The Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) has just confirmed that it is now processing requests for ownership changes to existing Phase 2 (non-retail) cannabis licenses in Los Angeles. This long-awaited news is a game-changer for savvy investors and license holders alike, as it opens opportunities to buy or sell shares of the 139 cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution businesses that are licensed under Phase 2 in Los Angeles.
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.
(Picture of DCR building in Los Angeles)
On August 6, 2019, M&L partner J. Raza Lawrence attended the Phase 3 Round 1 Licensing and Social Equity Workshop hosted by the Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR). The DCR provided an update on Phase 2 applications, the Social Equity Program, and the application process for Phase 3.
Recently, rumors and misinformation have circulated surrounding LA’s “undue concentration” rules for commercial cannabis licensing. The undue concentration rules have not been eliminated, as some have falsely claimed. LA has recently changed details about the policy, in a way that will allow more retail dispensary licenses to be issued sooner. Some have feared, however, that the latest changes may introduce an element of unfairness to the licensing process.
Operational compliance has become paramount to the success of many cannabis businesses following new state regulations that went into effect earlier this year. For others, non-compliance has been a great downfall. Following the legalization of commercial cannabis, the state of California hastily drafted and passed emergency regulations which outlined licensing and operational requirements for cannabis businesses under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA). These emergency regulations went into effect in December of 2017 to provide a temporary solution for the lack of cannabis legislation until more thorough regulations could be drafted and adopted by state agencies. Just three months ago, the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approved new regulations which were immediately adopted by all three state licensing agencies. The new regulations include many significant changes from the previous emergency regulations and introduce more restrictive guidelines for cannabis businesses. Further, the new regulations define serious implications for businesses who violate the new guidelines – from fines up to $250,000 to loss of licensure. In recent months, a rapid number of compliance enforcement agencies have emerged at both the local and state level. Licensed cannabis businesses in California have experienced a peak in random compliance inspection visits, raids from local and state law enforcement, and seizure of cannabis products. With the commercial cannabis industry now in full effect, local and state agencies are beginning to focus less on setting the framework for the industry and more on enforcement of regulations.
A majority of licensed cannabis businesses are in some way in violation of current regulations despite their intentional efforts to comply. This is largely due to the cumbersome location-dependent nature of cannabis regulations. Although cannabis is legal in the state of California, commercial cannabis businesses are still federally illegal, and there is no federal legislation governing the licensing and operational compliance of cannabis businesses. As a result, cannabis regulations vary between states. Further convoluting the concept of cannabis compliance, regulations also vary within-state and are dependent on legislation issued by local authorities. All California cannabis businesses must adhere to statewide regulations enforced by the three state agencies – the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) – in addition to guidelines enforced by local agencies. For instance, outdoor cultivation is legal at the state level per the CDFA, but it is prohibited within the City of Los Angeles per the local Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR). Cannabis businesses must also comply with local Fire Department safety codes which also vary by jurisdiction.
With compliance enforcement on the rise, it is crucial for all cannabis businesses to stay informed about both state and local regulations in order to avoid high penalties or business closure. Our firm offers full-coverage compliance counseling to licensed cannabis businesses. Our team is in regular attendance of local city hall and county government meetings pertaining to commercial cannabis in all areas of California and maintains current knowledge of the ever-changing regulations. We provide counsel in all areas of business compliance for cannabis retailers, distributors, cultivators, and microbusinesses. Our attorneys have a combined 20+ years of experience in the commercial cannabis industry and are active in compliance consulting throughout the state. We are able to provide our clients with expert contractors in building safety code pre-inspection, packaging and labeling compliance, product inventory and storage, advertisement restrictions, etc. We would love to help ensure that your cannabis business is successful and in compliance with all local and state regulations, giving you one less thing to worry about. If you have any questions or would like to speak with our attorneys to further discuss our compliance services, please feel free to reach us via email (email@example.com) or phone (323-253-9700).
Contra Costa County
On February 14th, Contra Costa officially issued a Request For Proposal form for new cannabis businesses, including storefront retailers. The number of retailer licenses (with or without delivery operations) will be capped at four.
The county’s deadline for letters of intent is April 4th, while full proposals will be due (by request only) on June 27th. Additionally, the county has released a zoning map showing the proposed areas that will be eligible for cannabis business locations.
