What Should I Know for My Cannabis Business?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on September 18, 2018

The logistics of running a legal cannabis operation involve many questions that may seem surprising or daunting to both current and aspiring business owners. As a California cannabis law firm, here are a few of the issues that we’ve seen cannabis businesses need answers for. If you’ve found yourself asking any of these questions about your own operation, our lawyers may be able to help.

How much can I expect to spend?

At present, the capital requirements to start a cannabis business are very high; on top of the normal costs of starting a business, like buying real estate and hiring employees, the industry is very tightly regulated, and it’s not possible to get an outside loan. That means your business has to be privately fundraised, so it’s important to figure out exactly how much money you have and how much you’re willing to spend.

The application fees alone for cannabis licensing are often several thousand dollars, and many jurisdictions require both proof of funding and a detailed business plan before they consider a cannabis licensing application complete. A cannabis lawyer can help you find this information in order to start your licensed operation.

Is my property in an eligible location for cannabis business?

Zoning requirements vary widely based on your jurisdiction and which type of cannabis activity you’re interested in, so it’s not always easy to tell whether a given property or address is eligible for a particular activity. In addition to restrictions on which zones a given activity can be located in (for instance, cannabis cultivation might be banned in commercial zones but allowed in industrial ones), many municipalities have setback restrictions that prevent cannabis businesses from being located within a certain distance of schools, parks, residential areas, or other cannabis businesses.

Interpreting the local zoning regulations to determine for what activities your business is eligible is another service that cannabis lawyers can provide.

What information do I need to apply for a cannabis business license?

Applying for a cannabis business license isn’t just a matter of filling out an application form – most state and local licensing authorities will require a large amount of information about the business and its owners, including a complete operating plan describing how your establishment will meet all legal requirements for cannabis business activity.

On top of this information, you’ll also need to have business documents such as a seller’s permit, federal employer ID number, and certificate of good tax standing in order. On top of that, most applications will require you to provide accurate financial information, insurance documentation, and enough personal documentation for each member of your business to pass a full background check.

Finding these documents and preparing them for your final application is just one service that cannabis lawyers can provide for your business.

Should I get a license for medical-use or adult-use cannabis?

At the present moment, many states and municipalities have separate regulatory regimes for medical-use and adult-use cannabis, often with very different legal requirements. For your cannabis business to succeed, you’ll need to decide which license (or combination of licenses) is best for your business, then master the licensing and compliance processes for the type of cannabis business you choose. A cannabis lawyer can help guide you through this process, from choosing the right activity to applying for a license to remaining in compliance with the law once your business is operational.

What cannabis activity should I apply for?

In addition to medical-use and adult-use, cannabis business licenses are broken down into different activities, such as cultivation, manufacturing, and retail. Additionally, many of these categories are split into subcategories such as indoor and outdoor cultivation or storefront and non-storefront retail. As with medical and adult-use cannabis, these different types of cannabis activities often have very different requirements.

Some jurisdictions also offer boutique categories with special requirements such as Microbusiness, impose restrictions on how many licenses can be granted, or limit which types of licenses a single business can hold simultaneously. For your cannabis business to succeed, you’ll need to optimize which activities to apply for – another task that a cannabis lawyer can help with.

How can I ensure that my business is licensed as quickly as possible?

Given that legal cannabis licensing is a complex, highly regulated bureaucracy currently receiving a large number of applications, it can be difficult for a cannabis business owner to predict how long it will take their business license application to be approved, or to optimize their application in order to be licensed and operational as soon as possible.

Some areas offer a fast track to licensing under their Social Equity Program, in order to ensure that business owners who are disadvantaged or disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs have a quicker path to licensed operation than other applicants. Our cannabis lawyers can help you find out whether you qualify for one of these programs.

Whether or not you qualify for a Social Equity Program, the best way to ensure that you’re licensed as soon as possible is to choose the right license for your business and make sure that the information in your application is complete and correct.

What license should I apply for if I plan to expand my operation?

Especially for new cannabis businesses, the size of a cannabis business at the time of initial licensing might not be the same as the size of the business you hope to run in two or three year’s time. However, cannabis license application fees often vary based on the size of the operation in question, and applications often require businesses to provide details that depend on the size of their operation, including what types of equipment they plan to use, their planned hours of operation, and how many employees they’ll hire (including their labor practices and management structure).

Our cannabis lawyers can help you figure out how to reflect your long-term growth plans in your licensing application, including the multi-year pro forma budgeting and income documents that many municipalities require.

Will I need to apply for additional licenses or permits?

