Recreational Marijuana

Cannabis Production

So you’ve set your sights on joining the next generation of Oregon cannabis producers. Congratulations! You’ve identified talented growers, you’ve resolved the intractable indoor vs. outdoor cannabis growing dilemma, you’ve saved up some money, and now you are eager to get your cannabis operation up and running.

But what’s next? Your first question is a classic: Where will I grow?

When you apply for an Oregon Liquor Control Commission license, you will need to prove you have a deed or lease to an eligible property. A letter of intent to lease or to purchase will also suffice, but the OLCC will not actually issue the license until you close the lease or sale. You should work with a realtor with experience in the cannabis industry to identify a few possible locations. As you begin your search, remember the following:

Not all counties and cities are alikeOn the most basic level, you need to be aware of the various cities or counties that have banned recreational producers outright. The OLCC maintains a list of these hostile local governments and you may be sad to hear that Grass Valley, Oregon is still off-limits!

Even the cannabis friendly local governments vary significantly in their local requirements, with some counties going to great efforts to be cannabis friendly, and others putting up an unfortunate amount of red tape. An exhaustive county-by-county or city-by-city analysis is beyond the scope of this post and we recommend you speak with cannabis entrepreneurs and professionals who have worked with your top choices for county or city to get a sense of potential local government roadblocks.

Distribution Channels. Though rural land is likely cheaper, your best markets will likely be in the cities. It is never too early to begin cultivating relationships with wholesalers, processors and even retailers to help bridge this gap. Proximity to testing labs is also a plus.

Perform Your Due DiligenceOnce you find a location in a friendly area with room for your operation, you need to ensure that the property complies with all state, county, and municipal requirements and regulations. This can be done by thoroughly reviewing county codes, city comprehensive plans, land use regulations, relevant zoning ordinances, and CC&Rs and, in some cases, talking with the appropriate government officials. You also need to be sure your property has access to adequate water as you will be required to show proof of “water rights,” and adequate power.

Failing to do due diligence on a property can have disastrous consequences. We recently had a cannabis client come to my law firm ready to close on a perfect piece of real estate in a location with a cannabis-friendly local government. This company had even paid for certain improvements to the property, and it was just days away from closing on the property transaction. Fortunately, as soon as we were provided the counties’ records on the property, we noted a provision from the 1980s that prohibited their business. We identified this issue just in time to prevent the purchase and free up our client to move on to greener pastures.

Once you’ve acquired rights to your perfect cannabis property, you are ready to apply for a Land Use Compatibility Statement (LUCS) from the local jurisdiction and to begin preparing the property for the OLCC licensing/inspection process. Check back soon for part 2 of this series.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Cultivation Classic 2017, the “world’s only cannabis competition exclusively for ethically-grown product free of pesticides, defining craft and celebrating community.” Producers from around Oregon, including several of our clients, came together in a friendly competition to celebrate Oregon’s unique cannabis culture and ethos. Alongside the competition, the organizers put together a series of panels discussing a range of social, political, and legal issues facing the Oregon cannabis industry. The first panel featured the launch of a new industry group devoted to defining and supporting Oregon’s craft cannabis community.

This Craft Cannabis Alliance is an association of cannabis and cannabis-related businesses dedicated to creating an Oregon craft cannabis industry to rival Oregon’s renowned craft beer industry. Alliance Executive Director Adam Smith, a founder of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, took the stage to explain what “craft” means to these industry leaders:

Pictured left to right: Adam Smith, Cannabis Craft Alliance; Ashley Preece, Ethical Cannabis Alliance; Jodi Haines, Alter Farms
Pictured left to right: Adam Smith, Craft Cannabis Alliance; Ashley Preece, Ethical Cannabis Alliance; Jodi Haines, Alter Farms

These industry leaders are working to ensure that sustainable, ethical craft cannabis growers retain a seat at the table as Oregon’s cannabis industry matures. Gabriel Cross, CEO of Odyssey Distribution, LLC, expressed a sentiment shared by many of his fellow founding members.

