With cheers, hugs and smiles, a team of city natives celebrated on Thursday evening as the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve their 3,500-square-foot cannabis business that will also include an indoor smoking lounge and community space.
“We had a good feeling that we were going to come to this conclusion. But until it happens, there was a nervous feeling, weight on your shoulders,” said Joseph Hunt, the project’s showrunner, who had been working on the plan for more than two years and twice faced the postponement of a final vote.
Union Station, at 2075 Mission St. near the 16th Street BART Station, will be the Mission’s second indoor cannabis lounge, and the ninth in the city. It’s also among a new wave of businesses owned by members of the city’s cannabis equity program — an initiative aimed at helping city residents affected by the war on drugs break into the cannabis industry.
Only Commissioner Frank Fung voted against it, saying he would support a dispensary, but not the lounge.
Hunt ran another dispensary in the Mission called Mr. Nice Guy on Valencia Street. But in 2011, the federal government intervened, forcing him to shut it down or face prison. Another project sponsor, Alejandro Lucas, turned to cannabis to treat injuries he suffered after being jumped by a group of men. With every other sponsor, cannabis has helped with illnesses, addictions or health. Many have worked in the industry for years.
After the vote, Hunt and others gathered in the corridors of City Hall, hugging and high-fiving each other.
At the initial Planning Commission hearing for the lounge on July 25, Hunt faced opposition from the activist coalition United to Save Mission, which argued that the project would increase gentrification and lead to increased drug use.
The group’s opposition ended on Thursday when they delivered a memorandum of understanding signed by both parties to commissioners.
Rick Hall, a member of Cultural Action Network and USM, told commissioners that the project’s sponsors were ready to do their part and mitigate the activists’ concerns.
“The project sponsor has worked very closely with us throughout this process to come up with what we believe is a strong memorandum of understanding,” Hall told commissioners. “I have to say, I believe, after working closely with these people, I believe they’re going to be a real community partner.”
The specifics of the MOU were not disclosed, but include benefits such as discounts for seniors, local hiring, and designs that will blend in with the local architecture.
Around 30 people showed up in support of Union Station, and many of the supporters were other equity program recipients and cannabis activists.
“Medicinal marijuana, CBD, just marijuana, is good for everyone. It’s nice to have a safe place in the Mission where they can smoke,” said Eva Royale during public comment. Her son, Miguel Royale, is one of Union Station’s founding partners.
While Planning Department staffers initially advised against the lounge component, they deferred to the commissioners.
“If we don’t let people consume on-site, they’re going to walk to 16th Street BART Station and we’re going to hear more complaints,” Commissioner Dennis Richards said. “It makes an incredible amount of sense to let people smoke in the building if they want to.”
Acknowledging that some residents living in single-room occupancy hotels don’t have a legal place to smoke cannabis, the commissioners saw the benefit of having an indoor lounge. They also noted that it would bring more people to the neighborhood, and to the neighboring businesses in the Mission
City code requires marijuana lounges to provide a separate room for cannabis consumption. The room cannot be a hallway or room employees must walk through, and it has to have airtight seals and an independent ventilation systems.
Such changes are expensive, and renovations like those can cost up to half a million dollars. But the Union Station team doesn’t seem concerned.
Suaro Cervantes, a muralist with Precita Eyes and the art director of Union Station, was ecstatic. By the end of the hearing, he was high fiving and hugging everyone he could.
“It’s monumental in scale. I mean, for the whole team, the community, it’s a big win for the Mission. A big win for 16th and Mission,” Cervantes said.
“It’s going to be a real uptick in vibration for the block.”