Jul 11 2009

The San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club

Posted by J. Craig Canada in dennis peron, distribution, Examiner.com, San Francisco
Dennis Peron in front of 1444 Market
Dennis Peron in front of 1444 Market, San Francisco
Sister Mary Jane – Jane Weirick Carlson

San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club after hours

In the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club

In the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club

In the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club

Photos with permission of Dennis Peron

Dennis said to me, more than once, “You didn’t talk about The Club”.

The San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club was in downtown San Francisco near Van Ness at 1444 Market, about the most central intersection in town.  It opened at that location in 1995.  When it re-opened after the raid in 1996 it became The San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators Club.

Dennis calls it his five-story felony.  The first floor was the intake and offices for Proposition 215.  The next floor was the backroom for weighing and packaging and Dennis’ Office.  The third floor was the Indica floor, and the fourth floor the Sativa floor.  The fifth floor wasn’t open to the public, possibly some of the staff lived there to provide 24-hour security.

The public floors were beautifully appointed, with Persian rugs hanging from the walls and a wide variety of attractive lighting and artwork.  They had an excellent sound system and good music was always playing in the background.  There were thousands of origami doves of peace hanging from the ceiling.

The Indica and Sativa floors had areas with cafe seating and areas with large comfortable sofas, and counters where the marijuana was dispensed.  And there was performance space.  It was comfortable and attractive and welcoming.  There you could find ACT-UP at one table and Hell’s Angles at another, or even at the same table.

The prices ranged from $25 per 1/4 ounce to $85 per 1/8 ounce and there was generally a decent indica in the $35 per 1/4 ounce range for patients on a limited budget.  But providing medical marijuana in the form of bud, edibles, tinctures, leaf (for cooking), and balms was hardly the extent of what The Club provided.  It provided family and community.  Once a week (on various days) there was free massage, free haircuts, free food, free compassion bags.  Various organizations met there and conducted business on a regular basis.  There was a performance space and a stage where entertainment was provided weekly, or more often, free to club members; sometimes by club members who were accomplished and successful performers in their own right, sometimes by celebrities in support of medical marijuana.

There were several hundred people there on any given day with a total membership of 15,000 or more.   No one was made to feel as if they had to buy something every time they came and everyone was made to feel wanted and welcome.  Father Guido Sarducci would come in and perform on occasion.  Father Guido, undercover G-Men, ACT-UP, lawyers, Hell’s Angles, SSI patients, government officials, doctors and researchers, major media … it was an interesting place.

When it was raided most every one in San Francisco knew someone that had been helped by The Club.

The whole was greater than the sum of its parts

The Club was many things to many people.  It was the headquarters for Proposition 215.  It was the social center for many disabled and poor who had previously spent their days isolated and alone in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) motel rooms; really dreadful and dangerous places that most of you probably cannot begin to imagine.  It was the source of much data for Dr.  Todd Mikuriya and other doctors and nurses and researchers.  It was a place of miraculous healing.  It was a media event.  It was a political juggernaut.  It was the birthplace of a movement.

It was a “club”, not a “dispensary”.

Smoking and smokers were not just accommodated, but welcome.  Parents brought their children in and you should have seen how all that LIFE brightened up the sad old man in the wheelchair.

It was a place one could witness miracles on a daily basis:  where those who couldn’t walk in the door danced and sang with relief, where spasms and tremors ceased before your very eyes in minutes, where the broken mended, where the hopeless found inspiration.  But the greatest miracle of all was how the discarded and disenfranchised became a force to be reckoned with as they met at the club while relaxing and medicating.  With the passage of time and familiarity they shared a bowl, and then their stories, and became friends, and created family, and built community, and organized, and took action.  They became such a force that today 13 states have medical marijuana laws and 13 more have some kind of medical marijuana legislation in the works.

All because the sick and dying had a place to gather, and medicate (smoke marijuana), and relax, and socialize, and create family, and network, and build community, and organize, and act.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead (1901-1978)

Right to peaceable assembly

It was the exercise of the right to peaceable assembly that was responsible for the tremendous placebo effect of the club as well as the socio-political and medical revolution that sprang from it.

The ability of people with common interests to come together on a daily basis, to observe others over time – who they associated with, how they dealt with people – and to make friendships and create family and build community and meet and act should not be underestimated.  It is what enabled The Club to succeed where everyone and everything else had failed.

Also, the ability of people to observe improvement in others over time – improvement that they had come to believe was miraculous because of the failures of modern medicine – this should not be underestimated.  The Club had a tremendous placebo effect and this ability to observe the healing due to both marijuana used as medicine and the environment of The Club was inspirational to all who observed it, and tremendously beneficial to the health of all who experienced it.

Sadly, the right to peaceable assembly was one of the first casualties of the medical marijuana movement.  The clubs in California where patients are allowed to medicate and socialize on the premises are few and far between and outside of California such clubs are virtually unknown.  The people who should be fighting for it, the dispensaries and collectives, are content to have patients come in, make  a purchase, and leave; until they get raided or zoned out of existence and need people to show up at demonstrations and in court on their behalf.

The Proposition 215 Vigil at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco – High Times, April 1997
For more info:
The Cannabis Buyers Club: How Medical Marijuana Began in California – Marijuana.com | 26 Aug 2014
The LA-ization of the San Francisco DA’s Office – Counterpunch | 16-18 Mar 2012
Dennis Peron on the 10th Anniversary of Prop. 215 – Cannabis Report | 7 Nov 2006
Cannabis Buyers’ Club Flourishes in ‘Frisco – Cannabis Culture | Fall 1995

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