California CannabisThere have been countless reports of how California’s medical and adult use cannabis markets under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (now, combined under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA“)) will generate billions of dollars in revenue. Unless more California cities and counties allow commercial cannabis activity within their borders, these numbers will prove far too high.

Our California cannabis clients are constantly asking us questions like, “where in California should I set up my cannabis business? Which California cities and counties are the friendliest towards cannabis? Who is regulating now for what I want to do?” And though the list of “welcoming” cities and counties continues to change, it seems the worst cities and counties for cannabis continue to remain the same, despite the will of the voters and the actions of the California legislature.

When it comes to cannabis the below is my list of the five worst California cities and counties for commercial cannabis activity — not shockingly, most on this list are in Southern California:

  1. Los Angeles County. The most populous county in the United States has for a long time had a complicated relationship with cannabis. Though at one point Los Angeles County passed comprehensive regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, (which remain in the County Code to this day) it has since instituted a ban on dispensaries and, as of 2016, it has also banned all commercial marijuana activities within unincorporated areas of the County. In March of last year, the County voted to shut down all illegal dispensaries and it has vigorously pursued those shutdowns. It also adopted an ordinance that makes it explicitly illegal for landlords to rent to any marijuana operators. And just this month, the County again voted to extend the ban for an entire year on all marijuana-related business activity, though with this vote the County for the first time also outlined “reasonable regulations” for personal use of marijuana for medical purposes by individual patients. There is though some light at the end of the tunnel since the County expects eventually to pass comprehensive regulation for marijuana businesses. Though the MAUCRSA does not require local government approval of your cannabis business before you receive a California state license, eventual compliance with local laws is still required in the state licensing process. What this means is that unless and until L.A. County sets up its regulatory scheme, we shouldn’t expect a lot (or any) state-licensed or locally permitted commercial marijuana activity in the County.
  2. City of Riverside. In 2013, the City of Riverside won a landmark case before the California Supreme Court upholding its right to ban medical marijuana collectives within its borders under Proposition 215. And since the MAUCRSA does not prohibit cities and counties from banning marijuana businesses, Riverside is keeping with its prohibitions against cannabis businesses within city limits. City of Riverside voters rejected a 2015 ballot measure that would have allowed and regulated a small number of dispensaries in the City and since 2007, Riverside has shuttered 118 dispensaries — giving it the supposed distinction of being the only California city with a 100% closure rate. Riverside is keeping its ban on medical marijuana businesses in place for now, and though it has yet to make a decision about adult-use marijuana businesses, we can fairly safely predict that too will be a no-go.
  3. Orange County (and most of its cities). Though beloved cannabis reformer (and author of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment) Congressman Dana Rohrabacher hails from the OC, his home county and most of its cities are pretty bad when it comes to allowing for/regulating commercial cannabis activity. Orange County banned dispensaries (and all other medical marijuana activity) in 2010 after the Sheriff’s Department submitted a report to County supervisors stating that “dispensaries [were] responsible for an uptick in robberies, burglaries, weapons violations and money laundering.” Though some OC cities allow for small home grows for qualified patients and their primary caregivers, most OC cities (including its largest city, Anaheim)do not allow any commercial cannabis activity or they charge an arm and a leg for it (see Costa Mesa‘s approximately $94,000.00 price tag for cannabis permitting). And let’s not forget that botched dispensary raid in Santa Ana in 2015. Back in January of this year, the County did begin talking about regulation of marijuana businesses after passage of Proposition 64 but so far nothing has come of that discussion and OC cities mostly continue to opt for prohibition.
  4. Marin County. When it comes to cannabis business regulation and Marin County, two words come to mind: drama and disappointment. In December 2015, Marin County passed an ordinance (effective in February of 2016) giving its Board of Supervisors authority to license medical cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated Marin. This ordinance allowed up to four dispensaries in two zoned areas. Ten applications were submitted to the Marin County Board of Supervisors and open to public hearings. The County Administrator, Matthew Hymel, rejected all ten of the applications pretty much over substantive concerns with each application and because residents were concerned about having an over concentration of brick and mortar dispensaries within the county. Eight of the ten applicants appealed that decision and Hymel rejected all of those appeals. To date, the County hasn’t picked up the torch again on a revised approach to regulating marijuana dispensaries or other commercial cannabis activity.
  5. City of Pasadena. If you can’t beat ’em, take away their resources. This is what Pasadena has done in a concerted effort to choke out and shut down illegally operating cannabis businesses within its city limits. It was reported that, as of May of this year, “. . . there are 12 shops in Pasadena that sell marijuana . . . None of them have permits to operate. One of two dealers with numerous citations for illegal distribution said through it attorney that it will not stop selling pot until ordered to do so by a court. Even after sending cease and desist letters and suing half of the operators, these shops still are not closing their doors. In response, Pasadena decided through an ordinance to shut off utilities to illegal operators to force them to close (not surprisingly, Anaheim and L.A. have also used this tactic). Pasadena makes my list not because it is trying to enforce its own laws but because it has not given immediate or emergency regulation a shot. Instead, it’s choosing to waste additional time and tax payer dollars shuttering operators it could have re-located, regulated and taxed.
Davis California cannabis
Davis California

