Today, Mayor London N. Breed, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and the Office of Cannabis (OOC) announced that the City is expanding its efforts to improve opportunities in the cannabis industry for those from communities most impacted by the War on Drugs. The expansion of the Cannabis Equity Program will include legal services to lower barriers for entrepreneurs who want to understand and comply with the regulatory landscape.
“Our Equity Program is about giving opportunities and priority to communities that have borne the brunt of the failed War on Drugs. This expansion of services we are announcing today will help people in these communities to participate in and benefit from this great new economic opportunity,” said Mayor London Breed. “While we can’t change what has happened in the past, we can make sure that as we move forward our new cannabis industry is an inclusive one with low barriers to entry, which will make it stronger and more successful for everyone involved.”
The Equity Program expansion includes enhancements to services that will help cannabis industry entrepreneurs through the local and state regulatory and compliance requirements. The new service will match interested and Verified Equity Applicants with qualified legal experts in the areas of licensing and permitting, banking, ownership, compliance audits, zoning, and taxation. The expansion will also include one-on-one consultations and educational materials to clarify the laws and regulations applicable to participation in San Francisco’s Equity Program.
The Office of Economic and Workforce Development recently issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) seeking proposals from community based organizations for legal services around cannabis. As a bridge to legal resources provided through this RFQ, the Office of Cannabis is partnering with the Bar Association of San Francisco to provide pro bono legal assistance for Equity Applicants.
“Legal support, like this partnership with the Bar Association, is essential for barrier reduction for new business owners. Supporting our equity entrepreneurs is a moral imperative. I look forward to seeing more efforts like this one as we continue to level the playing field for communities targeted by the ‘War on Drugs’,” said Malia Cohen, President of the Board of Supervisors.
This expansion follows the Cannabis Equity Report in 2017, which recommended the City develop new programs and partnerships to help applicants overcome technical barriers to success. The report found that navigating regulatory processes is easier for well-resourced individuals and that having access to a lawyer versed in the cannabis industry is a critically important resource.
“This expansion will ensure that low-income cannabis entrepreneurs have equal access to legal support,” said Joaquín Torres, Director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. “The Office of Economic and Workforce Development is eager to work with the Office of Cannabis and the Bar Association of San Francisco to advance Mayor Breed’s equity goals and create economic opportunities in the cannabis industry for communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.”
“Today marks an important step towards providing our Equity Applicants with the resources they require to be successful when seeking Cannabis Business Permits. We know that legal assistance is a fundamental need of the majority of our Equity Applicants, notably when negotiating with Equity Incubators and investors,” said Nicole Elliott, Director of the Office of Cannabis. “I am grateful for the partnership of OEWD and the Bar Association of San Francisco and pleased that the City is taking the necessary steps to continue addressing the barriers to entry that have been called out in our Equity Report. Finally, I’m hopeful we – the City and external stakeholders – can continue to build on this effort.”
“Lawyers in San Francisco care about issues of equity. The Cannabis Law Committee of the Bar Association of San Francisco is proud to serve its members and the San Francisco community by connecting interested and verified equity applicants through the San Francisco Office of Cannabis to the Committee’s members for pro bono representation,” said Shay Gilmore, Vice Chair of the Bar Association of San Francisco Cannabis Law Committee.
Given the new and growing nature of the cannabis industry in California, many businesses will face technical knowledge-based gaps. Technical barriers to entry may include the lack of soft skills of entrepreneurship, ownership expertise, and information to comply with legal and regulatory requirements. Regulatory processes are difficult to navigate, especially for individuals who do not have experience operating a business or are unable to afford specialized consulting or legal assistance.
“Access to a lawyer is paramount to realizing the goals of San Francisco’s Cannabis Equity Program. Often times, equity applicants are at a serious disadvantage when negotiating with a cannabis operator so, it’s vitally important that resources are made available for pro bono legal services. I support the efforts of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development for taking action on such a vital issue,” said Ed Donaldson, a San Francisco equity applicant.
The Cannabis Equity Program
The City is working systematically and incrementally through the recommendations in the Cannabis report to address decades of discriminatory drug policies and the blunt difference in access to wealth-building and opportunity. This program aims to level the playing field by providing full and equal access to legal advice and legal resources necessary to enable individuals and entrepreneurs to make informed decisions about their access to wealth generation and employment opportunities. The program is led by the Office of Cannabis. For more information, go to: www.officeofcannabis.sfgov.org/equity
The Office of Cannabis oversees the Equity Program. To date, over 200 equity applicants have been verified by the Office of Cannabis and over 120 cannabis business permit applications have been submitted by Equity Program participants.
In the coming weeks, the Office of Cannabis will host a Listening Session with Verified Equity Applicants to hear more about the barriers they are experiencing when seeking Cannabis Business Permits in San Francisco. This listening session will inform the Office of Cannabis’ advocacy when seeking a portion of the ten million dollars set aside by the State after the passage of Senator Steven Bradford’s Senate Bill 1294 earlier this year.
Source: San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development – as featured in the Marijuana Moment newsletter