Know Your Rights: Understanding State Hemp Regulations
February 28th, 2019
These two words were expressed throughout last week’s city council meeting on the current state of cannabis affairs in the city of Los Angeles. Business owners, hopeful entrepreneurs, private citizens and council members reverberated this sentiment from the city’s long delayed licensing process and yet to be fulfilled promise of a social equity program.
The Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) held its regular meeting before city council on February 28th to report on the progress the department has made to date and forecast expectations for the future of cannabis licensure in Los Angeles and the long awaited opening of phase 3. Executive Director Cat Packer sat before the council and highlighted the department’s substantial progress since its commencement in 2017, but made clear that “we still have a long way to go.”
A call was made for a more inclusive social equity program to expand the demographic of eligible applicants to other disenfranchised communities impacted by the war on drugs particularly, hispanics. However, strains on resources and available funding have left little for the social equity program to get off the ground.
To date, 55 temporary approvals have been granted to phase 2 applicants and 178 to phase 1 applicants. There are hundreds left to wade through pushing back the opening of phase 3 to sometime in spring or summer. The DCR proposed a bifurcated application process for phase 3 general processing when the time comes that would split the application process in two parts. Part One would establish a lottery or first-come first-serve process and Part Two would be a merit based system. The two part process is suggested to mitigate fairness and allow those who do not have access to resources a fair chance to participate for a license.
Cat also pointed out the large disparity between the number of retail licenses that will be available for phase 3 eligible program applicants. To comply with the city’s regulations for undue concentration, in the city that is home to some 4 million residents, granting one license per 10,000 residents allows for approximately 200 retail licenses available to some 10,000 plus people who are eligible for the social equity program.
An immediate need was called for increased enforcement to shut down illegal and unlicensed cannabis businesses from operating in the city. The black market is not only harming licensed businesses by taking customers from paying high dispensary prices but the city. In order for the city to provide funding generated from tax revenues requires a crack down on the black market.
With all eyes on Cat Packer for answers, she in turn responded to city council asking for direction and guidance on how the department is to proceed. A motion was submitted in support of immediate funding to implement the program and expand the demographic of eligible applicants to participate in the Los Angeles cannabis market and increased enforcement to crack down on the black market.
March 5th, 2019
The Cannabis Regulations Commission met on March 5th and presented their recommendations to the City Attorney that would establish policies for processing of phase 3 applications. Phase 3 would begin with a 60 day pre-vetting process of Social Equity applicants to verify Tier 1 or Tier 2 qualification. Verified Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants will then be eligible to move forward into the first phase of the licensing process. The DCR will issue 100 licenses in this initial phase allocating 75 to qualified Tier 1 applicants. Qualified Tier 1 applicants would receive priority receiving 75% of the available licenses during this initial phase so long as all basic application requirements are met, including:
A signed lease with proof of payment or deposit, or a property deed
Meet all sensitive use requirements, including undue concentration
Payment of required license fees
Ownership organizational structure
Proposed staffing plan
Complete and detailed diagram
Proposed security plan
Labor peace agreement
Current Certificate of Occupancy
Compliance with the Equity Share Rules
The second phase will allocate an additional 100 licenses establishing no priority between Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants. The second phase will establish a “first-come, first-serve” process that will allow the first 100 qualified applicants will move forward. Basic qualifications required to be met are payment of the required license fees or deferment approval; ownership organizational structure; financial information; indemnification; and, labor peace agreement. The remaining qualifications mentioned above would be required within 90 days.
The Commission also recommended the implementation of a pilot program for Type 9 Retail Non-Storefront delivery services. A total of 40 licenses would be available allocating 20 licenses to pre-vetted Tier 1 Social Equity applicants. The pilot program will also allow verified applicants who could not obtain a Type 10 retail license due to undue concentration limits will receive priority for a Type 9 delivery license. This will allow licensees to remain in their building and operate as a non-storefront retailer in lieu of having to locate and secure another compliant location. Eligible phase 2 applicants will also have an opportunity to amend their application to include delivery so long as they are compliant with the city’s zoning and regulatory requirements.
