Federal Cannabis Update: 2018 Spending Bill Keeps Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 27, 2018

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.

Cannabis CBD v. THC

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 22, 2018

The cannabis plant contains over 480 elements. Two of them being THC and CBD. Both are ubiquitous in modern day cannabis products, with different benefits and side-effects to each.

LA City Council Update: New Cannabis Rules in Development

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 6, 2018

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:

  • Item #22: Prop D Dispensaries, MMD's, AUMA
  • Item #23: MAUCRSA, Prop D, Land Use, Preparation of Ordinance, AUMA
  • Item #24: New hires at the DCR, Cannabis Business Fees, Interim Position Authority
  • Item #25: Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act / State-Chartered Bank / Cannabis Banking Activities

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 info@margolinlawrence.com to speak with one of our Los Angeles cannabis lawyers.

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Ask a Cannabis Lawyer: What Is The Legal Status of CBD? (Part 1 of our CBD Series)

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on September 6, 2017

Our marijuana lawyers are frequently being asked about one particular cannabis derivative: cannabidiol, also known as CBD. The popularity of cannabidiol as used in CBD-only products, which do not contain THC and are non-intoxicating by design, has surged in recent years in the wellness community. In Los Angeles, CBD products aren't just found at dispensaries, but can be bought over the counter at health shops and even a few high-end grocery stores. Given this wide acceptance, our clients often ask: “Do I need a license to sell CBD?” The answer may surprise you.

CBD can be derived from hemp as well as cannabis plants. It is a common misconception that because hemp is non-psychoactive, its derivatives are therefore non-regulated, or that because CBD isn't an intoxicant, its sale isn't subject to existing marijuana laws. In fact, both of these assumptions are wrong: Hemp and CBD are regulated by federal, state, and local law (though few local jurisdictions are currently regulating hemp). In California, the SB-94 bill does not cover hemp; instead, it's regulated by the Food and Agriculture Code, which defers to federal law under the 2014 Farm Bill. For now, the Farm Bill only allows for the cultivation of hemp for research, and also requires registration with the state.

Under federal law, the DEA has issued multiple statements to clarify that, as a cannabis derivative, CBD qualifies as a Schedule I controlled substance, the same as cannabis itself. However, this doesn't mean that CBD is without advocates beyond the state level: the FDA has determined that CBD has beneficial effects, and the World Health Organization is also evaluating the potential health benefits of CBD. You can play a role in shaping CBD policy by participating in the FDA and World Health Organization’s request for comment on CBD by September 13, 2017.

This request was made in the hopes of gaining information on the “abuse liability and diversion” of a number of drugs – in other words, how easy it is for the use of these substances to become dangerous. The official notice listed 17 drugs, with a breakdown of their specific effects and uses. Of those substances, only CBD was deemed by the FDA to have positive qualities. The WHO’s judgment about the potential benefits of this marijuana derivative, informed by the FDA's text and submitted comments, will inform the organization’s recommendations about whether CBD should have international restrictions placed on its use.

In its own way, though, the FDA’s statement may inform drug policy and cannabis law here in America. Stay tuned for part 2 of our Regulating CBD series next week.

How Can I Advertise My Cannabis Business?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on August 24, 2017

One of the most frequent questions our cannabis lawyers get from savvy business owners is: How can I legally market my cannabis products? As with many branches of marijuana law, cannabis business advertising regulations are complex because they fall under an overlapping set of legal regimes, some of which are in conflict with each other. When considering advertising cannabis four bodies of law apply: Federal, State, Local, and Internet TOS (the terms of service and operating contracts that govern your relationships with digital advertising hosts). Cannabis marketers must navigate all four sets of regulations here.

Federal Law places an absolute ban on cannabis advertising under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The Act stipulates: “It shall be unlawful for any person to place in any newspaper, magazine, handbill, or other publications, any written advertisement knowing that it has the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy, or distribute a Schedule 1 controlled substance.” Further, “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally use the Internet, or cause the Internet to be used, to advertise the sale of, or to offer to sell, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance where such sale, distribution, or dispensing is not authorized by this subchapter or by the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act.” In other words, as far as federal law is concerned, there's no such thing as a legal marijuana advertisement.

California has recently placed regulations on marketing under the MAUCRSA (aka SB-94). This means that, if the regulations are followed, an advertisement can be in compliance with California law. Among its requirements are that advertisements must identify the license number of the advertiser, must not be targeted at individuals younger than 21, and must not contain false or misleading information about the products advertised. While these standards are relatively straightforward, figuring out how to advertise within the existing marijuana laws can be tricky even for California-based businesses. Local laws may differ from the state regulations, and a host of pending legislation like AB-175 (Marijuana: county of origin: marketing and advertising) and AB-76 (Adult-use marijuana: marketing) may change the state’s standards even further.

