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.

New York State Releases Report on Recreational Cannabis

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on July 13, 2018

With a recent study, the state of New York signaled receptiveness to the possibility of legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Specifically, the report, commissioned by Governor Cuomo, recommends that adults be allowed to legally consume marijuana. While the study has yet to be finalized by the New York State Department of Health, its announcement indicates that New York is planning to embrace the marijuana industry to the same extent that states like California and Colorado have, switching from a relatively restrictive medical-only marijuana program to a system which legalizes the recreational use of cannabis. Given the size and influence of New York State’s population and economy, this shift would have major implications for the status of cannabis in the nation at large.

Currently, New York State’s regulations only allow marijuana to be legally used for medical purposes. Additionally, only 10 companies are licensed to operate as medical marijuana suppliers, a restriction with the potential to greatly limit patients’ access to marijuana and drive prices up. Further, patients aren’t even allowed to smoke marijuana – as of December 2017, the drug can only be legally taken in the form of cannabis extracts like oils, tinctures, and chewable tablets. According to the New York Times, these restrictions were initially put in place by Cuomo, out of concern that marijuana would become a “gateway” drug leading to use of other illicit substances. Therefore, this study, with its conclusion that marijuana (even when smoked) is not harmful for adult recreational use, indicates a major pivot on the governor’s part when it comes to legalization.

This shift may be due to the upcoming election for the governorship, where Cuomo’s most prominent challenger, Cynthia Nixon, has made marijuana legalization a central campaign issue. Nixon has positioned herself as even more pro-legalization than Cuomo, calling for a fully regulated and taxed recreational marijuana industry in New York as well as a statewide program to expunge past marijuana convictions. Therefore, whichever candidate wins the governorship, it seems likely that New York State will continue to liberalize its cannabis regulations. Together with New York City moving to limit marijuana arrests, this indicates that, while New York may not have a full recreational cannabis industry for some time, the region’s political climate has shifted significantly against the restrictive laws which are currently in place.

The History of Cannabis by Margolin & Lawrence

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on April 20, 2018

Cannabis Compliance: Operating Legally in California in 2018

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on April 10, 2018

California’s transition into a regulated market has many operators wondering what the universe of compliance looks like and where they fit into the process. In order to operate legally in California after January 1, 2018, you need both a local authorization and a state license. Temporary licenses from the state of California are sufficient to continue operating, though you will eventually need to obtain an Annual License. To date, 954 cannabis businesses in California have received Cease and Desist letters from the Bureau of Cannabis Control. While some were in error, others were operating without the required licenses for California.

It’s important to understand that licensure is not the end-all-be-all of compliance -- in fact, it is the minimum requirement for your business to operate legally. In addition to having a state license (which requires local authorization), you will need to begin thinking about how to set up your business with compliance processes that facilitate and enable adherence to state regulations for your activities: cannabis microbusiness, retail, manufacturing, cultivation or testing. The below infographic is an overview of the entire licensing/compliance process.


Where does your business fit in?


Culver city status update

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on April 4, 2018

Only a week is left until Culver City starts accepting applications for cannabis business
permits - except storefront retail, which is scheduled to open by May. With delays in the City of LA's application process, the City's original slogan,"All Roads Lead to Culver City" is beginning to ring true for many cannabis businesses. 

Current Status of San Francisco City Cannabis Licensing

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 29, 2018

The City of San Francisco began its process of licensing retailers to sell adult-use cannabis on January 6, 2018. Any MCD (Medical Cannabis Dispensary) businesses that conducted delivery, cultivation, manufacturing, testing, or any other cannabis activity were required to register the activity with the Office of Cannabis between September 26, 2017 and November 30, 2017. Those that registered were then required to get their temporary permit(s) from the City. To continue each of these activities in 2018, temporary licensing must be obtained from the State. Any applicant who did not register as an existing business before November 30, 2017, must apply for a permit as a new cannabis business. The Transition Provisionof City Ordinance 230-17 declares that existing MCD applicants temporarily permitted to sell cannabis starting January 1, 2018 cannot cultivate cannabis without new licensing as of April 1, 2018.

Beginning in 2018, all applicants must apply to the Equity Program (see eligibility requirements) either as individuals or incubators before applying for cannabis licensing. Since San Francisco was consistently targeted by the War on Drugs, the City is determined to make amends through this initiative, and compliance is mandatory for all cannabis businesses.

All new businesses require a license from the San Francisco Office of Cannabis and the State of California in order to sell cannabis in San Francisco. To be eligible for a temporary permit in the City of San Francisco, applicants must comply with the Citys zoning codes. These can be found on the SF City Planning website - check out the zoning for cannabis retail businesses. The Land Use Regulations for the City are have also been outlined in a table by the San Francisco Office of Cannabis, which provides useful zoning requirements for all retail and non-retail cannabis businesses (including cultivation, manufacturing and distribution). Mobile cannabis dispensaries will not be permitted in San Francisco.

