Know Your Rights: Understanding State Hemp Regulations
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Originally, Senate Bill (SB) 1459 was written to allow the county agricultural commissioners (CACs) to include cannabis among reports about the condition, acreage, production, and value of the county’s agricultural products as submitted to the Secretary of Food and Agriculture. The bill was first introduced in the California State Senate on February 16th, 2018, by Senator Cannella (coauthored by Senators Galgiani and McGuire, Assembly Members Caballero and Wood). The impetus for suggesting that CACs report cannabis as an agricultural product was based on the National Agricultural Statistics Services assessment that “providing crop statistics is basically a way to stabilize the agricultural marketplace." Such action would ultimately facilitate the integration of cannabis cultivation into the marketplace, and moreover encourage unlicensed growers to legitimize their businesses. After passing the Assembly Appropriations Committee 13-4 on August 8th, SB 1459 then received a majority vote upon a third reading on the Senate floor.
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.
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 Provision” of 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 City’s 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 zone’s 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 City’s 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 Francisco’s 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.
The state of California has officially begun to grant temporary licenses for cannabis distribution, pending applications and processing of full state licenses. Temporary licenses are “a conditional license that allows a business to engage in commercial cannabis activity for a period of 120 days.” They can only be granted to businesses which have already received their local licenses, and are intended to allow locally-licensed businesses to operate while waiting for their full state license to be reviewed.
When it comes to record-keeping, in particular, the requirements of temporarily-licensed cannabis distributors are different from those of annually-licensed ones. The reason for this difference is that the track-and-trace system which California will use to record the movements of cannabis products has yet to be fully implemented. While annual license holders will be required to use this system, based on the Franwell METRC software, to keep track of their inventory, CalCannabis states that temporary license holders must manually document their sales using “paper sales invoices or shipping manifests”.
For the temporary distribution licensee, then, keeping in compliance with state regulations is not only about following the operating requirements, but also about keeping track of a relatively complicated set of information for the sake of record-keeping. Distributors need:
If a distributor plans on reselling cannabis rather than just distributing it, they’ll need to make sure their seller’s permit is in order as well. For more information on resale certificates, check our recent post on the subject.
While all this paperwork may seem daunting at first, a licensed distribution operation should be more than qualified to handle it – and, once the California METRC system is implemented, keeping records of sales and inventory should be streamlined considerably.
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.
As the January 1 deadline for legalization approaches and Los Angeles prepares to open applications for cannabis businesses, the question on cannabis entrepreneurs’ minds is: How many cannabis microbusinesses will LA allow, and where will they be?
California classifies type 12 cannabis activity, or “microbusiness,” as an operation which engages in at least three different cannabis activities between cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and retail sales. Since microbusinesses are, by definition, small-scale and permitted to engage in multiple different kinds of cannabis business, many see a microbusiness license as the best entry point to the marijuana industry for local entrepreneurs and small business operations. However, LA’s particular location restrictions may make getting one easier said than done.
Earlier this month, the City Council released the city’s proposed restrictions on commercial cannabis activity. For each neighborhood, there will be an upper limit on the number of licenses granted, so that no more than a certain amount of licenses will be given out for each type of business. For instance, Hollywood plans to give out a total of 20 licenses for marijuana retail businesses. However, when it comes to microbusiness, many neighborhoods’ upper limits are very small – for instance, Venice will only give out 5 licenses. Additionally, microbusinesses engaging in on-site retail or cultivation will count toward the total numbers for retail and cultivation.
What all this means is that the cannabis licensing process will be particularly competitive for microbusinesses, since, in many neighborhoods, a large number of applicants will be competing for a small number of slots. While it will still be possible for a small business owner to break into the Los Angeles marijuana industry, any aspiring microbusiness operators should get their applications in order as soon as possible.