Yes, former Oakland mayor Jean Quan is planning to open a marijuana dispensary in San Francisco. But the reality of the arrangement is a little more complex, and community opposition has made the outcome far from certain.
Quan and her husband, Dr. Floyd Huen, are teaming up with the Apothecarium, a high-end cannabis dispensary, to open the first such shop in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset district. Quan would not be the sole owner; rather, she and her husband would be part-owners of the new Apothecarium expansion. (Currently, the Apothecarium has one San Francisco location at Market and Dolores streets, with another in Las Vegas and a proposed expansion in Berkeley.)
And just as the Apothecarium is an elegant niche dispensary, this proposed Outer Sunset location would serve a unique demographic. Quan and Huen intend to employ a bilingual staff fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese, and familiar with the practices of traditional Chinese medicine. They believe this would be San Francisco’s first partially Chinese-owned marijuana dispensary.
“Until recently, it was hard for me to get my own Chinese patients to consider using [cannabis]” Dr. Huen tells SF Weekly. “For the same reason, the community is not as interested in the product.”
The exact location has already been secured: a storefront at Noriega Street and 32nd Avenue that’s been vacant for three years.
“It looks like an abandoned pharmacy from the 1970s,” says Apothecarium consultant Eliot Dobris. And it does — except without the cool, vintage-neon “Rx” pharmacy sign.
But some Sunset residents would rather have a rusted-out eyesore than a boutique cannabis dispensary. At a raucous People of Parkside Sunset community meeting on March 2, an angry mob shouted Huen down before he could even make a case for the dispensary.
This opposition from the predominantly Asian neighborhood might explain why Quan has been brought into the project. While Quan was voted out after one term and even faced a recall effort, she was also an accomplished Oakland city councilperson for eight years and an eight-year Oakland School Board member before that.
And she’s a whiz with marijuana policy, having written Oakland’s medical cannabis dispensary policy in 2004. Quan has extensive community contacts, and a long history of winning over cannabis skeptics.
“This project is mainly my husband’s work to provide access for a community that needs more information, bilingual, and bicultural access, and geographically convenient locations,” Quan tells SF Weekly.
Huen is a longtime gerontologist and regularly prescribes chronic pain medicine. While he describes himself as “not a pot doc,” he has been a cannabis convert in recent years.
“I came into this through searching for some alternatives to opiate use, which is really wreaking havoc on our patients in the East Bay,” Huen says.
He’s also been a politically active community organizer since the late 1960s, but he’s never had an experience like the hostile shouting-down he received at the March community meeting.
“We’ve never faced that kind of irrational opposition that didn’t even allow me to speak,” Huen says. The Apothecarium suspects an outside interest group is attempting to sabotage the effort.
“We were expecting a small group, a dozen people, 20 people,” Dobris says of the People of Parkside Sunset meeting. “They normally have pretty staid meetings. My guess is that most of the protesters had never been to one of their meetings before.”
As the Apothecarium sees it, that meeting was hijacked by a special-interest group called the Pacific Justice Institute, which is not a Sunset neighborhood organization. They’re headquartered in Sacramento, and the closest office they have is in Oakland. The Institute did not return a request for comment for this article.
But the Southern Poverty Law Center designates the Pacific Justice Institute (which describes itself as a legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties) as an anti-LGBT hate group. As of press time, the homepage of their website lists links to right-wing fake news sites like WorldNetDaily and features the headline “Will Court-Friendly Travel Ban Help Christians, Too?”
Still, the Sunset is not exactly San Francisco’s most bohemian neighborhood. It’s relatively conservative and full of families, which is likely why no dispensaries have ever opened there. But that’s where the Apothecarium sees a need.
“We have more than 3,000 patients in the Sunset already,” Dobris tells SF Weekly. “That’s just our patients. There have got to be many others.”
“They deserve access to their medicine in their neighborhood,” he adds.
The neighborhood has historically voted pro-cannabis. Election results from District 4, designated as the Sunset/Parkside district, showed strong majorities in favor of the 1996 Proposition 215 that legalized medical marijuana and last year’s Proposition 64 that legalized recreational cannabis use.
Now the neighborhood’s first dispensary is in the preliminary stages of its application, which it expects to complete in a few weeks. An up-or-down decision from the San Francisco Planning Commission is expected in late spring or early summer.
The first dispensary in the largely Chinese-American neighborhood is likely to see more cultural resistance, but Huen feels it would be right at home.
“Cannabis has a long history in China, going back to 6000 B.C.,” he says, pointing to a rack of the Apothecarium’s large, glass water pipes and bongs. “You walk around villages in China, pipes like that are everywhere.”