Washington State cannabis lawyers

The Washington State Legislature recently passed SB 5131, which contains many tweaks to Washington’s cannabis laws. The measure now awaits signature by Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Here are ten ways SB 5131 could change Washington’s marijuana market if Governor Inslee signs it into law:

  1. Homegrown Marijuana. SB 5131 would allow licensed marijuana producers to sell immature cannabis plants, clones, and seeds to qualifying patients who enter the state’s medical marijuana database. Patients who choose not to enter the database may grow up to four plants in their homes under current Washington law and it’s not clear how those patients would legally acquire immature plants, clones, or seeds in light of SB 5131. Additionally, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (“LCB”) must examine the viability of allowing recreational users to grow their own marijuana in a way that complies with the enforcement priorities outlined in the Cole Memo.
  2. Retail License Ownership. Under this bill, a retailer or individual “with a financial or other ownership interest in” a retail license can own up to five retail licenses. Current Washington State law limits an individual from having an ownership interest in more than three licensed retailers.
  3. Forfeiting applications. The bill would require the LCB forfeit retail licenses that have been issued but are not operational and open to the public after two years unless the delay in opening and getting operational is due to circumstances beyond the licensee’s control. However, the LCB may not require forfeiture if the licensee has been unable to open because of a town or county’s moratorium prohibiting a retail cannabis store or because zoning, licensing or other regulatory measures prevent the retail store from opening.
  4. Processing Hemp. The LCB must study the viability of allowing licensed processors to process industrial hemp grown in Washington. This could eventually lead to legislation that would allow processors to purchase cannabis plant material from farmers licensed to grow industrial hemp. Currently, processors may only purchase products from licensed cannabis producers or other processors.
  5. Advertising. SB 5131 would make the following substantial changes to cannabis advertising laws in Washington.
    1. Advertising to Kids. The bill would prohibit marijuana licensees from taking “any action directly or indirectly to target youth in the advertising, promotion, or marketing of marijuana and marijuana products, or take any action the primary purpose of which is to initiate, maintain, or increase the incidence of youth use of marijuana or marijuana products.” This includes prohibiting using toys, movie or cartoon characters, or other images that would cause youth to be interested in marijuana. It also prohibits using a “commercial mascot” which is defined as “a live human being, animal, or mechanical device used for attracting the attention of motorists and passersby so as to make them aware of marijuana products or the presence of a marijuana business.” This includes inflatable tube displays, persons in costumes, and sign spinners. Cities and counties would be free to further restrict marijuana advertising.
    2. Outdoor Advertising. Billboards visible from any street, road, highway, right-of-way, or public parking area cannot be used to advertise cannabis, except that a marijuana retailer may use a billboard solely to identify the name or nature of  its business and directions to its retail store. Outdoor signs could not contain depictions of marijuana plants, products, or images that appeal to children. Outdoor advertising would be prohibited in “arenas, stadiums, shopping malls, fairs that receive state allocations, farmers markets, and video game arcades.” A limited exception would allow outdoor advertising at events where only adults are permitted.
  6. Gifting Marijuana. Adults twenty-one and over would be allowed to deliver marijuana to other adults so long as the marijuana is offered as a gift without financial remuneration and so long as the amount of marijuana gifted is no more than the amount an adult can legally possess in Washington — one ounce of useable marijuana flower.
  7. Licensing. This bill would allow a licensed marijuana business to enter into licensing agreements or consulting contracts “with any individual, partnership, employee cooperative, association, nonprofit corporation, or corporation” for goods or services, trademarks, and trade secrets or proprietary information. Licensees would be required to disclose these agreements to the LCB.
  8. Public Disclosure. SB 5131 would exempt trade secrets and other proprietary information of a licensed marijuana business from disclosure under Washington’s Public Disclosure Act.
  9. “Organic” Weed. The bill instructs the LCB to adopt regulations for marijuana similar to products certified as organic under federal regulations. The organic standard is granted pursuant to federal regulations and because marijuana is illegal under federal law, it cannot qualify under those federal standards. The LCB would adopt regulations so that marijuana could be grown in a way that mimics organic products. The products then could be labeled as compliant with the state’s standards.
  10. Tribal Oversight. SB 5131 would require the LCB receive approval from a federally recognized Indian Tribe before granting a license on tribal land.

Governor Inslee is likely to sign SB 5131 into law, though he may veto certain parts of the bill. Stakeholders in Washington’s cannabis market should keep an eye on this legislation and prepare to make changes necessary to comply with SB 5131 if and when it gets signed.