On top of that, the terms of service of online sites which host advertisements, such as Google and Facebook, often ban any mention of marijuana, on the basis that federal law still forbids it – since, of course, any online advertisement can be seen outside of California. This rapidly evolving area of law will be discussed at the State of Marijuana Conference this weekend in downtown Los Angeles, where attorney Allison Margolin will be leading a panel on Next-Gen Cannabusiness Marketing. For more information, check our guide to California cannabis business law or contact us at info@margolinlawrence.com to speak with one of our Los Angeles cannabis lawyers.

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Palm Springs Opens Cannabis Business Applications

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on August 10, 2017

As of this Monday, the resort community of Palm Springs, California has begun accepting permit applications for a full range of adult-use cannabis businesses. Like several other cities in the Inland Empire and Coachella Valley, Palm Springs already allows for marijuana cultivation and medical marijuana dispensaries. However, the city’s new regulations go a step further toward opening the region up to the full range of the California cannabis industry. In particular, the sections of City Ordinance 1933 which deal with adult-use cannabis suggest that Palm Springs plans on alleviating its restrictions on the type and number of marijuana businesses permitted to operate. This has the potential to significantly expand the region’s marijuana industry.

Until the passage of this ordinance, Palm Springs had firm restrictions on the distribution sector of the cannabis industry: the previous regulations only allowed medical cannabis collectives to operate dispensaries, and, of these collectives, only allowed a maximum of six operations to hold permits at any one time. Though it isn’t clear how many businesses will be granted permits to distribute adult-use cannabis in the future, the new ordinance notably doesn’t include an analogous restriction on the maximum allowable number of adult-use distribution permits, which may indicate that the city won’t extend these limits in its future approach to cannabis licensing.

The other major change introduced in the ordinance is the expansion of licensing to the other sectors of the marijuana industry, as described in our blog post on California's types of cannabis licenses. While marijuana permits were previously limited to distribution and cultivation, the new regulations allow for licenses in manufacturing, testing, and transportation to be granted for both medicinal and adult-use cannabis. This change would allow for the entire cannabis industry to be represented in Palm Springs – not only growing marijuana plants and the sale of the finished product, but also all the steps in between.

Of course, as is often the case in California marijuana law, none of the changes described in the ordinance will take place in the imminent future. The city will have to pass a ballot measure this November establishing the taxation regulations for cannabis businesses before any of these licenses are actually given out, and no adult-use cannabis licenses will go into effect before 2018. Still, these new regulations suggest that Palm Springs is taking an active role in embracing the ongoing process of marijuana legalization.

LA Cannabis Licensing & Social Equity

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on June 29, 2017

As explained in our previous blog post, “compliance” will be a major factor in the distribution of marijuana licenses in Los Angeles – and cannabis lawyers around the city are fielding a number of questions about what, exactly, LA’s priority licensing process will entail.

The draft regulations the City has released extend a certain amount of privilege to existing marijuana sellers when it comes to licensing. Businesses and dispensaries that have operated “in substantial compliance” with prior iterations of marijuana law will be given priority, allowing them to continue operating while their license approvals are pending. Clearly, this confers a major business advantage, which has raised concerns about whether a compliance-based approach to awarding priority is equitable.

Disqualifying potential cannabis business owners for past violations, but opening the door to “compliant” newcomers, threatens to reinforce inequality. As Drug Policy Alliance policy director Cat Packer, slated to head the City of LA’s Cannabis Commission, explained in an interview with Merry Jane, “The impact of marijuana prohibition and the drug wars was heaviest in black and brown latino communities. If you say people with prior arrests and convictions can’t participate, it automatically has a disproportionate effect on communities that were punished by the War on Drugs.” In other words, privileging “compliance” could compound the negative effects of marijuana prohibition, blocking communities which have historically been more likely to be punished for cannabis use from gaining access to the benefits of the new, legal marijuana industry. As attorneys who have practiced in cannabis law for many years, we have seen the damage prohibition has done to these communities, and are fully supportive of a restorative approach to justice through the licensing process.

The LA City Council recently moved to create a Social Equity Program for marijuana licensing, intending to serve “those individuals and communities that were disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition.” This follows in the path of a similar program in Oakland, which reserved half of new dispensary permits for residents who lived in certain neighborhoods, had below-average annual incomes, or had previously faced cannabis convictions. Given how much larger Los Angeles' marijuana industry is than Oakland's, however, the mechanics of the LA program may need to be worked out, and it may not be able to mirror the Oakland model in every way.

Whatever the exact parameters of LA's Social Equity Program end up being, (and however they'll be affected by recent changes to state and city licensing regulations,) the priority-based system will continue to play a major role in deciding which marijuana businesses are allowed to operate. At present, the city plans to reserve a special round of applications for organizations that fit a profile similar to the requirements Oakland used. For more on priority and marijuana laws to the new state law (MAUCRSA), check our previous blog posts or guide to Prop 64, or email us at info@margolinlawrence.com.

