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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (323-253-9700).
Know Your Rights: Understanding State Hemp Regulations
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.
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.
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.
The City of San Francisco began its process of licensing retailers to sell adult-use cannabis on January 6, 2018. Any MCD (Medical Cannabis Dispensary) businesses that conducted delivery, cultivation, manufacturing, testing, or any other cannabis activity were required to register the activity with the Office of Cannabis between September 26, 2017 and November 30, 2017. Those that registered were then required to get their temporary permit(s) from the City. To continue each of these activities in 2018, temporary licensing must be obtained from the State. Any applicant who did not register as an existing business before November 30, 2017, must apply for a permit as a new cannabis business. The “Transition Provision” of City Ordinance 230-17 declares that existing MCD applicants temporarily permitted to sell cannabis starting January 1, 2018 cannot cultivate cannabis without new licensing as of April 1, 2018.
Beginning in 2018, all applicants must apply to the Equity Program (see eligibility requirements) either as individuals or incubators before applying for cannabis licensing. Since San Francisco was consistently targeted by the War on Drugs, the City is determined to make amends through this initiative, and compliance is mandatory for all cannabis businesses.
All new businesses require a license from the San Francisco Office of Cannabis and the State of California in order to sell cannabis in San Francisco. To be eligible for a temporary permit in the City of San Francisco, applicants must comply with the City’s zoning codes. These can be found on the SF City Planning website - check out the zoning for cannabis retail businesses. The Land Use Regulations for the City are have also been outlined in a table by the San Francisco Office of Cannabis, which provides useful zoning requirements for all retail and non-retail cannabis businesses (including cultivation, manufacturing and distribution). Mobile cannabis dispensaries will not be permitted in San Francisco.
At this time all cannabis licensing is temporary, subject to review by each municipal zone’s governing body and the State before permanent licensing can be applied for through the Office of Cannabis. According to Section 1605 of Article 16 in San Francisco City’s Ordinance 230-17 “Amending the Administrative, Business and Tax Regulations, Health, and Police Codes,” all cannabis businesses awarded a temporary license must apply for permanent licensing within 30 days of the date when the Office of Cannabis makes such permits available. Once permanent licensing becomes available, temporary licensing will no longer be offered to new businesses.
In summary, whether you are looking to start a business in cultivation, manufacturing, retail, distribution, a combination of the above (microbusiness), or testing, you will need to obtain temporary licensing from the City of San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis. The window for existing MCDs to register with the City has passed, but these businesses can still apply for new licensing along with all other new cannabis business applicants. The Office of Cannabis in San Francisco has not yet announced when permanent licensing will become available to businesses awarded temporary licenses by both the City and the State. More information about the application process and requirements can be found on the San Francisco Office of Cannabis website.