City of Fresno
On December 12th, 2018, Fresno voted to allow up to seven medical cannabis retail licenses for the following year, with seven additional retail licenses to follow upon city approval in 2019. The current ordinance limits the number of cannabis retail businesses within the city to fourteen, but seven more may be allowed by a city council resolution.
Fresno limits cannabis retail businesses to locations zones DTN, DTG, CMS, CC, CR, CG, and CH. Additionally, no more than two cannabis retail businesses may be allowed in any one council district.
City of Martinez
On February 26th, the City of Martinez’s Planning Commission met to discuss the city’s newly released draft ordinance for cannabis businesses. The draft regulations would allow for a maximum of two storefront retail licenses, along with a maximum of two delivery licenses (to be associated with a storefront retail business). Retail cannabis businesses would be limited to commercial and light industrial zones. According to the Martinez Gazette, the Planning Commission sent these proposed regulations to the City Council, including a suggestion that the city raise the proposed number of licensed delivery services to three.
City of Pomona
On March 5th, the Pomona City Council met for the first reading of the city’s new cannabis ordinance. The draft regulations provide for licensing of both storefront and delivery-only cannabis businesses. However, the proposed caps on licenses and zoning/location restrictions for cannabis businesses have yet to be released.
City of South Lake Tahoe
On February 5th, the City of South Lake Tahoe released a new cannabis ordinance, allowing up to two retail operations and two microbusiness operations with on-site retail. Cannabis businesses will be restricted to the locations indicated on the city’s buffer map. The city has released its application form and guidelines: the submission period will last from March 11th to April 5th.
City of Ventura
On January 1st, new regulations from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control took effect, allowing delivery of adult-use and medical cannabis anywhere in the state. This overturned Ventura’s past cannabis ordinances, which had restricted retail cannabis activities within the city to deliveries by a maximum of three licensed businesses located outside of city limits. At a City Council meeting on March 4th, the city discussed new policy measures to bring Ventura’s policies in compliance with California law. Among the items on the agenda was the possibility of taxing and permitting cannabis activities within the city, an indication that Ventura is becoming more open to cannabis business.
Are we about to see more enforcement against unlicensed cannabis?
California Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced he is calling for the California National Guard to work with federal officials to target the California illicit market. Given the history of the war on drugs and the current federal laws imposing harsh criminal and civil sanctions for cannabis, the involvement of the National Guard and the federal government in a new crackdown is concerning. Governor Newsom’s announcement of this increased enforcement, however, comes amid growing frustration with perceived dysfunction in the state regulatory system and a persistent illicit market that crowds out regulated cannabis.
California has a thriving illicit market in cannabis, estimated by New Frontier Data to be valued at $3.7 billion last year. This is due to many factors, including California’s unregulated cannabis collectives and cooperatives that operated for years before licensing came, the slow speed at which state and local governments in California have issued licenses, the high taxes and burdensome regulations of the new licensing system, and the demand for California cannabis products throughout the country.
In a sense, the entire cannabis market is an illicit market, as cannabis remains illegal under federal law, which makes any inconsistent California state law allowing cannabis invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. This federal illegality has caused most banks to refuse to do business with cannabis-linked companies, resulting in a largely cash business that is more difficult to track and regulate than it would be if banks were involved. Federal illegality also makes it so the entire interstate market is illegal and unregulated, though lucrative.
The California Bureau of Cannabis Control, tasked with regulating cannabis retail sales, has issued a few enforcement actions against some unlicensed dispensaries, but the efforts have been largely symbolic, against only a tiny fraction of the unlicensed operators. Los Angeles and other cities have also filed misdemeanor cases against unlicensed operators for violations of local licensing laws, but unlicensed dispensaries seem to pop back up faster than they are shut down.
In order for California’s regulatory project to succeed going forward, the state will need to convince more operators to move to the regulated market, through some combination of greater enforcement and lower taxes and regulatory burdens.
The large illicit market and slow roll-out of the licensing process have shaken the confidence of many people who are attempting to comply with California laws. Hopefully, state and local regulators will take advice from frustrated operators, learn from their mis-steps and continue to develop a functioning system. The state and local governments are trying to find the right regulatory balance. Over-regulation makes it so difficult and burdensome to comply that only rich people and companies with lots of resources can operate, and an expensive final product that leads many consumers to buy from the illicit market.
For now, many license holders are playing the long game, hoping the illicit market will shrink over time, and more consumers throughout the state (and eventually the country and world) join the regulated cannabis market. Governor Newsom says that he expects it may take at least five years to develop its complex regulatory system. If the state gets it right, this can be an industry that drives the state economy, creating more resources and jobs for everyone.