“As a values-driven company, how we do things is as important to us as the bottom line. The CCA shares many of our values, and more importantly will bring together values-driven cannabis companies under one roof. We have a rare opportunity right now to define how an entire industry operates.”

One of the thorniest issues the CCA will face is the task of defining what “local control” means within the context of Oregon’s craft cannabis culture. Long-time readers of this blog will recall that Oregon originally implemented strict and confusing control and ownership residency requirements on recreational cannabis businesses. This created a host of problems, and the Oregon legislature responded by swinging the pendulum in the other direction, opening Oregon’s cannabis industry to unrestricted foreign investment and control. Over the coming months, the CCA will be working to find a balance its members believe will allow Oregonians to share in the profits of the state’s newest state-sanctioned “crop” without choking off the supply of vital capital that residents from other states can bring.

Oregon Cannabis SeminarOn June 9, my Portland colleague Will Patterson and I will present at an all-day continuing legal education (CLE) event called The Business of Marijuana in Oregon. This will be my third year presenting at the event and my second year as chair. The roster of speakers lined up for this CLE is better than any year to date, and everyone, including non-lawyers, would be well served to attend. For a full event description, including topics, speakers and registration links, click here.

Looking back over the past few years, it is amazing to see how much things have changed in Oregon cannabis. At this point, the OLCC’s recreational marijuana program has begun to hit its stride, with over 2,500 applicants now on file with the state. We are proud to call many of these Oregon producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers our clients, alongside the many investors and ancillary service providers we represent.

Sometimes, it is said that pioneers get slaughtered and settlers get rich. Now that the Oregon regulatory groundwork has largely stabilized, we have begun to see a second wave of entrepreneurs move in on the local industry. Many of these entrepreneurs bring skills, capital and experience from other regulated markets, while others are new to the space. Over the next year or so, with the increase in market entrants, we expect to see a fair amount of market consolidation throughout the Oregon cannabis industry.

Oregon attorneys and business owners alike need to be familiar with the unique regulatory concepts and industry dynamics that will be discussed on June 9, in order to best serve the Oregon cannabis industry. These concepts include state administrative governance and pending legislation, developments in the highly dynamic federal sphere, and practical approaches to working with and in the cannabis industry.

We hope you will join us on June 9 for an eight-hour survey of Oregon cannabis that is both broad and deep. And if you are a Harris Bricken client or a friend of the firm, please click here to request a promotional discount code, which can be applied to either the webcast, or to in-person attendance.

See you soon.

California Cannabis lawyersThough the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA“) initially failed to specifically define the term “manufacturer,” California finally rectified the situation with the Department of Public Health’s Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety‘s release of the initial MCRSA manufacturing rules last Friday.

“Manufacturer” now means the production, preparation, propagation, or compounding of cannabis products, including extraction processes, infusion processes, the packaging or repackaging of manufactured medical cannabis or medical cannabis products, and labeling or relabeling the packages of manufactured medical cannabis or medical cannabis products.

In addition, “manufacturing” or “manufacturing operation” means all aspects of the extraction and/or infusion processes, including processing, preparing, holding, storing, packaging, or labeling of cannabis products. Manufacturing also includes any processing, preparing, holding, or storing of components and ingredients.

We also know what nonvolatile and volatile solvents mean, which terms were previously undefined in the MCRSA.which This is important because it will determine what kind of California cannabis manufacturing license you’ll get. “Nonvolatile solvent” means any solvent used in the extraction process that is not a volatile solvent, including carbon dioxide. “Volatile solvent” means any solvent that is or produces a flammable gas or vapor that, when present in the air in sufficient quantities, will create explosive or ignitable mixtures. The state’s examples of volatile solvents include, butane, hexane, propane, and ethanol. A Type 6 cannabis manufacturing licensee can only use nonvolatile solvents, but a Type 7 licensee can use both nonvolatile and volatile solvents in its extractions and infusions.

There are also additional manufacturing license types in the initial rules that weren’t included in the MCRSA. A “Type P” license is for entities that only package or repackage medical cannabis products or label or relabel the cannabis product container to go to retail. Entities that engage in packaging or labeling of their own product as part of the manufacturing process do not need to hold a separate Type P license. There is also a “Type N” license for manufacturers that produce edible products or topical products using infusion processes, or other types of medical cannabis products other than extracts or concentrates, and that do not conduct extractions. The Type P and Type N licenses are subject to the same restrictions as a Type 6 license.

