Problems Beset San Francisco Cannabis Equity Initiative, COVID-19 Aside

Righting the wrongs caused by the proverbial “War on Drugs” has been the catalyst behind numerous equity initiatives that have popped up in myriad legal markets in recent years. An excellent example is the San Francisco Bay Area-based Success Centers’ Equity for Industry Training workshop, which helps those on the margins enter the legal cannabis industry. Unfortunately, like other equity initiatives that have preceded it, the current pandemic notwithstanding, the program has been hit with roadblocks that could seriously derail its progress.


Founded 36 years ago by Superior Court Judges to provide education and employment opportunities to youth in San Francisco’s juvenile detention facilities, Success Centers has evolved to become an important presence within the various communities it serves, which include San Mateo, Sonoma and Alameda Counties. In addition to helping the disconnected and disenfranchised find work in various sectors, Success Centers recently added cannabis to its programming. As a result, the Equity for Industry Training was launched.

Though Success Centers was able to pivot to online and virtual events due to the coronavirus outbreak, problems have arisen. The funding allocated to a 14-week pilot entrepreneurship training program was secured with the caveat that it would not be divvied out to cannabis businesses, according to Liz Jackson-Simpson, CEO of the Success Centers. With the state of California having released funding to cities and municipalities to support their cannabis initiatives, the dichotomy is especially troubling.


“What is the equity community to do?” she asks rhetorically. “Where are they going to go to get free information and support?” Of the 1,300 disconnected youth and marginalized community members Success Centers serves annually, over 95 percent are low-income and 87 percent are people of color, with the majority being African American and Latinx/Hispanic, based on recent statistics gathered by the Success Centers team.

Perhaps because they have no other recourse, Jackson-Simpson said Success Centers has to adopt a wait and see approach when it comes to how the monies will be distributed and how much of it will be funneled to aid equity applicants and job seekers.


A recent proposal to put a moratorium on equity applicants is also unsettling. “There are approximately 200 equity applications awaiting approval by the City [of San Francisco],” continued Jackson-Simpson. “This backlog is largely attributed to the capacity in the Office of Cannabis to get them processed. While we are supporting the efforts to inform and prepare equity community members for jobs and the nuances of going into business, their ability to apply may be diminished.”

The Equity for Industry Training workshop provides informative sessions for equity applicants, job seekers, those seeking equity verification and small business startups who want to gain in-depth knowledge about the cannabis industry. Participants learn about the cannabis industry from seed to sale. Topics covered are the history of the sector and the law, creating a business plan and managing different aspects of the industry.


  Iris Dorbian