Know Your Rights: Understanding State Hemp Regulations
Last week, despite controversy, criticism from both sides of the aisle, and talk of a veto, President Trump agreed to sign the federal government’s omnibus spending bill for 2018. To the relief of many in the legal cannabis industry, the spending bill retains a provision known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer (or Rohrabacher-Farr) amendment, which provides limited protection from federal prosecution for state-level legal cannabis activity.
Given both Trump’s and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough talk on drugs and threats to crack down on the cannabis industry, the continued presence of this amendment is a silver lining for those anxious about the future of legal cannabis. While this won’t mean a change in the federal treatment of marijuana – the amendment has been included in every spending bill since 2014 – it does indicate that the government intends to keep on its current course with regard to cannabis, as the provision has to be renewed every year to remain in effect.
Likewise, though the actual protections afforded by the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment are limited, its being signed into law was, and remains, an important indication of the federal government’s shift in attitude regarding cannabis: as the LA Times reported following the provision’s first inclusion in the spending bill, “Congress for years had resisted calls to allow states to chart their own path on pot. The marijuana measure, which forbids the federal government from using any of its resources to impede state medical marijuana laws, was previously rejected half a dozen times.” In this light, the amendment was a notable pivot from a top-down to a state-level approach to cannabis regulation.
California cannabis consumers and business owners shouldn’t get too comfortable, though: not only does the amendment not change anything about the federal government’s cannabis policy in and of itself, its terms only apply to medical marijuana, not recreational cannabis. So far, the government has rejected proposed amendments that would grant recreational cannabis operations the same protection from federal intervention. For the time being, California cannabis business owners’ best bet is to stay in full compliance with state and local law as the federal situation develops.
As of this year, cannabis business is legal in Los Angeles, but the process of drafting and refining the laws and regulations that will actually govern the legal cannabis industry is still in its early stages.
To that end, over the past month, the LA city council met to adopt the following items:
While none of these items are extremely surprising in their own right, they may have significant consequences for the nature of Los Angeles’ cannabis industry.
For instance, Item #23 lays out a path to adjust the LA municipal code, adding “provisions to allow for the Cannabis Regulation Commission to make exceptions to the 600-foot school restriction for non-retail cannabis activities subject to a California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 analysis of environmental impacts and conditions to address public health, safety and welfare considerations, as well as a public hearing.” This means that buildings that were not in the correct zoning could be, if the City finds after the environmental analysis that there are not negative effects from having a cannabis cultivation or manufacturing operation near a school. A change to this rule would potentially mean that, as long as they were in keeping with public health and safety, cannabis businesses could be located in far more locations across LA. Note that under state law, local jurisdictions can allow for closer than 600 feet.
Other ideas in these items may also have major impacts on the LA cannabis industry. For instance, Item #23 also provides for mixed-light cultivation and social consumption lounges, two activities that the city’s cannabis ordinances haven’t allowed in the past, while Item #25 expresses the city’s support for a State-chartered bank that would allow cannabis businesses to bank their money in California. Each of these changes would be a major step toward full legal legitimacy for marijuana in the Los Angeles area.
While these items are significant in their own right, they also reflect a trend of increasing acceptance of the cannabis industry in LA. Establishing regulations however, is an ongoing process. For more information, check our guide to California cannabis business law or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with one of our Los Angeles cannabis lawyers.
As of January 1st, 2018, the long wait is over: cannabis business owners can apply for California state trademarks. The application form can be obtained here: http://bpd.cdn.sos.ca.gov/ts/forms/tm-100.pdf. Because cannabis is still federally illegal and cannabis products themselves cannot be trademarked, this is a viable avenue for many California cannabis brands that will protect your business marks within the state. You can read our prior post about USPTO Trademarks here.
According to the website for the Office of the California Secretary of State:
“Beginning January 1, 2018, customers may register their cannabis-related Trademark or Service Mark with the California Secretary of State's office so long as:
1.The mark is lawfully in use in commerce within California; and
2.Matches the classification of goods and services adopted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
If the application submitted to register a Trademark or Service Mark is found deficient, the application will be returned to the registrant for correction.
Note: Not all cannabis-related products can be registered under current law due to the inability to meet federal classifications.”
This means that in order to obtain your state marks, you must be lawfully using the marks in commerce at the time of the application. Therefore, you will need to be licensed in compliance with SB 94, both at the local and state level, before you’re eligible for trademark approval. Otherwise, if you claim an unlicensed use, you may run into issues with the Secretary of State. Further, once your license is obtained, you must also show that you’re making actual, bona fide use of the trademarks on your products in the stream of commerce. That means that customers are identifying you by your brand when they purchase your goods or services in the marketplace.
Maybe you’ve heard about a bill going around the California Senate right now that would create a state trademark registration system for cannabis. That’s right, Assembly Bill No. 64 for “Cannabis: Licensure and Regulation” was introduced on December 12, 2016 by Assembly Members Rob Bonta (Dist. 18 - Oakland), Ken Cooley (Dist. 8- Sacramento), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (Dist. 59 - LA), Tom Lackey (Dist. 36 – LA/Kern) and Jim Wood (Dist. 2 – Humboldt-Mendocino). On June 1, 2016, the bill passed through the Assembly with 71 Aye votes and just one Nay (Travis Allen, Dist. 72-Orange Co.).
