For the first time in city history, the operator of a would-be medical marijuana dispensary is taking San Francisco to court for the right to sell legal weed.
The Bay Area Compassion Health Care Center received approval in May 2010 from the Planning Commission to operate a cannabis dispensary at 2139 Taraval St. in the Sunset district, despite sizable opposition from neighbors and Supervisor Carmen Chu, who represents the area.
Two Taraval Street neighbors, a local church and a tutoring center, appealed the permit, saying that the pot club would create crime and increase drug use among students at nearby Lincoln High School. In November, the Board of Appeals, citing a typo in city planning code as well as neighborhood concerns, voted to overrule city planning staff’s recommendation and revoke the dispensary’s building permit.
Greg Schoepp, the medical cannabis patient who wants to operate the dispensary in the Sunset, will ask a judge to return the permit, he told The San Francisco Examiner. “I followed every rule, I did my due diligence all the way through,” said Schoepp, a San Francisco native who has used a wheelchair since he was shot in an 1982 home invasion robbery. “I just want my permit.”
In documents filed in San Francisco Superior Court, Schoepp and his attorney, Christine Wagner, say the Board of Appeals “abused its discretion” in revoking the dispensary’s building permit. “The board had no legal or factual basis for taking these actions ... because the building permit was not the real issue considered by the board,” the filings say. “It was under the guise of reviewing [Schoepp’s] building permit that the Board instead took liberties to unlawfully review and effectively reverse the Planning Commission.”
In addition to denying jobs to the Sunset district, the Board of Appeals is also denying medical marijuana patients on The City’s west side “safe access” to their preferred medicine, the lawsuit alleges.
Jack Song, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the office could not comment on pending litigation. The case’s first hearing is scheduled for Nov. 4. There are currently 26 medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco, but nearly all of them are clustered around downtown, the northern Mission district and stretches of Market Street.
The case is believed to be the first time since The City passed the Medical Cannabis Act in 2005 that a pot club denied a permit has taken The City to court.
“It’s the first [case] I’ve heard of,” said attorney Derek St. Pierre, chairman of The City’s Medical Cannabis Task Force’s Legal Committee.
Schoepp’s attempt to force The City to let him open the dispensary comes at a time when the U.S. Department of Justice has announced a crackdown on medical marijuana operations across California. But Schoepp said the recent federal activity has no bearing on his lawsuit against The City. The Bay Area dispensaries targeted for closure by Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for Northern California, are all within 1,000 feet of a school or park; as per city law, all new medical marijuana dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet away from a school.