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.
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.
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.
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.
Through the Social Equity Program, Drug War Victims Will Help Build LA’s Green Economy
As of July 2nd, here is the latest news on Phase 2 of cannabis licensing for the City of LA:
- Phase 2 will open August 1st and will be open for 30 business days. This phase is for existing cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, and distributors who were operating in the City of LA before 2016 and were suppliers to an EMMD (a pre-ICO medical marijuana collective in compliance with Proposition D) before 2017.
- Detailed instructions for Phase 2 applications will be released on July 18th, and the full Phase 2 application will be released on August 1st.
- Proof of participation in social equity program, and passing a pre-licensing inspection, will not be required for the provisional approval for Phase 2.
- The City will create a process where Phase 2 delinquent taxpayers can pay their taxes for past years at the same time as they are applying for licensing.
Among the other recent changes to the LA ordinance that take effect today and July 23rd:
- Both Tier 1 and Tier 2 social equity applicants will now receive priority processing for new retail applications on a 2:1 ratio with all non-social equity applicants (i.e., 2 out of 3 new retail licenses will go to Tier 1 and Tier 2 social equity applicants). Previously, only Tier 1 social equity applicants received this priority for new retail licenses.
- Eligibility for Tier 1 of the Social Equity Program is expanded to include applicants with a prior California cannabis arrest, but not a conviction. Previously, the ordinance appeared to require a conviction. The new definition makes anyone eligible for Tier 1 Social Equity who is both low income and has “an arrest or conviction in California for any crime under the laws of the State of California or the United States relating to the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of Cannabis that occurred prior to November 8, 2016” (excluding arrests or convictions for violating Proposition D).
- Social equity program “incubators,” which will include everyone applying in Phase 2 who is not a Tier 1 or Tier 2 social equity applicant, will now be given the option to pay into a fund instead of providing 10% of their space to a social equity partner.
Today the Los Angeles City Council held a special meeting, where a passionate and energized public audience made it clear that they want to see the tax revenue collected from the commercial cannabis industry to be reinvested into social equity programs. The specific tax revenues being discussed were the proposed “Cannabis Reinvestment Act,” as well as a provision that would increase tax rates once the cannabis industry within LA reaches an aggregate of $1.5 Billion in total gross receipts.
After numerous iterations, the final regulations officially went into effect on June 6, 2018 and are set to expire on December 4, 2018. These amended emergency regulations were initially released to the public on May 18, and then filed with the Office of Administrative Law on May 25, 2018. The state’s regulatory agencies proposed changes to certain provisions in order to provide greater clarity to licensees and address issues that have arisen since the emergency regulations went into effect. The re-adoption of the emergency regulations have extended the effective period for an additional 180 days. After the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) posted the proposed emergency regulations on their website, there was a five-day public comment period on the finding of emergency.
Margolin & Lawrence will be holding a FREE Social Equity Clinic this Thursday, May 21, 2018 from 10AM to 5PM at our Beverly Hills office. If you think you are an eligible Social Equity Applicant and would like to come in to verify your eligibility for the program, please bring any or all that apply above.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One day only.