For many businesses, the cannabis license itself is only one of a number of licenses you’ll need for a fully licensed operation. To begin with, new cannabis businesses will need to apply for their tax registrations and seller’s permits. Additionally, depending on your activity, you may need to apply for Conditional Use Permit or Land Use Permit from your local planning department before you can apply for a cannabis business license.

For some activities, like outdoor cultivation, this may require further permits, such as for diversion of water, tree removal, or environmental review. On the other hand, businesses located in cities may be required to apply for enrollment in local Social Equity or community benefits programs. Our cannabis lawyers can help you find out what additional permits you need and help you apply for them.

Do you Want Your Security Guard to Kill or Injure Someone to Protect Your Product or Cash?

Posted by Terry Blevins on July 25, 2018

by Terry Blevins, President/CEO of Armaplex Security

Many businesses are willing to put a security guard in their cannabis business, but don’t often think about the possible consequences (implications) of that decision.


I often ask business owners: Would you want your security guard to kill or injure an intruder in order to prevent him from taking your cannabis product or cash? The answer should be “no,” because the use of force to protect property is not allowed by security officers and would put you and your business in a precarious position from a liability perspective, not to mention causing a potential reputational issue. If the answer is “no,” then I ask: “Have you had that discussion with your security company and/or the guards that work in your business?” The use of physical force is a serious responsibility, especially if it is done by one of your employees or contractors, and at your request, and should not be taken lightly.

Even more serious is the use of a firearm by security guards, which can bring on a series of additional liabilities and concerns. How would you feel personally if one of your security guards killed or injured someone while trying to protect a small amount of product? How would you feel if an innocent bystander was killed during the incident? If you tell your guard not to draw his weapon in case of an attack, then you are defeating the purpose of having an armed guard and may be creating other liabilities with these instructions.

Are you aware that a security guard is the last measure you should put in place and only after you have secured the site with robust physical barriers, employee procedures and security technology? 

You should be suspicious of security companies whose first line of defense is always a security guard. Most shrinkage or loss in the cannabis industry is due to factors that can be controlled by measures other than hiring a security guard. Every cannabis business will suffer some loss of product or cash on a monthly basis and most of the time there is some insider (employee, contractor or partner) involvement in this.

Some examples of measures that can prevent insider theft:

  • Employees should not be allowed to have bags or baggy clothing in areas where product or cash is kept. Employee and contractor lockers should be used.
  • Employee policies and procedures that require two individuals to be present when accessing large amounts of cash and/or product
  • Alarm devices and access control systems that only allow certain employees, into certain areas, during certain hours
  • A requirement that all transactions take place on camera can help to prevent theft and may also serve as verification if someone is wrongfully accused

Are you 100% sure that if one of your security guards injured or killed someone, your insurance would cover you? How about if they just touch someone and that person claims assault? 


All insurance policies have exclusions, and many have “Assault and Battery” or other exclusions that mean the insurance company would not pay a claim if your security guard used physical force (any bodily contact) on a person, even in the course of his duties. Even if you contract with a licensed security company, its policy may have these same exclusions that place you, and them, at risk of not being properly covered. This exclusion may be as subtle as no coverage for providing security for a business that is involved in illegal activity (cannabis is still a Federal offense).


These are steps you can take to protect yourself and your business:


  1. If you hire guards directly, your insurance company must know that you are doing this in order for you to be covered in the case of an incident.
  2. If you contract with a security provider, you should ask this security company to list you as a co-insured on its insurance policy
  3. Have your attorney review both your policy, and the security company policy, to make sure that cannabis businesses are not excluded and insure that there are no other exclusions, such as “Assault and Battery,” that put you at risk.

Are you 100% sure that your security guards are fully licensed and compliant to perform their duties under local and state laws that regulate security companies, as well as cannabis companies?


All security companies are heavily regulated due to the need for trust and accountability as they are entrusted with our most valuable assets, and sometimes with our lives. Cannabis security companies and guards are even more heavily regulated and scrutinized than other security companies. State and local cannabis regulations require that security companies and/or guards that are used by cannabis companies must be properly licensed and insured.


Things you should do:


  1. Have your attorney review the contract with the security company and make sure that it meets the BCC and/or local requirements
  2. Visit, or call, the state and/or city agency that licenses security guard companies to make sure the company is licensed. (In California this site is:  https://search.dca.ca.gov )
  3. Make sure that you have these documents on hand during any compliance check:
    1. A copy of the security company’s license
    2. The security guard’s personal card (city of L.A. also requires first aid card)
    3. Your contract with the security company
    4. The insurance binder from the insurance company that lists you as a co-insured
    5. Any other documents required by law or regulation

Were you aware that in most states you cannot hire security guards directly (even if they have guard cards) without your business being licensed as a Proprietary Private Security Employer?


