Noe Valley Voice October 2004

Cannabis Club Sets Up Shop on 22nd Street

By Peter Orsi

When it comes to shopping, Noe Valley has long enjoyed a smorgasbord of offbeat delights. Among the current tenants along the 24th Street strip are an olive oil retailer, a beading emporium, a soap shop, and a bookstore devoted exclusively to mysteries.

And now, Noe Valleyans--at least those with a doctor's go-ahead--have their own local store to buy pot, right off the eastern edge of the neighborhood.

The Green Cross medical marijuana dispensary opened July 28 in a storefront at 3420 22nd Street, next door to the Liberties Irish pub. (Some consider that block of 22nd Street, between Fair Oaks and Guerrero, to be part of Noe Valley. Others put it in the Mission. It's on the border, in any case.)

At the Green Cross, patients who take marijuana to soothe pain--from cancer, migraines, and a whole range of illnesses--can purchase as much as four ounces of pot at a time, an activity legalized in California with the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996.

But the Green Cross is not for the general public. Founder and president Kevin Reed says the nonprofit sells only to patients with a doctor's note on official letterhead. The prescription must also be "verifiable," he says, meaning that the Green Cross calls physicians to make sure customers are not recreational users looking to score.

Despite its limited audience, the Green Cross is likely to receive a warm welcome from Noe Valley residents. In the '96 election, some 88 percent of Noe Valley voters cast ballots in favor of Prop. 215, compared with 78 percent in all of San Francisco and 56 percent statewide.

In fact, in Reed's "guesstimation," about a third of his 60 regulars come from Noe Valley and environs.

"A lot of people on the street stopped in when we opened to say, 'Hey, welcome to the neighborhood,'" Reed says, adding that he tries to maintain good relationships with residents and nearby businesses. "We ask our neighbors once a week if they smell anything."

"Our main thing is to be as respectful as possible," says store manager Mari Savage-Everett. "We don't want to disturb our neighbors."

The California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) lists 21 other medical cannabis clubs in San Francisco, but the Green Cross is the first to set up shop near Noe Valley. Previously, the closest dispensary was the Compassion and Care Center at 14th and Church.

"It's something that was needed in the neighborhood," Savage-Everett says.

So far, the Green Cross is a small operation, averaging about 75 customers a day. Behind the barred door and velvety black curtain is a comfy, low-lit room with a white vinyl couch opposite a flat-screen TV. Clients choose their brand of bud from football-sized glass jars full of fragrant varieties: Tango Mango, Great White Shark, Wig Out, and White Russian. Prices run $310 per ounce, or $45 for an eighth. (According to Reed, the street price for an eighth is about $50.)

The display case is full of THC-laced "edibles," including lollipops, "Fruity Pebble treats," and more traditional goodies like brownies, cupcakes, and chocolate chip cookies--all prepared with Ghirardelli chocolate, Reed says.

Two doors down, the Green Cross sells paintings and other works by local artists, in a second storefront.

On a recent afternoon, a couple dozen clients drop in to buy marijuana. Many stay to socialize, smoke, lounge on the sofa, and watch music videos.

Account executive Jack Clifford, 42, a San Francisco transplant currently living in Redwood City, says the atmosphere is why he's been a regular at the Green Cross since it opened. At other clubs, "they're grumpy and they're just 'get in, get out, and don't let the door hit you on the ass.' It's nice and friendly here."

Page, a 32-year-old massage therapist who declined to give her last name, says she smokes marijuana to relieve knee pain resulting from a motorcycle accident and subsequent surgery. "The doctor gave me Vicodin," the Haight-Ashbury resident says, "but I couldn't tolerate it. I couldn't read or write or remember conversations. I know I get a little out of it on marijuana, but it's so much better."

Reed, himself a medical marijuana patient who smokes every day to relieve "chronic back pain" brought on by a car accident 12 years ago, agrees.

"There are a lot of doctors who want to hand you a bottle of pills," he says, "but I'd rather take a natural remedy. And who wants to be addicted to pain pills? Coming off that medicine was the worst experience of my life--the sweats, the fevers, everything. Marijuana is the only thing that has ever really relieved my pain."

According to Reed, the best-selling items at the Green Cross are the edibles--"they definitely help you sleep"--and the pre-rolled joints. He points out that some clients, such as arthritis patients, may be physically unable to roll their own joints; others simply like the convenience.

"I almost always buy pre-rolls from them," Page says, "because I'm always on the go."

And the marijuana-laced brownies? They look delicious, she admits--"but I don't want the calories." *