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?


Massachusetts opens recreational cannabis licensing

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on April 5, 2018

 

On April 2nd, the Massachusetts Cannabis Commission opened its licensing application process for cannabis businesses, marking Massachusetts’ official entry into the legal cannabis industry. Despite the relatively strict criteria that applicants must meet in order to qualify for the first round of licensing, the Boston Globe reports that almost 200 prospective cannabis operators have started their applications within the first day of the system’s opening, a definite sign that interest is high.

For the time being, applications are only open for “Priority Applicants,” a group consisting of Registered Marijuana Dispensaries – existing retail businesses which already have a certificate of registration and are in good standing with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health – and Economic Empowerment Applicants. The latter category is analogous to the Social Equity Program in the Oakland and Los Angeles cannabis licensing processes: Granting priority to certain business operators is intended as a restorative measure to benefit communities, demographics, and individuals who have been disproportionately punished by cannabis laws in the past.

According to the Massachusetts regulations on the Adult Use of Marijuana, to qualify as an Economic Empowerment Applicant, a prospective cannabis operator must meet three or more of the following criteria:

  • A majority of ownership belongs to people who have lived for five of the preceding ten years in an area of disproportionate impact, as determined by the Commission;
  • A majority of ownership has held one or more previous positions where the primary population served were disproportionately impacted, or where primary responsibilities included economic education, resource provision or empowerment to disproportionately impacted individuals or communities;
  • At least 51% of current employees or subcontractors reside in areas of disproportionate impact and by the first day of business, the ratio will meet or exceed 75%;
  • At least 51% or employees or subcontractors have drug-related CORI and are otherwise legally employable in cannabis enterprises;
  • A majority of the ownership is made up of individuals from Black, African American, Hispanic or Latino descent;
  • Other significant articulable demonstration of past experience in or business practices that promote economic empowerment in areas of disproportionate impact.

If a cannabis operator is certified as a Priority Applicant, they’ll be eligible to submit a state licensing application for all activities on April 17th. Businesses that don’t receive this priority will have to wait: Open applications for Cultivation, Microbusiness, Craft Cooperatives, Independent Testing Labs, and Lab Agents are scheduled to begin on May 1st, while applications for Retail, Product Manufacturers, and Transport businesses won’t open until June 1st. Given that the state has slated retail sales to begin on July 1st, this means that, if Massachusetts sticks to the current deadlines, applications are likely to be a very competitive, time-sensitive process.

Even if they don’t qualify as priority applicants, prospective cannabis operators should study state and local regulations to ensure that their applications are in order – as Massachusetts is still in the early stages of the cannabis licensing process, many deadlines and regulations are still subject to change. For more information on Massachusetts’ cannabis regulations, follow this blog or contact us at info@margolinlawrence.com.

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.

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.

Cannabis Taxes: What is a Cannabis Resale Certificate?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on February 14, 2018

As recreational “adult-use” cannabis is officially legalized across California, cannabis taxation is more important than ever for legal cannabis operators. Our Los Angeles Cannabis attorneys are often asked about the new state tax system and what is new since January 1, 2018. As of a few months ago, the BOE became the CDTFA. For California, there are three different state-level taxes on cannabis business: the Cultivation Tax, the Cannabis Excise Tax, and the Sales and Use Tax. The new state tax agency has released an educational series to explain the new tax regime. Cannabis manufacturers and distributors need to become familiar with the resale certificate. As its name implies, a resale certificate relates to the Sales and Use tax.

The Sales and Use Tax applies to sales of cannabis or cannabis products (flowers, plants, hash, bud, vape pens, edibles, oils, etc.) to consumers – in other words, the “final sale” of cannabis before the product is used/consumed. However, there are circumstances in the cannabis supply chain where these products are sold to a cannabis business for resale, rather than to a consumer. For instance, if a licensed distributor sells cannabis to a licensed retailer, they’re making a sale, but the purchaser doesn’t intend to use or consume the product themselves. In order to prevent the distributor from being liable for taxation on this type of sale, the retailer can give the distributor a resale certificate. If timely and valid, this certifies that the purchaser intends to resell the product and therefore exempts the distributor from the tax.