Out of all the cannabis businesses that hire their guards directly, most have no idea that this is required. The supervision of security guards cannot be performed by someone who is not an expert in security. Any company that hires security guards must have a license to do so and must have a manager on staff who has proven experience in security management and completed a written test and background check (California requires this license). Your insurance company will also want to look at the manager’s qualifications in order to ensure the manager is experienced and doesn’t present a risk to the policy.


This is only a partial list: There are many other things that you should consider when hiring security personnel at your cannabis site, and you should do everything you can to be informed and to protect you and your business.


There are many misconceptions regarding security in the cannabis industry regarding what is required under state and local laws and even some security companies don’t fully understand these. The only way for you to protect your company is to be proactive, to work closely with your attorney and to use a reputable security company.


About Terry Blevins:

Terry Blevins has over 30 years of experience in Law Enforcement and Security and has worked as an Industrial Site Security Subject Matter Expert for the U.S. Department of State. With a master’s degree in Security Management and extensive training in conducting threat and risk assessments from private industry as well as the Federal government, Blevins is considered a qualified physical security expert. 

Additionally, Blevins is considered one of the foremost cannabis security experts in the U.S. He has studied many cannabis businesses in California and other states, learning what works and doesn’t work, including industry better and next practices and has drawn from those to develop the security strategies that he includes in the numerous cannabis security plans he has completed. He has also studied local and state regulations and understand what must be provided with applications in order to successfully compete for a license.


Bureau of Security and Investigative Services

http://www.bsis.ca.gov/about_us/laws/pssact.shtml

New York State Releases Report on Recreational Cannabis

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on July 13, 2018

With a recent study, the state of New York signaled receptiveness to the possibility of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Specifically, the report, commissioned by Governor Cuomo, recommends that adults be allowed to legally consume marijuana. While the study has yet to be finalized by the New York State Department of Health, its announcement indicates that New York is planning to embrace the marijuana industry to the same extent that states like California and Colorado have, switching from a relatively restrictive medical-only marijuana program to a system which legalizes the recreational use of cannabis. Given the size and influence of New York State’s population and economy, this shift would have major implications for the status of cannabis in the nation at large.

Currently, New York State’s regulations only allow marijuana to be legally used for medical purposes. Additionally, only 10 companies are licensed to operate as medical marijuana suppliers, a restriction with the potential to greatly limit patients’ access to marijuana and drive prices up. Further, patients aren’t even allowed to smoke marijuana – as of December 2017, the drug can only be legally taken in the form of cannabis extracts like oils, tinctures, and chewable tablets. According to the New York Times, these restrictions were initially put in place by Cuomo, out of concern that marijuana would become a “gateway” drug leading to use of other illicit substances. Therefore, this study, with its conclusion that marijuana (even when smoked) is not harmful for adult recreational use, indicates a major pivot on the governor’s part when it comes to legalization.

This shift may be due to the upcoming election for the governorship, where Cuomo’s most prominent challenger, Cynthia Nixon, has made marijuana legalization a central campaign issue. Nixon has positioned herself as even more pro-legalization than Cuomo, calling for a fully regulated and taxed recreational marijuana industry in New York as well as a statewide program to expunge past marijuana convictions. Therefore, whichever candidate wins the governorship, it seems likely that New York State will continue to liberalize its cannabis regulations. Together with New York City moving to limit marijuana arrests, this indicates that, while New York may not have a full recreational cannabis industry for some time, the region’s political climate has shifted significantly against the restrictive laws which are currently in place.

LA Phase II – July 2nd Update

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on July 2, 2018

As of July 2nd, here is the latest news on Phase 2 of cannabis licensing for the City of LA:

  • Phase 2 will open August 1st and will be open for 30 business days. This phase is for existing cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, and distributors who were operating in the City of LA before 2016 and were suppliers to an EMMD (a pre-ICO medical marijuana collective in compliance with Proposition D) before 2017.
  • Detailed instructions for Phase 2 applications will be released on July 18th, and the full Phase 2 application will be released on August 1st.
  • Proof of participation in social equity program, and passing a pre-licensing inspection, will not be required for the provisional approval for Phase 2.
  • The City will create a process where Phase 2 delinquent taxpayers can pay their taxes for past years at the same time as they are applying for licensing.

