Recreational Marijuana

California Cannabis lawsSince Proposition 64 passed last November, there has been a spike in reports of California dispensaries advertising their willingness to sell recreational cannabis to anyone 21 years and older “with only a valid ID” (i.e. physician’s recommendation not required). However, Prop 64 requires dispensaries apply for and obtain a state retailer license to sell recreational cannabis or face criminal and civil penalties for each day of illegal operations. Since the State of California has yet to issue such a license, any dispensary currently selling recreational cannabis in California is doing so illegally.

For marijuana consumers, your options are simple: (1) obtain a valid physician’s recommendation and purchase medical marijuana from a dispensary; (2) grow your own recreational marijuana at home by following local regulations; or (3) get home grown marijuana from other adults in California through a free, sharing economy.

For dispensaries, your options are even simpler: (1) sell medical marijuana legally by following local laws and securing any necessary permits or licenses; or (2) operate illegally and face severe penalties, raids, and criminal prosecution.

Dispensaries in California have been making illegal sales long before Prop 64 passed. But local law enforcement believe dispensaries have become “more emboldened” now that recreational cannabis is legal in the state. Some dispensaries might wrongly believe that any and all sales are allowed under a Prop 64 regime, but others clearly choose to operate outside of the law. This angers legal dispensary owners who pay the high costs of operating a legal business (including taxes, licensing fees, and security costs) while also waiting to profit on recreational sales after state licenses are issued.

Though Prop 64 makes clear that anyone making retail sales or deliveries of recreational cannabis must have a California state license, the challenge faced by local (and soon state) prosecutors is how to go about shutting down illegal businesses. Often when a city or county attempts to shut down an illegal dispensary, the dispensary owner just relocates the business and changes the name, resulting in an endless game of “whack-a-mole” for local authorities. But now that cannabis businesses are beginning to set their sights on state licenses, is it more important than ever to play nice with your local city and county officials as local authorization is a requirement for state licensing. Businesses caught operating illegally can be disqualified from receiving a local permit, and even if state and local authorities cannot prohibit these business from applying for a California cannabis license, past troubles with following the law will likely be a negative mark on your cannabis license application.

We also expect state and federal enforcement to pick up over the next few years. California state agencies do not currently have jurisdiction over illegal cannabis businesses, but once state licenses are issued they plan to work with local authorities to enforce the cannabis laws. Even worse, If illegal businesses continue to thrive in California, the federal government could challenge California’s entire regulatory system under the guidance of the Cole Memo. With a new federal administration coming in, and the possibility of an anti-marijuana Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, California could face even greater scrutiny. So by operating an illegal business not only do you risk your own chances at the legal market, you also risk undermining the legalization effort California strived so long to achieve.

As California transitions into a regulated legal market, the grey areas we have long been dealing with will soon shrink. In a post-Prop 64 world you can either follow the laws and obtain a license to make legal recreational sales or you can risk fines, jail time, and the loss of the chance to ever operate again.

Oregon Cannabis lawsThe 2017 Oregon legislative session begins two weeks from tomorrow, on Wednesday, February 1. Already, there are many proposed bills, measures and resolutions posted on the legislature’s website, ranging from marquee bills to tackle the state budget shortfall and its gun registry loopholes, to resolutions naming an official state horse (the Kiger Mustang) and a dog (the Border Collie). For our faithful readers, there is also a generous helping of cannabis bills. We count 28 of them.

Back in October, we wrote that issues surrounding public consumption, like cannabis cafés and special event (temporary) licenses, would be up for discussion. As shown below, that has proven to be true. We have also written time and again (and again and again) about the need to merge Oregon’s medical and recreational marijuana programs. That appears to be up for serious consideration as well. Finally, we have written about the state’s burgeoning industrial hemp program, which is also addressed.

Below is a compilation of the 28 introduced cannabis bills, sourced from the Oregon legislature’s website. Each bill is linked to its summary page, and you can click through to the text of any proposal of interest. When reading a bill, it’s important to understand that any text in bold letters would be new, while language in [italics and brackets] would be removed from existing law. It’s also important to note that each proposed bill has a specific enactment date: some are “emergency” laws, effective on passage, while others would take effect at a future date. Finally, some of these bills would sunset after a certain period; others are proffered as evergreen.

As in the 2016 short session, many of the bills listed below will fall by the wayside as the senate and house convene and begin to knock heads. Others will be revised, consolidated or otherwise modified, but it is altogether certain that we will see some changes in Oregon cannabis law this session. Altogether, the index below seems to support the sentiment that Oregon is committed to getting it right with cannabis.

