Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Retail & Industry
Published on March 10, 2023
Controversial Telegraph Hill dispensary with smoking lounge gets City Hall approval despite vocal oppositionImage via Loopnet

It is common for there to be vocal opposition when cannabis dispensaries ask for SF Planning Commission approval. What is not common is for opponents to get so vocal and rowdy at the Planning Commission meeting that the commission clerk declares “Ma’am, if you insist on continuing, I’m going to have to call the sheriff and have you escorted out of the room,” and for Planning Commission president Rachael Tanner to halt the meeting over the rowdiness, saying, “We are going into recess, we will call the sheriff.”

Image: SFGovTV


It was kind of a wild one at Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting, as those things did happen, and an overflow room had to be opened up to accommodate all of the people holding “No Marijuana” signs. But despite the signs and the opposition, the commission did unanimously approve a 9,600-foot dispensary with a smoking lounge at 100 Broadway (at Front Street) in the Telegraph Hill neighborhood.

Most opponents were not happy that the dispensary with a smoking lounge was being proposed within two blocks of licensed childcare facilities Kai Ming Head Start (828 Battery Street) and Tung Lok Early Childhood Learning Center at (75 Vallejo Street).

“We have an outdoor play area,” Andy Chu, executive director of the Chinatown YMCA that operates Tung Lok told the commission. “Our concerns is that customers who may leave said business might walk by and light up.”

It’s true that San Francisco cannabis laws say that “Cannabis retail locations cannot be within 600 feet of a school.” But that law does not consider daycare facilities and pre-schools to be schools. “This issue about pre-schools being within 600 feet comes up at every single hearing,” commissioner Sue Diamond said.

Image: SFGovTV


The prospective dispensary’s owner, Lawrence Michelson, braved the opposition and spoke, and said it wasn't the first time the neighborhood has given him an unwelcome reception. At a previous community meeting announcing the dispensary plans, Michelson said “I was unfortunately asked to leave because it was unsafe to be there.” He added that “People were spitting on the floor, ripping up sign-in sheets of the people who came, it was a very hostile environment.”

But he didn’t think the smoking lounge would in any way detract from the neighborhood. “I don’t believe there has been a crime outside a smoking lounge due to the intoxication of marijuana,” he said. “Maybe a line at the pizza parlor.”

Michelson has been involved behind the scenes in a few notable cannabis ventures. Back in the medical marijuana days, he founded some sort of B2B platform called Cannabis Hemp Exchange (CHEX), and was formerly chief business officer at a cannabis VC firm called eCann. He also played a very small role in the bizarre Trump-era 2019 scandal tying Rudy Guiliani to Russian cannabis industry schemers Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, though only by being listed as a “resident agent” for one of the Russian players’ Nevada cannabis companies, and Michelson has never been suspected of any wrongdoing.  

But the smoking lounge (technically called a “cannabis consumption lounge”) in this dispensary is what brought the scrutiny on Thursday. Michelson insisted the Planning Department has “strict requirements for ventilation and exhaust” of such lounges. 

“They’re actually reviewed on an individual basis by the Director of Public Health. So there’s an extra level of scrutiny there.” Planning Department principal planner Nick Foster said, adding that they “filter their air at a high-threshold level” and that “typical inspections are conducted by both DBI and the [Department of] Public Health” routinely after such lounges open.

And Planning commissioners noted that other smoking lounges have yet to cause any complaints. “Personally, I walk by Moe Greens on my commute every single day,” Plannig Department director of current planning Elizabeth Watty said before the vote. “That is not the smell I smell when walking by. There are many other aromas on that part of Market Street. [The smoking lounges] seem to be able to solidly contain the scent.”

Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote to Planning commissioner Gabriela Ruiz. The quote was from Planning Department director of current planning Elizabeth Watty.