Among the other recent changes to the LA ordinance that take effect today and July 23rd:

  • Both Tier 1 and Tier 2 social equity applicants will now receive priority processing for new retail applications on a 2:1 ratio with all non-social equity applicants (i.e., 2 out of 3 new retail licenses will go to Tier 1 and Tier 2 social equity applicants).  Previously, only Tier 1 social equity applicants received this priority for new retail licenses.
  • Eligibility for Tier 1 of the Social Equity Program is expanded to include applicants with a prior California cannabis arrest, but not a conviction.  Previously, the ordinance appeared to require a conviction. The new definition makes anyone eligible for Tier 1 Social Equity who is both low income and has “an arrest or conviction in California for any crime under the laws of the State of California or the United States relating to the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of Cannabis that occurred prior to November 8, 2016” (excluding arrests or convictions for violating Proposition D).
  • Social equity program “incubators,” which will include everyone applying in Phase 2 who is not a Tier 1 or Tier 2 social equity applicant, will now be given the option to pay into a fund instead of providing 10% of their space to a social equity partner.

Final Release of California Cannabis Regulations

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on June 7, 2018

After numerous iterations, the final regulations officially went into effect on June 6, 2018 and are set to expire on December 4, 2018. These amended emergency regulations were initially released to the public on May 18, and then filed with the Office of Administrative Law on May 25, 2018. The state’s regulatory agencies proposed changes to certain provisions in order to provide greater clarity to licensees and address issues that have arisen since the emergency regulations went into effect. The re-adoption of the emergency regulations have extended the effective period for an additional 180 days. After the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) posted the proposed emergency regulations on their website, there was a five-day public comment period on the finding of emergency.

Do Free Samples get Taxed?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on May 1, 2018

 

Update: This blog post does not apply to Los Angeles, as the distribution of free samples is non-compliant under the LA Ordinance 185344 Rules and Regulations for Cannabis Procedures, Regulation No. 10. Operational Requirements and Violations. Section D.

 

Since the pot-prohibition era has ended, there has been much ambiguity around the transition from an illegal market to one that is becoming strongly regulated. The cannabis tax rates for California were definitely met with much opposition, with both merchants and customers appalled by the exorbitant tariffs on California’s favorite vice (read more here).

News: Ninth Circuit Hears Medical Cannabis Case

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on April 17, 2018

Just last week, on March 29th, a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held a special setting at the University of Idaho College of Law. Judges Richard Tallman, N. Randy Smith, and Morgan Christen considered the case of Michael Assenberg v. Whitman County (Case No. 15-35757). Assenberg was appealing the district court’s summary judgment in an action against Whitman County, the Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Brett Myers, and the Quad Cities Drug Task Force. Assenberg alleged that the search of his Colfax home for marijuana and his subsequent arrest violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In 2011, law enforcement conducted a raid on his home, where Assenberg was running a medical marijuana dispensary. According to Assenberg, the raid came about after a confidential informant posing as a medical marijuana patient visited his dispensary. The Whitman County sheriff and Quad Cities Task Force seized approximately one hundred marijuana plants and Assenberg was charged with four felonies. However, the charges were later dropped in Whitman County Superior Court after it became clear the marijuana was stored incorrectly by the county.

Cannabis Compliance: Operating Legally in California in 2018

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on April 10, 2018

California’s transition into a regulated market has many operators wondering what the universe of compliance looks like and where they fit into the process. In order to operate legally in California after January 1, 2018, you need both a local authorization and a state license. Temporary licenses from the state of California are sufficient to continue operating, though you will eventually need to obtain an Annual License. To date, 954 cannabis businesses in California have received Cease and Desist letters from the Bureau of Cannabis Control. While some were in error, others were operating without the required licenses for California.

It’s important to understand that licensure is not the end-all-be-all of compliance -- in fact, it is the minimum requirement for your business to operate legally. In addition to having a state license (which requires local authorization), you will need to begin thinking about how to set up your business with compliance processes that facilitate and enable adherence to state regulations for your activities: cannabis microbusiness, retail, manufacturing, cultivation or testing. The below infographic is an overview of the entire licensing/compliance process.


Where does your business fit in?


Massachusetts opens recreational cannabis licensing

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on April 5, 2018

 

On April 2nd, the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission opened its licensing application process for cannabis businesses, marking Massachusetts’ official entry into the legal cannabis industry. Despite the relatively strict criteria that applicants must meet in order to qualify for the first round of licensing, the Boston Globe reports that almost 200 prospective cannabis operators have started their applications within the first day of the system’s opening, a definite sign that interest is high.

For the time being, applications are only open for “Priority Applicants,” a group consisting of Registered Marijuana Dispensaries – existing retail businesses which already have a certificate of registration and are in good standing with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health – and Economic Empowerment Applicants. The latter category is analogous to the Social Equity Program in the Oakland and Los Angeles cannabis licensing processes: Granting priority to certain business operators is intended as a restorative measure to benefit communities, demographics, and individuals who have been disproportionately punished by cannabis laws in the past.