California has 58 counties and 482 incorporated cities across the state, each with the option to create its own rules or ban marijuana altogether. In this California Cannabis Countdown series, we plan to cover who is banning, who is waiting, and who is embracing California’s change to legalize marijuana — permits, regulations, taxes and all. For each city and county, we’ll discuss its location, history with cannabis, current law, and proposed law to give you a clearer picture of where to locate your cannabis business, how to keep it legal, and what you will and won’t be allowed to do.

Our last California Cannabis Countdown post was on the City of Santa Rosa, and before that that County and City of San BernardinoMarin CountyNevada County, the City of Lynwood, the City of CoachellaLos Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, the City of Desert Hot SpringsSonoma County, the City of Sacramento, the City of BerkeleyCalaveras CountyMonterey County and the City of Emeryville.

Welcome to the California Cannabis Countdown.

LocationDavis is a city in Yolo County (please don’t yell “YOLO”). Within close proximity to California’s capital and home to UC Davis – one of the top 50 universities in the United States – the city of Davis has become an attractive destination for those in Northern California looking for affordable housing and a high quality (pun perhaps intended) of life. Davis also recently got a big shout-out from one of its native sons, Hasan Minhaj.

History with Cannabis and Current Cannabis Laws. Traditionally we focus on bigger localities (which Davis is not) in our Cannabis Countdown series but whenever a new locale enacts a cannabis ordinance we try to highlight them. Historically, Davis took a prohibitionist stance towards cannabis – which was surprising considering UC Davis’ agricultural history (I’m sure living alumni are glad it’s no longer called University Farm). After the California Legislature adopted the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (then known as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act) the Davis City Council passed Ordinance No. 2467 on January 19, 2016, prohibiting commercial cultivation and personal outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana throughout the city. The Davis City Council then expanded on the prohibition On November 1st, 2016 (7 days prior to passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Ac) and then expanded on Ordinance 2488 and approved an interim moratorium on the establishment, creation, or expansion of any commercial cannabis uses and outdoor cultivation, with the intent to add commercial recreational cannabis as a prohibited activity. With Sacramento and nearby Sonoma County having favorable and well regulated cannabis ordinances on the books, it wasn’t likely Davis would continue with its ban of commercial cannabis activity, especially medical cannabis.

Proposed Cannabis LawsOn June 6 of this year, the Davis City Council adopted an ordinance permitting commercial cannabis manufacturing research, and distribution in properly zoned districts in Davis. Here are a couple of the ordinance’s highlights:

  • The ordinance allows for manufacturing non-hazardous and hazardous but non-volatile materials. The permitting process for hazardous materials will require additional precautionary measures.
  • The ordinance allows laboratories and research facilities to include limited cultivation on site so long as the cultivation is done strictly for research purposes.
  • A cannabis distribution facility is defined as any facility engaged in the procurement, temporary storage, non-retail sales, and transport of cannabis or cannabis products between State-licensed cannabis businesses, including warehouses and similar structures.

