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With a foundation in advocacy for cannabis legalization built through involvement on University of Washington's campus and with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, Daniel has positioned himself as a fearless advocate for the cannabis industry.

Cannabis lawyersJust about whenever Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks, the cannabis industry panics. Stop it people.

This week Jeff Sessions gave an interview where he was asked about possibly using the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to tackle legal marijuana. The media (the cannabis media in particular) have covered that interview as though it sets forth a roadmap for federal cannabis policy. And since that interview, probably every single cannabis lawyer at my law firm (in California, Washington and Oregon) has received at least one client call seeking an opinion on it.

Stop it everyone. Just stop it. Really. Sessions didn’t do anything in this interview but muse about a seldom used federal statute.

In this interview, Sessions hinted that he might be open to using RICO to pursue cannabis businesses in cannabis legal states:

INTERVIEWER: One RICO prosecution against one marijuana retailer in one state that has so-called legalization ends this façade and this flaunting of the Supremacy Clause. Will you be bringing such a case?

SESSIONS: We will, marijuana is against federal law, and that applies in states where they may have repealed their own anti-marijuana laws. So yes, we will enforce law in an appropriate way nationwide. It’s not possible for the federal government, of course, to take over everything the local police used to do in a state that’s legalized it. And I’m not in favor of legalization of marijuana. I think it’s a more dangerous drug than a lot of people realize. I don’t think we’re going to be a better community if marijuana is sold in every corner grocery store.

Of course he might be open to using RICO to pursue federal criminal law violations by cannabis businesses. I actually do not believe Attorney Generals Holder and Lynch, who were the Attorney Generals during the Obama Administration) would have answered this question substantively much differently. You are not going to get an Attorney General to say, “yes, we have this really important law on the books, but nobody worry because we will never enforce it. Just go ahead and violate it.” Really?

And if you listen to the entire interview here, you will hear Sessions poo-poo the benefits of bringing a RICO action against state-legal cannabis businesses:

INTERVIEWER: [I]t would literally take one racketeering influence corrupt organization prosecution to take all the money from one retailer, and the message would be sent. I mean, if you want to send that message, you can send it. Do you think you’re going to send it?

SESSIONS: Well, we’ll be evaluating how we want to handle that. I think it’s a little more complicated than one RICO case, I’ve got to tell you. This — places like Colorado — it’s just sprung up a lot of different independent entities that are moving marijuana. And it’s also being moved interstate, not just in the home state.

RICO was designed to pursue the mafia and other organized crime groups. RICO provides powerful criminal and civil penalties against people who engage in a “pattern of racketeering activity” and have a relationship to an “enterprise.” “Racketeering activity” includes roughly a hundred different offenses, including violations of the Controlled Substances Act. A “pattern” is established when an offense occurs more than one time in a given statutorily defined time period. An “enterprise” includes any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and any group of individuals associated together even if they are not in a formal business relationship.

The broad interpretation of “enterprise” means that on a technical legal basis, RICO could pose a significant risk to cannabis businesses. The production and sale of cannabis is prohibited by the CSA and, therefore, regular sales of cannabis could serve as the predicate offense for a RICO charge and all those involved with legal cannabis sales, including vendors, contractors, landlords, lawyers, accountants, and even state officials could arguably be in an enterprise engaging in illegal activity.

But nobody should panic about this, not even close. RICO is a powerful but seldom used tool and that is because both prosecutors and judges view it as a very powerful weapon that should only be used in limited circumstances. The RICO statute has been around since 1970 and I cannot recall a single cannabis case having been brought under it. I am not saying there has never been such a case, but I am saying that it has been used sparingly in dealing with cannabis, if at all, including during Nixon’s “War on Drugs” and Reagan’s “Just Say No” administrations. In this same interview Sessions noted that the federal government has limited resources and it cannot simply commandeer local police forces to pursue RICO charges against cannabis users. RICO cases take a massive amount of effort to prosecute criminally and apparently not even Jeff (“good people don’t smoke cannabis“) Sessions deems this would be money and time well spent.

It also bears mentioning that a few years ago, some private citizens brought RICO claims against marijuana businesses and non-cannabis businesses alleged to have been operating in concert to sell cannabis. As we wrote here, the federal court dismissed those claims.

There is though one important thing cannabis businesses should take from this interview. Sessions is concerned about cannabis businesses that move marijuana from state to state. Note how he brings this up when he says: “it’s also being moved interstate, not just in the home state.” This IS important. The states are mostly in charge of prosecuting criminal activities that happen entirely within their own state borders. A robber in Portland or Seattle or San Francisco will almost certainly be prosecuted by state-city prosecutors; but a robber who brings stolen goods from Seattle to San Francisco could very well be prosecuted federally. The same has always been true of illegal drugs, including cannabis. If you are caught with weed in Newton, Iowa, you risk city or state prosecution. But if you are caught transporting cannabis from Iowa to Illinois, you risk federal prosecution.