Oregon cannabis laws

We recently discussed proposed legislation to prevent Oregon marijuana retailers from recording, retaining, or transferring any information “that may be used to identify a consumer,” such as a consumer’s name, birthday or address. Some marijuana retailers had been collecting and storing this information for marketing purposes, often without their customers’ knowledge. The Oregon legislature was concerned that this practice would create a paper trail the federal government could use against cannabis consumers in a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana.

As we predicted, the legislature moved quickly. Yesterday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed SB 863 into law less than two months after the bill was introduced. In a strong signal to Oregon’s marijuana businesses and consumers, the bill enjoyed broad bipartisan support and passed the Oregon Senate by a vote of 21-6 and the Oregon House by a margin of 53-5. The bill requires all Oregon recreational marijuana retailers to destroy existing customer personal information within 30 days and it prevents cannabis retailers from collecting personal information in the future without the customers’ informed consent.

The bill is an explicit response to the Trump administration’s recent comments calling for a crackdown on the recreational marijuana industry and it is widely viewed as part of Governor Brown’s commitment to protect Oregon’s marijuana consumers from federal intervention or harm. SB 863’s streamlined journey from bill to law was helped by Section 4 of the bill, which declared that the Trump administration’s regressive statements regarding marijuana legalization have created a state of emergency requiring immediate action to preserve the public peace, health and safety.

Oregon’s consumers can now rest a bit easier, knowing their local retailer will not be maintaining a database of personal information to which an unfriendly federal government may someday have access.

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

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

Welcome to the California Cannabis Countdown.

Location. Ah, San Bernardino County, part of the fearsomely named Inland Empire. The county is located in southern California and it is the fifth most populous county in the state and the twelfth most populous county in the United States. With a geographical area covering 20,105 square miles, San Bernardino County is the largest county by area in the United States. When you fly into San Bernardino County for the first time you’ll probably take a second look at your ticket when you see Ontario as your destination. You will also notice the majestic San Gabriel Mountains and you’ll also feel the winds whipping off of them and making you wish you had driven and not flown.

History with Cannabis and Current Cannabis Laws. In 2011, the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors adopted ordinance No. 4140 banning medical marijuana dispensaries and outdoor cultivation in the Count’s unincorporated areas, with a minor exemption for one or two people to cultivate their own cannabis indoors. It wasn’t then surprising that the Board of Supervisors moved in 2016 to ban all commercial cannabis activities within San Bernardino County with ordinance 4309 (now Chapter 84.34 of the County Code). Section 84.34.040 of this new ordinance provides for the following exemptions:

The prohibition concerning commercial cannabis activity does not apply to a person with an identification card cultivating cannabis for his or her personal medical use or to a primary caregiver cultivating cannabis for the personal medical use of no more than five specified persons with identification cards, subject to the following requirements:

(a)     The cannabis is not sold, distributed, donated, or provided to any other person or entity.

(b)     A primary caregiver may only receive compensation in full compliance with Health and Safety Code § 11362.765, subdivision

(c)       Cultivation may only be conducted indoors at the private residence of the person with an identification card or the primary caregiver of the person with an identification card.

(d)       Cultivation shall be limited to no more than:

(1)         Twelve cannabis plants per person with an identification card or primary caregiver per private residence; and,

(2)       An aggregate total of 24 cannabis plants per private residence when more than one person with an identification card or primary caregiver lives at the private residence.

Proposed Cannabis Laws. Though San Bernardino County still stubbornly maintains a restrictive stance towards marijuana, the residents of the City of San Bernardino voted for Measure O on November 8, 2016. Measure O, known as the San Bernardino Regulate Marijuana Act of 2016, authorizes the City of San Bernardino to regulate both medical and recreational cannabis businesses consistent with California State law. Measure O’s implementation has however been delayed by two lawsuits asserting that its zoning restrictions too narrowly constrict the areas within the city in which a cannabis business can operate. Though it is unfortunate these lawsuits are delaying the issuance of City of San Bernardino cannabis licenses, it is at least good to see progress being made on cannabis in the Inland Empire. San Bernardino County and many of its cities still prohibit marijuana businesses but we see many other cities within the county and the rest of Inland Empire following the City of San Bernardino’s lead within the next year.