Though Davis’ ordinance isn’t as welcoming to cannabis businesses as those of some of its neighboring jurisdictions it’s better than nothing and history would indicate cities often like to dip their toes in the cannabis pool before diving right in. Just this Tuesday Davis’ City Council asked for feedback and direction for developing an ordinance that would cover dispensaries, delivery services, and commercial cultivators. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as Davis continues on with its road to enlightenment.

Today closes out our five part series on “How to Open an Oregon Recreational Grow Operation” (see parts 1, 2, 3, and 4) with a discussion on canopy sizes and the medical bump-up canopy program. I also touch on Oregon’s marijuana worker permit program and discuss what you can expect after you submit your OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) license application. Remember that the law in this area has been changing rapidly, so much of what we have discussed so far is potentially subject to change.

Canopy Sizes. Your “canopy” is the part of your licensed premises that can be used to cultivate cannabis plants. In your cannabis license application you must tell the OLCC how much square footage you intend to use for cannabis cultivation, and you must clearly designate canopy areas on your site plan (see here for an example). The larger the total area, the greater your annual license fee:

  • Micro Tier I – $1,000
    • Indoor: Up to 625 sq. ft.
    • Outdoor: Up to 2,500 sq. ft.
  • Micro Tier II – $2,000
    • Indoor: 626 to 1,250 sq. ft.
    • Outdoor: 2,501 to 5,000 sq. ft.
  • Tier I – $3,759
    • Indoor: 1,251 to 5,000 sq. ft.
    • Outdoor: 5,001 to 10,000 sq. ft.
  • Tier II – $5,750
    • Indoor: 5,001 to 10,000 sq. ft.
    • Outdoor: 20,001 to 40,000 sq. ft.

It gets a bit more complicated if you have a mixed use site, but generally one foot of indoor area is equivalent to four feet of outdoor area. So, for example, a mixed-use Tier II producer could have all 10,000 indoor, a mix of 5,000 indoor/20,000 outdoor, or all 40,000 outdoor.

Oregon cannabis grow licenses
Your canopy areas do not have a height restriction, so feel free to expand vertically.

When you are deciding on your cannabis canopy limits, keep in mind that the limits apply only to mature plants, not to immature plants. You can grow as many mature plants as you can fit in your canopy areas. As there are no height restrictions, you should be thinking vertically.

Medical Bump-Up Canopy. Oregon’s legislature recently approved the “medical bump-up canopy” program, which allows recreational cannabis producers to set aside a small portion of their premises to cultivate medical cannabis. If you are interested in growing medical cannabis alongside your recreational cannabis, you can enter into a Producer-Patient Medical Canopy Agreement with up to 24 OMMP (Oregon Medical Marijuana Program) cardholding patients. These patients can reimburse you for your reasonable expenses, but you must give these patients their marijuana medicine free of charge.

Nevertheless, a medical canopy is still potentially profitable. Though you can grow up to six plants per patient, you can transfer no more than 3 pounds to a single patient in a year. This means you will likely have a surplus for each patient. The bump-up program allows you to generate some income from your medical marijuana crop by transferring up to 25% of that crop to registered producers and dispensaries.

Marijuana Worker Permit. Each of your employees must have a marijuana worker permit, including seasonal employees. Each permit costs $100 and each applicant must pass an online test and a background check. The OLCC has set up a simple website explaining the process, which includes a link to the study book.