Draft Senate Bills

SB 56. Authorizes Oregon Liquor Control Commission to require cannabis-related licensees, certificate holders and applicants for licenses and certificates to submit information related to persons who hold financial interest in business operating or to be operated under license or certificate.

SB 108. Modifies certain definitions for purposes of regulating cannabis. Imposes tax on retail sale of marijuana seeds. Conforms terms throughout statutes governing regulation of cannabis.

SB 130. Waives fees for obtaining a medical marijuana card for veterans who have total disability rating of at least 50 percent as result of injury or illness incurred or aggravated during active military service, and who received discharge or release under other than dishonorable conditions.

SB 300. Establishes Oregon Cannabis Commission to fulfill duties, functions and powers relating to medical use of marijuana. Directs Oregon Health Authority to transfer duties, functions and powers relating to Oregon Medical Marijuana Act to commission. Makes commission operative January 1, 2018.

SB 302. Removes provisions related to marijuana offenses from Uniform Controlled Substances Act. Moves crimes, penalties, defenses to crimes and procedural provisions in Uniform Controlled Substances Act that apply to marijuana offenses to Control and Regulation of Marijuana Act. Adjusts penalties for certain crimes. Makes corresponding changes to statutes referencing controlled substances to clarify applicability to cannabis and cannabis-derived products.

SB 303. Amends, clarifies and creates consistency in statutes setting forth prohibitions and procedures related to minors possessing, purchasing, attempting to purchase or acquiring alcoholic beverages or marijuana items.

SB 304. For purposes of laws regulating cannabis-related businesses, standardizes language with respect to issuing, renewing, suspending, revoking or refusing to issue or renew licenses.

SB 305. Clarifies law requiring notice to Oregon Liquor Control Commission when person licensed by commission to engage in cannabis business is convicted of violation of state law or local ordinance of which possession, delivery or manufacture of marijuana item is element.

SB 306. Repeals provisions regulating marijuana grow sites, marijuana processing sites and medical marijuana dispensaries on June 30, 2018. Updates and creates provisions providing for licensing of marijuana grow sites, marijuana processing sites and medical marijuana dispensaries by Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

SB 307. Provides for regulation by Oregon Liquor Control Commission of consumption and sale of marijuana items at temporary events, including licensure of premises on which temporary events are held. Provides for regulation by commission of consumption of marijuana items at cannabis lounges, including licensure of premises where cannabis lounges are located. Prohibits licensing temporary events or cannabis lounges in cities or counties that have not adopted ordinances allowing for the consumption of marijuana items at temporary events or cannabis lounges. Excepts from prohibitions on public use, including restrictions set forth in Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act, consumption of marijuana items in designated areas of premises for which temporary event or cannabis lounge license has been issued. Applies current law regulating licensed marijuana producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers to new types of licensees. Makes certain exceptions.

SB 308. Establishes Task Force on Social Consumption of Cannabis.

SB 319. Authorizes local governments to allow medical marijuana dispensaries and marijuana retailers licensed by Oregon Liquor Control Commission to be located within certain distance [500 feet] of schools.

SB 342. Clarifies total number of mature marijuana plants and immature marijuana plants and total amount of usable marijuana, medical cannabinoid products, cannabinoid concentrates and cannabinoid extracts that patients and caregivers registered under Oregon Medical Marijuana Act may possess.

SB 570. Creates crime of intentionally administering marijuana item to body of person who is under 18 years of age. Punishes by maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment, $375,000 fine, or both. Creates crime of knowingly administering marijuana item to body of person who is under 18 years of age. Punishes by maximum of 1 year’s imprisonment, $6,250 fine, or both.

Draft House Bills

HB 2151. Allows property tax exemption for food processing machinery and equipment newly acquired by persons engaged in business of producing cannabinoid edibles, alcoholic beverages and alcoholic liquors.

HB 2197. Directs Oregon Liquor Control Commission to enter into agreement with nongovernmental entity that conducts or funds research on cannabis and cannabis-derived products. Specifies terms of agreement. Requires public dissemination of data, information, analysis and findings procured pursuant to research.