The bill has been amended four times already, and has bounced around several committees in the State Senate. Recently, it arrived before Appropriations Committee, where it currently sits being “held under submission.” That means it could still be a while before the bill makes it to a final version (or survives at all). As recently as September 1, it cleared the suspense file, where bills that cost the public more than $150,000 in a single fiscal year are often sent. Before that, AB-64 had already made it through the Committees on Public Safety and Business Professions and Economic Development. Appropriations has estimated a fiscal impact of one-time costs of $50,000 to taxpayers and $90,000 per year for the Secretary State’s Office to process trademark applications for cannabis products.
According to the authors of the bill, its purpose is “to address a series of policy and technical changes that remain following the passage of SB 94. Each of these issues are of critical importance to stakeholders in the cannabis space… [including] preserving intellectual property[.]” Assemblyman Bonta and his co-sponsors acknowledge the current situation and emphasize the importance of establishing a process by which cannabusiness owners can register their trademarks (in California, at least). The Senate Committee on Business Professions and Economic Development recognizes this as well, commenting that “Medical cannabis businesses have been developing innovative brands, but are unable to protect their intellectual property with trademarks because cannabis is prohibited by federal law. AB 64 allows the Secretary of State to issue state trademarks for cannabis and cannabis products.”
Here’s the relevant section of the California bill on cannabis trademarks as it currently stands:
(4) Existing law, the Model State Trademark Law, provides for the registration of trademarks and service marks with the Secretary of State and requires the classification of goods and services for those purposes to conform to the classifications adopted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
This bill, for purposes of marks for which a certificate of registration is issued on or after January 1, 2018, would, notwithstanding those provisions, authorize the use of specified classifications for marks related to medical cannabis and nonmedical cannabis cannabis, including medicinal cannabis, goods and services that are lawfully in commerce under state law in the State of California.
Section 14235.5 is added to the Business and Professions Code, to read:
(a) Notwithstanding Section 14235, for purposes of marks for which a certificate of registration is issued on or after January 1, 2018, the following classifications may be used for marks related to medical cannabis and nonmedical cannabis cannabis, including medicinal cannabis, goods and services that are lawfully in commerce under state law in the State of California:
(1) 500 for goods that are medical cannabis, medical cannabis products, nonmedical cannabis, or nonmedical cannabis products. cannabis or cannabis products, including medicinal cannabis or medicinal cannabis products.
(2) 501 for services related to medical cannabis, medical cannabis products, nonmedical cannabis, or nonmedical cannabis products. cannabis or cannabis products, including medicinal cannabis or medicinal cannabis products.
(b) For purposes of this section, the following terms have the following meanings:
(1)“Medical cannabis” and “medical cannabis products” have the meanings provided in Section 19300.5.
(2)“Nonmedical cannabis” and “nonmedical section, “cannabis,” “cannabis products,” medicinal cannabis,” and “medicinal cannabis products” have the meanings provided for “marijuana” and “marijuana products,” respectively, in Section 26001.
As you can see, the language has already been revised several times, and will likely undergo more changes before the bill reaches its final form – so stay tuned. In the meantime, contact us or consult our guide to California cannabis law for more information.
Now that California is set to give licenses to cannabis operators, you may be wondering -- can cannabis companies get trademarks yet? The answer is more complicated than you may expect.
Your instincts are right; it’s time to start planning for the future. And to do that, you need to develop a brand that you can protect and your consumers can depend upon.
Yet the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has expressly, and repeatedly, affirmed that that it will deny registration of any “marijuana” or “cannabis” related goods or services. You can read that decision here. The basis for this policy is the Controlled Substances Act; so long as the sale of marijuana is classified as federally illegal, the USPTO considers the use of such marks in commerce as “not lawful” and thus not entitled to protection. Proposition 64 and California’s medical marijuana laws, as changes in state law, do not affect the Board’s policy regarding federal registration. That means that properly licensed cannabis companies that sell cannabis-related goods and services in 100% compliance with California law are still not engaging in a “lawful” use in commerce according to the USPTO. Cannabis companies seeking protection from California run into the same problem as Sacramento has decided to follow the USPTO’s policy.
However, there are still ways for a cannabusiness owner to protect their intellectual property assets. One emerging strategy is to trademark a number of other goods and services that use your mark, but do not use or primarily facilitate use of the federally banned substance itself. These types of goods can range from t-shirts to oils – anything that does not constitute “drug paraphernalia” that “is primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance, possession of which is unlawful under the CSA.” Registering trademarks for these ancillary goods and services puts the owner in a better strategic position for the future; when federal restrictions finally lift, the owner will have a strong claim to the mark as residing in their “natural zone of expansion.” This tactic puts the trademark owner on the offensive, putting any would-be pirates and infringers on notice.
There is reason to keep an eye on the California Legislature, too. Soon enough, owners may be able to use the state trademark registration process. Though state trademarks will not convey national-level protection, they will cover the state of California. Recently, the California Legislature has considered adding statutory language in AB-64 that would provide new trademark classes in California for:
We are doing a series of posts on cannabis trademarks and cannabis IP. Check back for more next week.