Phase 3 Licensing Estimated Timeline
Phase 3 Application Processing
60 day Pre-Vetting Period
Basic Tier 1 or Tier 2 qualification
14 day application window
Qualified Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants will be processed for 100 retail licenses (75% reserved for Tier 1 applicants). Pre-vetted applicants will receive 15 days notice of when the first phase application window is to open.
Deficient applications will have 5 days from the start of their application to rectify insufficiencies or issues with the basic qualifications.
30 day application window
Pre-vetted Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants who meet basic qualifications (see above) on a “first-come, first-serve” basis.
Applicants will have an additional 90 days to submit the remaining application requirements
Deficient applications will have 5 days from the start of their application to rectify insufficiencies or issues with the basic qualifications.
Delivery Pilot Program:
Pre-vetted Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants will receive 15 days notice for when Type 9 delivery licenses will become available
Pre-vetted Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants subjected to undue concentration limits will have priority
Eligible phase 2 applicants will have opportunity to amend their application to include delivery
Deficient applications will have 5 days from the start of their application to rectify insufficiencies or issues with the basic qualifications.
Contra Costa County
On February 14th, Contra Costa officially issued a Request For Proposal form for new cannabis businesses, including storefront retailers. The number of retailer licenses (with or without delivery operations) will be capped at four.
The county’s deadline for letters of intent is April 4th, while full proposals will be due (by request only) on June 27th. Additionally, the county has released a zoning map showing the proposed areas that will be eligible for cannabis business locations.
City of Fresno
On December 12th, 2018, Fresno voted to allow up to seven medical cannabis retail licenses for the following year, with seven additional retail licenses to follow upon city approval in 2019. The current ordinance limits the number of cannabis retail businesses within the city to fourteen, but seven more may be allowed by a city council resolution.
Fresno limits cannabis retail businesses to locations zones DTN, DTG, CMS, CC, CR, CG, and CH. Additionally, no more than two cannabis retail businesses may be allowed in any one council district.
City of Martinez
On February 26th, the City of Martinez’s Planning Commission met to discuss the city’s newly released draft ordinance for cannabis businesses. The draft regulations would allow for a maximum of two storefront retail licenses, along with a maximum of two delivery licenses (to be associated with a storefront retail business). Retail cannabis businesses would be limited to commercial and light industrial zones. According to the Martinez Gazette, the Planning Commission sent these proposed regulations to the City Council, including a suggestion that the city raise the proposed number of licensed delivery services to three.
City of Pomona
On March 5th, the Pomona City Council met for the first reading of the city’s new cannabis ordinance. The draft regulations provide for licensing of both storefront and delivery-only cannabis businesses. However, the proposed caps on licenses and zoning/location restrictions for cannabis businesses have yet to be released.
City of South Lake Tahoe
On February 5th, the City of South Lake Tahoe released a new cannabis ordinance, allowing up to two retail operations and two microbusiness operations with on-site retail. Cannabis businesses will be restricted to the locations indicated on the city’s buffer map. The city has released its application form and guidelines: the submission period will last from March 11th to April 5th.
City of Ventura
On January 1st, new regulations from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control took effect, allowing delivery of adult-use and medical cannabis anywhere in the state. This overturned Ventura’s past cannabis ordinances, which had restricted retail cannabis activities within the city to deliveries by a maximum of three licensed businesses located outside of city limits. At a City Council meeting on March 4th, the city discussed new policy measures to bring Ventura’s policies in compliance with California law. Among the items on the agenda was the possibility of taxing and permitting cannabis activities within the city, an indication that Ventura is becoming more open to cannabis business.
Are we about to see more enforcement against unlicensed cannabis?
California Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced he is calling for the California National Guard to work with federal officials to target the California illicit market. Given the history of the war on drugs and the current federal laws imposing harsh criminal and civil sanctions for cannabis, the involvement of the National Guard and the federal government in a new crackdown is concerning. Governor Newsom’s announcement of this increased enforcement, however, comes amid growing frustration with perceived dysfunction in the state regulatory system and a persistent illicit market that crowds out regulated cannabis.