At this time all cannabis licensing is temporary, subject to review by each municipal zones governing body and the State before permanent licensing can be applied for through the Office of Cannabis. According to Section 1605 of Article 16 in San Francisco Citys Ordinance 230-17 Amending the Administrative, Business and Tax Regulations, Health, and Police Codes,all cannabis businesses awarded a temporary license must apply for permanent licensing within 30 days of the date when the Office of Cannabis makes such permits available. Once permanent licensing becomes available, temporary licensing will no longer be offered to new businesses.

In summary, whether you are looking to start a business in cultivation, manufacturing, retail, distribution, a combination of the above (microbusiness), or testing, you will need to obtain temporary licensing from the City of San Franciscos Office of Cannabis. The window for existing MCDs to register with the City has passed, but these businesses can still apply for new licensing along with all other new cannabis business applicants. The Office of Cannabis in San Francisco has not yet announced when permanent licensing will become available to businesses awarded temporary licenses by both the City and the State. More information about the application process and requirements can be found on the San Francisco Office of Cannabis website.

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.

Will California Lower the Cannabis Tax Rates?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on March 23, 2018

Legalization has been a bumpy road for California cannabis operators, and since January 1, owners are learning that it also comes at a price. The state’s steep taxes on cannabis businesses – with effective tax rates as high as 57% for some cannabis activities – have many operators bracing, and calling for a reduction in these so-called sin taxes. Consumers are also encountering price increases -- prices are up about 15% compared to last year.

California Redefines Volatile Manufacturing

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on December 1, 2017

Our Los Angeles cannabis attorneys are often faced with questions about which substances count as "volatile solvents" when it comes to cannabis manufacturing. The state has added clarity in the new regulations released on November 17th, which define the solvents for volatile and nonvolatile manufacturing of cannabis extract. You can read the full set of regulations here: regulations on Manufactured Cannabis Safety.

The distinction between “volatile” and “nonvolatile” is relevant to the process of cannabis manufacturing because there are different license types for each type, and some jurisdictions allow one but not the other. Additionally, the zoning and sensitive-use requirements can be different for the two types of cannabis manufacturing.

Cannabis-infused products like marijuana edibles, tinctures, and oils comprise a large part of the legal cannabis industry’s sales, and are only increasing in popularity. A key ingredient of these products is cannabis extract – the pure, often high-THC-content cannabis distillate that can be combined with other products to create goods ranging from weed brownies to CBD bath soaps. To create this distillate, it’s necessary to use chemical solvents to extract the active ingredients from whole marijuana flowers. However, these solvents are often flammable, pressurized chemicals like butane, which, if used improperly during the extraction process, can be dangerous.

To limit potential dangers, California split the activity of cannabis manufacturing into two different categories, distinguished by whether or not they used “volatile solvents,” and placed differing restrictions on the two categories, with additional precautions required for manufacturing operations that used volatile solvents.  In June 2017’s Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, a “volatile solvent” was defined as a solvent that “is or produces a flammable gas or vapor that, when present in the air in sufficient quantities, will create explosive or ignitable mixtures.”

Cannabis manufacturers who use non-volatile solvents or no solvents at all (e.g. operations that only packaged or labeled goods, or that created cannabis-infused products using distillate purchased from a third party) are treated as “Level 1 Manufacturers,” while manufacturers who dealt with volatile solvents are “Level 2 Manufacturers.” To qualify for a Level 2 Manufacturer operating license, businesses would have to meet a much more strict set of criteria than the Level 1 Manufacturers would.

Since two of the most popular solvents used in the cannabis extraction process – butane and ethanol – counted as volatile solvents by this standard, and relatively few municipalities in California allow for Level 2 cannabis extraction, many were concerned that these regulations would make it too difficult for new small-scale extraction operations to get their businesses up and running. Additionally, some cannabis manufacturers argued that ethanol, a substance that’s food-safe, safe to handle, and is only ignitable as vapor in extremely high concentrations, shouldn’t be treated as “volatile” for the sake of cannabis manufacturing. By responding to these concerns and downgrading ethanol from “volatile” to “nonvolatile,” the Department of Public Health has taken an important step toward making cannabis extraction more accessible to California marijuana businesses.

Locally, the City of Los Angeles will be issuing cannabis licenses for both volatile and non-volatile cannabis manufacturing. Stay tuned for updates for updates, and contact us at info@margolinlawrence.com to speak with one of our LA Cannabis attorneys about the latest on Measure M.

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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.