Heart of the City Archives








Bay Area sports hearo paints city streets green
by Hank Donat

Something worth noticing on a first time visit to the Alternative Herbal Health Services office operated by Jason Beck is that there is little to notice. The simple storefront at Haight and Fillmore sits on a block with everything a San Francisco neighborhood seems to have - Walgreens and memories.

In the bright light of day it's obvious you're not in the world-famous Haight-Ashbury; you're in today's Haight. It's lower, but only geographically.

Faded Matt Gonzalez signs linger in windows like Christmas trees waiting into spring for a lamented Santa. Other windows announce the pride inside with peace signs. A gay flag flies from a third-floor fire escape.

A handful of African American guys are minding their own business, tossing dice on the hot sidewalk. The traffic noise builds along with the sound of a boom box that passes by on the shoulder of a teenage boy on roller-skates. The music is Madonna electronica. "I live the American dream," she twitters before dissolving into the din of the city.

Inhaling a fresh breeze - hit or miss around here - I remember something a young reporter, who lived with three friends in an apartment on the corner, said to me over a decade ago. "If something seems different about the place," she purred in an earnestly provincial manner, "Two Jack's Seafood changed their grease."

My reporter friend was a bisexual who had a communist flag for curtains. Later, she outed a prominent local official in a gay newspaper.

Around the corner on Webster is where I met my very first out lesbian shortly after arriving in San Francisco too long ago to mention. Ellen, her real name, was the roommate of a friend.

Ellen showed me her diaphragm, "from when I was straight," she said, and told me what it was for. "What a town," I said, "Do you think they have those in Boston?" Walgreens and memories.

"This is the neighborhood," says Jason Beck, 25, greeting me from behind the counter at his herbal health dispensary, one of a dozen pot clubs in San Francisco.

Between 80 - 150 medical marijuana patients visit Beck each day. He doesn't ask questions about any patient's condition, though he knows from personal relationships that medical marijuana patients commonly suffer from the effects of chemotherapy, HIV, leukemia, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, and a number of other conditions. "Marijuana is helping people get off Oxycontin," he tells me.

Patients provide documentation as per Proposition 215. A Field poll released just a few weeks ago showed an 18% increase in support for medical pot since 1996, when California voters approved by 56% the initiative allowing doctors to recommend pot for medicinal use.

In fact, the movement for medical marijuana is swimming in an alphabet soup of political momentum, from Prop S, which authorizes the Board of Supervisors to potentially cultivate marijuana, to the efforts of solid allies Assemblyman Mark Leno, District Attorney Kamala Harris, former D.A. Terrence Hallinan, members of the Board of Supervisors, and the mayor.

Since August of 1992, the Board of Supervisors has passed two ordinances and seventeen resolutions in support of medical marijuana. Adam Van de Water, the city's legislative analyst, toured Beck's place and others before issuing a report to the board early this month.

There isn't much to see at 442 Haight. It's a small space with plain, white walls, a sofa and some wicker chairs, two small tables, and a counter filled with several types and forms of marijuana. Except for the smoke, the trippy music, and the jars of weed with names like Blue Heaven, Jingle, and XXX, the place could pass for a travel agency.

At my request, Beck tries to count the number of different kinds of marijuana available here in grass form as well as in cakes, candies, tinctures, lollipops, even Rice Krispie treats. The number of varieties is more than Baskin-Robbins, less than Heinz.

"We have nothing to hide," says Beck, who began dispensing marijuana here last year. He says that the potential for a bust such as previous federal raids on pot clubs throughout the state, and recent arrests of growers and activists, is "not something I think about."

After he was assaulted and robbed during a power outage in December, Beck says he took steps to increase security. "We belong here," he says, "Mayor Newsom said in his inaugural address that he wanted to paint the streets green. We want to help him."

It's a high-five moment, but before you ask, "Dude, where's my car?" there's more to Beck than meets the eye.

In 1996, Beck was celebrated as the Pittburg teenager who overcame the physical challenges of cerebral palsy to help take his varsity football team to victory as a defensive lineman for Pitt High's Pirates.

While public and political support is encouraging, Beck doesn't need a survey or a medical report to affirm his commitment to the medicinal benefits of pot. "I used to smoke every day," he says, referring to the time of his athletic career, "then onetime I caught a cold and couldn't smoke. I woke up on life support after a seizure from the cerebral palsy."

Beck and others such as Wayne Justmann, chairman of San Francisco's medical cannabis task force, envision a city that fully embraces marijuana not only as a treatment option, but also as a cultural and economic attraction. "This is San Fransterdam," says Beck.

Says Justmann, "Marijuana cultivation is a $15 billion economy. That's the bond measure! When I saw marijuana on the cover of Forbes magazine in November of 2003 I thought, 'now we'll really get somewhere.'"

As patients of different ages and ethnicities come in and out and some stop to smoke and some to chat as well, it is difficult not to see a typical cross section of San Francisco - part Benneton ad, part bingo parlor on the green streets of the city

Welcome to MisterSF.com. Please visit the site often to keep in touch with San Francisco, for your own amusement, and to use the Local Joints section as a portal for independent businesses. Keep your money in the neighborhoods... Watch this space for observations, interviews and more from around town. All other sections of MisterSF.com are also updated continually, so come back and watch us grow!

Contact MisterSF.com

Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
mistersf.com home