Don't panic. Although the first application cycle for cannabis retail licensing in the City of Los Angeles closed this morning, the real fun is only beginning. After today, the City’s Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) will begin to process and review applications submitted in Round 1. Over 800 applications were submitted in the first round, but only 100 applicants will be issued a license through this electronic process. Applicants who are unable to obtain a license in Round 1 of Phase 3 will be eligible to apply for one of the 150 licenses to be issued in Round 2, although it is anticipated that the final round will yield an even larger applicant turnout. However, applicants can apply for a license in an area of undue concentration, and there is no limit on the number of licenses that can be issued through the undue concentration process. Under Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) SEC. 104.20 (Part a.), the number of Social Equity licenses to non-Social Equity licenses is 2:1, which means that if 190 licenses were issues through Measure M Priority Round 1, 380 should be issued through a combination of Round 1 and Round 2 Phase 3 processing, and the "Public Convenience or Necessity (PCN)" process (for areas of undue concentration) described below. If the city abides by its own ratio, 130 retail storefront licenses will be authorized in addition to the 250 through the electronic process.
WHAT IS "UNDUE CONCENTRATION?"
Phase 3 applicants are subject to the “undue concentration rule” passed into LAMC which restricts business location eligibility based on data from the 2016 American Community Survey, not on any state law requirements. The rule sets a limit on the maximum number of licenses that can be issued in each Los Angeles Community Plan Area. The implementation of undue concentration in Los Angeles further complicates what is already a difficult task for many hopeful cannabis entrepreneurs who have been verified for the City’s Social Equity program, which aims to provide priority licensing and accessibility to individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Phase 3 Social Equity applicants must find properties that meet not only the plethora of other local requirements (e.g., correct zoning, 700 feet distance from any other dispensary or “sensitive use” areas) but also within specific communities that has not reached their license cap -- unless the candidate is able to successfully lobby City Council to approve them through the PCN process.
THE PUBLIC CONVENIENCE OR NECESSITY (PCN) PROCESS
The "Public Convenience or Necessity (PCN)" process. process was established by the City Council and passed into LAMC to provide applicants who wish to apply for a license in an area that has already met undue concentration a chance to appeal their ineligibility based on the undue concentration rule. Applicants must submit an online application and pay a $1,499 PCN request fee to be routed to the City Council. Then, applicants must lobby the City Council to receive their approval and become eligible to apply for a license in an area that is undue.
Six of the 36 Community Plan Areas in Los Angeles have already met undue concentration. These areas were deemed unduly concentrated (with zero licenses available) prior to the Round 1 application cycle which began on September 3rd. At that time, several other Community Plan Areas had as few as two or three licenses remaining. These numbers can be viewed for each Community Plan Area on the DCR’s interactive map. The DCR will only issue the number of licenses indicated as “available” on the map in each Community Plan Area during Round 1, and licenses will be distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis. Therefore, even individuals who applied for a Round 1 license in an area outside of the six that have already reached undue concentration are subject to the consequences of the regulation and may be routed to the PCN process. In its review of applications submitted during Round 1, the DCR will issue licenses to eligible applicants on a first-come-first-serve basis (i.e., applicants with an earlier application timestamp will be processed first).Once an area becomes unduly concentrated, Round 1 applicants with later submission timestamps will automatically be routed to the PCN process unless their location is within 700 feet of a sensitive use property or another dispensary. Although the application window for the 100 Round 1 licenses closed this morning, the online PCN application will remain open for applicants that did not apply during Round 1 and wish to apply for a license in an area of undue concentration.
Other cities and municipalities in California who have not enforced additional location requirements like the undue concentration rule -- including Oakland, the very city Los Angeles modeled its Social Equity program after -- attest to the rule’s redundant and excessive nature. The 187 businesses currently holding retail licenses in Los Angeles who applied in Phase 1 as Existing Medical Marijuana Businesses (EMMDs) were also not subject to this rule. In addition, places like the Oaksterdam cannabis dispensary district in downtown Oakland have been havens of community, not crime. Moreover, the unfairness that can result from a system like the PCN process -- which has essentially no guidelines and is subject to the very sticky nature of local politics -- would be eliminated if the City simply allowed everyone who applied to run a dispensary, so long as they respected the sensitive use requirements other than the intradispensary buffer. Our firm will continue to advocate for the eradication of the undue concentration restriction but is helping applicants navigate the requirement and its consequences since the situation does exist presently.