 

Which Marijuana Dispensaries Will Los Angeles Allow?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on June 20, 2017

Los Angeles is moving ahead with regulating marijuana, a shift that will bring many businesses out of the gray and black and into compliance with municipal and state law. As cannabis lawyers who have been practicing throughout the implementation of various California marijuana regulatory regimes, we could not be happier to see these changes coming to fruition. The city will go from granting limited prosecutorial immunity to a short list of dispensary operators, as it did under 2013’s Prop D, to fully regulating a host of medical cannabis businesses with the implementation of 2017’s Measure M. This post will give you an overview of the Draft Regulations released by City Council President Herb Wesson’s office in June 2017, and will answer the question of how the city will treat existing cannabis businesses.

The regulations treat dispensaries differently from cultivators and manufacturers, and lay out different requirements for priority processing for each. Measure M will give priority to existing medical marijuana dispensaries (EMMDs) that have a 2016 or 2017 Business Tax Registration Certificate, are operating in compliance with current zoning law, and have been in “substantial compliance” with the city’s 2013 regulations. Those regulations, as laid out in Proposition D, require 1000-foot distancing from sensitive use areas, restrict operating hours to between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., and introduce a host of other factors for compliance. “Substantial compliance” has not yet been defined by the city. Note that it is expected the City of LA will put a cap on the number of dispensary licenses granted. This number is not established in the draft regulations, but will likely be decided upon in the next 50 days, through discussions with Angelenos in the public comment period.

For existing medical marijuana businesses (EMMBs) which are not dispensaries (i.e. cultivators and manufacturers), the rules are similar. If an EMMB is located within the correct zoning, hasn't violated earlier regulations, and has been operating from a consistent location since January 1, 2016 or earlier, they qualify as “compliant.”

If an existing cannabis business that meets the above requirements applies for a license within 30 days of the applications opening, it'll have a chance to receive a compliance certification – which not only puts them in the first round of applications, but also allows their business to continue operating while its license is being processed. Any organization which isn't an EMMD or EMMB must wait until after they're licensed to begin operating.

The second round after “priority processing” will be the Social Equity round, which we will discuss in our next post. For more information about marijuana licensing, consult our blog post on Gov. Jerry Brown's recent changes to licensing restrictions, our guide to California marijuana laws, or email us at info@margolinlawrence.com.

How Many Cannabis Licenses Can I Have In California?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on June 6, 2017

Update: The MAUCRSA, which passed June 22, repealed the provisions of the MCRSA that placed restrictions on vertical integration. As of June 30, the state has confirmed in §26053(c) of the California Business and Professions Code that a business may hold more than one license. However, it's still unclear whether there will be a limit on the total number of licenses allowed.

As many of you are well aware, California is in the process of implementing two parallel regulatory regimes that will govern cannabis production, distribution, and sales: the MCRSA, which pertains to medical marijuana, and the AUMA (a.k.a. Prop 64), which pertains to “adult use” or recreational marijuana. Originally, the MCRSA and AUMA had very different treatments of how many activities a business could be licensed for. The MCRSA favored small producers by placing restrictions on the combinations of licenses a single business could hold. The AUMA, on the other hand, allowed for total vertical integration, so one license holder could be licensed for almost the full supply chain of activities.

In California, marijuana licenses are divided into six activities, covering the entire industry: Cultivation, Manufacturing, Testing, Dispensary, Distribution, and Transportation. To ensure that testing facilities remain disinterested, both the MCRSA and the AUMA don't allow a business with a Testing license to hold a license in any other category. On top of that, the MCRSA places a similar restriction on businesses with a Distribution license, and prevents any business from holding licenses in more than two categories. The AUMA forgoes these additional restrictions, making it much more lenient on licensing.

To reduce the confusion caused by the differences between the two acts, a draft trailer bill released on April 3, 2017 by Gov. Jerry Brown’s office proposes that the AUMA's licensing structure be used for both recreational and medical marijuana. Under this proposal, the MCRSA’s restrictions on which types of licenses one licensee can hold would be loosened, potentially allowing for vertical integration not only under the AUMA but also under the MCRSA. However, opinions are divided on whether this change would help or harm California's marijuana businesses.

Under the AUMA's licensing structure, a single business could operate in almost every section of the cannabis supply chain. The MCRSA's licensing structure was explicitly designed to prevent this kind of vertical integration, out of concern that lighter restrictions would allow large corporate interests to dominate the industry. However, the draft bill argues that, since the AUMA includes other anti-monopoly measures, small independent businesses would also benefit from access to vertical integration. Whatever the outcome, this change in licensing structure would present a major turning point for California's marijuana regulations.

Under California’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA), regulatory bureaus must present draft regulations and receive comments on those regulations from the public (a requirement called Notice & Comment). The California APA allows the public to participate in the adoption of state regulations in order to ensure that the regulations are clear, necessary, and legally valid. The MCRSA is no exception, and you have a few more days to make your voice heard. If you have an opinion about Vertical Integration, you can email California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation at bmcr.comments@dca.ca.gov.  For more information on the AUMA and Prop 64, consult our guide to California's marijuana laws or email us at info@margolinlawrence.com.

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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.