San Francisco weighs ban on new head shops

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Counterculture tourists hoping to catch a whiff of Flower Power still make their way to the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets, where the spirits of Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead rock on in stores offering T-shirts, posters and pot-smoking paraphernalia.

While other businesses in the cradle of hippie culture are folding, head shops dealing in roach clips, rolling papers and hand-blown glass water pipes have proliferated on Haight Street - so much so that a San Francisco politician has proposed a law to prevent any more from opening in the neighborhood.

Ross Mirkarimi, a member of the city Board of Supervisors who represents the Haight, has asked his colleagues to adopt a three-year moratorium on new joints that sell smoking equipment.

With at least a dozen such shops already operating in a six-block area, Haight Street has too many places where tourists can go to feed their heads, and too few where locals can buy groceries or rent DVDs, Mirkarimi said.

"The Haight has always been seen as a bit of a mecca. It's been iconic since the Summer of Love," he said. "Generationally, each new era discovers the Haight. That's fine, but we still have to manage it."

Mirkarimi, who at 47 was a little young for the 1967 Summer of Love, has no problem with pot per se; he supports the dispensing of medical marijuana and the decriminalization of weed. And he does not want to run all head shops out of the neighborhood.

But he said an overdose of them has led to drug sales, loitering, littering and other problems that cannot be glossed over with 1960s nostalgia.

Some San Franciscans find the proposal mind-blowing.

Under the headline "What's He Smoking," a local blogger mused that the supervisor's intervention might "kill Haight-Ashbury's flavor - yes, that sweet, sweet flavor." The blogger observed that it "seems a little outlandish that he'd want to ban head shops in the place that practically invented them."

William Birdwood, 59, an artist who was selling copies of a locally produced literary journal on Haight Street one recent morning, said incense, psychedelic art and glass bongs evoke a spirit of protest that should be preserved. Curbing stores that sell them "is un-American, to say the least," he said.

"I think there are too few heads shops in the city," he said. "I like hippies. We need more. And head shops help to generate hippies."

San Francisco residents historically have embraced zoning restrictions as a way to preserve neighborhood character. There's not a single Target within the city's 49 square miles, and big store chains are discouraged from doing business here.

The head shop moratorium could be considered by the Board of Supervisors next month.

Marwan Zeidan, 41, owns Ashbury Tobacco Center, one of three head shots on a single block of Haight Street. Zeidan, who opened his store in 1994, recalled neighbors objecting when he started up. They wanted him to promise not to sell hand-held pipes that could be used for smoking crack or scales that could be used for weighing illegal drugs.

Yet Zeidan endorsed Mirkarimi's proposed moratorium. Between all the competition and the slumping economy, sales at his shop are down 25 to 30 percent, he said. Plus, Zeidan said some of his competitors display pipes in their windows.

"It does not look really good for the neighborhood," he said. "Not every parent is OK with their kids being exposed to water pipes."

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