Alternative Dispute Resolution in Cannabis

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on September 12, 2019

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.

Take Our Quiz to Find Out if You May Qualify for Social Equity

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Governor Releases Revised State Budget, Statutory Changes Affecting Cannabis in California

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Medical Marijuana Labeling Requirements 101

Posted by Donna Thompson on November 6, 2018

Guest post by Donna Thompson, customlabels.net

Medical marijuana has been legalized in more than half of the states in the U.S. It is used for easing the symptoms of pain, nausea and vomiting, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and epilepsy. Although the number of people that advocate legalization of marijuana for medical purposes is on the rise, not all states in the U.S. have said “yes” to the legalization.

That’s why there is no federal law, and there are variations in medical marijuana laws in different states.

While some states allow the use of medical marijuana extract only, in other states it is allowed to use the whole plant.

When it comes to ways of obtaining medical marijuana, in some states dispensaries are the only place where you can buy it, but in others, like Michigan, you are also allowed to cultivate the plant in your own home.

Also, lists of medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana treatment differ from state to state. That means that if you get a medical marijuana card in one state, you can buy a medical marijuana product in some other state only if that state lists your condition as one that can be treated with medical cannabis.

The absence of federal laws affects both consumers and producers of medical marijuana.

Besides all of these differences, states that legalized marijuana usage for medical purposes have different requirements for labeling and packaging medical marijuana products. Thus, when medical marijuana producers want to put their product on the market, they must comply with state specific regulations. For example, when it comes to packaging, products need to be tamper-proof and child-proof. As for labeling, the following infographic shows what common labels for medical marijuana products look like in the states that have legalized marijuana:

What Should I Know for My Cannabis Business?

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on September 18, 2018

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.

Applying for a Commercial Cannabis License: State vs. Local

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on August 13, 2018

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.

New York State Releases Report on Recreational Cannabis

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on July 13, 2018

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.

Final Release of California Cannabis Regulations

Posted by Margolin & Lawrence on June 7, 2018

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.

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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.