San Francisco's 29 medical cannabis dispensaries have received just 11 complaints in 5 years, making them a global model for safe, reliable access. But every crop yields some bad fruit — and at least one club, Nor-Cal Herbal Relief, had some serious problems over the last year.
But this summer, San Francisco seems to have successfully dealt with the problem by re-assigning the dispensary to new owners who are taking their responsibilities seriously. The new Waterfall Wellness Health Center on Ocean Avenue is fantastically well-stocked and almost never busy — making it a downright delight in the otherwise weedless southeast corner of the city. Few patients know the club is under new management and has cleaned up its act.
The storied building at 1545 Ocean Avenue, near San Francisco City College, is owned by the family of Ed Jew, a former San Francisco supervisor busted by authorities for numerous crimes. In 2005, federal authorities raided the then-unlicensed club as part of "Operation Urban Harvest."
In July 2007, the San Francisco Planning Department formally approved the location's use as a dispensary. But after that, a group operating under the name Nor-Cal Herbal Relief endured body blows on Yelp.com for being "thuggish" and selling "dry" and "weak" pot.
On December 26, 2010, the club caught fire and firefighters allegedly found a pot garden on the second floor. Officials shut it down for three months pending an investigation and fined the owners.
According to a San Francisco Public Health Department official, the city approved an ownership change for Nor-Cal Herbal Relief on May 24, when it became Waterfall Wellness. The new boss is Greg Shoepp, a wheelchair-bound hardware store owner who previously had tried to operate a permitted dispensary in the Sunset district. He obeyed all city zoning laws, yet his permit was revoked after powerful opponents cited mythical threats to local children. Today, there are no cannabis dispensaries in the Sunset.
Motorists who use Interstate 280 will find the blue building that houses Waterfall Wellness just a few streetlights off the freeway. There's plenty of street parking, sometimes right in front. The old iron bars on the facade have been removed. A large security guard greets visitors at the sidewalk, but he's nice enough.
After a ten-minute registration for first-time members in the small, clean front office, patients receive plastic cards for gaining admission to the club. Presenting one gets you buzzed in to the main room which features a large, clean, well-lit retail space with hardwood floors and glass cases. On a recent visit, Lil Wayne blared from the club's radio, rapping I love you more than Ninja Turtles love pizza. There was no disconcerting bulletproof glass, no weed smoke hazing up the place.
Helpful saleswoman Tiffany guided us through the collective's overflowing collection of flowers, which are lab tested for potency and pathogens. The lab results are printed on a menu at the counter.
Waterfall Wellness has some amazing cannabis, and thanks to its relatively unknown status, they always have what's advertised — an absolute delight after fruitlessly schlepping downtown for sold-out sinsemilla. We counted 24 strains on Waterfall's menu, 42 edibles, and 32 concentrates, including some harrowing Superjack Wax for $50.
A testament to her training, Tiffany effectively described the slight difference in effect between connoisseur sativas Champagne ($45 for 3.5 grams, 15 percent THC) and Jack Herer ($50 for 3.5 grams, 20.17 percent THC).
Waterfall Wellness also stocks locally blown glass pipes, as well as quality storage jars, grinders, THC lotions, balm, salad dressing, and the curious future-tech "One-Love" — a hand-held, disposable, automatic micro-vaporizer. Each One-Love costs $60 and contains 100 2-mg doses of cannabis suspended in a glycerin base. Patients simply suck the business end of the One-Love like a straw, automatically activating the vaporizer.
All in all, Waterfall Wellness offers superb cannabis, and you don't have to fight the crowds in Calcutta-like SOMA. While state lawmakers seek to ban clubs anywhere near residences, this responsible operation in a middle-class, mixed neighborhood is a precedent both powerful and long overdue.
Seeds & Stems
A handful of cannabis-related bills are nearing the end of their journey this year in the California state legislature as the September 9 deadline to pass any laws for the year approaches. Governor Jerry Brown has already signed AB 1300, a bill that gives California cities, towns, and counties explicit authority to limit or ban dispensaries. Medical cannabis collectives are legal under state law, but police in some jurisdictions have pushed back against collectives operating storefront dispensaries. The state attorney general's office considers the lawfulness of storefront dispensaries an "unresolved legal question," according to a discussion draft of updated guidelines for the industry.
Americans for Safe Access, which lobbies on behalf of medical cannabis patients, said it opposed the bill but also said in an August 31 blog post that AB 1300 "recognizes the legality of local distribution centers." Bill author Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield called it a "great victory for communities suffering from rogue dispensaries that create a host of problems."
Also pending as of late last week: SB 676, Senator Mark Leno's agricultural hemp bill, which is expected to go to Governor Brown's desk, as is SB 847, which would set a 600-foot barrier between any club and residences, thereby preventing a dispensary like Waterfall Wellness from opening without a local waiver.
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