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.

Approval of Cannabis Epilepsy Medicine is Sign of Growing Acceptance

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on August 17, 2018

This editorial, by Allison Margolin and Raza Lawrence, also appears in the July 25th, 2018 edition of The Daily Journal.

On June 25, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was approving Epidiolex, a cannabidiol (CBD) oral solution for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. This is the first drug approved by the FDA comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana.

The approval is a sign of the growing acceptance of CBD, and cannabis generally, to treat various medical ailments. THC, not CBD, is the primary psychoactive (intoxicating) component of marijuana. But CBD is believed to have its own distinct health benefits for conditions ranging from anxiety to cancer, and has recently exploded in  popularity. CBD-based products seem to be everywhere, including Walmart, although the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this year that CBD is properly banned as a controlled substance under federal law, and the FDA warned in its recent press release that it will continue to crack down on “illegal marketing of CBD-containing products with serious, unproven medical claims.”

California’s health department also recently made clear that state law forbids adding CBD products (whether from cannabis or industrial hemp) to any food. Regardless, the FDA’s ruling could open up CBD and cannabis generally to broader acceptance in government and society.

The FDA’s approval contradicts the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, the same as heroin, which is defined as one with a high potential for abuse and no medical value. The FDA specifically found, as part of its approval of Epidiolex, that CBD has medical benefits that have been supported by rigorous scientific research and clinical studies. Litigants could use the FDA approval to challenge marijuana’s Schedule 1 status in court. Or, reading the tea leaves, the government could re-classify or de-classify marijuana on its own. Under the law, Congress, the president, and the heads of the
Drug Enforcement Administration and FDA would each have the power to remove marijuana from Schedule 1.

What happens next if cannabis is removed from Schedule 1? There are different possible paths. Under one scenario, feared by many in the cannabis industry, cannabis would become regulated by the FDA as a Schedule 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5) controlled substance. Complying with FDA regulations can be extremely expensive and time-consuming, which is why drug companies are all large corporations rather than “mom and pop” operations. The estimated cost of bringing a new prescription drug to market is $2.6 billion.

In California, the cannabis industry has operated for years under an informal system of non-profit “collectives,” with only vague legal guidelines and no regulation. This year, the state is transitioning to a new system of state and local licensing and regulations. California cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are already struggling to comply with the new high taxes and complicated regulations imposed by California. If the FDA were to take over the regulation and licensing, the costs of compliance would likely be much higher, and only those with the deepest pockets would have the resources required to produce and sell cannabis. The costs of compliance would inevitably be passed on to consumers, who would face sky-high cannabis prices similar to those of prescription drugs.

Federal control and regulation of cannabis, however, is not inevitable. Many would prefer the approach taken by proposed federal legislation that removes federal penalties and allows each state to sets its own marijuana policy within its borders, similar to how alcohol is now treated. Under this approach, the FDA would not regulate cannabis like a prescription drug, but could still prevent misleading health claims or misrepresentations on labels, and enforce basic quality standards, as it does for dietary supplements.

Unlike synthetic drugs derived for billions of dollars in corporate labs, cannabis is just a plant. It is not toxic or physically addictive. People who use it for medical purposes can safely and effectively determine and adjust their own doses. States could set reasonable restrictions and regulations on commercial
cannabis as they do with alcohol, but would not need to subject it to the intense scrutiny of prescription drugs.

The approval of Epidiolex is promising to the extent it increases awareness and legitimacy of cannabis as medicine. But it also raises the concerning possibility that all cannabis may soon be regulated like prescription drugs, and controlled by large corporations, rather than by the people and small businesses who grew the industry up from the ground.

Applying for a Commercial Cannabis License: State vs. Local

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on August 13, 2018

Since the Department of Cannabis Regulation opened up Phase II licensing in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, questions have been flooding in regarding the differences between state and local licensing. While the requirements set forth in local ordinances usually reflect the laws set forth by state agencies, there are some distinctions in terms of what is required for the purposes of applying for business licensing.

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.

 

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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.