What to Expect when the OLCC Follows Up. Once you submit your cannabis grow license application, the OLCC will conduct a preliminary review. You will likely receive a follow up letter from the OLCC identifying any deficiencies in your application you must resolve before you can obtain your grow license. To minimize delays, make sure your initial application is thorough and correct. The following are examples of issues that have come up:

  • Failing to properly identify the portion of a tax lot that will be leased to your company.
  • Including a residence within your licensed premises boundary.
  • Failing to properly label your site and floor plans, including the location of your cameras.
  • Failing to be consistent in your labels across site and floor plans.
  • Failing to provide dimensions for each structure on your property.
  • Failing to identify the materials that make up your fences/walls.
  • Failing to label each camera with a number on your security plan.

Once you are confident you have met all of your Oregon cannabis grow application requirements and you have the required documents in order, you will be ready to request an inspection. If all goes well, and you have complied with all local requirements, you will soon be a licensed recreational grow operation. Congratulations!

business-1320058_960_720Last week, I wrote on Oregon cannabis company acquisitions, and the types of deal structures these transactions tend to follow. I mentioned that before a transaction is consummated, but after discussions have commenced, the purchasing entity will typically discuss its plans with counsel. The lawyer will then draft a letter of intent or a term sheet to present to the target company. If the target company accepts outright, the transaction will proceed. If the target company does not accept outright (more common), it will submit proposed revisions.

Term sheets take many forms, but in a basic sense a term sheet describes the terms of the acquisition at hand. Because each transaction is a snowflake, each term sheet is also unique and must be carefully considered and prepared. Sometimes, the parties will skip the term sheet and simply proceed to the transaction in an attempt at “efficiency.” We strongly advise against this: it invites a substantial risk of misunderstanding as to which documents will follow, and when, and may even cause confusion as to deal points themselves.

Here is a basic list of items for inclusion in any term sheet for an Oregon cannabis company acquisition:

Binding vs. non-binding provisions. As a general concept, a well written term sheet will be organized by binding and non-binding provisions. The binding provisions will include items like non-disclosure, exclusivity, jurisdiction, and choice of law. The non-binding provisions will include the unique deal point items, such as purchase price, payment terms and collateral agreements (e.g. consulting agreement, non-compete, lease or land sale contract, etc.). When a non-binding provision is misplaced into the “binding” category, or vice versa, both buyer and seller can expose themselves to serious legal risk.

Nature of acquisition. The term sheet should clearly lay out whether the transaction is an asset sale, stock sale or merger, and whether the purchase price will be paid via cash, debt, equity swap, or other method. This portion of the document should also detail whether the buyer will proceed in its own name, or through a newly created entity.

Liabilities. In nearly all acquisitions, the purchaser will assume certain liabilities of the seller. These liabilities may include everything under the sun related to seller, or liabilities may be limited to select items, like assignable contracts. If specific liabilities are known at term sheet preparation, they should be listed, perhaps on a separate schedule.

Indemnification. Limitations on both seller and buyer liability can be a heavily negotiated portion of any term sheet. The term sheet should deal with any potential claim that may arise out of the parties’ pending agreements. It should also address claims existing prior to the transaction, the possibility of breaches of representations and warranties, issues of title to assets, tax obligations, employee benefits, claims arising out of marijuana’s status as a controlled substance, etc.

Employment agreements. Every term sheet should deal with the seller’s employees. Will they stay, or will the seller be required to fire them? What happens with regular employees versus executives? When can employees be apprised of the transaction? Failure to address employment can cause serious headaches for both parties.

Conditions to closing (contingencies). This list may be long and varied, and include items from the acquisition of third-party financing, to approvals by the shareholders and/or directors of the purchasing and selling entity. The satisfactory completion of due diligence by the parties is always a crucial item, and in the cannabis context, licensing (see below) is a critical issue.

Marijuana licensing. Like other adult use states, Oregon requires its cannabis companies to maintain state licensure. In certain areas, a local license may also be required. The administrative protocol for changes in license ownership can be complex and time-consuming, and may take on a unique character, depending on the type of acquisition. The licensing update or transfer protocol must be carefully thought through and delineated in the term sheet.