HB 2198. Changes name of Oregon Liquor Control Commission to Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. Changes composition of Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission by adding commissioners from cannabis retail industry. Specifies that Oregon Health Authority may not register marijuana grow sites, marijuana processing sites and medical marijuana dispensaries. Creates within authority, for purposes of administering Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, Medical Use of Cannabis Board. Becomes operative June 30, 2018. Repeals provisions regulating marijuana grow sites, marijuana processing sites and medical marijuana dispensaries on June 30, 2018. Updates and creates provisions providing for licensing of marijuana grow sites, marijuana processing sites and medical marijuana dispensaries by Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Makes other technical changes to laws regulating cannabis. Creates alternate registry system administered by State Department of Agriculture for growers that produce marijuana for registry identification cardholders. Directs Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission to coordinate with department for purpose of regulating marijuana producers.

HB 2199. Eliminates provision indicating that cannabis-related business licenses may be for term other than one year. Qualifies provision providing that cannabis-related business license expires upon death of licensee.

HB 2200. Changes name of Oregon Liquor Control Commission to Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. Changes composition of Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission by adding commissioners from cannabis retail industry. Directs commission to coordinate with State Department of Agriculture for purpose of regulating marijuana producers. Makes other technical changes to laws regulating cannabis. Specifies that Oregon Health Authority may not register marijuana grow sites, marijuana processing sites and medical marijuana dispensaries. Repeals provisions regulating marijuana grow sites, marijuana processing sites and medical marijuana dispensaries on June 30, 2018. Updates and creates provisions providing for licensing of marijuana grow sites, marijuana processing sites and medical marijuana dispensaries by Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.

HB 2201. Corrects and conforms definitions for “cannabinoid concentrate” and “cannabinoid extract” in laws regulating cannabis.

HB 2202. Modifies statute under which lien may be imposed against building or premises used to illegally produce, process, sell or use marijuana items.

HB 2203. Changes distribution of moneys collected by Department of Revenue as tax imposed on retail sale of marijuana items.

HB 2204. Changes statutory limitation on local government’s authority to impose local tax or fee on retail sale of marijuana items. Specifies that if electors of city or county approve ordinance imposing tax or fee, governing body of city or county may amend ordinance, without referring amendment to electors, to adjust rate of tax or fee.

HB 2205. Directs State Department of Agriculture to solicit proposals from third party vendors to create for producers of cannabis efficiency standards for energy and water consumption and certification protocols for meeting those standards.

HB 2371. Specifies that, for purposes of statutes regulating seeds, agricultural hemp seed is flower seed. Directs Director of College of Agriculture and dean of College of Agricultural Sciences of Oregon State University to establish program for labeling and certification of agricultural hemp seed.

HB 2372. Establishes Oregon Industrial Hemp Commission.

HB 2556. Restricts sale and delivery of marijuana paraphernalia. Creates violation for unlawful sale or delivery of marijuana paraphernalia. Punishes by maximum of $2,000 fine.

If you made it this far, well done. We will continue to offer updates as events unfold this February and March. In the meantime, please let us know if you have comments on any of the specific bills listed above, or on the Oregon legislature’s approach to cannabis this session.

 

 

Proposition 64California cannabis laws states that adults in California age 21 and older may legally possess, plant, cultivate, harvest, dry, or process up to six marijuana plants as well as possess the marijuana produced from those plants. Though cities and counties can completely prohibit personal outdoor cultivation (and some already do), Prop 64 does not allow them to prohibit personal cultivation indoors or in an outside structure that is fully enclosed and secure.

However, Prop 64 does grant California cities and counties the authority to reasonably regulate these activities and requires that all persons cultivating cannabis for personal use comply with any local ordinances. In addition, Prop 64 limits personal cultivation to six marijuana plants per private residence (regardless of the number of adults living in the residence) and requires any marijuana produced from the plants that is over the legal possession limit of 28.5 grams be kept within the residence or in a locked, outdoor space not visible to the public.

Some California municipalities have already started passing local ordinances to regulate personal cultivation. Prop 64 allows cities and counties to “enact and enforce reasonable regulations to reasonably regulate” personal cannabis cultivation activities. So now the question is just how reasonable are these new regulations?

In December, the City of Indian Wells passed an ordinance that requires residents to register for a permit from City Hall to cultivate marijuana at home. To receive the permit, residents must allow home inspections by city employees and pay an annual fee of $141. According to Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of University of California, Irvine Law School and prominent constitutional law scholar, Indian Wells’ regulation “goes significantly beyond what state law allows local governments to do.” There is also concern that by requiring individuals to register to grow, the City’s regulation forces them to self-incriminate themselves under federal law and is therefore unconstitutional.

