Sparc SoMa: Compassionate use in an adult-use world
On paper, Sparc reads like our dream dispensary. It offers in-store recycling programs, supports the city’s equity initiative, champions compassionate use, and sells biodynamic flower grown on its own farms.
After more than a decade as a collective, Sparc (formerly known as the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center) opened its first dispensary on Mission St. in 2010. Today, the company operates four additional adult-use dispensaries across San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol and grows its own herb at a certified, biodynamic farm in Sonoma County. Despite the shift to adult use in 2018, Sparc has kept the spirit of the medical marijuana movement alive.
When Proposition 64 made adult use legal here in 2018, it decimated many Compassionate Use organizations, so-called for their practice of giving free weed to low-income patients under Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California. Under the new rules, these organizations, already running thin, were required to pay taxes on cannabis donations. While many of those organizations have ceased operation, Sparc has continued to support patients with chronic illnesses, vowing to pay fees for state medical marijuana cards and providing free ounces to select patients every month.
Also on Sparc’s agenda: uplifting communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs. Cities like San Francisco have created equity programs to ensure equal opportunity for those affected by mass-incarceration during prohibition. The intended goal is to use industry veterans like Sparc as incubators for aspiring entrepreneurs. Not only has Sparc registered with the city as an equity incubator, it’s also dedicated shelf space to equity participants, and provided employment opportunities to applicants “disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of cannabis.”
On paper, Sparc is the pot shop the 21st century deserves. In person, it’s a space stuck in time.
Sparc’s dedication to old school ethics should be applauded, but there are some things better left in the past. Reclaimed wood is one of them. The store’s outmoded interiors mix the rugged polish of an unused barn with the solemn sterility of a dentist’s waiting room. The walls are lined with reclaimed wood boxes concealing the shop’s inventory, and the counters are wrapped in reclaimed wood panelling. In the lounge, a series of communal tables, which runs parallel to a bank of cashiers, continues the all-reclaimed-everything motif. It might seem like a nitpick for a space more focused on feels than looks, but with a stylish shop like Vapor Room just around the corner, every detail matters.
Also on Sparc’s agenda:
uplifting communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.
Unlike Vapor Room, which also has roots in medical marijuana, Sparc is sticking with the traditional look-don’t-touch retail model. Very few products are in view here. Some sit in small glass display cases or on unloved shelves. Others are concealed in wood boxes, but all of the products are behind the counter. What you can’t see is displayed on iPads o laminated menus. If you’re a visual shopper, you’d be better served at Vapor Room or Harvest, where customers are free to browse shelves. If, on the other hand, you’re an old pro who knows exactly what you’re looking for, Sparc has an extensive selection of flower and concentrates.
It also happens to be one of only nine adult-use dispensaries to permit onsite consumption. Large-format prints of dank buds and green pastures hang above a series of communal tables, each equipped with a massive Volcano vaporizer. There’s no smoking here, aside from weekends after 4:20PM.
This is where the clinical vibes come into play. At just about every other on-site consumption lounge in the neighborhood, and there are plenty, smoking is commonplace. Barbary Coast, Moe Greens, and Urban Pharm even have dab bars. By limiting smoking to a few hours a week, Sparc might be limiting business, but it’s also limiting airborne carcinogens, in keeping with its image as a safe and sterile environment for medical marijuana patients. This is the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center, after all.
We get the giant vape rigs. We can understand the lack of merchandising on the floor. We’re obviously not fans of reclaimed wood, but even that we can forgive. There’s just one thing about our experience at Sparc that could have prevented us from returning. With everything essentially out of view, your budtender becomes your conduit for understanding the shop’s inventory. Unfortunately, our server didn’t seem interested in conveying much.
We asked for a pre-roll recommendation based on a short list of criteria: Sativa-dominant, citrus notes, high THC. Our budtender offered a single recommendation: a Blue Tarantula Durban Poison, kief-dusted joint. Before we could respond, he asked “so, is that what you want?” With no other information to go on, we took him at his word and took off.
We went into Sparc with little knowledge of its history and few expectations. It wasn’t until after our trip that we learned of its rich history and commitment to sustainability, equity, and marijuana as medicine. Yes, Sparc looks like a throwback to the days of medical marijuana, but so do its ethics. If anything could make us overlook that much reclaimed wood it’s compassion. Sparc seems to have that in spades.