One approach that could be successful would be to offer a more simplified and inexpensive process to get new cannabis businesses up and running. More burdensome regulations and higher taxes could kick in only after businesses have gotten through the startup phase and adapted to the regulations. There could be a tiered or graduated system of compliance, taxes, and enforcement that is welcoming to new operators. Startup costs for new businesses are already very expensive, and high licensing expenses and a burdensome application process can dissuade many people from pursuing licenses who might otherwise want to follow the law. Lowering the tax rates in the beginning, while businesses get off the ground, could also encourage new entrants to the regulated market. Once businesses become established and there is a healthy regulated market, taxes could be increased to desired levels. The government has many tools available to help establish a functioning market. We are optimistic that the future is bright for the cannabis economy in California.
There are currently 7 applications for Manufacturing and 6 for Distribution under review. There is no limit to the number of local licenses that will be issued for these types.
Despite all the talk about cannabis retail in the news, it can be difficult to tell exactly when and where it's possible for businesses to apply for a cannabis retail license. Here are a few jurisdictions where applications for cannabis retail are either currently open or planned to open in the near future.
Per the county planning department, Riverside is planning to give out a maximum of 19 retail licenses. While no date is currently set, the proposal process is scheduled to begin later this year.
Santa Barbara County
County is currently accepting cannabis permit applications. Storefront retail permits are limited to eight countywide, with no more than two in any supervisorial district.
City of Chula Vista
The city’s application for cannabis businesses will open on January 14th and remain open until the 18th (for Storefront Retail, Non-Storefront Retail, and Cultivation businesses) and the 25th (for Manufacturing, Distribution, and Testing Laboratory businesses.)
City of Desert Hot Springs
Conditional use permits for cannabis activities, including Cannabis Sale Facilities, are available on the city’s website.
City of Goleta
Goleta is currently accepting applications for up to 15 total storefront retail businesses.
City of Jurupa Valley
Jurupa Valley will accept priority applications for cannabis retail from January 22nd to February 6th, with non-priority applications opening on April 1st. The number of retail businesses permitted will be linked to the city's population, with 1 license given for every 15,000 residents. This currently means that the number of licenses given will be capped at 7.
City of Lompoc
Lompoc is currently accepting cannabis retail license applications.
City of Moreno Valley
In December, the city raised its cap on dispensary licenses from 8 to 23. In addition to admitting qualified applicants from the last round of applications, the city will make proposal forms for new applicants available online.
City of Pasadena
The city will license up to 6 retail establishments. The permit application process is open on the city website through January 31st.
City of San Diego
The city is currently accepting applications for cannabis outlets with retail sales, up to a limit of four businesses per council district.
City of San Luis Obispo
Applications for 3 storefront retail businesses and an indefinite number of delivery-only retail businesses are open on the city website through January 29th.
City of Vista
Per the ordinance released in December, the city will be granting 3 delivery-only (non-storefront) retail licenses this year.
- Disconnecting DWP utility services to unlicensed businesses
- Issuing citations to certain employees working in unlicensed businesses
- -Sending cease and desist letters to businesses and landlords
- Requiring all licensed retailers to display an emblem so the public knows whether a given business is licensed
- Sending letters to creditors and contractors of unlicensed businesses
- Bringing civil and criminal cases against unlicensed businesses
2. Opportunity to Appeal Rejected Dispensary Permits
Applicants who applied in Phase 1 and were found to be ineligible based on failure to qualify as an Existing Medical Marijuana Dispensary were given a chance to appeal the written findings of the DCR. These parties were given an opportunity to present their points, with back-and-forth discussion on the points of the appeal with members of the commission.
Each Applicant appealing was allowed either have a single person present the appeal or to have multiple witnesses – each side was allowed to submit any documents up until a week before hearing, and given 10 minutes to present arguments and evidence. The DCR was then allowed to present its case and findings for 10 minutes. The hearing officer could grant either side more time if appropriate, and the applicant was allowed 5 minutes at the end of the session to address DCR’s comments, followed by discussion and questions.