Without a resale certificate, both the seller and the purchaser are liable for Sales and Use Tax. In the example above, the distributor would need to pay it for their sale to the retailer, while the retailer would need to pay it for the sale they make to the final consumer. The same goes for other sales of cannabis between licensed cannabis businesses. For instance, when a cultivator sells cannabis flower to a manufacturer, the cultivator is liable for a Sales and Use Tax unless the manufacturer gives them a resale certificate for the purchase.

One important thing for distributors to keep in mind is the distinction between “transport” and “sale”. If one licensed cannabis business purchases cannabis products directly from another, e.g. a retailer buying flowers from a cultivator, the distributor who is contracted to transport the products from the cultivator’s operation to the retailer’s isn’t making a sale, and therefore doesn’t need to pay a Sales and Use Tax, regardless of whether they’re given a resale certificate.

Even if all their business’ sales are for resale and exempt from Sales and Use Tax, all cannabis operators are still responsible for filing a tax return and reporting their activities to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. Remember, a resale certificate only applies to the Sales and Use Tax, not the Cultivation or Excise taxes.

How Do I Find a Compliant Cannabis Property in Los Angeles?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on January 25, 2018

As cannabis entrepreneurs and investors learn about the legal requirements to operate a compliant cannabis business, the next question many arrive at is - so how do I find a compliant property?

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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Do I Need A Cannabis Lawyer To Advise My Business?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on August 3, 2017

As California gears up for the full legalization of adult-use commercial cannabis, entrepreneurs across the state are considering breaking into the marijuana industry. However, the entry costs for marijuana businesses can be high, and the exact legal requirements for starting an operation are often confusing. Given this background, a would-be cannabis enterpreneur might wonder: is it worth it for a new marijuana business to hire an attorney?

On this subject, it's fair to take a cannabis law firm's comments with a grain of salt – a little like asking a barber whether you need a haircut. That said, as lawyers with years of experience providing legal support to california's top cannabis businesses, we're familiar with the legal demands of the cannabis industry in California. Given this inside perspective, we will advise you that the state and local laws which marijuana businesses must adhere to are extremely complex and intertwined, with harsh consequences possible for even relatively minor violations. In this context, our view is that it's a dangerous gamble to try to maintain a business in the cannabis industry without a cannabis attorney. 

Of course, we can’t advise anyone to enter the industry in the first place – according to federal law, possessing, using, or selling marijuana in any capacity is still entirely illegal. The only thing protecting California marijuana consumers and businesses from federal prosecution is the Department of Justice's decision to allow “state and local authorizes [sic] to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws.” While this federal deference to state law has been the norm since 2013, there's no guarantee that this won't change in the near future, especially given that Trump administration appointees like Attorney General Jeff Sessions have announced their intent to crack down on marijuana use. To avoid federal prosecution, then, it's crucial to stay within the bounds of state and local law. However, in a state as large as California, this is easier said than done.

While California currently affords limited immunity from prosecution to certain marijuana businesses, many cities and counties don't, which means that even a business which follows state law to the letter could be operating in a manner that violated local regulations. Our Los Angeles cannabis lawyers have advised hundreds of businesses who ran into issues with Prop D and have defended their rights since even before that regulation was passed. With the new cannabis regulations being introduced into the City of LA, it is important to speak to a los angeles cannabis attorney who is familiar with the regulations and can advise you on how to set up your business for success. (For more on these changes, see our recent blog posts on LA marijuana licensing.)

Retaining a cannabis lawyer provides a degree of access and ease in interpretation of these regulations that a private citizen doesn't have. Though it's easy to find information online, but the amount of outdated, contradictory, misleading, or outright false advice on marijuana business on the internet is nothing short of overwhelming.

For these reasons, it's worth considering hiring a california cannabis attorney for your business. Not only does having legal counsel help you stay within the law, it helps offset the financial risk inherent to any new business by ensuring that your organization's paperwork and cannabis licensing applications are in order. For more information or to arrange a consultation with one of our los angeles cannabis lawyers, check our brief overview of 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.