For some 63 years, 3185 Mission St. was home to San Francisco’s last remaining gun shop but pending approval by San Francisco’s Planning Commission, the empty space will reopen as a medical marijuana dispensary in the coming months.  

The gun shop closed in October 2015 after its owner refused to comply with increasingly tough city regulations.

“It seems pretty fateful that this space just kind of landed in our laps,” said former tech CEO-turned-cannabis distributor Sean Killen.

In 2013, Killen founded a medical marijuana delivery startup which he merged with the Bernal Heights Cooperative, a pot dispensary at 33 29th St. that he currently manages.

Killen plans to move the cooperative’s operations into the former High Bridge Arms gun shop, and said that finding the storefront was a life-saver for the cooperative, which has been caught in a contentious eviction legal battle with the new owner of the 29th Street building that has housed the pot club for nearly a decade.

“We are being evicted by a real estate developer who has a track record of buying buildings with dispensary permits,” said Killen, referring to Oakland businessman Marty Higgins. “He put his sights on cannabis in San Francisco and bought our building last year knowing that lease was about to expire. He’s trying to start up a chain of dispensaries.”

Higgins could not be reached for comment.

Killen hopes to open at the new location as early as July, although the permitting process can stretch over months. The city’s stringent regulations and a lengthy review process by various city departments serve to cap medicinal marijuana operations.

While dispensary permits are administered through the city’s Health Department, proposed clubs require approval through a hearing by the Planning Commission to allow community input, said Candace Soohoo, a spokesperson for the Planning Department.

Killen argues that city law prohibiting the transfer of dispensary permits to different locations has sparked a trend of pot entrepreneurs buying buildings with existing permits “grandfathered-in.” This tactic allows wealthy would-be dispensary owners to bypass bureaucratic hoops, but also threatens the existence of smaller pot clubs such as the cooperative.

“These grandfathered permits are essentially being stolen from us,” said Killen.

Regardless, the new space at 3185 Mission St. comes with “higher ceilings and more natural light,” and is a welcomed twist of fate for the cooperative’s owners.

“It’s literally a block away from our current location. We are a community establishment and it’s important that we stay in our neighborhood,” said Killen.

Another dispensary, The Cookie Co. 415, operates just a block down from High Bridge.

“What we offer is very different,” said Sean Devries, a legal clerk and cofounder of the Bernal Heights Cooperative. Once turned into a dispensary, High Bridge will sell “vitamins and supplements, along with cannabis, and maybe some light groceries in the near future,” he said.

“We’re really focused on health and wellness and making the community stronger, and I feel like other dispensaries are a little more focused on the fun side of pot and on what’s going to happen when recreational use becomes legal,” he said.

A  manager for the Cookie Co. refused to comment.

The irony of the shop’s history as a more than half-century old firearm distributor and recent rebirth as a distributor for the controversial crop is not lost among the space’s new tenants.

“We are thankful and respectful of the forces that have allowed us to get here,” said Killen, adding that the move was made possible by the willingness of 3185 Mission St.’s longtime landlord to support the pot endeavor by investing in the proper permitting.

“We have community support and the landlord on our side,” said Killen, who plans to retain the gun shop’s name as homage to its longstanding roots in the community.

“We also felt that the name ‘High Bridge’ represents exactly what we are about — a partnership between people in the community working together,” said Devries.

He said some 5,000 patients depend on the cooperative’s services, which include deliveries of cannabis and edibles, a smoke lounge, and a “compassionate and safe cannabis” program that provides “affordable access for all.”  

While the permit for indoor smoking will not transfer to the new location, Killen hopes that members will follow as the cooperative transitions into its new space.
“We are known as the home of the five dollar joint,” said Killen, adding that the cooperative’s mission is to remain affordable despite an increasingly profitable market with building momentum as the state’s growing weed industry moves towards recreational legalization. “We really make an effort to find good deals to pass on to our people.”