The main issues in the appeal were whether the Applicant had a 2017 L050 BTRC or, if no 2017 BTRC, if the Applicant had a L050 2015 or 2016 BTRC and met all the pre-ICO requirements, including registering for the ICO in 2007. One applicant was rejected who met all the requirements other than registering for the ICO in 2007 (the City reviewed records of office of city clerk regarding who was on the ICO registry), even though the business had BTRCs from 2007 to 2015 and had been paying taxes all along.
One applicant claimed another applicant mis-used the applicant’s ICO filing, applying under it for priority registration even though he was not an officer or director of the ICO registered entity. However, it turned out the ICO registered entity had registered as a sole proprietor “doing business as” a name similar to the current applicant, and the current applicant corporation was just using a similar same name as the 2007 entity but had a different legal name and different tax history and was a separate legal entity.
There were disputes during the appeals involving BTRCs issued with different account numbers or different entities, BTRCs that had been erroneously issued for addresses outside LA and then closed out, and BTRCs issued to related entities that had failed to follow merger process with the city. As a rule, only the same business entity that meets the eligibility requirements is eligible for priority processing.
Parties found ineligible for priority processing were encouraged to re-apply in Phase 3 general licensing, anticipated to open in 2019. Going forward, the DCR will prioritize annual licensing for Phase 1 and 2 applicants first, then registration for social equity applicants, and then Phase 3 will open.
For more information on the cannabis licensing and social equity process in Los Angeles, keep checking this blog or reach out to our cannabis attorneys at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twilight is approaching in the state of commercial cannabis in California. Pursuant to the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulations and Safety Act (MAUCRSA), Business and Professions Code Section 26050.1, each of the state licensing authorities regulating commercial cannabis are subject to a Sunset Clause that prohibits the issuance or extension of temporary state licenses starting January 1, 2019.
What does this mean for you?
As a reminder, California has a dual-licensing system regulating commercial cannabis in the state. To operate legally, you must have both a local license issued by the local jurisdiction where your business is established, and a state license issued by one of the three state licensing agencies, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), California Department of Public Health (DPH), and California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). Pursuant to MAUCRSA, the state temporary license enable business to operate while the state processes the annual license application. If you have already received a state temporary license and it expires prior to this date, you must submit an application for an annual license in order to receive the extension.
Each agency has set their own requirements dependent on the license type applied for and may be subject to compliance with ancillary agencies at the state level. Look through the application materials thoroughly, and consider consulting with an attorney to ensure you are in compliance with the necessary documentation.
To apply for a state temporary license, at a minimum you will need:
Evidence of Legal Right to Occupy
Should the state deem any part of your application incomplete, they will notify the primary contact with an opportunity to rectify any insufficiencies. This will inevitably delay the review of your application until all deficiencies are rectified. We would like to reassure our readers this is a normal part of the licensing process and is common practice to go back and forth with the state to ensure your application is in line with the regulations.
DO NOT DELAY
We advise sticking to the state’s December 1 recommended deadline to submit your application for a temporary license. The review period can take up to several weeks so make sure to submit the application timely to ensure there is sufficient time to receive the license. You may still apply for an annual license after the new year, but are subject to the state’s review period until they issue the annual license. The review period of the annual application can take up to several months. If you do not hold a valid local and state license you are prohibited from conducting commercial cannabis operations in the state.
This can have an significant repercussions for businesses to take into consideration. For example, if you are paying rent on the property and cannot operate can cause significant financial strains. We recommend consulting with an attorney in preparation of the annual license.
California Department of Public Health - Regulates Cannabis Manufacturing
California Department of Food and Agriculture - Regulates Cannabis Cultivation
Bureau of Cannabis Control - Regulates Cannabis Retail, Delivery, Distrbution, Testing, Microbusiness
As recreational cannabis becomes legal in California, the marijuana industry is expanding into a number of different spaces that previously were impossible to operate in legally. One of the most exciting of these new opportunities is the cannabis lounge. Made famous by Amsterdam’s marijuana cafés, lounges are cannabis retail businesses that also allow for the on-site consumption of cannabis – an exciting possibility for customers, business owners, and investors alike. However, while a great deal of interest in these businesses exists across the state, only a few jurisdictions in California plan to allow cannabis lounges, and only some of those locations currently are open to licensed cannabis lounge operations.
When it comes to cannabis lounges currently in operation, the Bay Area is ahead of the pack by a wide margin, with a number of cannabis lounges fully licensed and open for business – seven in San Francisco and one in Oakland, according to a recent Leafly article. No other jurisdiction, in California or elsewhere, has more individual lounges in operation. However, several other cities in California are in the process of opening up for fully licensed cannabis lounge business.
