Story updated. See below.
Plans for a cannabis lounge at 2075 Mission St., at 17th Street, appear primed for a standoff today, as Mission activists have vowed to fight the proposal at a Planning Commission hearing.
Joseph Hunt, a cannabis activist and former owner of the Mr. Nice Guy dispensary, said he plans to hire only Mission residents and make the lounge, tentatively called Union Station, as inclusive as possible. But his opponents say the lounge would intensify gentrification in the neighborhood.
“We have contacted people, and we’re really trying to keep our ears open to their concerns,” Hunt said. “We want to keep in line with what the community wants.”
Activists from United to Save the Mission, however, posted on their Facebook page that they plan to protest the lounge at today’s Planning Commission meeting. In the post, they said the lounge would exacerbate the community’s gentrification problems and bypasses the district’s controls on bars.
“Because our current cannabis legislation was created without any community input, right now cannabis bars are allowed to bypass the alcohol bar limit put in place by the Mission community. This law must be changed,” the post said.
Hunt scoffed at that comparison and said that lumping cannabis in with alcohol annoyed him. He argued that the Mission has far more bars than cannabis shops, let alone smoking lounges, and that alcohol ruins more lives than cannabis does. He said that people should not be forced to drink if they want to be social after a long day at work.
“I’m a father of four, and I don’t appreciate it when I walk with my kids and I smell someone smoking cannabis,” he said. “There should be more options than just smoking outside.”
Hunt said that he and his business partners tried reaching out and having a discussion with activists from United to Save the Mission but they never responded — nor showed up to an open house last week.
Kevin Ortiz, a member of United to Save the Mission, said the two sides have corresponded but have yet to reach a middle ground. Ortiz said he and fellow members are apprehensive about the addition of a venue that could attract more nightlife to a working-class area.
Specifically, the group has concerns over the fast pace in which these lounges could pop up.
“Our community is not a testing ground. We have to make sure we do it the right way. It’s about the cumulative effect of adding more venues that attract more people,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz said that United to Save the Mission is not opposed to cannabis, but wants a regulatory path that prevents dozens of cannabis lounges from popping up in the Mission.
“We’re not saying we don’t want his business here, we just want to do it in the right way,” Ortiz said.
According to documents submitted to the city planning department, the lounge would occupy the entire first floor of the building and would include a lower mezzanine level. Plans include a retail store along with an indoor smoking lounge. All told, the business would occupy about 3,590 square feet of space.
Obtaining a permit for indoor cannabis smoking is a pricey matter — Hunt’s building costs would hit an estimated $750,000. Obtaining an indoor cannabis smoking permit requires a license to sell cannabis and constructing a designated smoking room. That room must not exceed a third of the available floor space for the retail area and must not be centrally located so that employees or patrons can walk around it. Businesses would also need to have adequate ventilation to filter out odor and smoke.
Union Station would not be the only proposed cannabis lounge in the Mission. Down the street at 2441 Mission St., Shambala Cannabis Collective owner Al Shawa has plans to open his own cannabis lounge next to his dispensary.
The city has seven cannabis lounges operating today, and most are in the South of Market area.
Update, July 25:
At Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting, supporters and opponents for the planned cannabis lounge negotiated well past the eleventh hour. No agreement between the two came about and the hearing for the lounge was postponed.
When it came time for Hunt’s proposal to be heard at around 5:30 p.m., Hunt and his team asked for more time right as he was slated to present his statements. Hunt and his group stepped outside into the hallway to talk with members of United to Save the Mission.
But it did not appear to be a tense affair as both parties could be heard laughing and joking outside of chambers like high school friends before stepping into a classroom.
Planning Commissioner President Myrna Melgar said she stepped outside and suggested to Hunt that he come back another time, as he did not appear ready.
“We were already on this last item and they were still talking,” Melgar said.
The commission agreed to push the hearing back to October 17.
Calls placed to Hunt or members of United to Save the Mission following the meeting were not immediately returned.