Last week, the City of Los Banos also considered an ordinance requiring its residents to first register with the City to cultivate marijuana indoors for personal use. The stated reason for requiring residents to register was so authorities could educate them on how to safely grow marijuana and avoid fire hazards. However, one City Council member did not support the ordinance because he was concerned about creating a public registry that could potentially expose home growers to “shaming, harassment or violence.” The Los Banos City Council later amended the proposed ordinance to provide greater privacy for registrants by avoiding collection of personal data. The modified ordinance was approved unanimously on January 4th.

We’ve been working with plenty of cannabis companies in California on the local permitting and future state licensing processes, but this is the first time individuals are being asked to register to cultivate marijuana in their own homes for their own personal use. Ultimately, it may be up to a court to decide whether these new local regulations are indeed “reasonable,” as required under Prop 64. In the meantime, California residents should be aware that they cannot legally purchase recreational cannabis from any dispensaries and, if they happen to live in a city or county that has passed regulations on personal cultivation, they also may not be able to legally grow marijuana in their residences without first registering and complying with any new rules.

Yes, California has legalized recreational cannabis, but we still have a long way to go until it becomes widely available for all adults living in our state.

Cannabis lawyerThe confirmation hearing for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee to serve as the U.S. Attorney General, begins this morning at 9:30 a.m. ET. You can view the live feed here. Sessions is opposed by civil rights groups and championed by law enforcement, which, together, signal poorly for marijuana. On the specific issue of federal marijuana prohibition, we wrote on his nomination day that the Senator has been hostile to marijuana for a long time.

If each member of the Senate Judiciary Committee votes with his or her party, Sessions will pass by a vote of 11 to 9. That seems likely, as there have been no reported signs that any Republicans will defect, either in the committee or on the Senate floor. Still, Democrats have the opportunity to ask some tough questions on a variety of topics. It is our sincere hope that somebody takes the opportunity to drill down from civil rights to marijuana legalization, and specifically, to enforcement of the Federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

As it stands, a hostile, Sessions-led Department of Justice (DOJ) could attempt to kneecap marijuana policy reform nationwide. Its options would include everything from suing states to block implementation of marijuana programs, to leveraging the CSA’s asset forfeiture provisions against pot businesses and related parties. These actions would likely be massively unpopular, but they would be well within the power of a hostile administration – even one that ostensibly supports limited government and states’ rights.

Fortunately, there is a bipartisan majority in each chamber of Congress that appears interested in seeing states, and not federal law enforcement, lead on the issue of cannabis legalization. If Congress continues to prohibit the DOJ from chasing state medical marijuana actors, it may be hard for Sessions to keep the jails as full as he would like. There is also a possibility that as much as Sessions dislikes pot, he may have other priorities, at least to start.

As of today, there is probably more uncertainty than at any point in the past few years with respect to enforcement of federal prohibition. Anyone interested in federal marijuana policy would be well served to tune into today’s hearings, and to closely monitor the hearings of other Trump nominees like Georgia Rep. Tom Price, who has been nominated to serve as Secretary for Health and Human Services (and also has a very poor record on pot). Mr. Price is set for hearing next week.

Stay tuned.

Cannabis bankingThere has been a ton of speculation about what President-elect Donald Trump and his nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, will do about state-legal marijuana in the next four years. Some industry and political experts think a renewed War on Drugs is coming, while others believe neither Trump nor Sessions will undertake the politically unpopular task of undoing state-by-state cannabis legalization and some version of the status quo under the Cole Memo will prevail. What is likely to happen with access to banking for cannabis businesses under this new administration?  Next to 280e, the inability to secure and maintain a bank account is probably the biggest business problem for marijuana entrepreneurs.

Marijuana businesses and ancillary service providers (those businesses that provide services to the industry but that are not cultivating, manufacturing, or distributing marijuana) often cannot get bank accounts or bank financing because marijuana is federally illegal. Regulations issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) dealing with money laundering are what make it so tough for cannabis businesses to secure banking. The Bank Secrecy Act FinCEN enforces requires banks investigate their customers and neither negligently or knowingly do business with bad actors. State-legal marijuana businesses and even many ancillary businesses are viewed as bad actors for banks and so they generally avoid those businesses and the potential fines that can come with them.

