Cannabis social equity applicants in San Francisco bag their first permits


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

During the middle of December, social equity applicants in San Francisco rejoiced, as they were awarded the first ever permits for launching cannabis businesses in the Californian metropolis; applications for cannabis permits were officially opened to equity applicants in 2018.

The Cannabis Equity Program was established to simplify the process of getting involved in the city’s legal cannabis industry for low-income individuals. This program is specifically targeted towards individuals who have been affected by the War on Drugs. 

As part of the program, every applicant is exempt from paying the $5,000 fee for obtaining a permit in San Francisco. Moreover, the incubator partnership indulges applicants with rent-free spaces for a maximum of three years. Additionally, technical assistance is on offer to social equity applicants, so as to ensure that they can run a business efficiently.

According to the director of the San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis, Marisa Rodriguez, “the lasting harm caused by the War on Drugs” has been acknowledged with the issuing of social equity business permits. “San Francisco is positioned to house a safe, and world-class cannabis industry,” she added.

Social equity applicants are happy to receive cannabis business licenses in San Francisco

Shawn Richard is one of the lucky people to have been awarded a cannabis social equity permit in San Francisco. Richard, along with his business partners, intend on opening a store called “Berner’s on Haight”. 

The African-American ‘cannapreneur’ is thankful for the program, which has enabled him to open a store near the same area where he used to illegally sell narcotics. Now a reformed drug dealer and gang member, Richard is a prime example of how the state can benefit from providing victims of the War on Drugs with a second chance.

“I’m humbled; I’m ecstatic; I’m overwhelmed with joy,” expressed Richard, who also founded the San Francisco Equity Group. This group was established in 2017 to assist applicants in overcoming the necessary hurdles to achieving equity. Since the vast majority of people affected by cannabis prohibition reside in communities of color, Richard was thrilled to become the first African-American to bag a permit.

“Being the first black man in San Francisco to receive this equity permit to operate a cannabis store is a milestone. I hope every other person of color can look at this and see it can really happen,” said Richard, who was the second equity applicant to be on the receiving end of a permit.

The first store to receive a first permit just hours before Richard on Tuesday, December 17 was Eureka Sky a retail cannabis store perched on 17th Street in the Castro district. Eureka Sky is anticipated to begin ushering in customers this month. 

“It means a lot to be able to get through the process as an equity applicant, and to be the first to cross the finish line. It means the world,” said the owner and CEO of Eureka Sky, Chris Callaway.

Callaway was arrested almost 20 years ago for growing cannabis outside of the law. Despite being pleased about obtaining a permit, he said that delays have put new stores in a difficult position for competitiveness. In order to obtain a permit, equity applicants must collaborate with the Office of Cannabis, city officials and various departments. The lengthy process means that social equity applicants get a later start than other applicants.

Approval process for cannabis social equity business licenses in San Francisco expected to improve

Hopefully, if all goes as planned, the process of reviewing and awarding cannabis social equity permits in San Francisco will speed up and be simplified in the very near future. Currently, just six members of staff are working in the cannabis office to sift through more than 200 applications; all of which are in different stages of being approved. According to reports, social equity applicants will have their permits processed before the non-equity applicants.

“Now that the first permits have been issued, every time after that it’s only going to get better. Everyone at the Office of Cannabis and planning, they’re only going to get more efficient and faster with this process,” said Have a Heart spokesman Ryan Blake. His organization operates a number of recreational cannabis dispensaries spread across California, Iowa and Washington. 

In a joint effort with social equity applicant Alexis Bronson, Have a Heart is attempting to open a store in Union Square. Based on the recent awarding of social equity permits in San Francisco, Blake says that other pot shop owners can now get an idea of how long the processing of their applications may take.