So if you want to panic based on this Jeff Sessions interview, you should if you are planning to transport cannabis across state lines. The federal government has never liked interstate cannabis transport and it has always made this clear, as have we, in the following posts:

In Marijuana Law Myths. Not Everything Changes With Legalization, in Myth #2, we explain why it is so dangerous to fall for the myth that you can legally transport cannabis from one legal state to another and why this myth is so dangerous:

2. Now that marijuana is legal in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, it is legal to sell Washington-grown marijuana in all three states. We hear this one ALL the time, mostly from marijuana businesses that intend to do this, believing it to be legal. It isn’t and please, please do not do this, unless you want to go to federal prison. The same holds true for Washington D.C., where marijuana was just legalized. You cannot just take your “legal” marijuana there and start selling it.

Taking legal pot across ANY state borders by boat or by car or by air is a big deal as it amounts to unlawful interstate drug trafficking.

More importantly, taking marijuana from one marijuana legal state to another is a federal crime. Marijuana is still a Schedule I Controlled Substance. The U.S. Constitution gives the federal government the authority to regulate interstate commerce. This means that it can (and does) prosecute people for transporting marijuana across state lines, even if the transport is from one marijuana legal state jurisdiction to another.

We are not saying that you should expect FBI agents to be sitting at the borders waiting to arrest people for going from one state to another with marijuana, but this is to say that traveling from state to state with marijuana is not advised, particularly by boat or by airplane. More importantly, a business plan that assumes this is legal is a business plan that will set you up to fail, especially if you publicly reveal that your business does this.

This is also a good time to remind you that if you are going to drive from state to state, clear out your cars, your boats, your airplanes, your clothes and your luggage before going from a cannabis legal state to one that is not. State troopers in states like Nebraska, Kansas, and Idaho (and even Nevada where cannabis is legal for medical us but not recreational) love making easy money by arresting and fining people entering with marijuana from Colorado and Washington.

Transporting a Schedule I Controlled Substance, including marijuana, across any state line is a federal felony. This is the case even if your medical marijuana patient card is honored in the next state over, and even if you are moving between jurisdictions that have legalized recreational marijuana. Keep and consume your cannabis in the state where you purchased it, or you run the risk of federal criminal charges for transporting a controlled substance.

So yeah, moving cannabis across state lines (yes, even from one cannabis legal state to another) is a really bad idea.

Oh, and one more thing, many (even some in the cannabis industry) are acting as though one RICO case would do what this interviewer says and “send the message” to all those in the cannabis industry to terminate all their employees and shut down their state-legal cannabis businesses. In other words, many are acting as though one RICO claim would be “lights out” for legalized cannabis all across the country.

This is absurd. The federal government has been trying to shut down cannabis for more than one hundred years, and for much of that time, it had overwhelming popular support for doing so. Today though, the majority of Americans favor legalization and those numbers keep getting better. Were the federal government to pursue “just one” RICO claim, it would likely be against a really large cannabis business that transported cannabis across state lines and I do not believe such a lawsuit would lead to a single state-legal cannabis business shutting down. If anything, it would be more likely to galvanize our country to legalize cannabis once and for all.

So please, nobody panic.

Washington Cannabis LawyerThe Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) enforces a wide range of rules and laws on cannabis. Because of this, our cannabis attorneys constantly stress to our clients the need for them to set up and rigorously maintain comprehensive regulatory compliance protocols to avoid violations of LCB rules and regulations and to mitigate penalties should such violations occur.

When the LCB believes a licensed cannabis business has committed a rule violation, it will issue the licensee an Administrative Violation Notice (AVN), describing the alleged violation and a recommended penalty. The LCB has broad discretion in assessing penalties for cannabis rule violations, based on Washington Administrative Code instructions that it consider mitigating and aggravating factors in making that penalty assessment. Penalties generally increase if the cannabis licensee has had repeat offenses within a two-year window.

