SF Pot Dispensary Vibe: The Country Club Of Cannabis Clubs

By Carolyne Zinko
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Would you join a private club to smoke pot? It is an option in San Francisco where (for a price) you can consume your cannabis in a more discreet and upscale location.

San Francisco Chronicle

Real estate broker Marty Higgins disliked the head shop vibe on his trips to local medical marijuana dispensaries, so he created an upscale dispensary, Harvest on Geary Boulevard, that opened in the spring. Last week, he went even more posh, announcing the creation of San Francisco’s first private cannabis club.

Harvest is not the first dispensary to allow smoking on site. The city’s Medical Cannabis Act of 2005 technically allows for smoking at all dispensaries, but the Planning Commission has the power to deny on-site use. Permission has been granted in only a handful of places — Bloom Room, Sparc, Green Door Collective and Igzactly, to name a few.

The difference at Harvest, where charcoal-gray walls are accented by polished concrete floors, brown leather couches, armchairs and Oriental rugs, is that people using the private back room will have to become club members. They will be vetted and pay monthly fees comparable to the cost of an Equinox gym membership. The benefit? The privilege of attending educational events, socializing and using the Inner Richmond space as an office from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. — while using medical marijuana.

“It’s the difference between public access, where anyone can walk in and consume cannabis in a public cafe-style setting, and one where medical patients have a discreet environment to consume cannabis,” said Higgins, founder of the nonprofit collective. “Active patients may not want the world to know. There’s an element of security here. We also offer private lockers where members can store materials and consumption devices.”

As Proposition 64’s California Marijuana Legalization Initiative looms on the November ballot, it appears Higgins also may be positioning his lounge to become the cannabis equivalent of the Battery private social club: a hot new place where the marijuana “in crowd” can mix and mingle.

“It has a little exclusivity with the membership,” acknowledged Neil Dellacava, a founding member of Gold Seal SF, a cannabis brand that works with Bay Area dispensaries, “but it gives them the opportunity to throw welcoming community events you don’t get in other places.”

To get through the door at Harvest or any other medical cannabis dispensary, a patient must present a doctor’s medical cannabis recommendation. This is registered into a database and makes the patient a member of that collective. At Harvest, only members of the collective are eligible to become members of the private club, and only after screening by Higgins and his team.

Harvest said it has several thousand members in its collective. A total club membership of “several hundred” is envisioned, and the lounge, as an extension of the collective, will operate on a not-for-profit basis, said Steve Sukman, Harvest’s chief operating officer, in an email.

Higgins promises to be “as inclusionary as possible,” but notes he does have “certain standards for the club,” including a mix of professional careers. Criminal records of applicants will be checked.

“We’re focused on safety and privacy first,” Higgins said.

Public social consumption of marijuana — medical or legalized — is a thorny issue across the nation. Colorado and Washington legalized the purchase and recreational use of marijuana by adults in 2012, as did Alaska and Oregon in 2014, but do not allow consumers to smoke or vape in the store or dispensary where purchased.

In Denver, two groups are working on separate initiatives for the November ballot, one that would allow for private cannabis consumption clubs, and another that would allow most any business, including bars, to create special areas where anyone 21 and over could consume cannabis.

At Harvest last Thursday, a dozen members of the not-for-profit collective — none yet members of the private club — gathered to test cannabis products with a new style of vaporizer and to hear a talk by Dr. Dan Price, lead physician at Meadow, a cannabis delivery company. He discussed terpenes, the oils that give cannabis and other plants aroma, and their properties, said to have antianxiety, anti-inflammatory and anticancer benefits. (Friday night’s program featured Frenchy Cannoli, a noted hashish maker.)

Listening were Jamie Goodman, an acupuncturist at the Mindful Body in San Francisco, intent on learning which strains of cannabis might better help her patients; retired data analyst Steve Hershoff, who said Harvest’s private room was nicer than some of the other San Francisco dispensaries that allow on-site smoking; and Eddie Ortiz, a Central Valley entrepreneur now living in Pacifica who liked what he saw in the back room.

“You have country clubs, right? You could compare this to an Elks Lodge,” said Ortiz. “Exclusivity and privacy? I’d pay for that.”

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