Tuesday night’s Board of Supervisors decision to deny down a medical cannabis dispensary in the Sunset was so surprising that the San Francisco Chronicle originally ran a wrong headline on the story. But it’s even more surprising that the board’s decision sided with what they themselves have called “a hate group, pure and simple, a hate group,” showing how even our famously progressive San Francisco legislators can get played like cheap fiddles by an out-of-town right-wing lobbying group that Media Matters once named “the LGBT Misinformer of the Year.”
The board was considering an appeal against an Apothecarium medical cannabis dispensary location in the Sunset, a dispensary which the Planning Commission approved in July. The appeal was sponsored by the Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento-based organization classified as an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
You might have heard of them — they once sued San Francisco over the Dolores Park pissoir, calling it “indecent” and “offensive to manners and morals.” And after their attorney Ray Hacke gave a presentation so comically incompetent that even My Cousin Vinny would have laughed him out of the courtroom, the board took Hacke to the woodshed with stronger condemnation than I have ever heard from these supervisors.
But just like in My Cousin Vinny, the comically incompetent attorney somehow won in the end.
The greatest rant against the Pacific Justice Institute came from District 3 Sup. Aaron Peskin. “Everyone has the right to legal counsel, even if they are knuckle-dragging, homophobic, misogynistic, horrible legal counsel,” Peskin said before the vote. “The words of the legal counsel of the appellant seem to come out of the dark ages.”
But then Peskin voted to side with that horrible legal counsel. “I was going to vote against the appeal,” he explained, but he voted for the appeal because Sup. Tang was too, and the dispensary is in her district. “We all defer to one another, in each other’s districts, over land use matters,” Peskin said.
Sup. Jane Kim also let the Pacific Justice Institute have it. “Frankly, it was just embarrassing. The fearmongering, the lies, were offensive to the intelligence of those that were here in this room,” she said of their presentation. “I was deeply offended by the appellant’s opening argument today. It feels very hard to vote with the appellant given that was the chosen presentation made.” She then voted with the appellant.
And Tang, whose choice basically influenced most of the board, was also furious with the appeal presented. “I and many of my colleagues were very offended by some of the things that we had heard, a lot of what was said by this individual I don’t believe was based in fact,” she said. “Any group that is anti-LGBT is not welcome in the Sunset District.”
So why did Tang vote in support of that group? “There’s a long way to go in terms of working with our community and the Sunset District on cannabis,” Tang said. “I am elected by the people who live in this district, and the overwhelming majority have voiced to me that they don’t want this MCD [medical cannabis dispensary].”
Only supervisors Jeff Sheehy and Malia Cohen voted with their conscience to deny the anti-dispensary appeal. “We have democracy, otherwise I’d say there’s no reason for [the Pacific Justice Institute] to be in this building,” Sheehy said.
Cohen closed her remarks with, “I want to thank folks who have come to the aisle — except for the organization that espoused hate and homophobic thoughts.”
The Pacific Justice Institute has run an anti-cannabis campaign in the Sunset based on patent and provable lies. Their attorney Ray Hacke said “the Apothecarium is no different than a street-level crack dealer,” a statement that is legally dishonest and deft in its dog-whistle racism.
“Much of what was said today wasn’t based on facts,” Sup. Norman Yee said. “But the reality for the people saying this was ‘facts’ to them.”
So there’s your profile in capitulation from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who voted in favor of a racist lie because enough constituents in one district believed this racist lie. Don’t think the Koch Brothers and other out-of-town lobbyists didn’t notice.