 

 

Marin County MarijuanaThough I just wrote about Marin County as part of our Cannabis Countdown series a few weeks ago, there have been major changes since then that warrant this update. Let’s start with a quick recap. In December of 2015 Marin County passed an ordinance (effective in February of 2016) giving its Board of Supervisors authority to license medical cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated Marin. This ordinance allowed up to four dispensaries in two zoned areas. Ten applications were submitted to the Marin County Board of Supervisors and open to public hearings.

I attended those meetings and left with the impression that most of the applicants were not properly prepared to deal with the public opposition they faced. The applicants were outmatched on issues like dispensary location and partner selection and they clearly had not invested sufficient time in garnering support from the local community. The County Administrator, Matthew Hymel, obviously felt the same way as he rejected all ten of the applications for a Marin County medical cannabis dispensary per the following statement:

After reviewing 10 vendor and site locations, the County Administrator has not approved any of the applications and has recommended a revised approach to licensing medical cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated areas.

After reviewing license applications and considering comments from the public, a volunteer advisory committee, and County staff, the County Administrator notified all the applicants that he was not approving their applications. Hymel said he plans to recommend that the Marin County Board of Supervisors consider a revised ordinance that would disconnect the selection of the operator from that of the location. In addition, he is recommending that the Board explore a delivery-only dispensary model to address concerns raised by residents at public meetings and via submission of written comments.

“This decision illustrates the challenge in finding the right combination of operator and location to provide patients with safe access to medical cannabis locally,” Hymel said.

The Community Development Agency (CDA) received 10 applications in designated locations where a medical cannabis dispensary could be permitted, and residents voiced opinions at three public meetings hosted this winter by CDA staff and members of the advisory committee. Of the 10 applications, eight were in the Highway 101 corridor zone and two were in the Central/West Marin zone. The 101 corridor applications included three in the Black Point area east of the Novato city limits, one in Santa Venetia near the San Rafael city limits, and four in the Tam Shoreline area between Mill Valley and Sausalito. The Central/West Marin applications included one in San Geronimo Valley and one in Marshall.

Although cannabis is considered an illegal drug by the federal government, Proposition 215 ensures that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use cannabis for medical purposes upon receiving a recommendation from a physician. The County’s ordinance is consistent with the state’s Compassionate Use Act and Medical Cannabis Program. A licensed dispensary would have to be least 800 feet from schools, public parks, smoke shops, and other cannabis dispensaries to qualify for a license.

Medical cannabis dispensaries remain prohibited in unincorporated Marin, and none are open or permitted in any of the county’s towns or cities. The ordinance establishes a regulatory framework to license nonprofit patient collectives to meet the medical needs of local patients, many of whom have voiced the need for local dispensaries before the Board of Supervisors.

Though a big (perhaps fatal) setback for these ten applicants, these rejections open the door for businesses and individuals that want to operate a medical cannabis dispensary in Marin and are willing to invest the time and resources to obtain County approval. It’s important to note that 73% of Marin residents voted in favor of the Compassionate Use Act and nearly 70% approved the Adult Use of Marijuana Act so it’s clear Marin County amply supports medicinal and recreational cannabis, at least for those applicants who do not take that support for granted.

As we have often write on here, if you are looking to snare any sort of cannabis license, it is incumbent upon you (or at least your counsel) to know the sensitive local government and local populace issues in play. We’ve seen cities and counties time and time again change their minds on interim and permanent cannabis ordinances, each of which can tremendously impact our client’s bottom-lines. To position yourself to know when these changes are coming and to be able to influence them, you need to get to know your city or county council/commission’s voting agenda and make yourself a part of the local lawmaking process. Doing this can give you a place at the table in drafting or effect change on pending ordinances while at the same time enabling you to stay on top of potential and actual changes. Staying on top of local laws requires action and vigilance. If you are not going to stay alert so as to benefit your cannabis business, hire someone to do that for you.

Whenever a city or county is about to start issuing cannabis licenses for the first time, there will be a vocal part of the community that will come out forcefully against marijuana or against marijuana in their neighborhood. Fortunately, just being loud is not always going to be a winning position against a cannabis business that has spent the time engaging with the community in which it hopes to operate. There will eventually be cannabis businesses in Marin County, but first some fences need to be mended.

Oregon cannabis lawyersLast month, the Oregon State Police Drug Enforcement Section published a report titled “A Baseline Evaluation of Cannabis Enforcement Priorities in Oregon.” It’s a great read. The big takeaway, as reported by The Oregonian, is that Oregon remains a top source for black market pot— despite our legal cannabis programs. Those familiar with the industry have long known this fact, of course, and the problem has been exacerbated as of late for various reasons. These include: state and local regulatory hurdles, high start-up costs, and increased federal uncertainty.

