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Those impacted by the War on Drugs still wait for cannabis permits in SF

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Brandon Brown, left, and Rodney Hampton, are waiting for approval of their cannabis equity application to start selling marijuana at the My Art Gallery, 4526 Third Street, in the Bayview District. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

When Rodney Hampton Jr. was 19 and living in Bayview-Hunters Point public housing, he was arrested by police on an undercover sting operation for selling marijuana on the block. He spent 22 hours in jail at 850 Bryant.

Hampton, 46, said he was selling the drug to support his sons, the first of whom he fathered at age 16.

Following his arrest, he connected with Omega Boys Club founder Joe Marshall, the former police commissioner, who helped Hampton enroll in a college in Alabama. He returned to the Bayview and worked for the Young Community Developers nonprofit, helping residents in the community find employment.

Now, Hampton wants to open up a cannabis retail business with an on-site consumption room in a current art gallery at 4526 Third St. in the Bayview. The effort has been two years in the making and everything is ready.

SEE RELATED: SF confronts ‘disastrous impacts’ of war on drugs

But there is just one problem — The City has yet to approve his permit.

Hampton is among 117 applicants who want to participate in San Francisco’s cannabis equity program.

Late last year, The City adopted regulations to usher in the new era of recreational cannabis amid a storm of protest from some in the Chinese community who deem the drug harmful and want it banned.

The City allowed for existing medical dispensaries to switch over to retail on a temporary basis using their existing medical permits before needing to obtain retail permits. These establishments began selling retail cannabis in January, nine months ago.

New retail outlets could open only if they are equity applicants, those who in some way were impacted by the War on Drugs. The City is also allowing equity incubator permits, those who will help through rent or other assistance those impacted by the War on Drugs get a foothold in the industry.

SEE RELATED: Job training program, hiring mandate proposed for cannabis industry

But to date The City has not approved any new locations. All equity applications remain in various stages of review with The Office of Cannabis, which has not yet sent any to the Planning Department for the next step in the approval process.

Nicole Elliott, head of the Office of Cannabis, attributed the lack of approvals to the time it takes to review the applications and the challenges of regulating a new industry. The office is currently reviewing more than 240 applications for all cannabis permit types.

Last week, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, with the support of Mayor London Breed and Board President Malia Cohen, introduced legislation that would tweak the regulations and allow existing retail outlets, existing pot dispensaries that transitioned to retail sales, to continue to operate on the temporary permits for an additional year, giving the city and the establishments until January 2020 to process their applications.

“There will most likely not be another time in The City’s history where one agency is moving this enormous number of existing operators and equity operators through a permitting process that is being developed from scratch and in real time,” Elliott said in an email. “Moreover, as of right now, the Office of Cannabis is the sole agency tasked with ensuring that the Equity Program ownership requirements are being met, meaning the OOC is sifting through hundreds of pages of ownership agreements to be absolutely certain that the Equity Applicant is actually realizing the ownership interest that is required in order for an applicant entity to be eligible to move forward in the permitting process.”

In Hampton’s case, he meets the ownership requirement, with a plan to own at least 40 percent of the business and serve as its CEO.

Brandon Brown, who is partnering with Hampton on the business, said they have spent about $10,000 in the past two years operating the art gallery space. He said he understands why the office hasn’t approved any applications yet. “They are understaffed. There are three people trying to process tons of applications and applications keep coming in. It’s creating this bottleneck.”

SEE RELATED: Equity program proposed to ensure SF permits recreational cannabis sales come Jan. 1

He has reason to be optimistic though. He said he was told they may move his application over to the Planning Department as early as this week.

Cohen, who championed the equity program, said when adopting the regulations last December she expected the office to receive equity applications in January. The Office of Cannabis did not have the applications ready until May.

In a text message to the San Francisco Examiner, Cohen expressed disappointment, saying she “would be happier if equity applicants had been approved and were up and running at this point.”

Cohen added, “I remain committed to work with the Office of Cannabis to better understand what barriers persist in their approval process for equity applicants.”

Hampton said that unlike other locations in San Francisco where cannabis can be controversial, such as in the Sunset, “in the Bayview-Hunters Point community they are not only welcoming they are appreciating it, they are wanting it.”

“It’s an economic drive. We could be part of the engine that actually helps kids get jobs, be business owners like myself,” Hampton said. That includes the people currently selling marijuana nearby on Third Street, helping them to change their “selling on the block methods.”

Brown said as best he could tell they may be able to open next year. “That’s the hope,” he said.

He added that there is talk about the Planning Department prioritizing applications for review within 90 to 120 days.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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