The Washington Administrative Code separates cannabis violations into five categories:

  • Group One—Public safety violations. These violations are considered the most serious and they have the harshest penalties. For example, a cannabis licensee caught buying or selling marijuana to or from an unauthorized source faces cancellation of its license with even a first offense.
  • Group Two—Regulatory violations. These violations include failing to keep proper records, failing to submit required monthly reports, and improper advertising.
  • Group Three—License violations. These violations include failing to abide by licensing requirements and license classifications. Some Group Three violations can result in cancellation of the cannabis license even on the first offense. For example, a licensee’s failure to disclose everyone who owns, operates, or loans money to a licensed cannabis business is a violation of Washington’s true party of interest rules and it can lead to a cancellation of the cannabis license. Other Group Three violations can result in monetary penalties and/or a suspension of license.
  • Group Four—Nonretail violations. These violations involve the manufacture, supply, processing, and/or distribution of marijuana by nonretail licensees and prohibited practices between nonretail licensees and retail licensees. Generally, a first offense of a Group Four violation will result in a fine, but the LCB may cancel a license after the third Group Four offense.
  • Group Five—Violations involving the transportation freight of marijuana. These violations can result in cancellation of a license for a first offense if marijuana is transported from or diverted to an unauthorized source. This includes marijuana transported outside the state of Washington.

The LCB generally doesn’t temporarily suspend producer or processor licenses; it instead employs monetary fines, destruction of inventory, and/or license cancellations to penalize non-retail cannabis licensees. On the other hand, Cannabis retail license holders generally see temporary license suspensions, monetary fines, or license cancellation.

A cannabis licensee has 20 days after receiving a Violation Notice to accept the penalty, request a settlement conference, or request an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge. At these settlement conferences, the cannabis licensee and the LCB discuss the circumstances surrounding the LCB allegations, the recommended penalty, and any aggravating or mitigating factors. You are allowed to bring an attorney to these settlement conferences and you should. The hearing officer’s settlement authority is often limited, but the primary goal of the hearing is to explain why the incident occurred, to identify what failures there were in the licensee’s internal compliance program, and for the licensee to detail a plan to prevent future violations. If a licensee successfully explains all of that, the penalty is generally mitigated. In mitigation, fines and suspension periods are generally cut by 40%-50%.

The administrative hearings on LCB rule violations are similar to court proceedings but a bit less formal. For example, these proceedings do not use the strict evidentiary rules of courts. At these hearings, the cannabis licensee and the LCB may question witnesses and submit and challenge documents regarding the alleged violation. The administrative law judge typically reviews the circumstances surrounding the alleged violation, including any mitigating and aggravating factors and determines guilt or innocence and then hands down a penalty pursuant to the penalty guidelines in the Washington Administrative Code. If the cannabis licensee is not satisfied with any aspect of the administrative judges’ decision, it can appeal to the LCB to have the decision overturned.

Bottom Line: Cannabis licensees should have company-wide policies and procedures in place to avoid rule violations and as a mitigation factor should any rule violation occur. They should also know their various options for dealing with any alleged violations.

washington state cannabis law marijuana lawOn Thursday, President Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer predicted “increased enforcement” against recreational cannabis. By Friday, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson was promising Washington State would “resist any efforts by the Trump administration to undermine the will of the voters in Washington state.”

Washington State AG Ferguson’s office also tweeted  the following:

 I was deeply disappointed to hear the White House Press Secretary’s comment today regarding marijuana legalization by states like Washington.

Last week [Washington State] Governor Inslee joined me in sending a letter to Attorney General Sessions, asking for a meeting on this issue. I look forward to sharing how our state’s approach is working.

I will also be very clear with AG Sessions that I will defend the will of Washington voters. My office will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that the federal government does not undermine Washington’s successful, unified system for recreational and medical marijuana.

The Ferguson/Inslee letter describes how legalization in Washington State has allowed local law enforcement to use its limited resources to combat other, more serious crimes, and how legal marijuana has generated significant tax revenue for the state. Ferguson and Inslee also requested Sessions continue to uphold the the Cole Memo.

Sessions has not yet indicated how he will treat legal cannabis nor what his position will be on the Cole Memo, which essentially says the federal government will stay away from robustly regulated state-legal cannabis. Washington State has already scored a legal victory by blocking the President’s travel ban, so few view AG Ferguson’s stated intention to fight for cannabis as an idle threat.

If the Feds do seek to shut down Washington State’s highly successful recreational cannabis industry, we expect the state would argue that federal law on cannabis cannot preempt state law. Washington State would likely argue there is no conflict between Washington’s recreational laws and the federal Controlled Substances Act because the two can stand together. Washington’s recreational marijuana laws support the intent of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which is to sufficiently control and oversee scheduled narcotics.

Though Washington State will likely concede that the federal government has the power to enforce its own marijuana laws, it will likely argue that the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the federal government from forcing Washington State to use any of its own resources to carry this out. Since Jeff Sessions concedes that marijuana enforcement is a question of “federal resources,” the more the states with legal cannabis force the federal Department of Justice to expend federal funds and resources to eradicate cannabis, the less likely it is to occur. If the federal government is serious about going after recreational marijuana in states like Washington, we should expect serious and sustained resistance from states whose citizens voted legal marijuana.

