(Above: High Bridge Arms, San Francisco's last standing gun shop that shuttered its doors in October 2015, is soon to become a nonprofit cannabis dispensary named, you guessed it, High Bridge)
A local marijuana reporter's field notes and gossip from the intersection of pot, money, and power in the epicentral San Francisco Bay Area.
A Farewell To Arms
When wars come to their end, societies "beat their swords into plowshares." In San Francisco, we turn gun stores into ganja shops.
The city's famous last remaining gun store, High Bridge Arms, laid down its arms last fall after losing its long fight to proposed regulations that would have required the shop to videotape gun sales and report ammunition purchases to the police, KQED reported. Now, pending approval by the city's planning commission, the location is set to reopen this summer as a medical marijuana dispensary called High Bridge.
"We did find a lot of stray bullets in there during renovations," laughs founder and Pac Heights resident Sean Killen, whose nonprofit endeavor with a goal to "enhance the community" will stand in stark contrast to High Bridge's controversial namesake.
High Bridge Arms opened in Bernal Heights in 1952 and later became a national symbol in the culture wars over gun control as SF tested the Second Amendment in several national court cases that squeezed gun shops out of town. High Bridge Arms was the defiant last store standing—repeatedly closing and reopening amid increasingly strict city regulations—until it finally shuttered for good in October 2015. While Sacramento is still home to 24 gun stores and Fresno has 45, liberal San Franciscans say good riddance, sick of America's 30,000-ish gun deaths per year.
By contrast, cannabis has yet to cause a fatal overdose in the entirety of known human history, according to a study by Kaiser, and is also associated with decreased rates of suicide and drunk driving.
Killen has high hopes of improving lives in the community through a nonprofit operation (despite state laws that have green-lighted for-profit pot businesses) that will focus on keeping cannabis prices low and giving it away to patients who can't afford it. He even intends to push the city to mandate free cannabis for low-income residents, just as Berkeley did the fall of 2014.
Killen, a San Jose native who left the tech sector and entered the cannabis field last fall when he began managing the nearby dispensary Bernal Heights Cooperative, says corporate pot is coming to lower prices and quality. Now that collective faces eviction from its building, next to The Front Porch at 29th Street and Mission, by June 15. Killen filed suit in April against landlord Marty Higgins, the same real estate developer who scooped up Geary Boulevard's seedy Hemp Center and transformed it into the posh Harvest earlier this year. Higgins reportedly plans to give Bernal Heights Cooperative a similar high-end jeuje.
Meanwhile,the San Francisco Department of Public Health accepted High Bridge's fees on February 8, meaning Killen's new venture should soon join the city's two-dozen other licensed dispensaries. But don't expect a multimillion-dollar buildout—after a six-week saga to meet ADA compliance, the team has just $15,000 to outfit the space. Killen is hoping for a sort of community barnraising effort. He is publicly notifying the neighborhood this month in advance of his planning hearing in the hopes of local support.
For now, he has the backing of High Bridge's longtime landlord, a Mr. Takahashi, who purchased the building in 1988 and now rents its 800 square feet for $60,000 per year. Takahashi is "very happy, quite frankly, that a cannabis store is going in there," Killen says, having a chuckle at one clause in his lease: The new pot shop "shall not use [the space] for the purposes of storing, manufacturing, or selling any explosives, flammables, or other inherently dangerous substance, chemical, thing or device."
The poetry of SF's last gun shop reopening to sell America's alleged most dangerous plant is sweet, he says: "It's not missed on us whatsoever." // High Bridge, 3185 Mission St. (Bernal Heights)
Contact Cannabis Insider's Herb Caine with event announcements, tips, notes, and rumors at firstname.lastname@example.org. Herb Caine is a pseudonym for Bay Area cannabis reporter David Downs—a columnist, editor, and best-selling author, with The Medical Marijuana Guide Book (Whitman), coming out in 2016.