WHY YOU WANT US TO LOBBY FOR YOU
Over 800 applications were submitted in Round 1. It is likely that several more Community Plan Areas in addition to the existing six will become unduly concentrated and applicants in these Areas will be required to undergo the PCN process - regardless of whether or not their Area was one of the original six. Given the high degree of uncertainty regarding who will be subject to the PCN process, our team is proactively preparing to take the first steps of a PCN appeal for each and every one of our clients who applied during Round 1.
Margolin & Lawrence has obtained over 200 state and local cannabis licenses throughout California and one in Massachusetts. Our founding partners, Allison and Raza, have litigated cannabis and other drug cases throughout their careers ( 17 and 16 years, respectively ) across the state and federal courts of our country, and have appeared in Hawaii, Utah, Nebraska, and Nevada, just to name a few. Our years of experience trying marijuana cases in front of juries has trained us for the battleground that is city politics.
Their experience fighting the war on drugs and fighting for drug and marijuana defendants, specifically, gives them the credibility to discuss the Social Equity program and their clients' willingness to re-enfranchise those who have been systematically excluded. Our firm was founded on the same core values as those of the Los Angeles Social Equity program. Allison and Raza have demonstrated a passion for drug legalization and criminal justice reform throughout (and even before) their careers.
Allison began her drug law reform efforts at age 12 when she discovered the insanity of the drug war while writing her sixth grade DARE essay on the Medellín Cartel. Her parents' careers as criminal defense attorneys and advocacy for drug law reform gave her an early and rare insight into the traumas inflicted on people, by the criminal justice system. During her time as a Harvard law student, she published her thesis On the Right to Get High where she argues for the decriminalization of all drugs and states that current state and federal laws are unconstitutional.
Before working with Allison in 2009, Raza worked at the CATO Institute, the ACLU, and the Center for Individual Rights fighting on behalf of individuals who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. He was also a federal clerk for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Together, Allison and Raza founded their 501c4-registered lobbying firm, Advocates for Healing America, in order to advocate for drug policy reform and provide support to political candidates with a like-minded agenda.
Margolin & Lawrence remains committed to our founding values and will continue to do everything in our power to ensure we help individuals who have been who have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. Our current efforts are aimed towards ensuring that victims of this war have the access they deserve to reparative government programs such as the Los Angeles Phase 3 Social Equity licensing process.
If you have applied for a Round 1 retail license or if you are seeking to apply for a license via PCN or Round 2, we invite you to contact a member of our team immediately to discuss how we may be able to advocate on your behalf. We cannot take clients with retail properties that are within 700 feet of our current clients and are accepting new clients on a first-come-first-serve basis. Therefore, we recommend contacting a member of our team sooner than later to minimize the chances of conflict.
On September 12th, M&L partner Raza Lawrence participated in a roundtable discussion with a group of attorneys in Downtown LA regarding alternative dispute resolution in cannabis law. This is a growing field becoming more and more important for people operating or starting a cannabis business. Starting a new cannabis business can be complicated, lengthy, and expensive, often including multiple investors, loans, licenses, employees, asset purchases, and phases of construction. As people adapt to the new licensed and regulated system, they are forming new companies and making large investments, and want to have ways to make sure their investment is protected and any disputes are resolved efficiently and fairly.
Now, commercial cannabis operators in California need both local and state licenses, and to comply with detailed local and state regulations. In Los Angeles, the structure and procedure of licensing is complicated further by the social equity program requiring many dispensary licenses to be majority-owned by social equity candidates who meet certain qualifications based on their history of living in certain parts of the city, being arrested for cannabis crimes, and being low income. In addition, cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution licenses in Los Angeles remain tied to “priority” applicants who can show a history of operating in the City, further complicating the business structures.
Disputes and problems inevitably arise when starting any business, even with the most careful plans. This is especially true with California’s complicated and changing cannabis laws, and the continued conflict with federal law. Until recently, California did not regulate or license commercial cannabis businesses. Instead, there was an affirmative defense to the criminal laws to people who operated as nonprofit medical marijuana collectives, jointly owned by all members. Collectives and medical marijuana operators were frequently arrested and prosecuted even when they tried to do things the right way, and laws were vague and unpredictably enforced. People tended to keep few if any records, because they did not want to keep evidence of criminal activity. Many cannabis businesses today are continuations or offshoots of these earlier, unregulated businesses, and have some disputes and growing pains when trying to adapt to the new laws.