Overall, only certain kinds of extractions are allowed for the manufacturing licensee. The state mandates the only cannabis manufacturing allowed is mechanical extraction, such as screens or presses; chemical extraction using a nonvolatile solvent such as a nonhydrocarbon-based or other solvent such as water, vegetable glycerin, vegetable oils, animal fats, or food-grade glycerin; chemical extraction using a professional closed loop CO2 gas extraction systems; chemical extraction using a volatile solvent; and any other method authorized by the state. All chemical extractions must take place within a professional, closed-loop system, which also has its own state law requirements. The rules also contain strict packaging and labeling requirements, require all personnel to be sufficiently trained, and mandate that the manufacturing licensee must ensure strict quality assurance processes and protocol, including for recalls and product complaints.

Importantly, the manufacturing rules also tell us what kinds of manufactured products can be on the market in addition to their potency limitations. California isn’t going to allow cannabis-infused alcohol, caffeine, or nicotine products and no cannabis product can be made of “potentially hazardous food.” Potentially hazardous food means any food “capable of supporting the growth of infectious or toxigenic microorganisms when held at temperatures above 41 degrees Fahrenheit.” Products that have to be refrigerated at a temperature of less than 41 degrees and any dairy or meat products are also not allowed. Edibles can’t contain more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving or more than one hundred 100 milligrams of THC per package of finished product. And, for non-edible manufactured cannabis, no finished package can contain more than 1000 milligrams of THC.

Lastly, the initial licensing fee for a manufacturer license applicant is $1,000 for each application filed. Then the annual license fee is on a sliding scale based on the licensee’s annual gross revenue, starting at $2,000 if you’re making up to $100,000 on up to a $50,000 annual license fee if you’re making over $5 million yearly.

Overall, California’s manufacturing rules don’t break the mold. Their manufacturing standards appear to fairly closely track the other regulated cannabis states and even mirror some of the manufacturing regulations in the adult use states. And, though these are just the initial rules, we don’t expect much change other than the probable addition of more prohibited products to the list of no-gos, such as other states have done when it comes to gummy bears or other products that may appeal to kids.

Marijuana lawIf you hadn’t noticed, the federal government was set to shut down on Friday due to lack of funding. Thankfully, our House and Senate representatives reached a tentative deal yesterday morning to avoid that. Better still, the budget deal extends the Rohrbacher-Farr Amendment provisions, which prohibit the U.S. Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The legislation should pass later this week.

The new medical cannabis rider will likely be referred to as the Rohrbacher-Blumenauer amendment, or something similar, as Earl Blumenauer (D.-OR) has replaced outgoing house member Sam Farr as a co-sponsor of the rider. Here is the rider’s current proposed language:

SEC. 537. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

By our count, that’s 44 states, plus D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico. For some reason, at least two states with new medical cannabis laws are left out. Those states include North Dakota, where voters approved a medical marijuana ballot initiative in November, and Indiana, whose governor signed a restrictive CBD medical cannabis bill into law late last week. Hopefully these omissions were just an oversight and North Dakota and Indiana make the final cut.

The FY2017 budget deal also extends protection of state industrial hemp programs from federal interference, and prevents Washington, D.C. from spending its own money to tax and regulate marijuana sales. An overview prepared by House Democratic Appropriations Committee members noted that the bill does not, however, include language protecting banks from penalties for working with state-legal marijuana businesses, which some in Congress had pushed for.

Like everything else in the spending bill, Section 537 is not a permanent solution of any sort – it merely kicks the can down the road until September 30, when FY2017 ends. Section 537 also is not the long-term fix medical (and adult use) cannabis businesses need, especially in the era of Jeff Sessions and a brutal executive branch.

Looking ahead, we do know from conversations with Rep. Blumenauer’s office that FY2018 legislation being drafted by lawmakers includes extension of the helpful Section 537 language. We also know that most of President Trump’s large proposed cuts take place in the FY2018 budget, and that his cuts do not include Rohrbacher-Blumenauer– at least for now.