 

Marijuana Cannabis and the DEA

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has made many a dubious claim about cannabis over the years. For this reason and countless others, our cannabis lawyers have consistently called to disband the DEA, believing it past the point where it can be redeemed. The good news it that the DEA took a hit last week for having posted false claims about cannabis.

In December 2016, the nonprofit medical marijuana advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) formally requested the DEA either remove or correct misinformation regarding cannabis on the DEA’s website. ASA made its claims under the federal Information Quality Act, which ensures “the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies.” ASA contends that the DEA failed to meet the Information Act’s and the ASA’s executive director explained why it was challenging the DEA on its inaccurate marijuana claims:

For years, the DEA has published scientifically inaccurate information about the health effects of medical cannabis, directly influencing the action —and inaction— of Congress. We are simply taking the DEA’s own statements, which confirm scientific facts about medical cannabis, and analysis that has long been accepted by a majority of the scientific community. Our request is simple: the DEA must change its public information to better comport with its own expressed views, so that Congress has access to the appropriate tools to make informed decisions about public health. Alternatively, ASA requests that the DEA simply remove the inaccurate statements or the documents in their entirety.

ASA’s take-down request focused on “The Dangers and Consequences of Marijuana Abuse,” an article available on the DEA’s website that contained 25 allegedly inaccurate statements, including the following:

  • “Marijuana use can worsen depression and lead to more serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and even suicide.”
  •  “Marijuana takes the risks of tobacco and raises them. Marijuana smoke contains more than 400 chemicals and increases the risk of serious health consequences, including lung damage.”
  • “Teens who experiment with marijuana may be making themselves more vulnerable to heroin addiction later in life, if the findings from experiments with rats are any indication.”

The ASA pointed out that the DEA itself had contradicted many of these 25 claims in a DEA report from August 2016 on its decision not to initiate proceedings to reschedule marijuana, including the following:

  • “At present, the available data do not suggest a causative link between marijuana use and the development of psychosis.”
  • “The HHS concluded that new evidence suggests that the effects of smoking marijuana on respiratory function and cancer are different from the effects of smoking tobacco.”
  • “The HHS cited several studies where marijuana use did not lead to other illicit drug use. Two separate longitudinal studies with adolescents using marijuana did not demonstrate an association with use of other illicit drugs.”

By using the DEA’s own research against it, ASA forced the DEA into a corner where it had to either disavow its August 2016 report or admit that its website was incorrect. By removing the offending page, the DEA chose the latter.

Count one for the good guys.

 

Cannabis real estate lawyersSince licenses to grow, process, or sell cannabis are usually tied to a specific real property location, it is not surprising that cannabis businesses often need real estate help. The following are some basic points we try to convey to our cannabis clients about real estate in a cannabis context.

1. Location. Location. Location. Choosing the right location is important for any business, but this is especially true for a cannabis business. Finding a suitable and state-and-local-law-compliant location for a marijuana business can be difficult. Most states, cities, and counties limit where marijuana businesses can physically operate. States and cities often require cannabis businesses be at least 1,000 feet away from schools and parks because federal criminal law sentencing guidelines tack on extra sentencing time for cultivating, processing, or distributing cannabis within 1,000 feet of a school or park. Local zoning laws can also significantly restrict location options and these can vary greatly from local government to local government. Regulations that limit the number of cannabis stores or grow sites allowed in a given county are also common, as are moratoriums and outright bans.

2. Find a Landlord With Whom You Can Work. Most commercial landlords will not rent out their space to a cannabis business. Because cannabis remains illegal under federal law, landlords can face arrest for violating the federal Controlled Substances Act or, more realistically, losing their property via a civil asset forfeiture. Look what happened to the landlord in the Harborside case. The landlord-tenant relationship can be strained if the landlord is not informed of the nature of the tenant’s business and the risk associated.

3. Make Sure Your Lease Works for the Cannabis Industry. “Boilerplate” lease agreements do not work for cannabis businesses. For example, the typical Commercial Broker’s Association lease states that any illegal activity on the property will constitute a lease default. We usually write our commercial marijuana leases to forbid only those actions that violate state law and federal law with the exception of the federal Controlled Substances Act. Commercial leases also typically contain a provision governing the activities permitted on the leased property. If the tenant is a marijuana retailer, the permitted use provision should explicitly permit the “retail sale of marijuana.” Leaving the permitted use provision vague only increases the chances of the cannabis business tenant being found in breach of the lease for having conducted an activity not permitted on the property.