People in the cannabis industry have traditionally shied away from courts , preferring to resolve disputes through informal means. That is because what happens in court becomes public record, and testimony and evidence presented in court could incriminate people for violating state or federal criminal laws, or even lead to asset forfeiture. For licensed operators, testifying in court continues to incriminate them under federal law. Distributing cannabis remains illegal under federal law, a felony with potential long jail sentences and asset forfeiture. While there are legal protections against prosecutions for state-licensed medical cannabis operators, the federal law complicates the legal landscape, making court results unpredictable. It can be difficult to even enforce a cannabis-related contract in court, given the federal illegality. Under the US constitution, federal law controls over state law when there is any conflict in the laws, including in the area of cannabis. In addition, many judges and courts start out biased against cannabis, having prosecuted and convicted cannabis defendants with felony charges for years.
Today, as people try to get their companies off the ground and adapt to the new legal regime, they need efficient and effective ways to resolve their inevitable problems and challenges. Court cases are expensive and take a long time. Arbitration and mediation can be much faster and cheaper, and a way to avoid potentially biased and uninformed judges. For all these reasons, we recommend that parties include alternative dispute resolutions in their contracts, requiring the parties to submit any disputes to mediation or arbitration and bypass the traditional court system. This way, parties can select someone they trust to resolve their dispute, using a transparent process agreed to by everyone.
Our law firm has helped numerous people and businesses resolve disputes relating to commercial cannabis. If you have a dispute involving your business, or are looking for ways to avoid them, you can contact our firm for help you find a solution.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently signed a bill renewing New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. Murphy signed the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act into law.
Know Your Rights: Understanding State Hemp Regulations
February 28th, 2019
These two words were expressed throughout last week’s city council meeting on the current state of cannabis affairs in the city of Los Angeles. Business owners, hopeful entrepreneurs, private citizens and council members reverberated this sentiment from the city’s long delayed licensing process and yet to be fulfilled promise of a social equity program.
The Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) held its regular meeting before city council on February 28th to report on the progress the department has made to date and forecast expectations for the future of cannabis licensure in Los Angeles and the long awaited opening of phase 3. Executive Director Cat Packer sat before the council and highlighted the department’s substantial progress since its commencement in 2017, but made clear that “we still have a long way to go.”
A call was made for a more inclusive social equity program to expand the demographic of eligible applicants to other disenfranchised communities impacted by the war on drugs particularly, hispanics. However, strains on resources and available funding have left little for the social equity program to get off the ground.
To date, 55 temporary approvals have been granted to phase 2 applicants and 178 to phase 1 applicants. There are hundreds left to wade through pushing back the opening of phase 3 to sometime in spring or summer. The DCR proposed a bifurcated application process for phase 3 general processing when the time comes that would split the application process in two parts. Part One would establish a lottery or first-come first-serve process and Part Two would be a merit based system. The two part process is suggested to mitigate fairness and allow those who do not have access to resources a fair chance to participate for a license.
Cat also pointed out the large disparity between the number of retail licenses that will be available for phase 3 eligible program applicants. To comply with the city’s regulations for undue concentration, in the city that is home to some 4 million residents, granting one license per 10,000 residents allows for approximately 200 retail licenses available to some 10,000 plus people who are eligible for the social equity program.
An immediate need was called for increased enforcement to shut down illegal and unlicensed cannabis businesses from operating in the city. The black market is not only harming licensed businesses by taking customers from paying high dispensary prices but the city. In order for the city to provide funding generated from tax revenues requires a crack down on the black market.
With all eyes on Cat Packer for answers, she in turn responded to city council asking for direction and guidance on how the department is to proceed. A motion was submitted in support of immediate funding to implement the program and expand the demographic of eligible applicants to participate in the Los Angeles cannabis market and increased enforcement to crack down on the black market.
March 5th, 2019
The Cannabis Regulations Commission met on March 5th and presented their recommendations to the City Attorney that would establish policies for processing of phase 3 applications. Phase 3 would begin with a 60 day pre-vetting process of Social Equity applicants to verify Tier 1 or Tier 2 qualification. Verified Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants will then be eligible to move forward into the first phase of the licensing process. The DCR will issue 100 licenses in this initial phase allocating 75 to qualified Tier 1 applicants. Qualified Tier 1 applicants would receive priority receiving 75% of the available licenses during this initial phase so long as all basic application requirements are met, including:
A signed lease with proof of payment or deposit, or a property deed
Meet all sensitive use requirements, including undue concentration
Payment of required license fees
Ownership organizational structure
Proposed staffing plan
Complete and detailed diagram
Proposed security plan
Labor peace agreement
Current Certificate of Occupancy
Compliance with the Equity Share Rules
The second phase will allocate an additional 100 licenses establishing no priority between Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants. The second phase will establish a “first-come, first-serve” process that will allow the first 100 qualified applicants will move forward. Basic qualifications required to be met are payment of the required license fees or deferment approval; ownership organizational structure; financial information; indemnification; and, labor peace agreement. The remaining qualifications mentioned above would be required within 90 days.
