Pubdate: Tue, 28 Nov 2017
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2017 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Rachel Swan


When a rising Chinese American power broker became a partner in a
proposed cannabis dispensary in San Francisco's Outer Sunset, he knew
it would hit resistance.

But David Ho sees himself as the perfect emissary to the mostly older
Chinese residents and merchants who are deeply skeptical of the pot

"I'm the working-class, westside Asian American story," said Ho, who
is a co-owner of the Barbary Coast medical cannabis dispensary that
has applied to open at 2161 Irving St., on a block lined with grocery
stores, dry cleaning shops and banks.

It's fighting two appeals that will go before the Board of Supervisors
on Dec. 5, pitting Ho and Barbary Coast's executive director, Jesse
Henry, against persistent neighborhood activists - many of them
Chinese Americans - who blocked another Sunset cannabis club
application in October.

The supervisors' vote on whether to approve Barbary Coast's permit
will be a critical test of Ho's influence at City Hall. Cannabis has
created deep divisions on the board, with some members advocating for
a robust industry and others asking for zoning laws that would keep
dispensaries out of their districts.

A similar fight has engulfed the Chinese community. Its more
conservative leaders successfully lobbied Mayor Ed Lee to call for a
marijuana advertising ban on Muni - it was approved by the San
Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors - as
well as a 1,000- foot buffer zone between every pot shop and the
nearest school or day care facility.

On the other side is the progressive Ho. He was born in Macau but grew
up in the Sunset, attended Lincoln High School and spent 15 years as a
tenant organizer for the prominent Chinatown Community Development
Center. During that time, Ho became a protege of the late Rose Pak,
who was instrumental in Lee's election and a longtime political power
in Chinatown.

Ho campaigned for Lee as well as Supervisors Jane Kim and Ahsha Safai
and former Supervisor David Chiu.

Ho said he has opposed the more conservative base in the Chinese
community on other issues, such as same-sex marriage. He calls the
antimarijuana protesters at City Hall "a small minority of very loud

"I'm challenging the perception that this is a Chinese issue," he
said. "Cannabis has been used in China for 2,000 years."

Ho's enthusiasm for the cannabis business sets him apart from an older
Chinatown player, Chinatown Neighborhood Association Chairman Pius
Lee, as well as the 155-year-old benevolent organization the Chinese
Six Companies, which wields political influence in the

Last month, both organizations sent letters to the mayor proposing a
50-dispensary cap in San Francisco. The letters also asked for the
Muni advertising ban, the 1,000-foot buffer and a prohibition on
smoking inside cannabis stores, which has also been a point of
contention at the board.

Pius Lee told The Chronicle that he backed Supervisor Aaron Peskin's
recent call for a dispensary ban in Chinatown.

"Chinatown is too small, and it has too many senior citizens," he
said. "It's not appropriate to put marijuana businesses there."

Yet Lee also said he respects Ho's decision to invest in a cannabis
store on the westside.

"Maybe it's a good future, with good money," the older businessman

While Lee and the other businessmen of Six Companies lean on the
mayor, a spirited group of activists has for months held antimarijuana
protests outside City Hall, the federal building on Golden Gate Avenue
and at Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office downtown.

Lead organizers Ellen Zhou and Teresa Duque helped sink the other
Sunset dispensary in October, in collaboration with a right-wing
organization called the Pacific Justice Institute, which filed the
appeal of the application. For the past few weeks Zhou and Duque have
rallied people to chase Ho and his business partners off of Irving

On Friday, Zhou sent an email blast to scores of media outlets and
city officials, accusing the supervisors of bringing a dangerous drug
trade to the westside, in spite of residents' misgivings.

"We have immigrants (who) cannot vote," Zhou wrote. "We have children
and minors (who) cannot vote."

Sunset resident Susanna Chan, who was born in Hong Kong but has lived
on San Francisco's westside for decades, called the Irving Street
dispensary a "ridiculous" idea.

"This reminds me of the 1840s, when the British brought opium to
China," Chan said.

Ho brushed those arguments aside, angry that a small group of
immigrants - including dozens of monolingual Chinese speakers - had
been exploited by a right-wing outfit.

Jesse Henry, who co-founded the first Barbary Coast Dispensary at
Sixth and Mission streets, is optimistic that Ho will build trust with
residents in the Sunset and quell their anxieties about the Irving
Street store.

"He was raised in the city, he's fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese. ...
He's a great community liaison," Henry said.

Barbary Coast held 18 community meetings about the dispensary before
it went before the Planning Commission in October, Henry said. Ho
served as a Chinese translator at those meetings.

When Chinese American partners attempted to open another Sunset
district cannabis club in October, that strategy didn't work so well.
Former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and her husband, Floyd Huen, made news
headlines when they turned from politics to pot and tried to open a
new branch of the Apothecarium luxury dispensary at 2505 Noriega St.

Huen struggled to defend their dispensary proposal at their hearing
before the Board of Supervisors last month, during which opponents
equated marijuana use with the opioid epidemic and said it would lure
children into a life of addiction. Some called the club a form of

"Being a 40-year organizer in the Asian American community, this is
the first time I'm on the other side of this many community members,"
Huen said at the hearing.

Some in City Hall say Barbary Coast has better chances of success.
Quan, who lives in Oakland and did not return phone calls Monday,
seemed like an outsider. By contrast, Ho is a westside fixture.

He described himself as steering between two worlds "that aren't quite

"I'm trying to help," he said.
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