We have been been writing about the unsanctioned Oregon market for quite some time. To be clear: there has always been a black market in Oregon, and will be for a while. There is also a dark gray market, an off-white market, and many shades between. As a general concept, the further that weed gets from the grower, the darker the market. This is especially true in poorly regulated systems like the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

Right now, Oregon probably grows four or five times the amount of cannabis that is consumed in-state. (It’s not that consumers aren’t trying; there’s just too much pot.) The Oregon State Police study estimates that just 30 percent of all pot transactions are state-approved. Much of the surplus weed goes from sea to shining sea, but especially to hubs like Illinois, Minnesota, New York, and Florida. Because Oregon weed is an excellent brand, demand is high nationwide.
The lion’s share of Oregon’s exported weed is grown in two southern counties: Jackson and Josephine. And much of that weed is straight-to-black market—e.g., a pound of local weed may sell for $1,000 here, and re-sell somewhere like Texas for $7,000. Other transactions may be grayer and comparatively benign—e.g., a pound of weed grown under the medical program may be sold to the cardholder’s friend, at friendly prices.
As with any commodity, the blacker the market gets, the higher the price for cannabis. This is because buyers compensate dealers for increased risk of arrest, the cost of turf, and so on. One day, when pot becomes legal nationwide, the black market will probably look similar to those for other controlled substances, like tobacco and booze. Today, a few people still buy loosies and moonshine, but most of us go to the store.

It will be a while before Idaho, Texas, and other miserable states change their laws, so Oregon attempts to moderate the black market in three primary ways: law enforcement, supply, and taxation. Oregon needs to improve its enforcement, and turkeys like Jeff Sessions point to this as evidence that the program must end altogether. This argument ignores the demand side, though, where federal prohibition has created an irrepressible national market for Oregon weed.

On supply, the state is doing better. The goal here is to have enough legal weed so that no Oregonian needs to go off-system. Oregon is close on that one, but issues with state-mandated testing and license approval have caused temporary shortages. Recently, we have seen a spike in client requests for requirements contracts that cover the sale of cannabis even before it is grown—at least in the OLCC system. This should even out by 2018.

As for taxation, the goal is to generate revenue but keep prices low. When prices drop and stay below the black market, the black market disappears. The last people to leave will be the heaviest cannabis users, who are generally most price-sensitive and accustomed to informality. When all of those folks are finally going to the store, the black market will be gone—at least for Oregon sales. When the national laws change, the black market will dissipate altogether.

Over the past few months, our clients who have weathered the storm and resisted the urge to retreat to black and grey markets–and thereby remained our clients–have reaped dividends. Demand for state-sanctioned weed is robust among Oregon consumers, and we expect prices to remain high throughout the supply chain for a while. The Oregon Sate Police report is a helpful snapshot of where the state of the market today. Where it goes next is the fun part.

Editor’s Note: A version of this story originally appeared in the Portland Mercury’s “Ask a Pot Lawyer” column, also by Vince Sliwoski.

Sacramento cannabis permits

If you are looking to secure a California cannabis business license you should start getting ready now for some seriously tough regulatory regimes. Our cannabis lawyers have had to wade through massive bureaucratic red tape in securing marijuana business licenses for our clients in many different states and in even more counties and cities, but we see California — under its Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act and its Adult Use of Marijuana Act — as likely leading the country in red tape. And of all the California counties and cities, Sacramento is right now leading the pack in tough local law marijuana regimes. Marijuana operators should expect to pay a serious premium if they want to operate in the capital of the Golden State.

On February 2, 2016, the Sacramento City Council adopted Section 17.228.127 of the Sacramento City Code allowing non-residential properties to be used for commercial cannabis cultivation with a Conditional Use Permit.  As defined in Title 8 of the City of Sacramento City Code, cannabis cultivation means “to plant, grow, harvest, dry, cure, grade or trim marijuana.”  Cannabis cultivation can only be done indoors within a fully enclosed building not visible from a public right-of-way.  