If you made it this far, congratulations; but please note that the above list is not at all exhaustive. There are many nuances to a letter of intent or term sheet beyond the deal points highlighted here. Once a term sheet is negotiated and signed, the parties can move into the formal due diligence phase mentioned above, and ultimately, to closing.

California cannabis: think local
California cannabis. Think local.

To the excitement of many, California’s Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) does not include a residency requirement akin to those we’ve seen in other states, like Washington. Though in theory this could change, such an about face is unlikely given the proposed rules that dropped a few weeks ago. And though Chapter 5, Section 26054(a) of Proposition 64 (dealing with recreational cannabis regulation) does contain a residency requirement, it is likely the medical and recreational cannabis rules will ultimately be synced, eliminating that requirement. For reference, however, that section of Proposition 64 states:

“[n]o licensing authority shall issue or renew a license to any person that cannot demonstrate continuous California residency from or before January 1, 2015. In the case of an applicant or licensee that is an entity, the entity shall not be considered a resident if any person controlling the entity cannot demonstrate continuous California residency from and before January 1, 2015.”

That residency requirement will expire on December 31, 2019 unless the California state legislature renews it. Also important to note is that even if this residency requirement were to go into effect, it would apply only to “controlling persons.” But again, we believe that as the medical and recreational cannabis rules are finalized and synced up, the residency requirements of Proposition 64 will be eliminated.

But this has not stopped local jurisdictions, including cities and counties, from implementing varying levels of residency requirements, or de facto residency requirements, on their own. For example cannabis licenses in the City of Los Angeles will likely be limited to state residents since the City is issuing first round licenses only to Proposition M Priority eligible applicants (i.e., the ~135 Pre-ICO cannabis collectives currently operating in the City under Prop. D immunity from prosecution). In theory, at least, the proprietors of these businesses, who would have been required to possess qualified patient authorizations, would have needed to be California state residents. In other words, the City of Los Angeles is limiting licenses to those who have operated locally since at least 2007, which functions as de facto localism.

Los Angeles’ proposed regulations also require applicants provide a detailed plan for hiring local residents, including making an “ongoing good faith effort to ensure that at least 30 percent of hours of their respective workforce be performed by residents of the City of Los Angeles, of which at least 10 percent of their respective workforce shall be performed by Transitional Workers whose primary place of residence is within a 3-mile radius of the proposed Business.”

The city of Oakland has developed what is perhaps one of the most contentious residency requirements via its Equity Permit Program. This program aims to address inequity in the local cannabis industry by prioritizing permit issuance to those with roots in certain identified Oakland neighborhoods that have been historically impacted by disproportionate drug law enforcement, and to members of the Oakland community who have been arrested and convicted of cannabis crimes in Oakland in the last 20 years. The law moves qualifying Equity Applicants, defined as Oakland residents with an annual income at or less than 80% of the City average and who either lived in certain defined Oakland police beats for 10 of the last 20 years, or who have been convicted of a cannabis crime committed in Oakland within the last 20 years, to the front of the cannabis permitting line, and it also creates access to approximately $3.4 million in earmarked interest-free business loans and other assistance.

When issuing permits for any kind of cannabis business, the City must give half (i.e. maintain a 1-to-1 ratio) of all permits issued in its initial issuance phase to these Equity Applicants.  Oakland local law also requires dispensary staff be at least 50% Oakland residents, with at least half of those residents from areas identified as having high unemployment or low household incomes.

Other local jurisdictions are implementing or considering similar means of enacting residency restrictions, despite the state’s leniency on the issue. It is therefore imperative to review the local laws under which you intend to operate, particularly if you are not a California state resident.

 

 

 

Cannabis attorneysCan your neighbors file a civil RICO suit against you in federal court and allege that your state-legal cannabis business is an organized crime operation? A decision from the Tenth Circuit of Appeals handed down this month suggests they can.