Nonetheless, in 2014, FinCEN finally issued some guidance that allows financial institutions to at least provide bank accounts to marijuana businesses — no mention was made in this guidance about access to banking for ancillary service providers. Under these FinCEN marijuana guidelines, banks are expected to:

  • Verify with state authorities that a marijuana business is duly licensed and registered.
  • Review state license applications and related documentation the marijuana business used to obtain its state license to operate its marijuana-related business.
  • Request from the state licensing and enforcement authorities available information about the business and related parties.
  • Develop an understanding of the normal and expected activity for the business, including the types of products to be sold and the types of customers to be served.
  • Monitor publicly available sources for adverse information about the cannabis business and related parties.
  • Periodically refresh information obtained as part of customer due diligence using methods and timetables commensurate with the risk.
  • File Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) with FinCEN for all of their marijuana business customers. Banks use SARs to notify regulators that someone may be using their services for an illegal purpose. There will be no direct consequences arising from these SAR filings, but this means the federal government knows exactly who you are as a marijuana business, and with whom you are banking.
  • File SARs if they believe one of their cannabis business customers has violated a state law or has failed to act in accordance with the Cole Memo.

With these guidelines FinCEN essentially dragooned banks into acting as on-the-ground investigators to snitch on marijuana businesses that are not being as compliant or careful as the federal government believes they should be. These guidelines do not change federal banking laws and they are pretty onerous, but they were a positive step towards alleviating the marijuana banking epidemic.

With eight states, including California, electing to legalize/”medicalize” marijuana this past November, I questioned in a recent blog post what FinCEN/the Department of Treasury will do with the 2014 FinCEN guidelines, especially with Trump soon to be our President. In December, Senator Elizabeth Warren (and several other senators) sent a letter to FinCEN requesting it issue increased guidance to banks, given we now have 29 states with some form of legal marijuana and no federal resolution of the banking issue. Specifically, Senator Warren and the other senators wrote that more guidance is necessary to address how ancillary services providers can secure financial services as the 2014 FinCEN guidelines are silent on this issue. The senators’ letter specifically stated that:

The 2014 FinCEN guidance did not distinguish between state-sanctioned marijuana businesses and the [ancillary] businesses that service the marijuana industry, leaving it up to individual financial institutions to determine how to classify and treat [ancillary] businesses. Limitations on access to financial services have become increasingly problematic for legal businesses and will only present a larger problem as more states legalize marijuana . . . since FinCEN’s 2014 guidance was released, less than 3% of the nation’s 11,954 federally regulated banks and credit unions have chosen to serve the cannabis industry.

The senators’ letter also accurately noted that an inability of cannabis businesses to bank promotes tax fraud and creates a public safety issue due to the large amounts of cash marijuana businesses must handle.

If Congress will not adjust the banking laws to accommodate state-legal marijuana businesses, pressuring banking regulators to change their enforcement policies is the logical next step and we need to see more congressional representatives and senators from marijuana-friendly states standing up for marijuana banking. If we expect the state-by-state democratic experiments with cannabis to succeed, we need to equip marijuana and ancillary businesses with the tools for success, including access to banking.

California cannabis

Proposition 64 (Prop 64 or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act), which passed last November and legalized recreational cannabis use throughout California, included stricter laws regarding driving while “high.” But California senators have proposed a new bill, Senate Bill 65 (SB 65), to close what they say is a loophole in the law that does not explicitly make it illegal to drive while consuming marijuana as long as you aren’t impaired.

One of the stated intents of Prop 64 was to maintain existing laws that make it illegal to operate a car (or other vehicle) while impaired by marijuana. Like driving under the influence of alcohol, it is illegal in California to drive or operate a vehicle under the influence of any drug. You are under the influence of a drug when your physical or mental abilities are impaired to the point where you can no longer drive with the caution of an ordinary, sober person under similar circumstances. However, there are no current state laws that address the legality of driving when not impaired but while still consuming marijuana or marijuana products.

Prop 64 provides that it does not permit any person to, among other things:

  • possess an open container or package of marijuana while driving, operating, or riding in the passenger seat of a vehicle
  • smoke or ingest marijuana or marijuana products while driving or operating a vehicle
  • smoke or ingest marijuana or marijuana products while riding in the passenger seat or compartment of a vehicle, except as permitted by a local jurisdiction

Note that even though Prop 64 does not permit these activities, it also does not prohibit them. However, it provides that any person with an open container of marijuana in a vehicle may be cited for an infraction and have to pay a fine of up to $250. For persons under the age of 18, drug education and community services will instead by required. In contrast, no penalties are included for smoking or ingesting marijuana while driving or riding in a vehicle, an oversight that the authors of Prop 64 simply forgot to include.

