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.
California’s transition into a regulated market has many operators wondering what the universe of compliance looks like and where they fit into the process. In order to operate legally in California after January 1, 2018, you need both a local authorization and a state license. Temporary licenses from the state of California are sufficient to continue operating, though you will eventually need to obtain an Annual License. To date, 954 cannabis businesses in California have received Cease and Desist letters from the Bureau of Cannabis Control. While some were in error, others were operating without the required licenses for California.
It’s important to understand that licensure is not the end-all-be-all of compliance -- in fact, it is the minimum requirement for your business to operate legally. In addition to having a state license (which requires local authorization), you will need to begin thinking about how to set up your business with compliance processes that facilitate and enable adherence to state regulations for your activities: cannabis microbusiness, retail, manufacturing, cultivation or testing. The below infographic is an overview of the entire licensing/compliance process.
Where does your business fit in?
Last week, despite controversy, criticism from both sides of the aisle, and talk of a veto, President Trump agreed to sign the federal government’s omnibus spending bill for 2018. To the relief of many in the legal cannabis industry, the spending bill retains a provision known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer (or Rohrabacher-Farr) amendment, which provides limited protection from federal prosecution for state-level legal cannabis activity.
Given both Trump’s and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough talk on drugs and threats to crack down on the cannabis industry, the continued presence of this amendment is a silver lining for those anxious about the future of legal cannabis. While this won’t mean a change in the federal treatment of marijuana – the amendment has been included in every spending bill since 2014 – it does indicate that the government intends to keep on its current course with regard to cannabis, as the provision has to be renewed every year to remain in effect.
Likewise, though the actual protections afforded by the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment are limited, its being signed into law was, and remains, an important indication of the federal government’s shift in attitude regarding cannabis: as the LA Times reported following the provision’s first inclusion in the spending bill, “Congress for years had resisted calls to allow states to chart their own path on pot. The marijuana measure, which forbids the federal government from using any of its resources to impede state medical marijuana laws, was previously rejected half a dozen times.” In this light, the amendment was a notable pivot from a top-down to a state-level approach to cannabis regulation.
California cannabis consumers and business owners shouldn’t get too comfortable, though: not only does the amendment not change anything about the federal government’s cannabis policy in and of itself, its terms only apply to medical marijuana, not recreational cannabis. So far, the government has rejected proposed amendments that would grant recreational cannabis operations the same protection from federal intervention. For the time being, California cannabis business owners’ best bet is to stay in full compliance with state and local law as the federal situation develops.
As recreational “adult-use” cannabis is officially legalized across California, cannabis taxation is more important than ever for legal cannabis operators. Our Los Angeles Cannabis attorneys are often asked about the new state tax system and what is new since January 1, 2018. As of a few months ago, the BOE became the CDTFA. For California, there are three different state-level taxes on cannabis business: the Cultivation Tax, the Cannabis Excise Tax, and the Sales and Use Tax. The new state tax agency has released an educational series to explain the new tax regime. Cannabis manufacturers and distributors need to become familiar with the resale certificate. As its name implies, a resale certificate relates to the Sales and Use tax.
The Sales and Use Tax applies to sales of cannabis or cannabis products (flowers, plants, hash, bud, vape pens, edibles, oils, etc.) to consumers – in other words, the “final sale” of cannabis before the product is used/consumed. However, there are circumstances in the cannabis supply chain where these products are sold to a cannabis business for resale, rather than to a consumer. For instance, if a licensed distributor sells cannabis to a licensed retailer, they’re making a sale, but the purchaser doesn’t intend to use or consume the product themselves. In order to prevent the distributor from being liable for taxation on this type of sale, the retailer can give the distributor a resale certificate. If timely and valid, this certifies that the purchaser intends to resell the product and therefore exempts the distributor from the tax.
Without a resale certificate, both the seller and the purchaser are liable for Sales and Use Tax. In the example above, the distributor would need to pay it for their sale to the retailer, while the retailer would need to pay it for the sale they make to the final consumer. The same goes for other sales of cannabis between licensed cannabis businesses. For instance, when a cultivator sells cannabis flower to a manufacturer, the cultivator is liable for a Sales and Use Tax unless the manufacturer gives them a resale certificate for the purchase.
One important thing for distributors to keep in mind is the distinction between “transport” and “sale”. If one licensed cannabis business purchases cannabis products directly from another, e.g. a retailer buying flowers from a cultivator, the distributor who is contracted to transport the products from the cultivator’s operation to the retailer’s isn’t making a sale, and therefore doesn’t need to pay a Sales and Use Tax, regardless of whether they’re given a resale certificate.
Even if all their business’ sales are for resale and exempt from Sales and Use Tax, all cannabis operators are still responsible for filing a tax return and reporting their activities to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. Remember, a resale certificate only applies to the Sales and Use Tax, not the Cultivation or Excise taxes.