The case, Safe Streets Alliance v. John Hickenlooper, concerned a dispute between neighbors that own adjacent plots of open land in rural Colorado. Though neither party lived on their respective properties, one of the defendants used his to house a state-legal commercial cannabis grow operation on his. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, preferred to use their land to ride horses and recreate with their children. The plaintiffs alleged that the odor of cannabis prevented them from enjoying their land and diminished its value; they also alleged that they were harmed by the indignity of having to see a “criminal operation” from their land.

So far this story sounds like a fairly garden-variety nuisance lawsuit with which many other cannabis growers have had to deal. See California Cannabis NIMBYs and Land Use Disputes and How To Handle A Neighbor Who Wants To Shut Down Your Cannabis Business. But what makes this case so important is that one of plaintiffs’ causes of action was a RICO claim. RICO, which stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, is a law originally intended to thwart conventional organized crime and it brings down the hammer: losing a RICO suit can mean the plaintiff is awarded three times its actual money damages as well as attorney’s fees. By its very design, RICO is intended to be ruinous to organizations caught in its crosshairs.

The Tenth Circuit addressed the RICO claim with the same basic federal supremacy arguments with which all cannabis litigants struggle. The court stated that the organization with the cannabis grow operation was indeed a “criminal organization” as defined under federal law and sided with the plaintiffs’ contention that it is reasonable to infer that property owners do not want their land to be adjacent to a criminal enterprise. Note, however, that as an appellate court the Tenth Circuit decides issues of law and ultimately sent this case back to the trial court for a factual determination. Indeed, the panel speculated that it might be true that the plaintiffs’ land was in fact, more valuable because of its suitability for the cultivation of marijuana. Stay tuned to see how the district court resolves this issue.

The takeaway from this case for the cannabis industry is this that state legality probably will not shield you from civil RICO suits in federal court. Cannabis businesses should consider their business operations and risk exposure in light of this and, if possible, avoid alienating their neighbors. This case does not, however, mean that cannabis businesses are now at increased risk of criminal RICO exposure. Federal criminal RICO enforcement is subject to the same measures and enforcement priorities that have kept the federal government from enforcing the Controlled Substances Act.

As NORML attorney Keith Stroup notes, there is some good news to be found in the decision. The Tenth Circuit rejected a handful of other arguments that the court should void and enjoin the enforcement of Colorado’s Amendment 64 – a ruling that would have dealt a serious blow to state legal cannabis programs.

Washington State cannabis lawsAs Washington’s cannabis industry continues to develop, marijuana businesses continue to face new challenges. And with an ever growing number of consumers buying and using marijuana the risk of lawsuits against those who produce or sell cannabis keeps growing as well. Under what is called product liability law, manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others who make products available to the public can relatively easily be held liable for any injuries those products cause. Cannabis business owners must be mindful of product liability lawsuits arising from the cannabis products they make or sell.

In Washington State, product liability law is codified in the Washington Product Liability Act (WPLA), which broadly applies to virtually any injury claim resulting from a product covered under this act. The WPLA distinguishes between product manufacturers and non-manufacturer sellers. Washington’s marijuana market is divided between businesses who grow and process cannabis and businesses that sell the product to consumers. Manufacturers, for WPLA purposes, are the licensed producers that grow cannabis and turn that cannabis into edibles, extracts, concentrates, and other marijuana products. Non-manufacturer sellers are retailers that sell marijuana to consumers. A business can hold a license to produce and process marijuana but it cannot also have any ownership interest in a retail business. In turn, a retailer may have not an ownership interest in a cannabis producer or processor.

A product manufacturer is subject to liability under the WPLA if it was negligent or failed to provide proper warnings or instructions or if the product was not designed as reasonably safe. A plaintiff can show negligence by proving the manufacturer owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, and the breach caused the plaintiff damages. A plaintiff can prove a manufacturer failed to provide an adequate warning by showing that a product’s warning or instructions were not likely to notify the consumer of the potential harm and the manufacturer could have provided instructions or warnings that would have been adequate. A plaintiff can show that a product was defectively constructed by establishing that “when the product left the control of the manufacturer, the product deviated in some material way from the design specifications or performance standards of the manufacturer, or deviated in some material way from otherwise identical units of the same product line.” Finally, a plaintiff can prove that a product lacked adequate warning and was designed defectively if the product “was unsafe to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer.”