4. Know Your Property. Our cannabis real estate lawyers are far too frequently brought in on long simmering real estate deals only to have to tell both sides that there will need to be major changes in the deal points for the deal to work at all. Before getting too far down the negotiating path, it is wise to at least secure a real property report. These reports will show ownership history, encumbrances (such as mortgages) on the land, and any easements or other restrictions on property use. For example, if there is an unpaid mortgage on the land, the holder of that mortgage can foreclose on the property, even though the current owner was not the one who entered into the transaction. Even a tenant who is not purchasing the property should be informed of the property’s history and the risks associated with that property.

For more on cannabis and real estate, check out the following:

The future of the cannabis industry under President Trump remains hazy and Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination does little to clear the fog. Judge Gorsuch currently serves on the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Though he is a native of cannabis-friendly and uber-liberal Boulder, Colorado, he is himself a conservative judge. As far as we can tell, he has never publicly opined on cannabis legalization, but he has authored a few opinions relating to cannabis that give at least a hint at his stance on cannabis.Neil_Gorsuch_10th_Circuit

In US v. Daniel and Mary Quaintance, defendants were indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute cannabis. The Quaintances claimed protection under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which prohibits the federal government from “substantially burdening” sincere religious exercise. The Quaintances argued that marijuana was a sacrament at their church and therefore their use cannabis use was legally protected.

The District Court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss. Judge Gorsuch upheld the lower court’s ruling because “extensive evidence” showed that “the Quaintances’ professed beliefs are not religious but secular” and that the facts indicated “that the Quaintances don’t sincerely hold religious beliefs they claim to hold, but instead seek to use the cover of religion to pursue secular drug trafficking activities.” My reading of this case says that most judges would have ruled the same way, based on the facts.

In Family of Ryan Wilson v. City of Lafayette and Taser International, Judge Gorsuch held lawful a Colorado police officer’s fatal use of a Taser on a man fleeing a cannabis arrest. Judge Gorsuch acknowledged that the manufacturing and processing of marijuana may not be “inherently violent crimes” but that the officer was justified in assuming that a person illegally growing marijuana may be armed and so the officer was also justified in using a Taser. Yes, a person illegally growing marijuana may be armed, but so may anyone else. Judge Gorsuch’s ruling in this case seems to indicate he does not have a particularly good view of those who grow cannabis, at least illegally.

Feinberg et al. v. IRS provides the most insight into Judge Gorsuch’s thoughts on legal cannabis. In this case, a Colorado dispensary argued that Fifth Amendment protections allowed them not to report data to the Internal Revenue Service. The Fifth Amendment shields individuals from testifying to criminal activity likely to lead to prosecution. The petitioners argued that marijuana production and distribution is a crime under federal law and by reporting their marijuana business activities to the IRS they would be inviting federal prosecution. Though Judge Gorsuch ruled against the petitioners, his written analysis did not embrace the federal government’s often perplexing stance on marijuana.

Judge Gorsuch acknowledged that the federal government sends a “mixed message” on legal cannabis, with the Department of Justice instructing prosecutors not to enforce federal law in states like Colorado but with the IRS refusing to recognize business expense deductions for marijuana businesses because their conduct violates federal law:“[s]o it is that today prosecutors will almost always overlook federal marijuana distribution crimes in Colorado but the tax man never will.”

Judge Gorsuch also noted the government’s inconsistent argument as to why marijuana businesses are both illegally and yet cannot claim Fifth Amendment protection for tax purposes:

Yes, the Fifth Amendment normally shields individuals from having to admit to criminal activity. But, the IRS argued, because DOJ’s memoranda generally instruct federal prosecutors not to prosecute cases like this one the petitioners should be forced to divulge the requested information anyway. So it is the government simultaneously urged the court to take seriously its claim that the petitioners are violating federal criminal law and to discount the possibility that it would enforce federal criminal law.

Finally, and now that Trump has selected Jeff Sessions as his AG, prophetically, Judge Gorsuch noted the shaky legal footing under which the cannabis industry has flourished:

It’s not clear whether informal agency memoranda guiding the exercise of prosecutorial discretion by field prosecutors may lawfully go quite so far in displacing Congress’s policy directives as these memoranda seek to do. There’s always the possibility, too, that the next…Deputy Attorney General could displace these memoranda at anytime.”

