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?
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.
While Jeff Sessions made his announcement last week that he was repealing the Cole Memo, Los Angeles opened their online portal for recreational cannabis applications. The conflict of law continues, but many operators in Los Angeles just want to know - “when can I get my license!?”
Currently, only cannabis retailers who qualify for Measure M Priority Processing are eligible to apply for licensure. Measure M Priority is limited to those operators who have a Business Tax Registration Certificate (BTRC) from 2015, 2016, or 2017 that is categorized as L050. This group is more expansive than just “Pre-ICOs” and will allow for newer businesses that have not been operating in Los Angeles for over a decade, in fact, you could have even opened a store a little over a year ago and qualify (you can read more in our previous post).
If you qualify for Measure M priority, you are considered an EMMD (existing medical marijuana dispensary) by the City. EMMDs numbers will not count towards the neighborhood caps that will be established for undue concentration or the limit on the number of licenses that will be issued for dispensaries in the City (around 390). They will receive licenses before anyone else in the City of Los Angeles, and will also be able to obtain their state licenses once they receive local authorization from the City.
Los Angeles will be issuing the first temporary licenses for Measure M Priority Dispensaries within the next couple of weeks. The temporary license is free to apply and you will need your BTRC number, a site plan, a lease, and identifying information for the owners of the operation. The Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation has not given guidance as to when the annual license applications will be open for EMMD cannabis retailers in the City.
The next wave of applications will be Phase 2, when the City will be rolling out its Social Equity Program. Many of the details for the program are still being ironed out and we expect to hear more from the LA DCR in the coming weeks.
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.