But this is where it gets tricky. If medical marijuana safeguards are not present in the FY2018 House proposal, supporters will have to push for amendment on the House floor or in the Senate Appropriations Committee. That’s a tough slog, because House leadership has begun to restrict the scope of policy riders allowed to come to the floor. Last summer, for example, proposed amendments on banking services for marijuana businesses, and on Washington, D.C.’s ability to spend money regulating cannabis, were blocked from floor consideration altogether.

Note that over the past few years, Rohrbacher-Farr has withstood DOJ challenges and garnered a significant uptick in support. In 2014, the measure was approved in the House by a relatively narrow vote of 219-189. In 2015, the approval margin grew to 242-186. Since the last House floor vote, several more states have enacted medical or adult use cannabis laws, and a number of prohibitionists who opposed those measures have been replaced with freshman supporters.

Today, cannabis reformers are confident that if they can get an FY2018 amendment to a House vote, it will easily pass again. It also appears likely that advocates have the votes to pass a broader amendment protecting all state marijuana laws from federal interference — including those allowing recreational use. A measure along those lines came just nine votes short of passing on the House floor in 2015.

Why Congress won’t just change the law, rather than restricting its enforcement, is a question for another day. For now, though, medical marijuana businesses can breathe a bit more easily, at least until September 30.

California marijuana lawWith passage of the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA”) in 2015, California took a huge step towards regulating its medical cannabis industry after more than twenty years of minimal state government oversight under Proposition 215. Under the MCRSA, California medical cannabis businesses should expect a bevy of regulations spanning packaging and labeling requirements, mandatory quality assurance testing, advertising, seed to sale tracking, environmental impact restrictions, plant canopy and potency limitations, and financing and ownership restrictions. You should also expect the same level of regulation and government oversight under the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Cannabis Act (“AUMA”), California’s legalization of recreational marijuana initiative that passed in 2016.

Though the AUMA and MCRSA are similar, they have distinct differences that will impact how cannabis licenses may be obtained and how cannabis businesses may be operated. Among other things, the AUMA and MRCSA differ on licensing timelines; priority licensing; mandatory distributorships; license categories and types; local approvals necessary before licensure by the state; ownership restrictions; residency requirements; and traceability systems. The MCRSA limits vertical integration of licensees, generally allowing cannabis licensees to hold licenses in no more than two separate categories and only in certain combinations while the AUMA has no such vertical integration restrictions.

In response to these AUMA and MCRSA conflicts, California Governor Jerry Brown recently proposed a technical fix Budget Trailer Bill. The fact sheet attached to that Bill states that as California  “moves forward with the regulation of both medicinal cannabis and adult use, one regulatory structure for cannabis activities across California is needed to maximize public and consumer safety.” Ultimately, Governor Brown’s Bill seeks to to merge the MCRSA and the AUMA into one master regulatory structure with two separate licensing tracks for medical and adult use cannabis operators. Governor Brown’s 79-page proposal generally favors the more liberal regulatory standards set out in the AUMA, and it would specifically do the following:

  1. Change the name of the AUMA to the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act;
  2. Mandate anyone seeking to operate an adult use cannabis business apply for “A-Licenses,” and those seeking to open a medical cannabis business apply for “M-Licenses.” You can apply for both licenses and operate both kinds of businesses, but you cannot co-locate those businesses on the same premises;
  3. Remove AUMA’s requirement of “continuous residency” in California from at least January 1, 2015;
  4. Allow licensees to submit proof of local approval to the state but leave it up to local governments to ensure the license applicant is in compliance with local laws;
  5. Keep AUMA’s near total vertical integration of licenses except for testing labs, which must be independent of other licensees;
  6. Allow AUMA’s open distributor model for both medical and adult use cannabis businesses by allowing “a business to hold multiple licenses including a distribution license … [to] make it easier for businesses to enter the market, encourage innovation, and strengthen compliance with state law”;
  7. Define “applicant” as “an owner applying for a state license,” with at least a 20 percent ownership in the cannabis business or any person who participates in the “direction, control, or management” of the cannabis business.
  8. Require each cannabis business owner pass a fingerprinting and criminal background check and each applicant disclose “every person with a financial interest in the person applying for the license as required by the licensing authority”;
  9. Support the AUMA’s more liberal allowance for cultivation licenses;
  10. Add a new cultivation license — Type 1C, “specialty cottage” — which will mean California will have 20 types of cannabis business licenses;
  11. Require microbusinesses (licenses only available under the AUMA) to secure regulatory approval from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control and the California Departments of Food and Agriculture and Public Health;
  12. Mandate the AUMA and MCRSA have the same environmental protections and restrictions on licensees; and
  13. Task California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, (not its Bureau of Cannabis Control) with creating California cannabis appellation standards by January 1, 2020.