The Commission also recommended the implementation of a pilot program for Type 9 Retail Non-Storefront delivery services. A total of 40 licenses would be available allocating 20 licenses to pre-vetted Tier 1 Social Equity applicants. The pilot program will also allow verified applicants who could not obtain a Type 10 retail license due to undue concentration limits will receive priority for a Type 9 delivery license. This will allow licensees to remain in their building and operate as a non-storefront retailer in lieu of having to locate and secure another compliant location. Eligible phase 2 applicants will also have an opportunity to amend their application to include delivery so long as they are compliant with the city’s zoning and regulatory requirements.
Phase 3 Licensing Estimated Timeline
Phase 3 Application Processing
60 day Pre-Vetting Period
Basic Tier 1 or Tier 2 qualification
14 day application window
Qualified Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants will be processed for 100 retail licenses (75% reserved for Tier 1 applicants). Pre-vetted applicants will receive 15 days notice of when the first phase application window is to open.
Deficient applications will have 5 days from the start of their application to rectify insufficiencies or issues with the basic qualifications.
30 day application window
Pre-vetted Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants who meet basic qualifications (see above) on a “first-come, first-serve” basis.
Applicants will have an additional 90 days to submit the remaining application requirements
Deficient applications will have 5 days from the start of their application to rectify insufficiencies or issues with the basic qualifications.
Delivery Pilot Program:
Pre-vetted Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants will receive 15 days notice for when Type 9 delivery licenses will become available
Pre-vetted Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants subjected to undue concentration limits will have priority
Eligible phase 2 applicants will have opportunity to amend their application to include delivery
Deficient applications will have 5 days from the start of their application to rectify insufficiencies or issues with the basic qualifications.
California cannabis entrepreneurs have to go through the often lengthy and cumbersome process of applying for local and state commercial cannabis licenses. But that is only the beginning of the journey to becoming a successful, fully-compliant business in this emerging industry.
Entrepreneurs interested in operating a cannabis business in California must decide how their business will operate and what business structure will work best for their specific business goals. They must consider the commercial, legal, and tax implications that come with deciding which business structure they want to operate under.
Once entrepreneurs have decided which business structure will best work for their specific business goals, the next step is to begin the entity formation process. This process consists of deciding what the Company name will be and drafting the entity formation documents that will determine how your cannabis business will operate.
As a full-service cannabis law firm, we represent many clients who have gone through this process already. Two of the most common business structures we have seen entrepreneurs decide to start their cannabis business as have been Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and Corporations. Although there are some similarities between both business structures, there are some major differences that entrepreneurs need to understand prior to beginning the entity formation process.
At Margolin & Lawrence, our cannabis attorneys can help you with all the formation and governing documents for your LLC, such as the articles of organization, operating agreements, and statements of information. If you decide on structuring your cannabis business as a corporation, our cannabis attorneys can help you with your corporate formation documents such as bylaws and articles of incorporation.
Additionally, we understand how important it is for new businesses to raise capital to continue to grow their business. Given that cannabis is still illegal under federal law, entrepreneurs looking to raise capital for their cannabis business need to seek private investment capital. In order to do so, there are a series of important documents private investors want to examine before they decide to invest in your cannabis business.
For instance, companies looking to raise capital need private placement memoranda (PPMs) and subscription agreements. A PPM is a legal document that is given to prospective investors when selling stock or any other security interest in a business. The PPM provides prospective investors with an in-depth look at your business, including management, analysis of operations, risks factors, financial information, among other things. The goal of the PPM is for prospective investors to be fully informed about all aspects of your cannabis business.
A subscription agreement is an agreement between a corporation and the investor (the subscriber) in which the corporation promises to sell a certain number of shares at a specific price to the subscriber and, in return, the subscriber promises to buy the shares at the agreed upon price.
