SF Dispensary Run By Former Marine Is Feds' Latest Medical Marijuana Target

There are few places Michael Welch can go and feel welcome; there are even fewer places where he can go and survive.

The South Carolina native is a former Marine. He is also a 45-year-old gay man with AIDS who uses medical marijuana to alleviate the side effects of his antiretrovirals. This puts San Francisco at the top of a very short list of possible habitats.

Welch also operates Sanctuary, a medical cannabis collective on O'Farrell Street in the Tenderloin. At 220 square feet — including its ADA-compliant bathroom, and the wall on which a letter of support from Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is framed — Sanctuary is possibly the city's smallest dispensary.

It was the first storefront medical marijuana collective to receive an operating permit from the city of San Francisco — and on Friday, Sanctuary became the fourth dispensary to receive an ultimatum to shut down or face consequences from United States Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag, whose offices on Golden Gate Avenue are a few blocks away.

Legal weed and eight good-paying jobs appear to be the least of the Tenderloin's concerns. However, the Tenderloin Children's Playground is a few blocks away, Haag wrote in her letter dated the day before Thanksgiving, and ergo Sanctuary — which had not generated a complaint since it opened seven years ago and was in full compliance of local law — must close.

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