SB 65 would “remedy” this by making it illegal for a person to smoke or consume marijuana in any form while operating a vehicle, vessel, or an aircraft; and any violations could result in either an infraction or a misdemeanor. However, SB 65 would also prohibit consumption of CBD-only marijuana products while driving a vehicle, which could be a problem for many medical marijuana patients.

Though SB 65 would clearly allow police to ticket anyone caught smoking or ingesting marijuana red-handed, a challenge for the bill is how to test whether a driver who is pulled over for driving erratically recently consumed marijuana. There is currently no THC threshold for impairment established in California as well as no standard test for impairment (e.g. blood, saliva, breath). A separate bill, Assembly Bill 6, was recently proposed to allow law enforcement to perform saliva tests on drivers they suspect are impaired by marijuana use. But a similar proposal was rejected in 2016 because legislators were concerned about the dependability of field testing marijuana-induced drivers.

To address this problem, Prop 64 allocates some of the tax revenues that will be raised from recreational marijuana sales to the Department of California Highway Patrol to create protocols for determining whether a driver is impaired by use of marijuana. The state is currently exploring ways to test driver impairment, including the use of marijuana breathalyzers that have already been road-tested on California highways.

Finally, for those that are still unclear on California’s stance on using cannabis while driving, the state recently launched a $1 million anti-drugged driving campaign that uses television and digital ads to show the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana. For California cannabis consumers, the state wants you to know “DUI doesn’t just mean booze” anymore. (You can watch the video here.)

Cannabis litigation lawyerThough we are hoping 2017 will bring you nothing but prosperity when it comes to your cannabis business. But if you are headed to court in 2017 or even if you are just just sensing a company dispute stirring, the following five tips will help you avoid or mitigate the negative impact of a business dispute.

  1. Make your business relationships crystal clear from the start. The days of handshake deals regarding ownership in a cannabis business are over. You should do no deals of any real size without first getting everything in writing. Operating agreements, bylaws, and shareholder agreements exist to ensure that your company structure and the relationship between its owners is abundantly clear. When starting a company together, you and your fellow owners should have at least some understanding on how your company will be operated and on how such things like equity versus debt, voting rights, sweat equity, preferred returns, owner employment will be navigated. Most of the ownership disputes our cannabis litigation lawyers have handled have been because of badly done initial company contracts and filings.
  2. Perform due diligence on your partners. If you want to increase your odds of avoiding a dispute with your cannabis business partners, the most important thing you can do is to choose your partners wisely. What never ceases to surprise us is how often we are told by a party locked in a life or death ownership dispute regarding a cannabis business is that they barely knew their business partner before they started the business with them. If you are going to start a cannabis business (or any business for that matter), the first thing you should do is find out as much as you can about your putative partner’s financial and business history. You should do this before you sign away your soul and money to joining with this person on a business project. It’s neither rude nor unexpected to ask your potential partners for documentation showing their financial and criminal history–the state licensing regulators will ask for this information anyway. It is even more important to conduct thorough due diligence if you are buying into an existing cannabis business. At minimum, this due diligence should include investigating and analyzing the assets and liabilities of the company and its current owners. Your due diligence should also include confirming the appropriate standing of the company with state and local government regulators, and determining that the company and its principals understand how to comply with state and local laws as well as the Cole Memo. This is routine in every other industry and it must become routine in the cannabis industry as well.
  3. Get your own attorney from the start to protect yourself. More often than not, the company has an attorney looking out for the company’s interests. But it is important to realize that the company attorney is not your personal lawyer and that lawyer will almost certainly be conflicted out of any dispute between you and your business partners and/or investors. For this reason (and many others) you need your own lawyer providing you with your own counsel and protection regarding your role in the company and your ownership rights. This lawyer should also make sure that the written agreements work for you and not against you. This lawyer will also be an asset for you personally if any dispute arises. For more on how to avoid a dispute relating to your cannabis business, check out Five Tips on How to Avoid Cannabis Litigation and How to Avoid Costly Marijuana Business Disputes. For more on how to choose the right lawyer for your cannabis business check out How To Choose Your Cannabis Business Lawyer.
  4. Know your dispute resolution options. Well drafted corporate documents and contracts should cover most possible breakdowns in the business or the relationship and set out the options for handling internal strife. If there is a fight or a tie on a vote, what happens? How are problems resolved and when? Who makes what decisions and how? What about liquidating the business? What about selling an ownership interest and for how much? Can you sell just your membership interest or shares without going through a vote of the members? Can you keep running the business free of your partners if there’s a fight? What about dissolving the company and winding down? What happens if there is a contract breach? All of these things can and usually should be covered in your corporate governing documents or in any other contract you sign, and by doing so, you greatly minimize your likelihood of destructive problems down the road. Your company documents and contracts should also make clear exactly how disputes are going to be handled. Are you going to want your dispute made public in a court, or kept quiet in an arbitration or mediation? It is a lot easier to reach agreement on such things when you are starting your business or your relationship than when you are already in the midst of a hard fought dispute with costly lawyers.
  5. Make sure your lawyer knows what he or she is doing. When hiring a lawyer to help protect you when getting into a cannabis business, you should be sure to hire a law firm with lawyers who know both business law and cannabis law. And when confronted with a dispute involving your cannabis business, you need to be sure to hire a law firm with lawyers experienced in civil litigation (criminal litigation experience does not count here) and cannabis law, if possible. For more on choosing your cannabis lawyer, check out How To Choose Your Cannabis Business Lawyer.

