Why You Should Consider Hiring an Attorney for Your Cannabis Business

Posted by Jenna Rompel on August 27, 2018

California is well underway in the business of commercial cannabis, and now the state has
opened its golden doors to licensing. The state is actively reviewing applications for annual state
licenses. Those who have successfully triumphed over their local jurisdiction are quickly
realizing that was only half the battle and are in process of applying for a state license. The
industry is experiencing some growing pains as it continues to transition into a regulated market,
and if you’ve felt the hurt, here are some things to consider on whether it’s time to hire a law firm
to represent your cannabis business.

Depending upon the activity applied for, the relevant agency regulating commercial cannabis at
the state level – the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), California Department of Public Health
(CDPH), or California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) – will contact the city or
county to verify the validity of the local license and that the business is in compliance with or exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as required by state law. This should be an easy
tick off the checklist. However, we are finding the state is returning responsibility to the applicant
to provide evidence of CEQA. The language in the local ordinances, particularly in the smaller,
rural jurisdictions, can be vague and up to interpretation. Failure to provide evidence of
compliance with the CEQA, or with any of the regulations under state law and associated
governmental bodies, is subject to denial of the state license. As a result, all operations will be
forced to cease. Any operations occurring without a valid local and state license are subject to
heavy fines, as recently seen in Humboldt County, and could result in criminal prosecution. An
attorney will advise in navigating through all local and state requirements to protect your
business from shutting down.

A common issue aggravating many are problems arising due to incorrect zoning that can lead to
costly consequences. Before you sign a lease or purchase a property, verify the zoning. For
example, for those in the market for the City of Los Angeles during its second phase of
licensing, you may have noticed the maps to check zoning against sensitive use areas in each
of the 15 districts are no longer available. At the request of the Department of Cannabis
Regulation (DCR), the maps have been removed due to numerous issues arising from incorrect
zoning. Applicants were relying on the maps not realizing there may have been a school, EMMD,
or other sensitive use within the area. The city is allowing applicants the opportunity to find
another location that is in the correct zoning until at least September 13th , when this phase of
licensing closes. Finding a location in the correct zoning is no easy feat. Have the property
professionally mapped and consider hiring an attorney to negotiate the terms of the lease or
purchase contract, ensuring the property complies with all zoning and land use requirements
under the ordinance, and reducing the chance your license is denied.

If you are an investor looking to buy an existing license, beware of fraudulent deals and false
licenses. Does the license comply with CEQA? Is it in the correct zoning? What is the licensing
authority’s policy on transferring of cannabis licenses? Having an attorney do the due diligence
will help reduce the risk of your investment.

As the industry evolves, there is going to be more need for legal protection for entrepreneurs and
investors, so consider a business investment into a law firm well educated in the field of
cannabis law and protect your success.

Approval of Cannabis Epilepsy Medicine is Sign of Growing Acceptance

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on August 17, 2018

This editorial, by Allison Margolin and Raza Lawrence, also appears in the July 25th, 2018 edition of The Daily Journal.

On June 25, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was approving Epidiolex, a cannabidiol (CBD) oral solution for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. This is the first drug approved by the FDA comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana.

The approval is a sign of the growing acceptance of CBD, and cannabis generally, to treat various medical ailments. THC, not CBD, is the primary psychoactive (intoxicating) component of marijuana. But CBD is believed to have its own distinct health benefits for conditions ranging from anxiety to cancer, and has recently exploded in  popularity. CBD-based products seem to be everywhere, including Walmart, although the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this year that CBD is properly banned as a controlled substance under federal law, and the FDA warned in its recent press release that it will continue to crack down on “illegal marketing of CBD-containing products with serious, unproven medical claims.”

California’s health department also recently made clear that state law forbids adding CBD products (whether from cannabis or industrial hemp) to any food. Regardless, the FDA’s ruling could open up CBD and cannabis generally to broader acceptance in government and society.

The FDA’s approval contradicts the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, the same as heroin, which is defined as one with a high potential for abuse and no medical value. The FDA specifically found, as part of its approval of Epidiolex, that CBD has medical benefits that have been supported by rigorous scientific research and clinical studies. Litigants could use the FDA approval to challenge marijuana’s Schedule 1 status in court. Or, reading the tea leaves, the government could re-classify or de-classify marijuana on its own. Under the law, Congress, the president, and the heads of the
Drug Enforcement Administration and FDA would each have the power to remove marijuana from Schedule 1.

What happens next if cannabis is removed from Schedule 1? There are different possible paths. Under one scenario, feared by many in the cannabis industry, cannabis would become regulated by the FDA as a Schedule 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5) controlled substance. Complying with FDA regulations can be extremely expensive and time-consuming, which is why drug companies are all large corporations rather than “mom and pop” operations. The estimated cost of bringing a new prescription drug to market is $2.6 billion.

In California, the cannabis industry has operated for years under an informal system of non-profit “collectives,” with only vague legal guidelines and no regulation. This year, the state is transitioning to a new system of state and local licensing and regulations. California cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are already struggling to comply with the new high taxes and complicated regulations imposed by California. If the FDA were to take over the regulation and licensing, the costs of compliance would likely be much higher, and only those with the deepest pockets would have the resources required to produce and sell cannabis. The costs of compliance would inevitably be passed on to consumers, who would face sky-high cannabis prices similar to those of prescription drugs.

Federal control and regulation of cannabis, however, is not inevitable. Many would prefer the approach taken by proposed federal legislation that removes federal penalties and allows each state to sets its own marijuana policy within its borders, similar to how alcohol is now treated. Under this approach, the FDA would not regulate cannabis like a prescription drug, but could still prevent misleading health claims or misrepresentations on labels, and enforce basic quality standards, as it does for dietary supplements.

Unlike synthetic drugs derived for billions of dollars in corporate labs, cannabis is just a plant. It is not toxic or physically addictive. People who use it for medical purposes can safely and effectively determine and adjust their own doses. States could set reasonable restrictions and regulations on commercial
cannabis as they do with alcohol, but would not need to subject it to the intense scrutiny of prescription drugs.

The approval of Epidiolex is promising to the extent it increases awareness and legitimacy of cannabis as medicine. But it also raises the concerning possibility that all cannabis may soon be regulated like prescription drugs, and controlled by large corporations, rather than by the people and small businesses who grew the industry up from the ground.

Applying for a Commercial Cannabis License: State vs. Local

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on August 13, 2018

Since the Department of Cannabis Regulation opened up Phase II licensing in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, questions have been flooding in regarding the differences between state and local licensing. While the requirements set forth in local ordinances usually reflect the laws set forth by state agencies, there are some distinctions in terms of what is required for the purposes of applying for business licensing.

LA Cannabis Licensing - Phase II Update

Posted by Callie Davidson on August 10, 2018

On the heels of the opening of Phase 2 of non-retail cannabis licensing, the Los Angeles Cannabis Regulation Commission convened a Special Meeting yesterday. Law enforcement officers ushered a diverse crowd of lawmakers, business owners, community members into the Civic Auditorium of the Los Angeles Police Administration Building to discuss legal cannabis. People waited for the meeting to start, Hawaiian shirts mingling with suits, a group with brightly colored “resistance” shirt found a seats right in the middle of the auditorium. People rushed to fill out comment cards for 60 seconds to address DCR directly.

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This blog is not intended as legal advice and should not be taken as such. The possession, use, and/or sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law.