California’s Legislature must approve Governor Brown’s Bill by a two-thirds vote, and that is expected to occur (at least in some form) this summer.

Oregon cannabis attorneys lawyersWe often work with Oregon cannabis companies that undergo ownership changes either during the licensing process, or shortly after license issuance. In some cases, this happens by design: the company is structured to take on investors, and the offering process overlaps with the state license application. In other cases, an LLC member or a corporate shareholder may depart due to a buyout or disagreement. Whatever the situation, ownership transitions require careful consideration of the state of the license, or pending application.

As with all states that license pot businesses, Oregon has rules around required disclosures before the state will issue a license. The look-see process in Oregon is similar to that for liquor licensing — and both licenses are given by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). In short, Oregon wants to ensure: (1) it is not issuing cannabis licenses to undesirable parties; (2) it can follow the money a cannabis business will generate (or at least try to); and (3) it has satisfied the feds that the state is running a tight ship. The specific disclosure criteria apply not only to license issuance, but to changes, as well.

Compared to other states, Oregon is straightforward when it comes to changing the ownership structure of a cannabis licensee– at least in the minds of us attorneys, and at least under the most recently adopted version of the Oregon rules. Here are two key rules to note:

  • OAR 845-025-1160(4) provides that “[a] licensee that proposes to change its corporate structure, ownership structure or change who has a financial interest in the business must submit a form prescribed by the Commission… prior to making such a change.”
  • OAR 845-025-1160(4)(d) provides that “[i]f a licensee has a change in ownership that is 51% or greater, a new application must be submitted in accordance with OAR 845-025-1030.

Let’s take them one at a time. Read literally, OAR 845-025-1160(4) requires any licensed cannabis business to notify the OLCC before making an ownership change. This would include a business bringing on a minority investor, given the broad definition of “financial interest” elsewhere under the rules. That said, OLCC policy is not to read this rule as written in every case. Instead, if a licensed cannabis business wishes to add a party who does not rise to the level of an “applicant,” it may do so prior to alerting the OLCC. For guidance on who must be listed as an “applicant,” start here.

When the rules around “financial interests,” “applicants” and changes in ownership were revised again in January, we had several Oregon cannabis clients undergoing structural changes. Our lawyers worked with the OLCC to gain an understanding of the new rules and policies in the context of these changes, but we cannot say whether the agency’s policies will remain flexible on the timing of disclosure of non-applicant ownership changes. That is the story today, however, and we are pleased that the OLCC has taken this pragmatic approach.

With respect to OAR 845-025-1160(4)(d) and ownership shake-ups of 51% or more, there is no wiggle room in the “new application” criterion. We have written before that you cannot sell an Oregon license: instead, the OLCC works with the new applicant and the outgoing licensee concurrently. Assuming the incoming party is eligible for licensure, the OLCC arranges with the departing licensee to surrender its papers on the day the new license issues.

Ultimately, we do not recommend that an applicant or licensee make changes of any type to its ownership structure without first alerting the OLCC and we strongly recommend our clients run these changes by us first as well. This ensures the proper steps are taken so as to avoid violating some internal company agreement or governing law and it also ensures that the company paperwork is properly executed, whether it’s a buy-sell agreement, admission agreement, or other species of contract.