At Margolin & Lawrence, our cannabis attorneys can help you and your business with any capital-raising compliance and legal representation. Additionally, our cannabis attorneys can help you decide which business structure best meets your cannabis business goals. And we can help your cannabis business remain compliant with all the governing laws every step of the way, including ongoing compliance with state and local commercial cannabis regulations and employment laws, avoiding and minimizing the expenses of civil litigation, addressing the implications of federal illegality of cannabis, and helping to informally resolve any internal or external disputes that jeopardize the business operation.
Commercial cannabis is heating up on the central coast. Here’s a look at what’s green:
The City of Goleta began accepting cannabis planning applications on August 17th. Applicants will need to obtain either a Land Use Permit or Conditional Use Permit issued by the Planning & Environmental Review (PER) Department. A Cannabis Business License will only be issued upon approval by the PER Department. Applicants are required to submit an Odor Abatement Plan and Certification approved by a Professional Engineer or Certified Industrial Hygienist. In addition, cultivators will need to show proof of consultation with Southern California Edison (SCE) showing participating in SCE’s Savings by Design Program as well as participation in the Resource Innovation Institute’s Calculate Powerscore Tool. More information on Conditional Use Permits and Land Use Permits for cannabis operators in the City of Goleta can be found here.
Cannabis Business Licenses will be valid for one year from January 1 to December 31, regardless of when the license was issued. Something to consider as we approach the latter end of the year, as all businesses will need to renew their license prior to January 1 and pay the applicable renewal fee. The amount of retail licenses the city will issue has been limited to 15. The city will review applications on a first-come, first-serve basis and will implement a waitlist for potential retailers. More information on Cannabis Business Licenses for the City of Goleta can be found here.
The City of Lompoc is open for all cannabis operators with the exception of outdoor cultivators. Currently, there is no cap to the amount of licenses the city will issue and will allow for onsite consumption. Prospective operators will need to obtain a commercial cannabis use license issued by the City. Application materials and information on the city’s laws and regulations can be found here.
Santa Barbara County is expected to open by the end of the year for new businesses. Prospective applicants will first need to obtain either a Land Use Permit or Conditional Use Permit. Permit type is dependent on whether you are located inside or outside the Coastal Zone and distance to sensitive use receptors. Check here for information on land use and zoning in Santa Barbara County. A maximum of 8 licenses will be issued for retailers and all outdoor cultivation has been prohibited in the Coastal Zone. Once you have received the applicable land use or conditional use permit, you will then need to apply for a Cannabis Business License. Application materials for a Cannabis Business License will be made available here. Supplemental information may be required such as, environmental and energy conservation measures dependent on your zone. Be sure to check through the application requirements carefully and thoroughly or consider hiring an attorney to breakdown the process.
Getting a commercial cannabis license in California is complicated enough when coordinating your proposed business activities with a variety of government agencies. Depending on what activity (or activities) your business plans to conduct, every commercial cannabis license will ultimately be processed by one of three state agencies: the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) or the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). In addition to applying through these departments, your business may need permission from regulatory agencies that manage peripheral elements of the cannabis industry. This may include attaining water permits, landscaping protocols, motor carrier permits, and certification of processing equipment. This will, however, depend on what activities your business seeks to engage in, and will require due diligence and -in many cases - subcontract work. All license applications require the business to register for a seller’s permit with the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). Every applicant must also comply with the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s database, known as EnviroStor, which tracks cleanup, permitting, enforcement, and investigation efforts at hazardous waste facilities and sites with known or suspected contamination issues. The other type of compliance required for all activities is through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is primarily enforced by the Bureau of Cannabis Control. However, CEQA compliance was recently resolved for all licensees in an Environmental Impact Report.
By Raza Lawrence and Allison Margolin
On September 28, 2018, the DEA issued a rule announcing that drugs including CBD with THC content below 0.1% will be taken off of Schedule 1 of the controlled substances schedules, and moved to Schedule 5, which allows CBD products to be sold through traditional pharmacies with a doctor’s prescription, so long as the particular product is first approved by the FDA. The order also disallows any importing or exporting of CBD products without a permit.
It is important to note that the ruling is narrow in that it only applies to CBD products with less than 0.1% THC. However, products with higher THC content could continue to be sold under state law and without federal FDA or DOJ regulation under the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment. Ironically, the new federal policy is to tolerate sales of CBD products with high levels of THC, but to restrict sales of CBD products with low levels of THC by requiring FDA approval, a huge task in itself. Some sources indicate that it can cost more than $1 billion to bring one FDA-approved product to the market, including approximately $50-840 million to bring treatments through the stages of Basic Research/Drug Development and Pre-Clinical/Translational Research, and approximately $50-970 million to complete the Clinical Trials (Phases 1, 2, and 3).