California has a thriving illicit market in cannabis, estimated by New Frontier Data to be valued at $3.7 billion last year. This is due to many factors, including California’s unregulated cannabis collectives and cooperatives that operated for years before licensing came, the slow speed at which state and local governments in California have issued licenses, the high taxes and burdensome regulations of the new licensing system, and the demand for California cannabis products throughout the country.
In a sense, the entire cannabis market is an illicit market, as cannabis remains illegal under federal law, which makes any inconsistent California state law allowing cannabis invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. This federal illegality has caused most banks to refuse to do business with cannabis-linked companies, resulting in a largely cash business that is more difficult to track and regulate than it would be if banks were involved. Federal illegality also makes it so the entire interstate market is illegal and unregulated, though lucrative.
The California Bureau of Cannabis Control, tasked with regulating cannabis retail sales, has issued a few enforcement actions against some unlicensed dispensaries, but the efforts have been largely symbolic, against only a tiny fraction of the unlicensed operators. Los Angeles and other cities have also filed misdemeanor cases against unlicensed operators for violations of local licensing laws, but unlicensed dispensaries seem to pop back up faster than they are shut down.
In order for California’s regulatory project to succeed going forward, the state will need to convince more operators to move to the regulated market, through some combination of greater enforcement and lower taxes and regulatory burdens.
The large illicit market and slow roll-out of the licensing process have shaken the confidence of many people who are attempting to comply with California laws. Hopefully, state and local regulators will take advice from frustrated operators, learn from their mis-steps and continue to develop a functioning system. The state and local governments are trying to find the right regulatory balance. Over-regulation makes it so difficult and burdensome to comply that only rich people and companies with lots of resources can operate, and an expensive final product that leads many consumers to buy from the illicit market.
For now, many license holders are playing the long game, hoping the illicit market will shrink over time, and more consumers throughout the state (and eventually the country and world) join the regulated cannabis market. Governor Newsom says that he expects it may take at least five years to develop its complex regulatory system. If the state gets it right, this can be an industry that drives the state economy, creating more resources and jobs for everyone.
One approach that could be successful would be to offer a more simplified and inexpensive process to get new cannabis businesses up and running. More burdensome regulations and higher taxes could kick in only after businesses have gotten through the startup phase and adapted to the regulations. There could be a tiered or graduated system of compliance, taxes, and enforcement that is welcoming to new operators. Startup costs for new businesses are already very expensive, and high licensing expenses and a burdensome application process can dissuade many people from pursuing licenses who might otherwise want to follow the law. Lowering the tax rates in the beginning, while businesses get off the ground, could also encourage new entrants to the regulated market. Once businesses become established and there is a healthy regulated market, taxes could be increased to desired levels. The government has many tools available to help establish a functioning market. We are optimistic that the future is bright for the cannabis economy in California.
What is white labeling, and how might the proposed white labeling ban affect commercial cannabis deal structures?
Both established and nascent players in the cannabis industry have turned to white labeling – rebranding an existing product under a different producer's name – as a means to carve out their niche. For instance, some manufacturers in the process of obtaining proper local and state licenses have entered into contractual arrangements whereby they source product from licensed cultivators or manufacturers before branding and distributing the product as their own. Other deals see established brands, traditionally unassociated with cannabis, staking their industry claim by offering their intellectual property (branding) and promotional efforts in joint ventures with licensed manufacturers looking to find brand awareness for their product.
Despite the fact that white labeling is standard operating procedure in product manufacturing at large, the current version of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s proposed regulations have been interpreted by industry stakeholders who are disturbed at what is being called an outright ban on intellectual property licensing. While §5032 seems to be taking aim at arrangements whereby non-licensees are purchasing, packaging and selling cannabis without a license, the language has been interpreted to reach as far as to ban licensees from entering into trademark licensing agreements with brand owners. Such interpretation could even prohibit a parent company from holding its licensed cannabis manufacturing operations in one entity and its unlicensed brand in another – suggesting the need for license options to facilitate trademark licensing in the cannabis space:
If §5032 is promulgated as currently drafted, the strictest interpretation would force parties currently engaged in white labeling to re-structure their deals or get proper licensing. Established brands may need to sell rather than license trademarks – effectively forcing or keeping brand owners out of the cannabis industry and companies holding their brands in separate entities may need to obtain additional licenses – an expensive and time consuming endeavor.