Be careful out there, and have a happy 2017.

California cannabis lawsA new California bill, Assembly Bill 64, is currently being considered by California legislators. AB 64 would amend the marijuana advertising rules under Proposition 64 (aka the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or AUMA) to create stricter regulations for advertising on highway billboards. Though Prop 64 already bans marijuana ads on any billboards on California interstate highways or state highways that cross the border of any other state, AB 64 would extend that prohibition to exclude advertising on billboards on any highways within the state.

The sponsors of AB 64 state that the stricter regulations are meant to further enforce prohibitions against advertising cannabis to minors under the age of 21, who would be able to see ads on highway billboards even if the ads are targeted specifically at legal adult consumers and medical marijuana patients. In addition, the bill’s sponsors are concerned that cannabis businesses that have not yet received a state license to sell medical or recreational cannabis are already advertising on highway billboards across California.

AB 64 would prohibit not only licensed businesses, but any entities operating in California from placing marijuana ads on interstate and state highways. The bill would also extend all other restrictions under Prop 64 on marijuana advertising and marketing from licensees to all entities operating within the state; thus closing a loophole that currently exempts unlicensed cannabis businesses from new state advertising laws. What’s more, the bill would extend the prohibition on billboard ads to the marketing of medical cannabis and medical cannabis products.

Though the new advertising restrictions are already receiving pushback from the cannabis community, AB 64 is not all bad news for California cannabis businesses and license hopefuls. If passed, the bill will also provide clarification on major issues concerning many California cannabis businesses, specifically whether for profit businesses and delivery-only businesses will be allowed under new statewide regulation.

Under AB 64, the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) would be amended to explicitly allow medical cannabis collectives and cooperatives to operate for profit. In order to operate for profit, these businesses will be required to obtain a valid California seller’s permit from the State Board of Equalization and a valid local license, permit, or other authorization from the city or county where the business operates.

AB 64 would also amend California law to specify that Type 10 dispensaries and Type 10A producing dispensaries under the MCRSA, as well as retailers (and by association microbusinesses) under the AUMA, may be either:

  1. a “storefront dispensary” for locations that have direct physical access for the public, or
  2. a “nonstorefront dispensary” for locations that do not have direct physical access for the pubic.

For the amendments under AB 64 to pass, two thirds of California legislators will need to vote in favor of the bill. This is California’s first attempt to consolidate the provisions of the MCRSA and the AUMA, which contain several conflicting provisions due to differing approaches on key issues under the two state initiatives. However, this will most likely not be the last attempt as the state prepares to license both medical and recreational cannabis businesses beginning as early as January 1, 2018. We will be closely following any changes to California cannabis laws throughout 2017 and those interested in securing a state license should be following along.

Oregon Cannabis lawsThis week marks the end of the early start program for medical marijuana dispensaries licensed by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). As of Sunday, January 1, OHA licensed dispensaries will only be allowed to sell marijuana to adults who hold a valid medical marijuana card. These dispensaries will no longer be allowed to sell marijuana at retail to non-medical cardholders, as most had been doing since October 1, 2015. Going forward, only Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) licensed dispensaries can sell pot at retail to non-medical cardholders. And that is where the money is.

For the past few months, our Oregon cannabis lawyers have prodded, poked and cajoled many of our clients to submit their OLCC paperwork to ensure a timely and successful transition into the adult use market. In our experience, OLCC has prioritized retail applicants, and for anyone without local hang-ups the transition has been fairly smooth. Still, the OLCC reports that just 104 of 494 retail applicants have been licensed to date. (The numbers for processors are even worse, with just 23 of 208 applicants approved.)