Washington’s robust marijuana regulations may provide producers and processors with some safeguards against claims brought under the WPLA.  Producers and processors may present evidence of compliance with Washington’s extensive cannabis laws and regulations as a defense to a product liability lawsuit. However, compliance with these state law cannabis standards does not automatically bar products liability claims as it is still possible the state required warnings or acceptable standards for growing and processing are inadequate.

Under the WPLA, non-manufacturer sellers can be liable in some scenarios, but simply selling a product that eventually leads to injury does not by itself establish liability. This means that retailers have a lower risk of being subject to product liability than a manufacturer because they do not manufacture the products they sell. However, a retailer may be liable to an injured consumer if the consumer’s harm was caused by the seller’s own negligence by the breach of a warranty made by the seller, or by a seller’s intentional misrepresentation of facts about the product it is selling. A seller may also be liable if there is no financially solvent manufacturer. Because many producers and processors do not have the funds or the insurance to pay off on large (or even not so large) product liability lawsuits, even cannabis retailers in Washington State need to be wary of product liability lawsuits.

Marijuana businesses operators can reduce their product liability risks by doing the following:

  1. Set up your cannabis business so as to protect yourself from personal liability. See Cannabis Businesses And Corporate Separateness and Cannabis Business and Corporate Separateness, Part II
  2. Vet the businesses with which you conduct business and, in particular, seek to ensure they are complying with applicable regulations and industry standards. See Buying a Cannabis Business: The Top Five Due Diligence Items or Buyer Beware.
  3. Draft your contracts so that vendors must indemnify you for any damages arising from their defective product.
  4. Use appropriate packaging and warning labels on the products you sell. See Cannabis Products and Dosing: Educate, Educate, Educate and Label, Label, Label and Pot Puppies? Let’s Talk Labeling and Packaging. NOW.
  5. Get good insurance for your business. The LCB requires cannabis licensees carry and maintain commercial general liability insurance, but you should also consider adding additional insurance to cover potential product liability lawsuits.

Cannabis and the Drug Epidemic

What is truly “unwise” is Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ has vendetta against pot and his deliberate unwillingness to see the evidence legalization can help in taking down the drug organizations and drug traffickers of which he speaks. What is further unwise is how Sessions lumps those organizations and traffickers in with medical and recreational cannabis businesses that comply  with state law, while at the same time acting as though he supports states’ rights. And what is even more unwise is how Sessions lumps cannabis in with “an historic drug epidemic,” also known as the opioid epidemic, when science has shown multiple times that cannabis actually assists in quelling that very same epidemic.

Maybe we need to come to the simple conclusion that Sessions is perhaps just deeply unwise, at least when it comes to cannabis.

Do you agree?

Cannabis ComplianceWe have previously written about the need for cannabis businesses to systematize their policies and procedures. See Improving Systems and Structures for Cannabis Business Expansion and Understanding and Managing Cannabis Legal Compliance: No Excuses. Marijuana businesses are not standard startups — they are highly regulated and need to act like it from day one. But there is one thing worse than not having systematic procedures in place across your cannabis business — having systems in place but ignoring them.

For example, look at the employment side of the cannabis industry. Many cannabis businesses understand the need to have an employment policy manual, so they find a nice template online, find and replace some words, and adopt it themselves. Other businesses are savvier and work with attorneys or HR professionals to create professionally tailored employment policies. In both circumstances, that manual may include references to things like “performance management plans” or “performance improvement plans.” The plans can have step by step procedures for what happens in the case of employee performance problems. They often include a multi-step process for performance correction, review notes in the employee file, interim sanctions, and finally termination. But life moves fast, and it’s often easiest for business managers to talk to employees on the fly. Let’s say that an employee is consistently late. Instead of going through the formal process, the employer makes a couple of corrective comments, and then terminates the employee when the poor performance continues.