Finally, we recommend that thoughtful consideration be given to business structure and composition before applying for licensure. It may be tempting to acquire your cannabis business license as quickly as possible and then sort out your ownership issues on the back end, but this approach creates headaches that may be difficult or even impossible to cure. It’s good to understand Oregon’s change-in-ownership rules, but it’s better not to have to use them.

Oregon marijuana lawyer

Oregon Senator Floyd Prozanski’s bill to prohibit Oregon employers from restricting or penalizing off duty marijuana consumption will not pass this session. As originally introduced, Senate Bill 301 would have prevented employers in Oregon from banning marijuana consumption by their employees during nonworking hours, provided that the consumption did not lead to on duty impairment. Additionally, collective bargaining agreements could still have prohibited off-duty use of marijuana without running afoul of the new law.

The bill ultimately died because of strong opposition from industry on two general grounds relating to worksite safety and federal law. In written testimony before the Judiciary Committee, representatives from the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and the Oregon Columbia Chapter of Associated General Contractors, focused on federal law preemption and more specifically on the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act. These representatives argued that SB 301 would force employers that either contract with or receive grants from the federal government to choose between violating federal law or violating Oregon state law.

These representatives also testified that the impairment exception was meaningless, noting that there are no available technologies for reliably testing for marijuana impairment. Since marijuana remains present in the body long after use, employers contend it is simply not possible to determine whether employees are under the influence of cannabis while on their jobs.

Supporters of the bill dismissed these concerns, arguing that the various exceptions would still have permitted employers to restrict marijuana use by employees working on federal contracts and pursuant to collectively bargaining agreements. Beth Creighton, of the Oregon Affiliate of the National Employment Lawyers Association, testified that “[t]hese exceptions create a balance between the rights of Oregonians as individuals to engage in legal activities and the rights of employers to provide a safe workplace.“

Senator Prozanski sought to salvage the bill by amending it to cover only medical marijuana cardholders. This watered-down version managed to squeak through the Senate Committee on Judiciary, but Oregon’s Senate Democrats ultimately decided it would not be able to pass the full Senate and they pulled it from consideration.

We will have to wait until next session to see if Senator Prozanski, or someone else, takes up this cause once again. In the meantime, in Oregon, as in most states, employees can relatively easily be terminated for consuming cannabis during off-hours.

Buying and selling cannabis businesses We like to blog about buying and selling pot businesses. It’s a rich topic and the transactions can be memorable for both entrepreneurs and attorneys. In our recent posts, we have canvassed subjects from diligence items for buyers to checklist items for sellers. We also have covered important transactional topics such as how much your cannabis business may be worth and what you can actually sell. Today’s entry covers a structural part of many business sale agreements: the earn-out.

An earn-out is a contractual provision that entitles a seller to additional compensation in the future, if the business achieves stated financial goals. Earn-outs are used when the asking price for a business is more than a buyer is willing or able to pay up front. A well drawn earn-out can bridge the valuation gap between an optimistic seller (pretty much all of them) and a skeptical, cash-strapped, buyer (just some of them). It can also provide a buyer with additional financing. In an industry where hard money is the rule and bank loans are not available, that can be compelling.

The primary objective in an earn-out is to allow the buyer to make payments over time. The earn-out may also require the seller to step into a consulting role post-sale, and actually “earn” the post-transaction payments. In those cases, it is important to clearly outline the parties’ expectations. This scenario makes for a less clean break, but sometimes a seller has invaluable expertise and experience—particularly in a local marijuana market—that can be passed along with the sale.

In addition to seller support, there are many factors to consider in negotiating an earn-out agreement. Five important ones include: (1) the earn-out period; (2) payment structure; (3) payment schedule; (4) performance matrices; and (5) accounting standards. Earn-out payments may also be capped or uncapped, and the parties can stipulate that future events (like federal enforcement action, for example) will offset earn-out payments. Depending on the type and size of the deal, and the parties’ personalities, an earn-out can be simple or extremely complex.