According to the Massachusetts regulations on the Adult Use of Marijuana, to qualify as an Economic Empowerment Applicant, a prospective cannabis operator must meet three or more of the following criteria:

  • A majority of ownership belongs to people who have lived for five of the preceding ten years in an area of disproportionate impact, as determined by the Commission;
  • A majority of ownership has held one or more previous positions where the primary population served were disproportionately impacted, or where primary responsibilities included economic education, resource provision or empowerment to disproportionately impacted individuals or communities;
  • At least 51% of current employees or subcontractors reside in areas of disproportionate impact and by the first day of business, the ratio will meet or exceed 75%;
  • At least 51% or employees or subcontractors have drug-related CORI and are otherwise legally employable in cannabis enterprises;
  • A majority of the ownership is made up of individuals from Black, African American, Hispanic or Latino descent;
  • Other significant articulable demonstration of past experience in or business practices that promote economic empowerment in areas of disproportionate impact.

If a cannabis operator is certified as a Priority Applicant, they’ll be eligible to submit a state licensing application for all activities on April 17th. Businesses that don’t receive this priority will have to wait: Open applications for Cultivation, Microbusiness, Craft Cooperatives, Independent Testing Labs, and Lab Agents are scheduled to begin on May 1st, while applications for Retail, Product Manufacturers, and Transport businesses won’t open until June 1st. Given that the state has slated retail sales to begin on July 1st, this means that, if Massachusetts sticks to the current deadlines, applications are likely to be a very competitive, time-sensitive process.

Even if they don’t qualify as priority applicants, prospective cannabis operators should study state and local regulations to ensure that their applications are in order – as Massachusetts is still in the early stages of the cannabis licensing process, many deadlines and regulations are still subject to change. For more information on Massachusetts’ cannabis regulations, follow this blog or contact us at info@margolinlawrence.com.

Current Status of San Francisco City Cannabis Licensing

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 29, 2018

The City of San Francisco began its process of licensing retailers to sell adult-use cannabis on January 6, 2018. Any MCD (Medical Cannabis Dispensary) businesses that conducted delivery, cultivation, manufacturing, testing, or any other cannabis activity were required to register the activity with the Office of Cannabis between September 26, 2017 and November 30, 2017. Those that registered were then required to get their temporary permit(s) from the City. To continue each of these activities in 2018, temporary licensing must be obtained from the State. Any applicant who did not register as an existing business before November 30, 2017, must apply for a permit as a new cannabis business. The Transition Provisionof City Ordinance 230-17 declares that existing MCD applicants temporarily permitted to sell cannabis starting January 1, 2018 cannot cultivate cannabis without new licensing as of April 1, 2018.

Beginning in 2018, all applicants must apply to the Equity Program (see eligibility requirements) either as individuals or incubators before applying for cannabis licensing. Since San Francisco was consistently targeted by the War on Drugs, the City is determined to make amends through this initiative, and compliance is mandatory for all cannabis businesses.

All new businesses require a license from the San Francisco Office of Cannabis and the State of California in order to sell cannabis in San Francisco. To be eligible for a temporary permit in the City of San Francisco, applicants must comply with the Citys zoning codes. These can be found on the SF City Planning website - check out the zoning for cannabis retail businesses. The Land Use Regulations for the City are have also been outlined in a table by the San Francisco Office of Cannabis, which provides useful zoning requirements for all retail and non-retail cannabis businesses (including cultivation, manufacturing and distribution). Mobile cannabis dispensaries will not be permitted in San Francisco.

At this time all cannabis licensing is temporary, subject to review by each municipal zones governing body and the State before permanent licensing can be applied for through the Office of Cannabis. According to Section 1605 of Article 16 in San Francisco Citys Ordinance 230-17 Amending the Administrative, Business and Tax Regulations, Health, and Police Codes,all cannabis businesses awarded a temporary license must apply for permanent licensing within 30 days of the date when the Office of Cannabis makes such permits available. Once permanent licensing becomes available, temporary licensing will no longer be offered to new businesses.

In summary, whether you are looking to start a business in cultivation, manufacturing, retail, distribution, a combination of the above (microbusiness), or testing, you will need to obtain temporary licensing from the City of San Franciscos Office of Cannabis. The window for existing MCDs to register with the City has passed, but these businesses can still apply for new licensing along with all other new cannabis business applicants. The Office of Cannabis in San Francisco has not yet announced when permanent licensing will become available to businesses awarded temporary licenses by both the City and the State. More information about the application process and requirements can be found on the San Francisco Office of Cannabis website.

Categories

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.