Recently, rumors and misinformation have circulated surrounding LA’s “undue concentration” rules for commercial cannabis licensing. The undue concentration rules have not been eliminated, as some have falsely claimed. LA has recently changed details about the policy, in a way that will allow more retail dispensary licenses to be issued sooner. Some have feared, however, that the latest changes may introduce an element of unfairness to the licensing process.
Operational compliance has become paramount to the success of many cannabis businesses following new state regulations that went into effect earlier this year. For others, non-compliance has been a great downfall. Following the legalization of commercial cannabis, the state of California hastily drafted and passed emergency regulations which outlined licensing and operational requirements for cannabis businesses under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA). These emergency regulations went into effect in December of 2017 to provide a temporary solution for the lack of cannabis legislation until more thorough regulations could be drafted and adopted by state agencies. Just three months ago, the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approved new regulations which were immediately adopted by all three state licensing agencies. The new regulations include many significant changes from the previous emergency regulations and introduce more restrictive guidelines for cannabis businesses. Further, the new regulations define serious implications for businesses who violate the new guidelines – from fines up to $250,000 to loss of licensure. In recent months, a rapid number of compliance enforcement agencies have emerged at both the local and state level. Licensed cannabis businesses in California have experienced a peak in random compliance inspection visits, raids from local and state law enforcement, and seizure of cannabis products. With the commercial cannabis industry now in full effect, local and state agencies are beginning to focus less on setting the framework for the industry and more on enforcement of regulations.
A majority of licensed cannabis businesses are in some way in violation of current regulations despite their intentional efforts to comply. This is largely due to the cumbersome location-dependent nature of cannabis regulations. Although cannabis is legal in the state of California, commercial cannabis businesses are still federally illegal, and there is no federal legislation governing the licensing and operational compliance of cannabis businesses. As a result, cannabis regulations vary between states. Further convoluting the concept of cannabis compliance, regulations also vary within-state and are dependent on legislation issued by local authorities. All California cannabis businesses must adhere to statewide regulations enforced by the three state agencies – the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) – in addition to guidelines enforced by local agencies. For instance, outdoor cultivation is legal at the state level per the CDFA, but it is prohibited within the City of Los Angeles per the local Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR). Cannabis businesses must also comply with local Fire Department safety codes which also vary by jurisdiction.
With compliance enforcement on the rise, it is crucial for all cannabis businesses to stay informed about both state and local regulations in order to avoid high penalties or business closure. Our firm offers full-coverage compliance counseling to licensed cannabis businesses. Our team is in regular attendance of local city hall and county government meetings pertaining to commercial cannabis in all areas of California and maintains current knowledge of the ever-changing regulations. We provide counsel in all areas of business compliance for cannabis retailers, distributors, cultivators, and microbusinesses. Our attorneys have a combined 20+ years of experience in the commercial cannabis industry and are active in compliance consulting throughout the state. We are able to provide our clients with expert contractors in building safety code pre-inspection, packaging and labeling compliance, product inventory and storage, advertisement restrictions, etc. We would love to help ensure that your cannabis business is successful and in compliance with all local and state regulations, giving you one less thing to worry about. If you have any questions or would like to speak with our attorneys to further discuss our compliance services, please feel free to reach us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (323-253-9700).
Wednesday, April 17 - The City of Los Angeles Rules, Elections, and Intergovernmental Relations Committee discussed and approved an April 12, 2019 report and proposed ordinance from the LA City Attorney regarding cannabis licensing, with recommendations to make some amendments.
All recommendations were approved and will be redrafted for Council consideration and presented on Tuesday, April 30.
Today’s meeting moves the City closer to the opening of the highly anticipated Phase 3, which is the first chance that will allow the general public to receive dispensary licenses. The City Attorney was directed to make requested changes to the proposed new ordinance, to present for City Council consideration on April 30.
Notable Takeaways from Wednesday’s Meeting
The City of Los Angeles and the DCR have been hard at work in recent months, particularly as they sort through the specifics of Phase 3. While Phases 1 and 2 focused on existing cannabis dispensaries, non-retailers (i.e. growers and manufacturers), and social equity applicants, Phase 3 has been the main attraction for many entrepreneurs and would-be business owners looking to break into the industry.
In an earlier April meeting, the fate of Phase 3 was largely unknown due to funding. The DCR claimed that licensing was on hold as they awaited the Fee Deferral Program, which would allow Phase 3 to commence.
While a date has not been announced for the opening of Phase 3 applications, Wednesday’s meeting shed some light as to the direction the City and DCR are taking to solidify the process.
Among the notable new details that are coming out through these recent meetings and reports are:
● Changes to the Los Angeles Municipal Code establishing a first come, first served application process for retailer commercial cannabis activity licenses, with details regarding what is required for an application to be considered complete
● A proposal to allow applications for retail storefront dispensaries beginning January 1, 2020, in neighborhoods that have already exceeded Undue Concentration caps, with City Council approval
● Modifications to the process for issuing non-storefront retail licenses
● Allowing the Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) to grant Temporary Approval to Phase 3 storefront retail applicants
● Exempting Phase 2 applicants from the Undue Concentration requirements
● Setting deadlines for Phase 2 applicants to finalize their business location (May 15) and obtain Temporary Approval (substantial progress by July 1)
● Revising various requirements to qualify as a Tier 3 Social Equity Applicant and revising various benefits provided to Tier 1 and Tier 2 Social Equity Applicants
● Adding an additional reason to deny a license application — if the City has taken enforcement action against unlicensed cannabis activity at the same address since January 2018
● Clarifying the definition of license ownership relative to management companies
In addition, one of the recommendations to the draft ordinance that was approved on Wednesday was to instruct the DCR to finalize a timeline for all Phase 3 and Type 9 Pilot activities and post the information on the Department’s website. This indicates that an exact date for Phase 3 licensing could be established by April 30, if not sooner.
While Jeff Sessions made his announcement last week that he was repealing the Cole Memo, Los Angeles opened their online portal for recreational cannabis applications. The conflict of law continues, but many operators in Los Angeles just want to know - “when can I get my license!?”
Currently, only cannabis retailers who qualify for Measure M Priority Processing are eligible to apply for licensure. Measure M Priority is limited to those operators who have a Business Tax Registration Certificate (BTRC) from 2015, 2016, or 2017 that is categorized as L050. This group is more expansive than just “Pre-ICOs” and will allow for newer businesses that have not been operating in Los Angeles for over a decade, in fact, you could have even opened a store a little over a year ago and qualify (you can read more in our previous post).
If you qualify for Measure M priority, you are considered an EMMD (existing medical marijuana dispensary) by the City. EMMDs numbers will not count towards the neighborhood caps that will be established for undue concentration or the limit on the number of licenses that will be issued for dispensaries in the City (around 390). They will receive licenses before anyone else in the City of Los Angeles, and will also be able to obtain their state licenses once they receive local authorization from the City.
Los Angeles will be issuing the first temporary licenses for Measure M Priority Dispensaries within the next couple of weeks. The temporary license is free to apply and you will need your BTRC number, a site plan, a lease, and identifying information for the owners of the operation. The Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation has not given guidance as to when the annual license applications will be open for EMMD cannabis retailers in the City.
The next wave of applications will be Phase 2, when the City will be rolling out its Social Equity Program. Many of the details for the program are still being ironed out and we expect to hear more from the LA DCR in the coming weeks.
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.
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 188.8.131.52) 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.