BASF Provides Free Legal Services to Break Barriers to Entry under San Francisco’s Cannabis Equity Program
November 10, 2020, San Francisco—The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) is excited to announce efforts to strengthen equitable opportunities for cannabis business entrepreneurs disadvantaged by the War on Drugs by providing free legal services. Paneled attorneys are offering pro bono services in contract review, permitting guidance, and compliance reviews. The Panel is administered by the San Francisco-Marin Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS) in collaboration with BASF's Cannabis Law Section, and in partnership with the San Francisco Office of Cannabis (SFOOC).
In 2017, the City and County of San Francisco was one of the first jurisdictions in the country to adopt a social equity program. Individuals meeting several criteria—including past public school attendance, housing insecurity, and cannabis-related arrests, —became eligible to receive priority in the application process to enter the regulated cannabis industry. Recognizing that many social equity applicants face significant obstacles to form and operate cannabis businesses, BASF’s Cannabis Business Panel was established.
“Collaborations like this have a tremendous impact for our equity applicants” says Marisa Rodriguez, Director of the San Francisco Office of Cannabis. “They not only make otherwise expensive and critical legal services accessible, but they demonstrate a commitment to making San Francisco’s innovative equity program a success.”
As of October 2020, twenty-six applicants have been referred to panel attorneys totaling over 200 hours of free legal assistance and over $100,000 in pro bono legal services. The partnership also serves as a model to other jurisdictions. The Los Angeles County Bar Association recently announced that it has launched a similar program based on San Francisco’s model.
“The San Francisco Cannabis Equity Report in 2017 showed us that technical barriers, like the knowledge-based barriers related to legal and regulatory issues, are more difficult for equity individuals to navigate,” says BASF Cannabis Law Section Chair Shay Gilmore of The Law Office of Shay Aaron Gilmore.
Appreciating these barriers, Lara DeCaro approached then-Director of SFOOC Nicole Elliott to help start a list of lawyers available for pro bono legal services for verified equity applicants. In 2018, SFOOC coordinated with the BASF Cannabis Law Section to provide pro bono legal assistance to verified equity individuals, first informally, and then, in 2019, formally under a partnership with BASF’s LRIS that includes fee waivers to further support volunteer attorney engagement.
BASF’s commitment to social justice in Northern California pairs perfectly with SFOOC’s mission under the San Francisco Cannabis Equity Program, and this pro bono panel is the proof. A special thank you to BASF Cannabis Law Section leadership, including Shay Gilmore, Nicole Howell, Lara DeCaro, Ryan Lowther, Jeff Hamilton, as well as LRIS Director of Public Service Programs Carole Conn, LRIS Attorney Engagement Manager Princess Bustos, who directly coordinates the program, SFOOC Director Marisa Rodriguez and Associate Director Jeremy Schwartz who facilitate referrals to LRIS, and many others for their assistance in making this resource—the first of its kind in California—available to verified cannabis social equity individuals in San Francisco.
For additional information, please visit www.sfbar.org/basf-sections/cannabis and sf.gov/news/technical-assistance-available-cannabis-equity-applicants.
The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) is a nonprofit voluntary membership organization of attorneys, law students, and legal professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area. Founded in 1872, BASF enjoys the support of more than 7,500 individuals, law firms, corporate legal departments, and law schools. BASF provides a collective voice for public advocacy, advances professional growth and education, and attempts to elevate the standards of integrity, honor, and respect in the practice of law.