Why? - Page 4

San Francisco did everything right. Now the feds are shutting down legal marijuana in town. And nobody can figure out what happened

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Medical marijuana supporters marched on the Federal Building on Aug. 1 to protest the recent crackdown.
PHOTO BY TIM DAW

"I'm very upset that we're losing two great medical marijuana dispensaries where patients could medicate on site," said David Goldman, a local ASA activist and member of the city's Medical Cannabis Task Force, noting how important that is for patients who live in apartments that ban smoking.

HopeNet and Vapor Room were some of the only dispensaries in town where smoking was allowed on site, because they were more than 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, or day care facilities, the city's standard. Bhatia said that's a very strict standard in a city as dense as San Francisco, which is why only four clubs ever met it.

Yet the feds saw things differently, ostensibly targeting HopeNet because a small private school opened two blocks away last year, and the Vapor Room because the feds didn't use the city's standard of being more than 1,000 feet from the playground at Duboce Park, instead deciding the dispensary was a community menace because it was a little under 1,000 feet from that dog-friendly park's nearest patch of grass.

LAST DAYS

Vapor Room founder Martin Olive was a bundle of complicated emotions on the club's last day in business (it will still operates as delivery-only, just like HopeNet, Medithrive, and a few other shuttered clubs have done). Initially, he didn't want to talk to us: "I'm trying to keep a lower profile because it's scary out there now."

But he slowly opened up and tried to describe the feeling of watching his proudest accomplishment so rapidly undone by the one-two punch of a letter from the merchant services company cutting off credit card access (just like every dispensary in the city, returning pot sales to a cash-only status) followed days later by Haag's shut-down letter.

"It's complicated emotions that I'm feeling -– let down, confused. At the end of the day, I don't understand why this is happening," Olive said. "It's a community tragedy, it really is."

Vapor Room was a welcoming gathering place for its members and a supporter of a variety of community events and causes.

"I've always treated this as if it were just a nice coffee house. I'm not an outlaw," Olive said. "I almost forgot I was breaking federal law. It was so normal, so legitimate."

In fact, some club owners say their establishments helped clean up rough streets. "We took care of the entire block. Before us, it was all dealers, so there's a safety issue," HopeNet's Smith told me as the once-welcoming club on 9th Street near Howard was reduced to bare walls.

Patients were also feeling the pain, including a 48-year-old ex-con who said he was paroled two years ago after serving 25 years in prison for attempted murder. "I have anger issues, big time. The only thing that keeps me calm and quiet and not blowing up is medical marijuana," he told us, seething, before praising HopeNet's "homelike environment" and supportive community. "It's important to sit and relax in an environment that is comfortable and safe. All this is doing is pushing us into the streets."

DRIVEN UNDERGROUND

Before going through his latest official misconduct battles and fighting to return to his job as the elected sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi was the District 5 supervisor who sponsored the creation of the city's medical marijuana regulatory system, the product of a long and arduous legislative process.

"We developed the system out of stark necessity because neither local government nor state government gave a roadmap to the dispensaries," Mirkarimi said. "Prop. 215 legalized medical marijuana, but there were no rules around it."

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