On November 22, 2016, Sacramento adopted Ordinance No. 2016-0051 to regulate marijuana cultivation businesses. Under this 44-page ordinance (among its many provisions on security, management, record keeping, signage, and general facility restrictions) cultivation permits may be issued for the following three different cultivation permit types:

  • Class A for indoor cultivation of no more than 5,000 sq. ft. of total canopy size
  • Class B for indoor cultivation of no more than 10,000 sq. ft. of total canopy size
  • Class C for indoor cultivation sites up to 22,000 sq. ft. of total canopy size

Cannabis cultivation will be allowed only in Agricultural, General Commercial, Heavy Commercial, Light Industrial, and Heavy Industrial zones.

As of April 3, 2017, prospective marijuana cultivation businesses can begin requesting appointments with the Planning Division at the Community Development Department to file for the required Conditional Use Permits (“CUP”). Contemporaneous with filing for the CUP, applicants must also file for a Business Operating Permit (BOP) with the City’s Revenue Division. Getting your CUP and BOP for cultivating marijuana will be no small task.

You will be required to provide the following for the CUP:

  1. A completed “Planning Entitlement Application”;
  2. A draft Security Plan, Community Relations Plan and Odor Control Plan;
  3. A written description of the project being proposed for development, which must include a description of the project and detailed scope of work for which the CUP review is being requested and how the project will address any potential negative
    effects on the community. A Design Concept Narrative is also required for Site Plan and Design Review entitlement.
  4. Multiple scale developmental plans that are incredibly detailed and are to include site plans with vicinity map, building elevations, landscape plans, floor plans, reduced plans, streetscape drawings, and color photos of the proposed facility, all of which are subject to a design review by the Planning Division.

You will also be required to submit the following for the BOP:

  1. A Marijuana Cultivation Business Permit Application;
  2. Proof of non-profit status (until state licenses issue in the future);
  3. A Neighborhood Responsibility Plan;
  4. A business operations plan, which must include:
    1. Business Plan;
    2. Community Relations Plan;
    3. State Licenses (once issued);
    4. Tax Compliance;
    5. Insurance;
    6. Budget;
    7. Price List;
    8. Floor Plan;
    9. Site Plan;
    10. Security Plan;
    11. Water Efficiency Plan;
    12. Lighting Plan;
    13. Odor Control Plan;
    14. Energy Efficiency Plan; and
    15. Owner’s Statement of Consent.
  5. Criminal History/Background Check Forms and fingerprinting, which apply to all “interested parties,” none of whom can be convicted felons and which Sacramento defines as follows:
    1. Persons with at least a 10% interest in the marijuana cultivation business;
    2. Partners, officers, directors, and stockholders of every corporation, limited
      liability company, or general or limited partnership that owns at least 10%
      of the stock, capital, profits, voting rights, or membership interest of the
      marijuana cultivation business or that is one of the partners in the
      marijuana cultivation business;
    3. The managers of the marijuana cultivation business; and
    4. The staff of the marijuana cultivation business.

And now for the fees–fees for the CUPs range from $16,640.24 at the Zoning Administrator Level if not making any changes to an existing building or site to $33,610.28 for Planning and Design Commission Site Plan and/or Design Review on buildings 125,000 square feet or greater. Fees for the BOP range from $9,700 for a Class A grow to $28,910 for a Class C grow. And all of these fees have corresponding renewal fees. The bottom line? It’s not going to be cheap or easy to secure a license to operate in Sacramento as a grower.

Applicants have until June 30, 2017 to submit their completed CUPs and BOPs. With the volume of information and compliance proof required, you should begin now if you want a future cultivating cannabis in Sacramento.

California cannabis lawyersIt started in Oregon with the breaking of “A Tainted High.” It then moved to Colorado with 19 marijuana and marijuana product recalls in 19 weeks in 2015. Washington then overhauled its pesticide program to prevent illegal pesticides on its regulated cannabis products (which eventually led to the state adopting recall rules). Now, California is finally learning how dangerous its cannabis can be, and its only a matter of time before California state regulators use the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA“) and Adult Use of Marijuana Act (“AUMA“) to institute regulations to reduce the use of toxic and harmful marijuana pesticides.

Since none of California’s existing medical marijuana laws mandate any kind of quality assurance or pesticide testing, California cannabis patients have been taking their chances that their medicine is safe for consumption. You will be hard-pressed to find medical marijuana dispensaries in California that follow Proposition 65, which added marijuana smoke to its list of potentially cancer-causing products in 2009.

But that’s all about to change.

