SoMa becoming free-trade zone for pot dispensaries

C.W. Nevius
SF Chronicle, Monday, July 2, 2012

Neighborhood groups have been complaining about the pot club boom South of Market for years. But now that recently approved marijuana dispensaries are starting to open, the critics can point to the map and make the case that there should be a law against “clustering.”

Across from The Chronicle at Fifth and Mission streets, workers are putting the finishing touches on a dispensary at 952 Mission, set to open in July. And in April, the City Planning Commission approved another club just around the corner at Sixth and Jessie, about half a block away.

The hearing prompted debate, but until the storefronts open, it is hard to visualize the problem.

“If there were a number of Starbucks opening on the same block, or banks, I would still be here” objecting, said Daniel Hurtado, executive director of the Central Market Community Benefit District. “There’s literally another one around the corner. What’s the need?”

Unfortunately, regulating pot clubs is not a popular position. Then-Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi pushed through regulations in 2005 that kept dispensaries from opening, unregulated, all over the city.

Unfortunately, what seemed like reasonable restrictions at the time have basically turned the South of Market district into a pot free-trade area. The idea was that a dispensary could not be placed within 1,000 feet of a school for students younger than 18 and that it had to be zoned for commercial use.

SoMa, with its condos, apartments and single men and women, fits the profile perfectly. A rectangle, from Fourth Street to 10th Street three blocks wide, is nearly all wide open. When the two new clubs open this summer, seven dispensaries will be between Fourth and 10th streets.

The irony, of course, is that everyone from Mayor Ed Lee to neighborhood activists has been trying to get new businesses to move into the area around troubled Sixth Street. But creating a San Francisco version of pot-friendly Amsterdam was not what they had in mind.

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