Other types of arrangements may or may not meet regulatory requirements. For instance, would it be OK for a cannabis brand to operate as an unlicensed subsidiary of a licensed manufacturer? What if the unlicensed cannabis brand acquires an ownership interest in the licensed manufacturer, but remains unlicensed itself? At the moment, the answers to these questions are unclear.
Until the industry is provided with some official guidance from the BCC or the regulations are tested, many licensees and non-licensees operating in cannabis will need to examine and possibly modify their business relationships or look into licensing options in attempt to stay compliant.
Fun fact: Wine industry folks who purchase bulk wine before bottling/branding/selling it as their own combine two licenses (17/20) to achieve ABC compliance. A type 17 is a beer/wine wholesaler license and a type 20 is an off-premise beer/wine retailer license.
For more information on cannabis business and licensing, reach out to our California cannabis attorneys at email@example.com.
2. Opportunity to Appeal Rejected Dispensary Permits
Applicants who applied in Phase 1 and were found to be ineligible based on failure to qualify as an Existing Medical Marijuana Dispensary were given a chance to appeal the written findings of the DCR. These parties were given an opportunity to present their points, with back-and-forth discussion on the points of the appeal with members of the commission.
Each Applicant appealing was allowed either have a single person present the appeal or to have multiple witnesses – each side was allowed to submit any documents up until a week before hearing, and given 10 minutes to present arguments and evidence. The DCR was then allowed to present its case and findings for 10 minutes. The hearing officer could grant either side more time if appropriate, and the applicant was allowed 5 minutes at the end of the session to address DCR’s comments, followed by discussion and questions.
The main issues in the appeal were whether the Applicant had a 2017 L050 BTRC or, if no 2017 BTRC, if the Applicant had a L050 2015 or 2016 BTRC and met all the pre-ICO requirements, including registering for the ICO in 2007. One applicant was rejected who met all the requirements other than registering for the ICO in 2007 (the City reviewed records of office of city clerk regarding who was on the ICO registry), even though the business had BTRCs from 2007 to 2015 and had been paying taxes all along.
One applicant claimed another applicant mis-used the applicant’s ICO filing, applying under it for priority registration even though he was not an officer or director of the ICO registered entity. However, it turned out the ICO registered entity had registered as a sole proprietor “doing business as” a name similar to the current applicant, and the current applicant corporation was just using a similar same name as the 2007 entity but had a different legal name and different tax history and was a separate legal entity.
There were disputes during the appeals involving BTRCs issued with different account numbers or different entities, BTRCs that had been erroneously issued for addresses outside LA and then closed out, and BTRCs issued to related entities that had failed to follow merger process with the city. As a rule, only the same business entity that meets the eligibility requirements is eligible for priority processing.
Parties found ineligible for priority processing were encouraged to re-apply in Phase 3 general licensing, anticipated to open in 2019. Going forward, the DCR will prioritize annual licensing for Phase 1 and 2 applicants first, then registration for social equity applicants, and then Phase 3 will open.
For more information on the cannabis licensing and social equity process in Los Angeles, keep checking this blog or reach out to our cannabis attorneys at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twilight is approaching in the state of commercial cannabis in California. Pursuant to the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulations and Safety Act (MAUCRSA), Business and Professions Code Section 26050.1, each of the state licensing authorities regulating commercial cannabis are subject to a Sunset Clause that prohibits the issuance or extension of temporary state licenses starting January 1, 2019.
What does this mean for you?
As a reminder, California has a dual-licensing system regulating commercial cannabis in the state. To operate legally, you must have both a local license issued by the local jurisdiction where your business is established, and a state license issued by one of the three state licensing agencies, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), California Department of Public Health (DPH), and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Pursuant to MAUCRSA, the state temporary license enable business to operate while the state processes the annual license application. If you have already received a state temporary license and it expires prior to this date, you must submit an application for an annual license in order to receive the extension.
Each agency has set their own requirements dependent on the license type applied for and may be subject to compliance with ancillary agencies at the state level. Look through the application materials thoroughly, and consider consulting with an attorney to ensure you are in compliance with the necessary documentation.