AB 266 of the MCSRA requires medical cannabis be tested:

Medical cannabis and medical cannabis products shall be tested by a registered testing laboratory, prior to retail sale or dispensing, as follows: Medical cannabis from dried flower shall, at a minimum, be tested for concentration, pesticides, mold, and other contaminants.
And AB 243 of the MCRSA states as follows:
The United States Environmental Protection Agency has not established appropriate pesticide tolerances for, or permitted the registration and lawful use of, pesticides on cannabis crops intended for human consumption pursuant to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (7 U.S.C. 136 et seq.). The use of pesticides is not adequately regulated due to the omissions in federal law, and cannabis cultivated in California for California patients can and often does contain pesticide residues. Lawful California medical cannabis growers and caregivers urge the Department of Pesticide Regulation to provide guidance, in absence of federal guidance, on whether the pesticides currently used at most cannabis cultivation sites are actually safe for use on cannabis intended for human consumption.

Under the MCRSA, California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), in consultation with the Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA), is charged with developing standards for using pesticides in cannabis cultivation and “the maximum tolerances for pesticides and other foreign object residue in harvested cannabis.” And the DPR, in consultation with the State Water Resources Control Board, must promulgate pesticide regulations for indoor and outdoor cultivating of medical cannabis equivalent to existing standards of the Food and Agricultural Code.

All of this will eventually make California the most conscientious state on both marijuana pesticides and cannabis’s impact on the environment. Each regional water board and the State Water Resources Control Board may address water waste and discharge of  pesticides and herbicides, which is far more than any other state has done, despite cannabis’s obvious environmental impacts. As far as adult use cannabis pesticide testing goes, the AUMA mandates compliance with the pesticide regulations set forth under the MCRSA by the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation.

We do not yet know what California’s pesticide and testing regulations will look like in final form, but we’re sure to find out in late April when the Bureau will release its first set of draft MCRSA regulations. But our cannabis lawyer’s vast experience in regulated marijuana states tells us that you should, at minimum, expect mandatory analyses of the following:

  1. Microbiological screenings;
  2. Foreign matter inspection;
  3. Residual solvent tests; and
  4. Pesticide and other chemical residue and metals screening.

Though pricey for both the state and for marijuana businesses, mandatory cannabis testing is necessary to give California’s cannabis customers confidence in the state’s marijuana marketplace. The State of California will set the floor for consumer safety through quality assurance testing (and packaging and labeling rules) and all California marijuana businesses should prepare now for the consequences of potentially faulty testing, products liability claims (including against retailers), and start developing their own recall plans.

Tribal CannabisOver the past couple of years, we have written about tribal cannabis and the efforts by various tribes in Oregon, Washington and elsewhere to roll out marijuana programs. Last week, at the Cannabis Law & Policy course I teach, we had the great pleasure of hosting Pi-Ta Pitt from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs here in Oregon. Mr. Pitt is the tribe’s Cannabis Program Coordinator, and he offered some valuable insights for tribes rolling out cannabis programs. Based on that discussion, here are some key takeaways for tribes.

  1. The Wilkinson Memo is still in effect, and confusing as ever.

Way back in October of 2014, the federal Department of Justice issued its “Policy Statement Regarding Marijuana Issues in Indian Policy.” Like the Cole Memo before it, the Wilkinson memo provides that eight enumerated federal priorities “will guide United States Attorneys’ marijuana enforcement efforts in Indian County,” including where “sovereign Indian Nations seek to legalize the cultivation or use of marijuana in Indian Country.” It all comes back to prosecutorial discretion, and the current administration has yet to comment on the Wilkinson Memo specifically.

In the past few years, federal attorneys have watched warily as Warm Springs and other tribes have explored the cannabis space. While these attorneys have seemed tolerant, to an extent, of the tribal initiatives, the take on cannabis events on tribal lands seems to have touched a federal nerve. Because events are disfavored, tribes looking to legalize cannabis production and sale may wish to steer the focus away from festivities.

  1. Tribes subject to Public Law 280 have a tougher go.

Public Law 280 is a federal statute allowing states to “assume jurisdiction over reservation Indians.” The Act mandated a transfer of federal law enforcement authority within tribal nations to state governments in six states: California, Minnesota (except the Red Lake Nation), Nebraska, Oregon, except the Warm Springs Reservation), Wisconsin (except the Menominee Indian Reservation), and, upon its statehood, Alaska. Other states were allowed to elect similar transfers of power if the affected Indian tribes consented. Since 1953, Nevada, South Dakota, Washington, Florida, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Arizona, Iowa and Utah all have assumed some jurisdiction over crimes committed by tribal members on tribal lands.