Judge Gorsuch is only 49 years old, meaning his lifelong tenure on the highest court could span decades and will almost certainly involve a cannabis case or two. Though the above cases reveal very little about Judge Gorsuch’s position on cannabis, his overall judicial philosophy may bode well. He is a strict constructionist when it comes to interpreting our Constitution and strict constructionists tend to favor states’ rights. If Judge Gorsuch does indeed favor states’ rights, as we suspect, this should mean that he will have no problem with individual states (as opposed to the Federal Government) deciding on their own cannabis laws.

Let’s hope so.

Cannabis regulatory lawyersIn December 2016, the DEA issued a rule defining “Marihuana Extracts” to include extracts “containing one or more cannabinoids from any plant of the genus Cannabis.” This rule went into effect on January 13, 2017. That same day, The Hemp Industry Association, Centuria Natural Foods Inc., and RMH Holdings LLC filed a petition with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit challenging that DEA rule.

The Controlled Substances Act is a federal law that determines what substances are illegal drugs. Congress authorized the Department of Justice to add and remove substances to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and the DOJ has delegated that authority to the DEA. The DEA promulgated the “Marihuana Extract” rule pursuant to that grant of authority, meaning that products the DEA defines as fitting the “Marihuana Extract” definition are illegal substances.

Rules can have a similar effect as laws but if a rule conflicts with a law, the law will prevail. In other words, Congressional laws that conflict with a DEA rule should outweigh the DEA rules. The Petitioners who are appealing the DEA rule are arguing that the “Marihuana Extract” rule outlaws parts of the cannabis plant that Congress specifically made legal in the CSA and in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Congress placed marijuana on Schedule I of the CSA and defined it to include all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., except the mature stalks of the plant and seeds incapable of germination. Stalks and products derived from those stalks are not illegal because they are not marijuana. This distinction allowed for legal production of hemp products even though marijuana remains federally illegal. The 2014 Farm Bill also allows states to implement programs to legally grow industrial hemp. “Industrial hemp” is defined to mean “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

Prior to the “Marihuana Extract” rule, only one cannabinoid was explicitly named in Schedule I of the CSA: THC which is known for causing marijuana’s euphoric “high.” Other cannabinoids, like CBD, were not specifically prohibited. This meant products derived from mature stalks of cannabis that did not contain THC were arguably legal as no part of that product was prohibited by the CSA. Now those same products are illegal because they contain other cannabinoids that are now defined as controlled substances according to the “Marihuana Extract” definition. The definition also applies to industrial hemp grown pursuant to the Farm Bill. The Petitioners who are appealing to the Ninth Circuit argue that the DEA’s rule is inconsistent with the CSA and the Farm Bill and that the court should therefore find the rule invalid.

Petitioners also argue that the DEA failed to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act in creating this rule. In addition to complying with the CSA, the DEA must also follow the Administrative Procedure Act, which essentially sets forth the procedures governmental bodies must follow in enacting new rules. The Petitioners argue that under the APA the “Marihuana Extract” rule invalid as it:

  • Is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with other law (such as the Farm Bill and the CSA);
  • Is unconstitutional;
  • Exceeds the DEA’s statutory authority; and
  • Was created without following necessary procedures.

This is not the first time the DEA has faced legal challenges for interfering with legal hemp. In 2001-2003 the DEA attempted to treat hemp food products as Schedule I substances because they contained trace amounts of THC. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the presence of THC does not alone make a product a controlled substance. Petitioners plan to use this ruling to assert that cannabinoids that occur in legal portions of the cannabis plant are not controlled by the CSA and may not be regulated as marijuana by the DEA.

Since the DEA issued this rule my firm’s cannabis regulatory lawyers have received a daily stream of calls from businesses wanting to know whether the CBD products they are producing, selling or buying are now illegal. Specifically, most of these callers want to know whether products containing CBD that are derived from hemp and do not contain THC are still legal. At this point, the jury (or really the judge) is still out and we — like everyone else — will be waiting to see how the courts rule.

Cannabis lawsMore than a year ago we started our series rating all fifty states on cannabis and last week we named Oregon as the top state. During that year, much has happened in the cannabis world, including some changes in various states that would have changed their rankings had they occurred previously. For example, we ranked Arkansas at number 40, which is now way too low for considering it has legalized medical cannabis. The same could be said of North Dakota, which we ranked at 33, but then turned around and surprised many by also voting to legalize medical marijuana.

Needless to say, many of our rankings engendered considerable controversy, particularly with respect to those states that substantially changed course after we had ranked them. So to salve at least some of you who were unhappy with our rankings, I very briefly will analyze the sort of changes we would make were we to start all over today, which we are not going to do, at least for the foreseeable future.

