The three medical marijuana dispensaries in the Mission whose landlords were served with cease-and-desist letters by federal prosecutors said that it’s unclear whether they will be able to remain in business.
Meanwhile, other dispensaries here fear that the same crackdown awaits them, and the landlord of a building in which one was ready to open has said that he is concerned and will wait to see what happens with federal enforcement efforts before opening.
“I think I have to talk to my attorney to see what kind of legal ramifications it has,” said Dmitry Margusov, the owner of 3139 Mission Street, where Herbal Mission was set to open after being approved in June.
“We want to see exactly what happens in the next couple months.”
New caution kicked in last week after it became public that the landlords of 208 Valencia Street Caregivers, Mr. Nice Guy and Medithrive were told by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag two weeks ago to “take the necessary steps to discontinue the sale and or distribution of marijuana…within 45 days” of the date the letter was served. If they don’t, they could be prosecuted and their property and the money from the dispensary could be forfeited without compensation, according to the letter.
The crackdown sent shock waves through the Mission’s community of medical marijuana dispensaries — seven existing and one planned. Since the letters from federal officials were made public, landlords and dispensaries have been lawyering up. Some acknowledged that their only options are to move or close shop.
Haag is targeting dispensaries close to schools and places where children congregate. The dispensaries served with the letter are near the Friends School at 250 Valencia Street. All opened before the 2005 passage of a city law that prohibits dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school or other places where children congregate. This meant they were all grandfathered in and allowed to remain by the city.
Brandan Hallinan, a lawyer representing Mr. Nice Guy at 174 Valencia Street, said his client is trying to get supervisors to intervene and work out a deal to allow the dispensary to operate outside of school hours. Judging by Haag’s tone at a press conference on Friday, it is unlikely that she would be open to such an arrangement, he said. That means the dispensary may have to move or close down.
“The landlord is going to protect themselves and his property,” he said. Mr. Nice Guy “has been a great tenant,” Hallinan added. “I’d like to think the landlord will stick with them. We don’t know.”
The enforcement is also unnerving to landlords who have not been served with a letter.
Haag told the Bay Citizen that those who did not receive a letter “should take no comfort.” A spokesman for Haag’s office also declined to rule out sending more letters or targeting other dispensaries, even if they are not close to schools.
Al Shawa of the Shambhala Healing Center on Mission Street, which opened this summer, said he is not sure what he will do if he is served with a letter.
“I am going to do everything by the book, whatever the state of California says,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything that’s even 1 percent wrong. I do not know how I am going to act or react.”
Nearby Schools Indifferent to Pot Clubs
Administrators from the nearby Compañeros del Barrio preschool and Marshall Elementary School said they have never had an issue with the dispensaries. Instead, marijuana activists say the crackdown on dispensaries near schools is an attempt to garner good publicity.
“From a [public relations] standpoint it looks pretty good — ‘We’re protecting the kids,’” Hallinan said.
Sam, a man who said he is the owner of 208 Valencia Street Caregivers, said he has not had any issues with the Friends School, which is in the same block.
“I’ve been here since before the school opened,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with the school, and the school doesn’t have a problem with me.”
Representatives from the Friends School could not immediately be reached for comment.
Peter Avila, the principal at Marshall Elementary, which lies directly behind Medithrive, said the dispensaries don’t bother the school.
“They seem pretty responsive,” he said. “There’s other things we need to worry about, trust me.”
At the Compañeros del Barrio Preschool, two blocks away from 208 Valencia Street Caregivers, office manager Sandra Maria Vasquez said the dispensaries are not an issue.
“I believe the dispensaries shouldn’t be so close to schools,” she said. “But I think it’s sad they want close down these places for the people that really need it.”