Tribes not subject to Public Law 280 don’t have to worry about states attempting to shutter their cannabis programs. Although it may behoove those tribes to have good relationships with their neighboring states, local enforcement is not a possibility – even if the adjacent states are anti-cannabis. Tribes subject to Public Law 280, however, may face immediate local barriers, in the form of law enforcement.

  1. Conversations are key.

Even where Public Law 280 is not at play, it is critical for tribes to dialogue with the states, along with federal officials. The Warm Springs Tribe and the Suquamish Tribe, for example, each have entered into an inter-governmental compact with Washington and Oregon, respectively, regarding their cannabis efforts. This is critical for any distribution of pot off of the reservation, which is where the tribes stand to reap significant economic benefit, but also where states regulate cannabis commerce extensively.

Federal conversations may be even more important. Most tribes already are very familiar with local U.S. attorneys, but conversations around the topic of legalizing cannabis are unique. Any tribe considering a cannabis program would be wise to dialogue with the relevant U.S. attorneys, and to get a read on how that office may respond. To this point, U.S. attorneys may view a tribal program as more “legitimate” if the program is borne of a referendum taken within the tribe itself. And that’s yet another, local conversation.

  1. This could go any number of ways.

Twists and turns are inevitable during the design and implementation of a sovereign’s cannabis program. It happens with states; it happens with tribes. Like states, tribes need to maintain flexibility and build coalitions as they attempt to launch a pot venture. Tribes also need to be realistic about timelines and the roles of current collaborators. For example, what will the tribe’s current bank or credit union think of the effort? What about its other stakeholders?

In all, cannabis can be incredibly attractive to tribes as a revenue source and job creator – especially to those tribes on resource-poor land, and to tribes far from interstate highway corridors, which are unable to contemplate casinos or tourism. In all, cannabis may present a unique opportunity for certain tribes, given the right approach.

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

Our last California Cannabis Countdown post was on Marin County, and before that, Nevada County, the City of Lynwood, the City of Coachella, Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, the City of Desert Hot SpringsSonoma County, the City of Sacramento, the City of BerkeleyCalaveras CountyMonterey County and the City of Emeryville.

Welcome to the California Cannabis Countdown.

Yuba County has a very strict cannabis ordinance and a very active Sheriff’s department. Though at one point the County allowed up to 99 cannabis plants, after an influx of large-scale grows and complaints from locals about the “negative” impacts of cultivation on the community, their current regulations allow a maximum plant count of 12, regardless of acreage, and cultivation is limited to indoor, accessory structures. Attempts to change the ordinance through lawsuits and ballot measures have all failed so far.

LocationYuba County is located in California’s Central Valley along the Feather River. It was one of the original counties of California formed when California became a state. It borders Nevada, Placer, and Butte Counties, which are all popular cannabis cultivation areas. The County lies along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada and a lot of agriculture businesses are located west of the mountains and include fruit orchards, rice fields, and cattle grazing.

History with CannabisOn May 1, 2012, Yuba County adopted its first marijuana regulations under Ordinance No. 1518, which was later amended on December 18, 2012 by Ordinance No. 1522. The County’s first Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance allowed for both indoor and outdoor cultivation with maximum a plant count based on parcel size. No more than 18 plants were allowed on parcels less than one acre with up to 99 plants allowed on parcels 20 acres or more.

In 2014, following concerns from local citizens regarding the effects of marijuana cultivation and other factors, the Yuba County Board of Supervisors initiated a full review of its Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance.

On April 28, 2015, the Board passed Urgency Ordinance No. 1542, which repealed and reenacted the County’s Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance, establishing a complete ban on outdoor cultivation and allowing only limited indoor cultivation.

On June 7, 2016, voters in Yuba County voted to defeat two marijuana ballot measures. Measure A would have increased the number of medical marijuana plants that could be cultivated on parcels of land greater than one acre and allowed for cultivation of medical marijuana outdoors and within residences. Measure B would have established regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries and authorized the licensing of at least one dispensary per 20,000 residents to operate within the County, allowing four or five dispensaries based on the County’s 2015 population.

On November 8, 2016, voters in Yuba County voted to defeat Measure E, which would have allowed for commercial medical cannabis activity and established regulations for cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and transportation of medical cannabis within the County.

Current Cannabis Laws.

