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SF to offer free legal services to cannabis equity applicants

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A jar of cannabis sits on the counter inside The Apothecarium on Lombard Street in San Francisco. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

In a show of commitment to the cannabis equity program, San Francisco on Monday announced free legal services for applicants.

The City allowed existing medical dispensaries to start selling retail cannabis beginning in December and approved a cannabis equity program for those impacted by the war on drugs to open additional locations.

However, as previously reported by The Examiner, no equity applicants have received city approval to open yet. More than 100 have applied for permits with the Office of Cannabis, where they sit waiting for approval.

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

Mayor London Breed, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and the Office of Cannabis announced free legal services to help applicants navigate the approval process. The City will connect equity applicants with legal experts for licensing and permitting, banking, land use zoning and taxation.

The services will include one-on-one consultations.

“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,” Breed said in a statement. “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.”

In the near term, the Office of Cannabis will partner with the Bar Association of San Francisco to provide pro bono legal assistance.

SEE RELATED: Supervisors propose changes to SF’s cannabis equity program

Meanwhile, OEWD has posted a request soliciting nonprofits to provide legal assistance around cannabis for a longer term arrangement and has $90,000 budgeted for the effort.

The Office of Cannabis has verified more than 200 equity applicants and 120 have submitted applications for a permit. To date, the office has referred just six of the applicants to the Planning Department for review — the next step in the city’s lengthy approval process.

“Today marks an important step towards providing our Equity Applicants with the resources they require to be successful when seeking Cannabis Business Permits,” Nicole Elliott, director of the Office of Cannabis, said in a statement. “We know that legal assistance is a fundamental need of the majority of our Equity Applicants, notably when negotiating with Equity Incubators and investors.”

The City’s 2017 Cannabis Equity 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,” the announcement said.

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