about the city’s equity program and the potential opportunity it offered to folks like himself.
“To be honest, I never thought they would let people of color have those things,” Posey says. “To keep it real, in the type of society we live in, the barriers to entry they create for people of color are often so high that it’s hard to hurdle them.”
With FGW Haight, Posey’s been able to navigate such hurdles with the help of his friendly neighborhood print shop. Yes, the FGW in Posey’s dispensary stands for Free Gold Watch, the beloved Waller St. printing outfit that doubles as an all-ages pinball arcade.
“This has quietly been in the works for the last two to three years,” Free Gold Watch owner Matthew Henri says. “This is something that my wife and I have always wanted to be a part of ever since we found out that we were in the ‘green zone.’”
The terminology refers to the spaces within San Francisco that have approved zoning for cannabis businesses. As of now, Henri reports that the community’s feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive” thus far. As to whether the establishment at 765 Stanyan will also feature a few arcade games in the Free Gold Watch tradition?
“I can neither confirm nor deny the rumors of bringing in pinball, but we definitely want the store to have some of the true Haight feel that we’ve been able to foster at Free Gold Watch,” Henri says. “Stay tuned.”
Posey, meanwhile, can’t stop himself from pointing out the absurdity of it all.
“What I got arrested for,” he says, “now, in my new corporate world, I can say I was involved in marketing, sales, purchasing inventory, manufacturing, and distribution. Times change.”