L.A. Cannabis Licensing: A Waiting Game

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on February 8, 2018

It’s been over a month since the state of California began issuing licenses for commercial cannabis businesses. The epicenter of this emerging legal market is right here in Los Angeles. While the City passed their final ordinance in December, the licensing process has been off to a slow start.

The agency that regulates cannabis in Los Angeles, the Department of Cannabis Regulations (DCR) has begun to issue licenses for Phase 1 existing dispensaries. These applicants can apply through a streamlined process for a temporary license which allows them to then apply for a temporary state license and operate legally in the City. At this moment, there are 98 eligible businesses operating in Los Angeles with Temporary Approval from the DCR for Local Operation – in other words, a temporary license for legal cannabis activity.

Los Angeles’ Department of Cannabis Regulations has divided cannabis applications into three distinct phases, each with their own set of criteria to qualify. Phase 1 will remain open through March 4, 2018. This is the most exclusive phase with likely only 200 or so stores qualifying. The current phase is reserved for applicants who are candidates for “Proposition M Priority Processing”, which comes with a strict set of requirements that effectively limit eligibility to preexisting medical marijuana dispensaries. For this reason, existing operators working in cultivation and manufacturing and entrepreneurs looking to launch new businesses are eagerly awaiting Phase 2. Under the Los Angeles Ordinance, Phase 2 is supposed to end in early April 2018. For this reason, we expected applications to open for Phase 2 in early February. We have contacted the DCR almost daily, and as of yesterday, there was still no time estimate on when Phase 2 licensing applications will open.

When it does begin, Phase 2 will require that applicants have a preexisting cannabis business – it’s reserved for “Non-Retailer Commercial Cannabis Activity Prior to January 1, 2016 Processing.” To qualify, a business must meet the following standards, as imposed by the LA Municipal Code:

1) the Applicant was engaged prior to January 1,2016, in the same Non-Retailer Commercial Cannabis Activity that it now seeks a License for; 2) the Applicant provides evidence and attests under penalty of perjury that it was a supplier to an EMMD prior to January 1, 2017; 3) the Business Premises meets all of the land use and sensitive use requirements of Article 5 of Chapter X of this Code; 4) the Applicant passes a prelicense inspection; 5) there are no fire or life safety violations on the Business Premises: 6) the Applicant paid all outstanding City business tax obligations; 7) the Applicant 13 indemnifies the City from any potential liability on a form approved by DCR; 8) the Applicant provides a written agreement with a testing laboratory for testing of all Cannabis and Cannabis products and attests to testing all of its Cannabis and Cannabis products in accordance with state standards; 9) the Applicant is not engaged in Retailer Commercial Cannabis Activity at the Business Premises; 10) the Applicant attests that it will cease all operations if denied a State license or City License; 11) the Applicant qualifies under the Social Equity Program; and 12) the Applicant attests that it will comply with all operating requirements imposed by DCR and that DCR may immediately suspend or revoke the Temporary Approval if the Applicant fails to abide by any City operating requirement.

Of these criteria, an essential component is the Social Equity Program; not only is it still in development by the city, but it also divides candidates into separate tiers within the program itself, which could add further complications to the application process.

Ask an LA Cannabis Attorney: Can Existing LA Dispensaries Stay Open?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 2, 2018

2018 is here, and there is a lot of confusion in Los Angeles about the new cannabis laws. The question causing the most confusion is whether existing operators can stay open. Under Measure M, existing dispensaries with BTRCs who comply with Proposition D still have limited immunity until they are licensed. Under state law, a retailer needs a state and local license in order to conduct commercial cannabis activity. The City is currently holding a press conference on the issue and we will update our blog as this issue develops. Our LA cannabis attorneys give their opinion on the matter below. 

Update: At 1pm today, the City confirmed via a press conference that EMMD cannabis retailers in Los Angeles can remain open through the licensing process. 

For years under California state law, commercial marijuana activity has been limited to medical dispensaries and cultivation sites organized as non-profit collectives or cooperatives.  The City of Los Angeles has allowed medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the City under various sets of rules, most recently under Proposition D, which passed in 2013 and provided immunity from a general ban on commercial cannabis activity to a specific group of medical marijuana dispensaries that have been in operation since 2007 and met various other requirements.

