Want Weed? Don’t Look for It in Chinese ‘hoods…..But it’s Legal

Lee Heidhues 4.19.2023

The San Francisco Standard has a thorough analytical piece dissecting the fervent opposition to legal marijuana in the predominantly Asian neighborhoods.

Marijuana has been legal in California for several years. How this opposition is tolerated is illustrative of the fact that people can blithely choose to ignore the law when it suits their political and/or cultural agenda.

In my Richmond District neighborhood which is very expansive geographically there is only one cannabis store.

Two other neighborhoods, Chinatown and The Sunset have been able to harass City officials to the point where cannabis shops are totally banned.

People who oppose these cannabis dispensaries are effectively ignoring and breaking the law. A law which was passed by a heavy majority of California voters in 2016.

Excerpted from The Standard 4.19.2023

“Pasta, not pot!” a cluster of protesters shouted outside of Gold Mirror, a decades-old Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s Sunset District during one of many demonstrations in April. The Gold Mirror owners and a local dispensary had announced plans to open a cannabis shop on the restaurant’s upper level, prompting outcry from concerned community members. 

With a bullhorn and signs in tow, the protesters demanded the neighborhood institution stick to serving pasta and cannoli. 

Leanna Louie carrying her No Weed Near Schools sign has become a political fixture. Leading the recall of DA Chesa Boudin and other progressives. She has now set her sights on smoking out marijuana.

Even by this city’s standards, the idea of a restaurant famous for its cannelloni installing a dispensary on its mezzanine level may be new—but the outpouring of community opposition is not.

After more than two hours of heated debate, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9 to 2 on Tuesday to approve the Gold Mirror expansion plan, a major defeat to San Francisco’s anti-cannabis contingent.

Californians have been legally allowed to consume medicinal cannabis since 1996 and, after voters passed 2016’s Proposition 64, adult recreational use has been legal statewide since 2018. Nearly three-fourths of San Francisco residents voted in support of that measure. 

San Francisco may be America’s most proudly stoned city, known all over the world for its counterculture and for its psychedelic- and weed-friendly residents. But its embrace of commercial marijuana faces staunch opposition from a relatively small but increasingly outspoken group of locals—especially in the Sunset, with its large Asian American population.

Fervent Chinese American opposition primarily explains why Chinatown and much of the Sunset became weed deserts. Over the years, proposed dispensaries in these neighborhoods consistently faced protests from members of the Chinese community, who voiced concerns about crime, gentrification and the proximity of the stores to young children.

Opposition to marijuana dispensaries has brought out a vocal group who implored the Board of Supervisors to Just Say No

Asian community is very active in black market cannabis in the Bay Area

“It’s an open secret that the Asian community is very active in black market cannabis in the Bay Area,” said David Ho, a Chinese American immigrant and progressive champion of cannabis. “Socially and recreationally, the Chinese government banned the use of it—but they’re one of the most active cultivators in the world.” 

Indeed, states across the West Coast report a growing Chinese involvement in illegal weed operations, where the number of Chinese-linked marijuana farms has skyrocketed. State officials said in March that investors and organized crime groups from China are fixtures in Northern California. 

Map of marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco. Pink shaded areas where City officials have banned the dispensaries even though they are legally permitted.