Marijuana for the Marina

What’s lost in the current debate over whether San Francisco has too many marijuana dispensaries is the fact that some neighborhoods have no marijuana dispensaries at all. If you think of the city in terms of the traditional seven-by-seven-mile formula, realize that there are no dispensaries whatsoever in the “upper seventh,” or the northernmost tract of the city.

Until now.

Last week, the boutique dispensary Apothecarium, known for its exquisite, baroque location at Market Street and Dolores streets, just opened a new dispensary among the cupcake shops, Pilates studios, and artisanal-cocktail lounges of the Marina District.

Three years in the making, the Apothecarium Marina now sits as San Francisco’s only medical marijuana dispensary north of Lower Nob Hill. The next one up is all the way in Marin County’s Fairfax, some 20 miles away.

“We’re a needle in a haystack,” Apothecarium Marina store manager Michael Caruso tells SF Weekly.

But it’s not just the location that makes the Apothecarium unique. It’s the neo-Victorian interior design that feels more like a Four Seasons hotel lobby than a pot shop. Apothecarium co-founder Ryan Hudson calls it “the dispensary where you can feel comfortable bringing your mother.”

The shop’s interior is very similar to that of the Market Street Apothecarium that Architectural Digest named the Best-Designed Marijuana Shop in America. (When I was a boy, Architectural Digest did not give out Best-Designed Marijuana Shop awards. Things have changed.)

In addition to their signature crystal chandeliers, custom upholstered furniture, and wainscoted walls, you’ll also notice a lush, “living moss wall” when you walk into the Apothecarium.

But there’s one thing you won’t see when you walk into this marijuana dispensary: marijuana. The Apothecarium staff does not keep any product out or otherwise visible. And they don’t call their staff “budtenders.” They call them “patient consultants.”

“We value the ability of the patient consultants to bring the product out, to really make that connection,” Caruso tells us. “Patients are overwhelmed when they come in seeing all these brands, and they ask questions about everything.”

“We want to be able to zone in and find out what particular ailment or condition that each patient is coming in for, and we’ll help than navigate that vast range of solutions cannabis can offer,” he says, adding that, “All of our medicine is lab-tested.”

All of this “patient” and “medicine” terminology is still a necessary requirement. Despite the November 2016 passage of Prop. 64 legalizing recreational cannabis use, California dispensaries remain in an awkward purgatory where they can only sell to licensed patients with a California Medical Marijuana ID card.

Neither owners nor lawmakers yet know whether medical dispensaries will be grandfathered in to sell marijuana to non-carded buyers after recreational sales become legal on Jan. 1, 2018. So dispensaries like the new Apothecarium Marina still have to be exceedingly careful about describing their high-end flower, edibles, tinctures, topicals, infused coffees, and vaporizing accessories in purely medical terms.

The Apothecarium’s strict adherence to the medical model was not enough to soothe community concerns about bringing the first-ever marijuana dispensary into the Marina. This particular Apothecarium did not face nearly as much community opposition as its recently approved new Outer Sunset location, but City Hall red tape held up its opening for nearly three years.

Despite more than 1,100 letters of support from neighborhood residents and businesses, the Apothecarium Marina was still held to a years-long discretionary review process with the Planning Department. Officials were uneasy with the location’s proximity to a kids’ martial arts school and a nearby foster-youth facility.

Those bureaucratic entanglements have now been overcome, and the Apothecarium hopes to build community relationships with all concerned parties.

“We pride ourselves in being the best neighbor that you can imagine,” Caruso says. “We’re really looking forward to showing the neighborhood how we operate.”

The new Marina Apothecarium operates with a high-end, luxury aesthetic and a strict, by-the-books adherence to current medicinal cannabis regulations. That’s probably why they’ve been the only cannabis business to maneuver through obstacles of bringing the neighborhood its first dispensary, why they’re the closest option for people who want to get high near Pacific Heights.

The Apothecarium Marina is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. at 2414 Lombard St. (at Scott Street). Online orders and delivery service is also available at