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.
Know Your Rights: Understanding State Hemp Regulations
Allison Margolin, founder and partner of Margolin & Lawrence, spoke on Wednesday about dosing regulations at the State of Cannabis conference in Queen Mary, Long Beach. The maximum dosage is 100 mg of THC for packaged edible products, and each serving can contain no more than 10 mg. This was established in the final re-adoption of the emergency regulations (CCR, Title 17, Division 1, Chapter 13, §40305), and while these limits may frustrate consumers with a higher tolerance, larger doses of concentrated cannabis products are allowed in non-edible forms. Under §40306 of the regulations, topical products, concentrates and other non-edible products (including tinctures and capsules) may be sold in amounts up to 1,000mg per package. a special recommendation to get a larger dose (up to 1,000mg) without medical prescription. Up to 2,000mg per package is also permitted under this provision, but only for medicinal-use customers and with appropriate labelling.
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.
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.
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.