Under California’s Proposition 64, which passed in 2016, starting January 1, 2018, Californians are allowed to commercially grow, distribute, and sell both medical and non-medical marijuana, but only to the extent allowed by local governments (cities, or for those in unincorporated areas, counties).   The City of Los Angeles has a new system for regulating commercial cannabis activity, Measure M and portions of the Los Angeles Municipal Code implementing Measure M, which will allow for both medical and non-medical commercial cannabis.  It is expected that Los Angeles will begin open up its applications on January 3, and begin issuing licenses within a few weeks after that.  Under the terms of Measure M, the provisions of Proposition D were repealed beginning January 1, 2018.

Many have asked whether existing commercial cannabis businesses are allowed to continue operating under the old system of rules, until they are able to secure licenses in the new system.  Existing commercial marijuana dispensaries will retain their legal protection under state and local law, so long as they submit their applications for the new system within the time window provided by the City.  Los Angeles has announced that, for the first 60 days after opening its applications, only existing commercial cannabis businesses will be able to apply for licenses, in a “priority” round, and after this 60-day period, new commercial cannabis businesses will be eligible to apply for licenses.  Measure M makes clear that  existing medical dispensaries can continue operation after January 1, 2018, and need not shut down before applying for licenses, as long as they operate as non-profit collectives, follow all the rules set forth in Proposition D, and submit their applications for licenses within the 60-day priority period.

 Measure M describes this protection as follows: “An existing medical marijuana dispensary (“EMMD”) that is operating in compliance with the limited immunity provisions (Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 45.19.6.3) and tax provisions (Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 21.50) of Proposition D, may continue to operate within the City at the one location identified in its original or amended business tax registration certificate until such time that the EMMD applies for and receives a final response to its application for a City permit or license for commercial cannabis activity being conducted at that location. The City's designated licensing or permitting agency shall give priority in processing applications of EMMDs that can demonstrate to the City’s designated licensing or permitting agency that the EMMD has operated in compliance with the limited immunity and tax provisions of Proposition D. To avail itself of the terms of this Section, including the priority processing, an EMMD must apply for a City permit or license within sixty calendar days of the first date that applications are made available for commercial cannabis activity. If the City issues the EMMD a license or permit for commercial cannabis activity, the EMMD shall continue to operate at its location within the City in accordance with the rules and regulations set forth by the City."

California state law also provides that the provision giving legal protection to medical marijuana patient collectives and cooperatives, Health & Safety Code section 11362.775, will sunset one year after the State begins issuing cannabis licenses.  Until this law goes away, patients will still receive protection under state law for non-profit, collective cannabis activity.

 Accordingly, existing medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles may continue operating  under California’s medical marijuana non-profit collective laws, and Los Angeles’s Proposition D, as long as they submit their applications for licenses during the 60-day priority period.

 For medical marijuana cultivators, manufacturers, and distributors not located at one of the Proposition D dispensaries, there is no explicit protection under Los Angeles law for continued operation pending licensing.  Los Angeles has, however, provided a priority licensing system for these existing  non-retail businesses that have been around since before 2016 and supplying a Proposition D dispensary since before 2017.  This suggests that the City does not intend to prosecute such businesses in current operation, but until these businesses retain licenses from Los Angeles, they face some risk of being prosecuted. 

If you are confused Contact usto speak with one of our cannabis attorneys who can provide clarity on these issues and the cannabis licensing process. 

CA Cannabis Licensing Explained in 2 Minutes - Video

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on December 31, 2017

As we prepare for January 1 and recreational cannabis in California, many legal questions remain for cannabis businesses. In this video, Los Angeles Cannabis Attorneys Margolin & Lawrence explain the local and state licensing process for cannabis businesses in California. If you are looking for a high level overview of what you will need to do to start a cannabis business, or get your existing cannabis business into compliance, this is the place to start.

Breaking News: LA County Releases Proposed Cannabis Regulations

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on December 19, 2017

L.A. County released long-awaited draft cannabis regulations yesterday. The Board of Supervisors, which creates laws that govern all of the unincorporated areas of the county (any area that is not part of an incorporated city) has been listening to the findings of the Cannabis Advisory Group over many months and has released the zoning requirements that will apply to commercial cannabis in the county, as well as the activities that will be licensed.The County will be issuing for Adult-Use (recreational) and Medical cannabis uses. Our LA cannabis attorneys have reviewed the proposed cannabis regulations and our findings are below. 

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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.