If you are an OLCC licensed retailer, you will be sitting pretty on January 1, assuming you can find product to sell while everyone else scrambles toward licensure. The situation is less than ideal for consumers, who will no longer have access to many outlets, and also less than ideal for the State of Oregon, which could see a hiccup in sales tax revenues. We have written that the rollout of state level cannabis programs is an uneven course, and hard deadlines tend to showcase that observation.

Note that although the January 1 deadline may seem to decouple Oregon’s medical and adult use marijuana programs, the reality is more nuanced. OLCC licensed entities are allowed to opt in to medical marijuana activity, and almost all of them do – whether through production, processing or retailing. In the retail context, this means that OLCC licensees will be allowed to sell marijuana to medical marijuana cardholders along with anyone else (but tax-free), subject to tracking and reporting requirements. A year from now, we expect very few OHA dispensaries will be standing.

The Oregon early sales program was a good idea, and we believe it achieved its goal of diminishing black market sales. It is our hope that the testing bottleneck and a lack of licensed OLCC operators will not reverse that trend. In any case, starting January 1, Oregon dispensaries without an OLCC license will face a $500 fine, per violation, for selling to retail customers. All of this should make for an interesting start to 2017.

 

Cannabis moratoriumIt’s always a slap in the face to get blindsided by your local government at the 11th hour. And of course the same holds true in the cannabis industry. You’ve worked incredibly hard to secure your cannabis license from the state. You’ve spent a ton of money getting into compliance with state cannabis regulations (that keep on changing and affecting your bottom-line). And you’re likely paying sky-high rent to lease a space that for any other business would be less than half of what you pay. This is all while having to deal with federal marijuana laws that make it difficult to bank and jack up your tax rates. Then to run up against a local moratorium on cannabis businesses or a drastic change in local cannabis regulations after months of operation is yet another bitter pill to swallow.

When I-502 first passed in Washington State, there were debates and lawsuits over what Washington cities and counties could do when it came to opting out of I-502 altogether. I-502 was silent on this point and industry folks argued that cities and counties couldn’t ban marijuana businesses while local governments (and the state attorney general) argued that they could. Ultimately, with passage of HB 2136, the game of chicken between local governments and marijuana businesses came to an end since the legislature decided that cities and counties were free to ban marijuana businesses, though those that did would cease to receive marijuana tax revenues.

The issue of how cities and counties in Washington State may regulate marijuana businesses remains less than clear. Given the local government police powers and the fact that there is no right to have a marijuana business in Washington State, cities and counties see themselves as able to regulate marijuana businesses as they see fit, so long as their regulations are lawful and constitutional and comport with a local government’s duty and power to protect the health and welfare of its citizens.

Because of this, Washington State licensed marijuana businesses are finding themselves in situations where their local governments are re-thinking local regulations or just deciding to get rid of certain (but not all) marijuana businesses. Already this year, Douglas County banned and then re-regulated its cannabis producers and processors because of odor and neighbor complaints. Also this year, Chelan County opted to ban all marijuana producers and processors that were not actively operating on or before September 29, 2016.

Now Spokane County joins this list with its November 29 emergency moratorium on any new or expanded outdoor cannabis cultivation, citing multiple odor complaints received by the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency and claiming that its existing outdoor marijuana producer rules and zoning do not “adequately mitigate the impacts associated with the outdoor production of marijuana.”

So long as Spokane County holds a public meeting on this emergency moratorium within 60 days of its passage, due process (i.e., notice and a hearing) challenges to this change are not likely to be viable. Spokane County can even extend this outdoor production moratorium to one year so long as it develops a working plan in that time leading up to final resolution of the issue.

The sad reality is that cities and counties in Washington State can usually get away with using well established laws to preserve the integrity of their zoning plans through interim zoning or via a moratorium and by pointing to allegations of immediate threats to public health and safety. If Spokane County eventually decides to attack existing outdoor cultivation, the chance of a legal attack against the County isn’t made any better due to the law of non-conforming uses.

We would like to see Spokane County go the way of Douglas County and find a way to keep new or expanded outdoor cannabis cultivation alive while balancing the interests of irritated neighbors. In some ways, an even bigger concern for these outdoor cannabis cultivators may be private legal action by their neighbors to stop all outdoor cannabis farming. For more on NIMBY and marijuana odor cases, go here, here, and here.

In any event, be sure to stay tuned to see what Spokane County does with outdoor cannabis cultivation.