If the goal is to keep things simple from both a payment and audit perspective, the parties will choose an easy-to-peg accounting and payment metric. For example, sellers often suggest an earn-out based on sales, because this line item is never disputed and the calculation is simple. A buyer, on the other hand, may push for an earn-out based on net income, as this metric accounts for all nuances of a business’ operations. A middle road would peg the earn-out at a multiple of EBITDA, usually over a certain number and in each relevant year. Ultimately, simpler calculations mean fewer disputes.

Given the nature of federal law, the earn-out metric for a pot business must also consider factors mainline businesses needn’t entertain. One of these is the oppressive effect of IRC 280E, the tax code provision that cuts into marijuana business profits. Another is licensing implications at play in the relevant state: readers of this blog know that states have strict rules on who can hold a financial interest in a pot business, and how that interest may be postured.

At the end of the day, many deals in the cannabis industry are structured to account for a lack of institutional financing. Like the marijuana sale-and-leaseback or the ubiquitous seller carry, an earn-out may be a way for a cash-light market entrant to gain a toehold in state-legal cannabis. We expect that earn-outs will remain an attractive option for the industry until things change at the federal level. Given the current shape of things, that could be a while.

Happy 4/20.

Canada cannabis marijuanaMaking good on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2015 campaign promises, Canada’s Liberal Party-led government last week announced a suite of bills to legalize recreational marijuana use throughout Canada. Also last week, I was on “To the Point” with Warren Olney to try to answer two big questions regarding Canada’s legalization plans: How will Canada legalize and what impact will that have on the United States?

First though, some history.

Canada already has legalized medical marijuana and its production, including production of “non-dried marijuana,” and some of its current producers, such as Tweed and Tilray, are well-recognized brands both within and outside Canada. What is little known about Canada’s medical cannabis regime, however, is that Canada never legalized medical marijuana distribution or dispensaries; Canadian medical marijuana patients order and receive their medical marijuana through Canada’s mailing system. Despite dispensaries being illegal, many operate relatively freely due to local law enforcement tolerance in certain Provinces. All of that will change when Canada legalizes marijuana, and the pending legalization bills are widely expected to pass.

With a desired goal of July 1, 2018 to get legalization off the ground, Canada is nothing if not ambitious. The legalization bills contain many interesting restrictions and standards, including the following:

  • The legal age to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana will be 18, but the Provinces are free to set higher age limits.
  • Individuals 18 and older can grow up to four plants per household for personal use.
  • Tourists cannot bring cannabis into Canada, but they can purchase and use it while there.
  • The provinces will almost exclusively regulate retail and marijuana distribution, as well as the retail price of marijuana. They can even own their own retail establishments if they wish.
  • Provinces will be able to decide whether alcohol and marijuana can be sold at the same retail location.
  • According to the federal government’s own press release, “those jurisdictions that have not put in place a regulated retail framework, individuals would be able to purchase cannabis online from a federally licensed producer with secure home delivery through the mail or by courier.”
  • Marijuana vending machines and self-service displays are banned.
  • The federal government will regulate marijuana producers.
  • Advertising, promotions, and marketing cannot appeal to children and they will be heavily regulated by the federal government, including the possibility of no branding at all on the production side.
  • Regulations regarding packaging and labeling are mandated, but they need to be debated by government first.
  • No federal taxes or licensing fees are contained in the bills.
  • Cannabis cannot be used to infuse alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine and vice-versa.
  • More than 2 nanograms of active THC in the blood is a criminal driving offense punishable with a fine and the presence of more than 5 nanograms is a more serious offense, and officers will test driving impairment by using “fluid” samples, including saliva and blood samples.

As these cannabis bills make their way through Canada’s Parliament, there will no doubt be robust debates among lawmakers and regulators on everything from potency limitations to the kinds of cannabis products that will be available to quality assurance testing requirements. One of the most grueling debates will likely be over whether the Provinces should be the ones running all marijuana retail establishments.

To date, the U.S. only has one city-owned marijuana retail store. Needless to say, the idea of government owned and distributed marijuana hasn’t taken off in the U.S., both because it’s still federally illegal here and because we simply do not have a tradition of government ownership of anything retail. So even if Canada does embrace a “government weed” model, it’s unlikely this will cause the U.S. to influence our own state-by-state legalization scheme with private marijuana markets.