The Worst

41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

We ranked South Dakota as the worst state for cannabis. Oklahoma and Idaho were also extremely close for this not-so-honorable distinction. These states generally have extremely harsh cannabis laws and no working form of medical marijuana, with many only allowing for High-CBD oil, if anything. Montana voted to reform its medical marijuana laws and that alone means that in any re-do Montana would rank higher for cannabis than the number 41 ranking we gave it.

The Bad

31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34. Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas.

Like the bottom-ten, these states generally have harsh criminal penalties for cannabis and poor medical cannabis laws. This group though would look very different if we were to conduct a re-ranking since North Dakota, Florida, and Arkansas all legalized medical marijuana in November and those changes would catapult these states much higher in the rankings.

The Mediocre 

21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah.

These states generally have some good laws, be those fairly tolerant criminal laws or workable medical cannabis programs. Overall, these states did not change much since we ranked them. Interestingly, we probably received more criticism for our Arizona ranking than for any other state, with countless people e-mailing to insist that Arizona would be legalizing soon. Instead, Arizona was the only state that failed to approve a marijuana initiative on its ballot in 2016 and so its ranking would — if anything probably decline a few slots if we were to re-rank.

The Good

11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16.Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire;  20. Ohio.

These states are ahead of the curve with medical marijuana and had reasonable criminal penalties. However, in one of our more controversial rankings, we put Kentucky relatively high in our rankings not so much because of its mediocre medical marijuana program, but because it is a leader in reforming hemp laws.

The Best

1. Oregon; 2. Colorado; 3. Washington; 4. California;  5. Alaska; 6. Massachusetts;  7. Maine; 8. New Mexico; 9. Nevada; 10. Hawaii;

Our top ten featured the eight states that legalized recreational marijuana along with several states that have truly impressive medical marijuana programs. If we had it to do over again, we would rank Nevada right above New Mexico, but when we slotted Nevada in the 9 spot, it had yet to legalize recreational marijuana.

What do you think of our rankings now?

Barcelona lawyersOur Barcelona lawyers have lately been receiving a steady stream of calls about producing and distributing cannabidiol-based products around the world, from Spain. Cannabidiol  (CBD) is a compound found in cannabis but unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in cannabis that gives users a high, CBD is non-psychoactive. Studies suggest CBD can be effective in treating epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric disorders including anxiety and schizophrenia. CBD may also be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and may have anxiolytic, antipsychotic, antiemetic and anti-inflammatory properties. With so many potential benefits, it should come as no surprise that our Barcelona attorneys are so often asked about the legality of CBD oil in the European Union?” In short, it depends on what part of the cannabis plant from which the CBD oil was derived.

CBD can be extracted from marijuana plants (cannabis sativa) or from industrial hemp plants. Both are cannabis varieties but grown for a different purpose and with a different “legal personality” reflecting the legal status of extracted CBD oil in the EU. Hemp has been cultivated throughout the world for industrial and medical purposes, and for the production of useful objects such as clothing, candles, paper, and thousands of other products. Hemp oil and hemp seeds also contain many essential nutrients. In Europe and in Spain, hemp must be grown under EU regulations. Industrial hemp must contain no more than 0.2% THC on a dry weight basis. If the EU criteria are met, then a hemp producer may obtain EU certification for the product. Failure to follow protocol can lead to trouble. Local Spanish farmers producing hemp are right now facing criminal charges for crimes against public health for having not fulfilled current regulations in production. This adds uncertainty for foreign investors in finding the right provider of raw material. Medical marijuana contains high levels of THC, concentrated mainly in flowers and trichromes of the plant.

Those wishing to import CBD based products into Spain face labeling requirements. The number of CBD products available on the Spanish market has increased but most consumers are unaware of the exact amount of CBD they should take, or do not know the exact composition of the CBD oil or tincture they are buying. Clear labeling is essential when distributing CBD in Spain. A product’s label should describe the exact concentration of CBD as an active ingredient, the content of the solution, the specified amounts of each ingredient, the manufacturing method used, and the instructions for use and dosage. The label should also refer to a website with more detailed information.

Uncertainty also comes from a recent change in US law. Previously, the legal status of CBD products in the US also turned on the part of the cannabis plant from which the product was extracted. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration recently promulgated a rule creating a new “Controlled Substances Code Number” for “Marihuana Extracts” and extends that classification to extracts “containing one or more cannabinoids from any plant of the genus Cannabis.” CBD is a cannabinoid and hemp is a plant of the genus Cannabis so the rule explicitly applies to CBD products sold in the US. Though we vehemently dislike this new rule, it does mean that companies should not distribute CBD products in the US unless they are doing so pursuant to state law in a state where marijuana is legal in some form.