To apply for a state temporary license, at a minimum you will need:
Evidence of Legal Right to Occupy
Should the state deem any part of your application incomplete, they will notify the primary contact with an opportunity to rectify any insufficiencies. This will inevitably delay the review of your application until all deficiencies are rectified. We would like to reassure our readers this is a normal part of the licensing process and is common practice to go back and forth with the state to ensure your application is in line with the regulations.
DO NOT DELAY
We advise sticking to the state’s December 1 recommended deadline to submit your application for a temporary license. The review period can take up to several weeks so make sure to submit the application timely to ensure there is sufficient time to receive the license. You may still apply for an annual license after the new year, but are subject to the state’s review period until they issue the annual license. The review period of the annual application can take up to several months. If you do not hold a valid local and state license you are prohibited from conducting commercial cannabis operations in the state.
This can have an significant repercussions for businesses to take into consideration. For example, if you are paying rent on the property and cannot operate can cause significant financial strains. We recommend consulting with an attorney in preparation of the annual license.
California Department of Public Health - Regulates Cannabis Manufacturing
California Department of Food and Agriculture - Regulates Cannabis Cultivation
Bureau of Cannabis Control - Regulates Cannabis Retail, Delivery, Distrbution, Testing, Microbusiness
Cannabidiol (CBD for short) is a naturally-occurring element of the cannabis plant that has recently exploded in popularity and availability. Like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is believed to have therapeutic and medical benefits, but unlike THC, CBD has no intoxicating effects. Across the country, people can now find CBD products everywhere. But are they safe and legal?
Many products advertised as CBD are imported from other countries or produced in unregulated, unlicensed operations, with no verification that they are free from toxic compounds or that they even contain CBD. Even if the products contain “pure” CBD, knowledgeable experts contend that CBDs have little or no benefits when they are stripped from THC and other cannabinoids and compounds naturally occurring in the marijuana plant. CBDs appear to exhibit their medical and healing properties only when they are left combined with the other cannabinoids like THC, as they are found in nature.
CBD Production and Sales Remain a Federal Crime Without FDA Approval and a Doctor's Prescription
The law on CBD products is confusing, due to conflicts among local, state, federal, and international laws. Under the Supremacy Clause to the US Constitution, federal law controls to the extent it conflicts with state or local law. State law also controls to the extent it conflicts with city or county laws. Federal law in this area is moving, but it is not clear in what direction. Some predict the federal government will relinquish all regulation of CBDs and cannabis generally to the states, and keep a hands-off approach. Others expect the federal government to strictly regulate CBDs and cannabis as they do with prescription drugs through the FDA, leaving the states with little control. This approach was foreshadowed by the DEA’s recent memo announcing that drugs including CBD with THC content below 0.1% will be taken off of Schedule 1 of the controlled substances schedules, and moved to Schedule 5, which allows CBD products to be sold through traditional pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription so long as the particular product is first approved by the FDA. The order also disallows any importing or exporting of CBD products without a permit.
Under federal law, CBD with THC content above 0.1% remains classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, subject to severe criminal sanctions. The Rohrbacher-Farr amendment creates a limited exception, preventing the DOJ from prosecuting anyone in strict compliance with state medical marijuana laws (adult-use or recreational uses of CBD products may still be prosecuted).
Without Commercial Cannabis License, CBDs Are Banned in California Food Products
In California, the Department of Public Health recently issued a memo confirming that CBD products are not allowed in any food products in the state (unless the products are regulated as commercial cannabis edibles, which by definition contain THC levels of at least 0.3%). Thus, under state law, CBDs are allowed to be sold and ingested as long as they include THC, and are banned in food if they come from industrial hemp with little or no THC. The reason CBD products with no THC are banned by state law is that California incorporates federal law regarding food additives, dietary use products, food labeling, and good manufacturing practices for food. Currently, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has concluded that it is a prohibited act to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstate commerce any food (including any animal food or feed) to which THC or CBD has been added.
This is regardless of the source of the CBD – i.e., whether the CBD is derived from cannabis or industrial hemp. CBD used as a topical or smokeable product could arguably be allowed under either federal or state law as it may not be considered to be a food that is ingested.
