Under New Ownership, Ocean Avenue Club Flourishes

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San Francisco's 29 medical cannabis dispensaries have received just eleven complaints in five years , making them a global model for safe, reliable access. But every crop yields some bad fruit, and at least one club — Nor Cal Herbal Relief — has had some serious problems over the last year.

This summer, the city seems to have successfully dealt with the problem by re-assigning the dispensary to new owners who are taking the historic responsibility much more seriously. The new Waterfall Wellness Health Center is fantastically well-stocked and almost always empty — making it a downright delight in the otherwise dry southeast corner of the city. Few patients know the club is under new management and has cleaned up its act. It wasn't always so.

The storied building at 1545 Ocean Avenue, near San Francisco City College, is owned by the family of Ed Jew, a former San Francisco supervisor busted by federal authorities for taking bribes. In 2005, federal authorities raided the then-unlicensed club as part of “Operation Urban Harvest," according to reports.

In July 2007, the San Francisco Planning Department formally approved the location's use as a dispensary, staff said. The new club, which operated under the name Nor Cal Herbal Relief and was headed by one Daniel Mendez, took some serious body blows on Yelp.com for being “thuggish” and selling “dry," “weak” pot.

On December 26, 2010, the Center caught fire and firemen found a pot garden on the second floor, reports state. Officials shut it down for three months pending an investigation and fined the owners.

According to a San Francisco public health official, the city approved an ownership change for Nor Cal Herbal Relief May 24, when it became Waterfall Wellness.
The new boss: Greg Shoepp, a wheelchair-bound hardware store owner who in 2010 tried to operate a permitted dispensary in the Sunset District. He obeyed all city zoning laws, yet his permit was revoked after powerful opponents cited mythical threats to local children.
Today, there are no cannabis dispensaries in the Sunset District, and until May, Ocean Avenue had looked equally as bleak. Cue Waterfall Wellness.

Commuters who use Interstate 280 will find the blue building just a few streetlights off the freeway. It's constantly foggy on Ocean, but there's always street parking, sometimes right in front. The old iron bars on the facade have been removed. A large security guard greets visitors at the sidewalk, but he's nice enough after the ten-minute one-time registration wait in the small, clean front office.

Waterfall Wellness gives patients plastic cards for use getting into the club. Presenting one gets you buzzed in to the main room, which features a large clean, well-lit retail space with hardwood floors and glass cases. On the radio, Lil Wayne raps I love you more than ninja turtles love pizza. There's no disconcerting bulletproof glass, no weed smoke hazing up the place.

A clean, well-lit place to buy grass on Ocean Ave.
  • A clean, well-lit place to buy grass on Ocean Ave.

Helpful saleswoman "Tiffany" guided us through the dispensary's overflowing collection of flowers, each of which is lab tested for potency and pathogens. The lab results are printed on a menu at the counter. Waterfall Wellness has some amazing weed, and thanks to its relatively unknown status, the club always actually has what's advertised — an absolute delight after fruitlessly schlepping downtown for sold-out sinsemilla. We counted 24 strains on Waterfall's menu, 42 edibles, and 32 concentrates including some harrowing Superjack Wax for $50.

In a testament to her training, Tiffany could effectively describe the slight difference in effect between connoisseur sativas Champagne ($45 for 3.5 grams, 15 percent THC) and Jack Herer ($50 for 3.5 grams, 20.17 percent THC).

Waterfall Wellness also stocks locally-blown glass pipes, as well as quality storage jars, grinders, THC lotions, balm, salad dressing and the curious future-tech “One-Love” — a hand-held, disposable, automatic micro-vaporizer. Each One-Love costs $60 and contains 100 2 mg-doses of cannabis suspended in a glycerin base. Patients simply suck the business end of the One-Love like a straw, automatically activating the vaporizer.

All in all, Waterfall Wellness offers superb cannabis without the pungent trip to Calcutta-like SOMA. While state lawmakers seek to ban clubs anywhere near residences, this responsible operation in a middle-class, mixed neighborhood is a precedent both powerful and long overdue.

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