The new ruling is bad news for anyone hoping to sell CBD with no or low levels of THC and without FDA approval. Already, in July 2018, the California Department of Public Health ruled that hemp-derived CBD would not be allowed in food or drinks for humans or pets in California.
CBD products could potentially be sold as edible cannabis products under California state law if the producers obtain commercial cannabis manufacturing licenses from the state and local government, and the products are distributed and sold through outlets with state and local commercial cannabis licenses. Even if everyone involved complied with California state cannabis laws, they would still be subject to enforcement, punishment and being shut down by the FDA, unless they contain over 0.1% THC, in which case they could be sold under state law with no federal interference.
The Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment would not protect any low- or no-THC CBD distributors, even those who strictly complied with state law, from enforcement actions from the FDA, as Rohrabacher–Farr only restricts the DOJ from interfering with state regulation of medical marijuana. The FDA is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, not the DOJ, and thus retains the ability to regulate CBD – its regulations trump any state laws relating to CBD under the supremacy clause of the US Constitution.
It is possible that today’s DEA ruling could later lead to reclassification of all cannabis from a Schedule 1 to Schedule 5 substance, which would mean that all cannabis could fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA and could only be sold through pharmacies with doctor’s prescriptions and must be produced by companies with FDA approval (i.e., large drug companies).
Since 2009, the FDA has had the authority to regulate tobacco products, which are now controlled by only a few large corporations, as are many other drugs regulated by the FDA. The same could happen to cannabis. Individuals and organizations in the cannabis community should lobby the government to prevent this monopolization by ensuring that cannabis is descheduled as a controlled substance.
Earlier this year, the FDA's parent agency stated that CBD has little potential for abuse – hopefully the government's future approach to CBD will follow this lead and remove CBD's schedule 1 classification.
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.
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.
California is well underway in the business of commercial cannabis, and now the state has
opened its golden doors to licensing. The state is actively reviewing applications for annual state
licenses. Those who have successfully triumphed over their local jurisdiction are quickly
realizing that was only half the battle and are in process of applying for a state license. The
industry is experiencing some growing pains as it continues to transition into a regulated market,
and if you’ve felt the hurt, here are some things to consider on whether it’s time to hire a law firm
to represent your cannabis business.
Depending upon the activity applied for, the relevant agency regulating commercial cannabis at
the state level – the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), California Department of Public Health
(CDPH), or California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) – will contact the city or
county to verify the validity of the local license and that the business is in compliance with or exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as required by state law. This should be an easy
tick off the checklist. However, we are finding the state is returning responsibility to the applicant
to provide evidence of CEQA. The language in the local ordinances, particularly in the smaller,
rural jurisdictions, can be vague and up to interpretation. Failure to provide evidence of
compliance with the CEQA, or with any of the regulations under state law and associated
governmental bodies, is subject to denial of the state license. As a result, all operations will be
forced to cease. Any operations occurring without a valid local and state license are subject to
heavy fines, as recently seen in Humboldt County, and could result in criminal prosecution. An
attorney will advise in navigating through all local and state requirements to protect your
business from shutting down.
A common issue aggravating many are problems arising due to incorrect zoning that can lead to
costly consequences. Before you sign a lease or purchase a property, verify the zoning. For
example, for those in the market for the City of Los Angeles during its second phase of
licensing, you may have noticed the maps to check zoning against sensitive use areas in each
of the 15 districts are no longer available. At the request of the Department of Cannabis
Regulation (DCR), the maps have been removed due to numerous issues arising from incorrect
zoning. Applicants were relying on the maps not realizing there may have been a school, EMMD,
or other sensitive use within the area. The city is allowing applicants the opportunity to find
another location that is in the correct zoning until at least September 13th , when this phase of
licensing closes. Finding a location in the correct zoning is no easy feat. Have the property
professionally mapped and consider hiring an attorney to negotiate the terms of the lease or
purchase contract, ensuring the property complies with all zoning and land use requirements
under the ordinance, and reducing the chance your license is denied.
If you are an investor looking to buy an existing license, beware of fraudulent deals and false
licenses. Does the license comply with CEQA? Is it in the correct zoning? What is the licensing
authority’s policy on transferring of cannabis licenses? Having an attorney do the due diligence
will help reduce the risk of your investment.
As the industry evolves, there is going to be more need for legal protection for entrepreneurs and
investors, so consider a business investment into a law firm well educated in the field of
cannabis law and protect your success.
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.
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.