Los Angeles Allows CBD Businesses Without a Cannabis License to Register for Business Tax Certificate to Engage in Commercial Activities
The City of Los Angeles recently issued a form for businesses seeking a Business Tax Registration Certificate to engage in commercial activities related to industrial hemp and/or CBD derived from industrial hemp in the City of Los Angeles. This form allows your business to pay local taxes, but it does not protect you from criminal prosecution under state or federal law. It likely also signals that enforcement of state CBD laws is not a high priority of the Los Angeles Police Department.
International Treaties Ban All Cannabis Extracts Including CBDs
In addition to local, state, and federal law, international treaties place obstacles to the sale of CBD products. The United Nations has had a series of International Drug Control Conventions (treaties of which the US and Canada are part), and while CBD is not specifically listed in the schedules of the Conventions, "extracts" of cannabis are apparently included within Schedule 1, meaning they are prohibited.
Given the controls required by the UN Conventions, the US would be unable to keep its obligations under the treaties if CBD products were de-controlled under federal law. The Federal Controlled Substances Act, moreover, indicates that scheduling decisions will be made in accordance with treaty obligations. For example, under section201(d)(I) of the CSA, if control of a substance is required under an international treaty or convention in effect on October 27, 1970, the Attorney General is required to impose controls on the substance by placing it under the schedule he deems most appropriate to carry out such obligations.
The World Health Organization Expert Committee on Drug Dependence is scheduled to review the UN’s classification of CBD, THC, and cannabis in general at its November 2018 meeting, which could lead to a change in the international treaty.
The result of all these different layers of law leave many confused. We expect that the laws will adapt over time to allow for open sales of CBD products, whether or not they also contain THC. For now, however, the law is full of problems for CBD products and cannabis in general, and we applaud those working to reform the laws for these products that are all around us.
As recreational cannabis becomes legal in California, the marijuana industry is expanding into a number of different spaces that previously were impossible to operate in legally. One of the most exciting of these new opportunities is the cannabis lounge. Made famous by Amsterdam’s marijuana cafés, lounges are cannabis retail businesses that also allow for the on-site consumption of cannabis – an exciting possibility for customers, business owners, and investors alike. However, while a great deal of interest in these businesses exists across the state, only a few jurisdictions in California plan to allow cannabis lounges, and only some of those locations currently are open to licensed cannabis lounge operations.
When it comes to cannabis lounges currently in operation, the Bay Area is ahead of the pack by a wide margin, with a number of cannabis lounges fully licensed and open for business – seven in San Francisco and one in Oakland, according to a recent Leafly article. No other jurisdiction, in California or elsewhere, has more individual lounges in operation. However, several other cities in California are in the process of opening up for fully licensed cannabis lounge business.
After the Bay Area, the Los Angeles area is furthest ahead in the process of cannabis lounge licensing. Earlier this year, West Hollywood opened applications for cannabis lounges, planning to grant a total of 16 licenses – 8 for edible-only lounges, and 8 for lounges allowing edibles, smoking, and vaping. These applications are still under review, but the city plans to announce its decisions by the end of November, meaning operational businesses may be only a few months away. The city of Los Angeles has also shown interest in social consumption lounges. Between LA City and West Hollywood, this indicates that LA county may not be far behind the Bay Area when it comes to cannabis lounges.
While San Francisco and Los Angeles are the largest California cities to move toward legalizing cannabis lounges, several other areas in the state are beginning to explore the possibility as well. Earlier this month, the city of Eureka voted to allow on-site consumption. After voting to approve cannabis lounges last year, the city of Palm Springs issued its first permit for on-site cannabis consumption this summer, and, though the business in question has yet to open, several other communities in Coachella Valley are considering following suit.
While cannabis lounges remain a controversial issue in many communities, with local residents concerned about the potential nuisances that may come with legal on-site consumption, many cities across California are also beginning to see their potential economic and social appeal. Given the large amount of consumer interest demonstrated in the cities that have already moved toward licensing on-site consumption, the number of jurisdictions embracing legal cannabis lounges can be expected to increase in the future.