If a disgruntled former employee brings a complaint for wrongful termination, that employee’s case is immensely improved if she/he can show the employer did not comply with the employer’s written policies and procedures. At-will employees are still protected against termination for certain reasons. You can’t fire someone for reporting discrimination, for taking protected leave, and for several other reasons. Even if you had a good reason for the termination, if the former employee can connect the termination to a protected scenario, the employer’s lack of compliance with its own policies and procedures can be the kiss of death.

But employment isn’t the only area where this is important. We advise marijuana businesses to have compliance programs in place. Let’s say your written compliance program includes a weekly audit of your on-site security cameras and alarms to make sure they are all working. State laws often provide for penalty mitigation or even penalty waivers when companies act in accord with written compliance programs. But to get that mitigation or those waivers, you need to be able to document that you actually complied with your written procedures. In fact, if you submitted your written compliance program to the state as part of the licensing process, your noncompliance with that written compliance program can actually be considered an independent regulatory violation.

So what does this all mean? Written policies and procedures are vitally important for highly regulated businesses and any business looking to grow beyond a single location. But written procedures are not about putting in place a program that looks good on paper but is never really implemented. Your compliance programs for your cannabis business should be written and tailored so that the standard procedures set forth within them are achievable by your company’s management and staff. And once you have an achievable system in place, it is likewise supremely important that your company abide by it and stick with it. If you have written procedures and you find that you aren’t doing a good job complying with them, you need to either adjust your actions, adjust the procedures, or both. Otherwise, you will run into a host of problems.

California Cannabis Law Senate Bill 94
California just came out with its Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA”)

The California Legislature today passed Senate Bill 94, which effectively repeals the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA”) and incorporates certain provisions of the MCRSA in the licensing provisions of the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (“AUMA” aka Proposition 64). As we’ve covered extensively, draft rules for the MCRSA dropped in late April, but speculation has been rampant that the state would integrate the rules for both medicinal cannabis (MCRSA) and adult use cannabis (AUMA). SB 94 does just that by creating the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA”).

Here are 10 of the most important highlights of today’s bill:

  1. The governing bureau will now be the Bureau of Cannabis Control (“the Bureau”).
  2. The types of licenses available for commercial adult-use cannabis activity and commercial medicinal cannabis activity will be the same. The licenses available under both the MCRSA and the AUMA will continue to be available for both kinds of activity, and for specialty cottage cultivation licenses and microbusiness licenses, and, commencing on January 1, 2023, licenses for large outdoor, indoor, and mixed-light cultivation will also be available for both medicinal and adult-use cannabis activity.
  3. Producing dispensary and transporter licenses will not be available.
  4. Quality assurance, inspection, and testing requirements of cannabis and cannabis products prior to retail sale will change. Distributors will be required to store cannabis batches on their premises during testing, testing lab employees will be required to obtain samples for testing and transport those samples to testing labs, and distributors will be required to conduct a quality assurance review to ensure compliance with labeling and packing requirements, among other things.
  5. Though the MCRSA limited the combinations of medicinal cannabis licenses a person may hold until January 1, 2026, the MAUCRSA will not apply these limits (other than that testing laboratory licensees are prohibited from obtaining licenses to engage in any other commercial cannabis activity);
  6. The residency requirements of the AUMA are repealed. In other words, out of staters and even residents of other countries can freely participate.
  7. Additional advertising requirements, including regulation of online advertising and the creation of a universal symbol for edible cannabis products will be implemented.
  8. The cannabis excise tax will be measured by the average market price (as defined) of the retail sale, instead of by the gross receipts of the retail sale.
  9. Applicants for cultivation licenses will need to identify the source of water supply.
  10. The Bureau will no longer have the authority to regulate and control industrial hemp.

The above is only a rough summary of the new legislation. We will be breaking down the details in the coming days so stay tuned.