The Spanish market has an appetite for CBD dietary supplements that is not being met by the many other plant-based dietary products being launched and accepted by the Spanish public. The opportunities for CBD products are clearly there in both the EU and in Spain, but this is a complicated legal arena that calls for caution.

oregon

2016 was a huge year for cannabis. So we decided we would rank the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts analyzed one state. We started this series on January 10, 2016, and now, over a year later, we are ready to crown the top state for cannabis law: Oregon.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 2. Colorado; 3. Washington; 4. California;  5. Alaska; 6. Massachusetts;  7. Maine; 8. New Mexico; 9. Nevada; 10. Hawaii; 11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16.Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.

Oregon

Recreational Marijuana. Oregon voters approved Measure 91 to legalize recreational cannabis in 2014. This was two years after the failure of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, which appeared on the 2012 ballot and would have legalized recreational marijuana.  Measure 91 allows adults, 21 and over, to grow up to 4 plants on their property, possess up to 8 ounces of usable marijuana (dried marijuana flowers or leaves that are ready to smoke) in their home, and carry up to 1 ounce in public. Like other legal states,  marijuana cannot be consumed in public.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has the authority to tax, license and regulate recreational marijuana grown, sold, or processed for commercial purposes but does not regulate the home grow/personal possession provisions of Oregon law. The OLCC oversees multiple license types including producer, processor, wholesale, retail, and researcher licenses. Oregon has not limited the number of licenses it will grant, meaning that OLCC is continuously accepting applications. It also allows a single licensee to own multiple licenses (e.g., an entity can hold a producer, processor, and retail license). This differs from the approach taken by Washington, which limits the number of licenses granted and is currently not accepting new marijuana applications. Oregon’s marijuana market is open to out of state actors as the state does not impose a residency requirement. This also differs from Washington and from Colorado which require licensees to be state residents. Oregon imposes a relatively low 17% tax on recreational marijuana sales. Finally, Oregon is one of the few states to allow for cannabis delivery, although Portland, the state’s largest city, does not (yet) allow for marijuana delivery.

Medical marijuana. Oregon first legalized medical marijuana in 1998 by passing Ballot Measure 67. Oregon’s medical market is distinct from the recreational market although there is some regulatory overlap between the two. For example, Oregon medical dispensaries were authorized to sell recreational marijuana from October 1, 2016-January 1, 2017 while the recreational market took shape.

Oregon medical marijuana is regulated by the Oregon Health Authority. Individuals with a qualifying medical condition and a recommendation for medical marijuana from an attending physician can apply for a medical marijuana card. Qualifying conditions include the following:

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Alzheimer’s
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
  • Severe pain
  • Severe nausea
  • Seizures, including but not limited to seizures caused by epilepsy
  • Persistent muscle spasms
  • Multiple sclerosis

Medical patients may possess up to 6 plants, which may only be grown at a registered grow site address, and up to 24 ounces of marijuana. This means patients are legally allowed to possess more cannabis than recreational users. Medical users may purchase from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, but are limited to purchasing the following amounts in a single day

  • 24 ounces of usable marijuana;
  • 16 ounces of a medical cannabinoid product in solid form;
  • 72 ounces of a medical cannabinoid product in liquid form;
  • 16 ounces of a cannabinoid concentrate whether sold alone or contained in an inhalant delivery system;
  • Five grams of a cannabinoid extract whether sold alone or contained in an inhalant delivery system;
  • Four immature marijuana plants; and
  • 50 seeds.

Many expect Oregon’s medical and recreational cannabis regimes will eventually merge, and proposed legislation could accomplish just that.

Bottomline. Determining the top state in this series was not easy. There was significant debate among our cannabis lawyers as to whether California, Colorado, Oregon, or Washington should take top honors. Seeing as how we have offices and lawyers in California, Washington and Oregon, we must concede just a bit of bias here. Ultimately, we determined that Oregon has the best marijuana program.

One of the prime determinants for us was Oregon not having a residency requirement, as we see this as very business friendly and making it much easier for cannabis businesses to secure funding. Oregon also has shockingly low licensing fees and it does not cap the number of licenses it will grant. This means one need not be a millionaire to get into the industry and this also means there will be (and there is) substantial competition to keep cannabis prices down. Oregon also allows its cannabis licensees to vertically integrate by owning multiple license types. The state is also consumer friendly, with relatively low taxes and with laws that allow for home growing your own cannabis. Oregon has had legal medical marijuana for nearly twenty years and it used this medical market to permit early sales of recreational marijuana, evidencing the state’s willingness to take a pragmatic approach to marijuana legalization.

Oregon’s cannabis laws are not perfect, but they are the best in the nation.

Do you agree?