As explained in our previous blog post, “compliance” will be a major factor in the distribution of marijuana licenses in Los Angeles – and cannabis lawyers around the city are fielding a number of questions about what, exactly, LA’s priority licensing process will entail.
The draft regulations the City has released extend a certain amount of privilege to existing marijuana sellers when it comes to licensing. Businesses and dispensaries that have operated “in substantial compliance” with prior iterations of marijuana law will be given priority, allowing them to continue operating while their license approvals are pending. Clearly, this confers a major business advantage, which has raised concerns about whether a compliance-based approach to awarding priority is equitable.
Disqualifying potential cannabis business owners for past violations, but opening the door to “compliant” newcomers, threatens to reinforce inequality. As Drug Policy Alliance policy director Cat Packer, slated to head the City of LA’s Cannabis Commission, explained in an interview with Merry Jane, “The impact of marijuana prohibition and the drug wars was heaviest in black and brown latino communities. If you say people with prior arrests and convictions can’t participate, it automatically has a disproportionate effect on communities that were punished by the War on Drugs.” In other words, privileging “compliance” could compound the negative effects of marijuana prohibition, blocking communities which have historically been more likely to be punished for cannabis use from gaining access to the benefits of the new, legal marijuana industry. As attorneys who have practiced in cannabis law for many years, we have seen the damage prohibition has done to these communities, and are fully supportive of a restorative approach to justice through the licensing process.
The LA City Council recently moved to create a Social Equity Program for marijuana licensing, intending to serve “those individuals and communities that were disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition.” This follows in the path of a similar program in Oakland, which reserved half of new dispensary permits for residents who lived in certain neighborhoods, had below-average annual incomes, or had previously faced cannabis convictions. Given how much larger Los Angeles' marijuana industry is than Oakland's, however, the mechanics of the LA program may need to be worked out, and it may not be able to mirror the Oakland model in every way.
Whatever the exact parameters of LA's Social Equity Program end up being, (and however they'll be affected by recent changes to state and city licensing regulations,) the priority-based system will continue to play a major role in deciding which marijuana businesses are allowed to operate. At present, the city plans to reserve a special round of applications for organizations that fit a profile similar to the requirements Oakland used. For more on priority and marijuana laws to the new state law (MAUCRSA), check our previous blog posts or guide to Prop 64, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: The MAUCRSA, which passed June 22, repealed the provisions of the MCRSA that placed restrictions on vertical integration. As of June 30, the state has confirmed in §26053(c) of the California Business and Professions Code that a business may hold more than one license. However, it's still unclear whether there will be a limit on the total number of licenses allowed.
As many of you are well aware, California is in the process of implementing two parallel regulatory regimes that will govern cannabis production, distribution, and sales: the MCRSA, which pertains to medical marijuana, and the AUMA (a.k.a. Prop 64), which pertains to “adult use” or recreational marijuana. Originally, the MCRSA and AUMA had very different treatments of how many activities a business could be licensed for. The MCRSA favored small producers by placing restrictions on the combinations of licenses a single business could hold. The AUMA, on the other hand, allowed for total vertical integration, so one license holder could be licensed for almost the full supply chain of activities.
In California, marijuana licenses are divided into six activities, covering the entire industry: Cultivation, Manufacturing, Testing, Dispensary, Distribution, and Transportation. To ensure that testing facilities remain disinterested, both the MCRSA and the AUMA don't allow a business with a Testing license to hold a license in any other category. On top of that, the MCRSA places a similar restriction on businesses with a Distribution license, and prevents any business from holding licenses in more than two categories. The AUMA forgoes these additional restrictions, making it much more lenient on licensing.
To reduce the confusion caused by the differences between the two acts, a draft trailer bill released on April 3, 2017 by Gov. Jerry Brown’s office proposes that the AUMA's licensing structure be used for both recreational and medical marijuana. Under this proposal, the MCRSA’s restrictions on which types of licenses one licensee can hold would be loosened, potentially allowing for vertical integration not only under the AUMA but also under the MCRSA. However, opinions are divided on whether this change would help or harm California's marijuana businesses.
Under the AUMA's licensing structure, a single business could operate in almost every section of the cannabis supply chain. The MCRSA's licensing structure was explicitly designed to prevent this kind of vertical integration, out of concern that lighter restrictions would allow large corporate interests to dominate the industry. However, the draft bill argues that, since the AUMA includes other anti-monopoly measures, small independent businesses would also benefit from access to vertical integration. Whatever the outcome, this change in licensing structure would present a major turning point for California's marijuana regulations.
Under California’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA), regulatory bureaus must present draft regulations and receive comments on those regulations from the public (a requirement called Notice & Comment). The California APA allows the public to participate in the adoption of state regulations in order to ensure that the regulations are clear, necessary, and legally valid. The MCRSA is no exception, and you have a few more days to make your voice heard. If you have an opinion about Vertical Integration, you can email California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation at email@example.com. For more information on the AUMA and Prop 64, consult our guide to California's marijuana laws or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.