After the Bay Area, the Los Angeles area is furthest ahead in the process of cannabis lounge licensing. Earlier this year, West Hollywood opened applications for cannabis lounges, planning to grant a total of 16 licenses – 8 for edible-only lounges, and 8 for lounges allowing edibles, smoking, and vaping. These applications are still under review, but the city plans to announce its decisions by the end of November, meaning operational businesses may be only a few months away. The city of Los Angeles has also shown interest in social consumption lounges. Between LA City and West Hollywood, this indicates that LA county may not be far behind the Bay Area when it comes to cannabis lounges.
While San Francisco and Los Angeles are the largest California cities to move toward legalizing cannabis lounges, several other areas in the state are beginning to explore the possibility as well. Earlier this month, the city of Eureka voted to allow on-site consumption. After voting to approve cannabis lounges last year, the city of Palm Springs issued its first permit for on-site cannabis consumption this summer, and, though the business in question has yet to open, several other communities in Coachella Valley are considering following suit.
While cannabis lounges remain a controversial issue in many communities, with local residents concerned about the potential nuisances that may come with legal on-site consumption, many cities across California are also beginning to see their potential economic and social appeal. Given the large amount of consumer interest demonstrated in the cities that have already moved toward licensing on-site consumption, the number of jurisdictions embracing legal cannabis lounges can be expected to increase in the future.
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.
San Francisco’s Golden Gates have opened for those interested in running their cannabis business in the City and County of San Francisco. Although the San Francisco Office of Cannabis is currently accepting applications, not everyone is welcomed to apply just yet.
Currently, the San Francisco Office of Cannabis is accepting applications only for applicants who are applying through the Equity Program or as an Equity Incubator. Those who do not meet the criteria to apply under the Equity Program or as an Equity Incubator, will need to wait to apply after the San Francisco Office of Cannabis opens applications, which they expect will open before 2019.
In order to apply as an Equity Applicant, there are numerous requirements the applicant needs to satisfy. First, the equity applicant must:
- Apply as a person, which means that a company cannot apply under the Equity Program
- Have net assets below established limits for each household (click here for more details)
- Be one of the following:
- The business owner
- Own at least 40% of the business and be the CEO
- Own at least 51% of the business
- A board member of a non-profit cannabis business where most of the board also qualify as Equity Applicants
- An individual with a membership interest in a cannabis business formed as a cooperative.
Additionally, the equity applicant must meet 3 out of the following 6 equity conditions:
- Have a household income below 80% of the average median income in San Francisco for 2017. This amount is calculated based on how many people are in your household (click here for more details.)
- Have been arrested for or convicted of the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of cannabis (including as a juvenile) from 1971 to 2016
- Have a parent, sibling or child who was arrested for or convicted of the sale, possession, use, manufacture, or cultivation of cannabis (including as a juvenile) from 1971 to 2016
- Lost housing in San Francisco after 1995 through eviction, foreclosure or subsidy cancellation
- Attended school in the San Francisco Unified School District for a total of 5 years from 1971 to 2016
- Have lived in San Francisco census tracts for a total of 5 years from 1971 to 2016 where at least 17% of the households had incomes at or below the federal poverty level. To determine whether you satisfy this condition, please click here to see a map showing areas of significant poverty in San Francisco.
Those who satisfy the criteria to be an Equity Applicant will not have to pay the $5,000 permit fee for this year. However, equity applicants will have to pay for renewals.
Equity Incubators will also provide Equity Applicants with rent free space for 3 years or technical assistance to help Equity Applicants run their business. Once the Equity Applicant has satisfied the eligibility criteria, the San Francisco Office of Cannabis will help equity applicants partner with an equity incubator business. The Office of Cannabis will send a list of verified equity applicants, which will help equity applicants and incubator businesses find one another.
To find out more about the Equity Incubator program, click here.
Equity Applicants can apply for the following licenses:
- Manufacturing (volatile or non-volatile)
- Retail (medical and adult use)
- Delivery only retailer (medical and adult use)
- Medicinal cannabis retailer (medical only)
- Testing Laboratory
- Microbusiness (can conduct up to 4 activities: cultivation (less than 10,000 sq. ft.), manufacturing (non-volatile only), distribution, and retail.
More information about the application process and requirements can be found on the San Francisco Office of Cannabis website.
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.