 Under Section 7.40.300 of the Yuba County Ordinance Code:

  1. Outdoor cultivation on any parcel is prohibited.
  2. Cultivation within a dwelling or any other structure used or intended for human habitation is prohibited.
  3. Cultivation of more than twelve (12) marijuana plants on any parcel is prohibited. This plant limitation applies regardless of the number of qualified patients or primary caregivers residing on the parcel or participating directly or indirectly in the cultivation. Further, this limitation applies notwithstanding any assertion that the person(s) cultivating marijuana are the primary caregiver(s) for qualified patients or that such person(s) are collectively or cooperatively cultivating marijuana.

Section 7.40.310 of the Code states that cannabis cultivation in unincorporated areas of the County may only occur on parcels with an occupied, legally established dwelling and shall be contained within the defined area of cultivation in one, single residential accessory structure affixed to the real property that: (1) meets the definition of “indoor;” (2) is located on the same parcel as the dwelling of a qualified patient or primary caregiver; and (3) complies with all provisions of the County code relating to accessory structures.

An “accessory structure” is defined under the County code as a separate and permitted building located on the same parcel as the residence and must meet several criteria listed under Section 7.40.320. Certain accessory structures may also be required to be surrounded by a solid fence that complies with Section 7.40.330 of the County code.

Marijuana cultivators in Yuba County must also register with the County. The cultivation of marijuana in any quantity upon any premises in unincorporated areas of Yuba County without first registering the cultivation and paying the required fee is declared unlawful and a public nuisance under Section 7.40.340.

In addition, under Section 7.40.140, it is the duty of every real property owner, whether or not he or she is in actual possession of the property, to prevent a public nuisance from arising on, or existing upon, his or her real property.

Proposed Cannabis Laws.

There are currently no proposed laws to change the cannabis ordinance in Yuba County. Attempts last year to repeal the County’s Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance through ballot measures were all defeated by the voters.

Current Cannabis Enforcement.

Efforts to fight against the Marijuana Cultivation Ordinance in Yuba County have so far been unsuccessful. In 2016, the Yuba Patient Coalition filed a lawsuit against the County arguing the County’s ordinance is unconstitutional and discriminatory, however the judge ruled in favor the County.

Though there is a ban on all outdoor cultivation and a 12 plant cap for indoor cultivation in accessory structures, cannabis cultivation still occurs in unincorporated areas of the County in violation of current laws. In response, the County has taken enforcement actions against marijuana cultivators and their landlords. On March 16, 2017, the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department raided several indoor marijuana grows seizing over 3,600 marijuana plants. Property owners who lease property to marijuana growers in Yuba County also face penalties of $100 per plant per day until the plant is removed, which in some cases has resulted in fines of over $200,000, as well as the risk of felony convictions.

Unless and until Yuba County changes its cannabis regulations, it is not a good place for a cannabis business.

Cannabis usageTwo years ago we did a post, Top Ten Dubious Claims About Marijuana, listing “legalization will lead to more marijuana in the hands of children and unfettered access for all” as the first dubious claim. A new survey from the Washington Department of Health shows we were right to doubt the legitimacy of that claim as teen marijuana use has not increased after legalization.

The survey collected data from roughly 230,000 Washington students and showed 26% of 12th graders, 17% of 10th graders, and 6% of 8th graders reported using marijuana in the last 30 days. The graph below from Vox shows that marijuana use among Washington State teens has not increased since cannabis became legal in 2012.

screenshot-3602167700-79-lg

The teen numbers in Washington are consistent with what has happened in Colorado as well, where a study showed teen use in that state remained steady after Colorado legalized marijuana, also in 2012.

Prohibitionists love claiming that legalizing cannabis will increase adolescent use, but really, why should it? States that have legalized recreational marijuana track the plant from seed to sale. Sales require the purchaser show ID and a retail store that sells to minors can lose its license. A well-functioning legal market should and does reduce unlawful diversions to kids. We predict that as legalization spreads, it will become increasingly difficult for adolescents to get access to cannabis. We also predict that as cannabis becomes normalized, its “coolness” factor will decrease and that too will lead to a decline in teen usage.

When Washington legalization advocates argued for Initiative 502 to legalize marijuana they touted a regulatory regime that would lead to responsible cannabis use. This study on teen use supports the notion that Washington is achieving its goal of providing a forum where adults can enjoy cannabis recreationally without giving increased access to teens. A well-regulated cannabis market does not harm society the way legalization opponents would have you believe. If you care about facts and if you want your state’s policies to be based on facts and not politics or myth, you should take heart from the above statistics.