Cannabis litigationCalifornia is in the process of transitioning from its gray market of medical cannabis collectives to a full-blown, heavily regulated regime under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA“). At the end of April, California dropped more than 200 pages of regulation for retailers, distributors, transporters, manufacturers, and cultivators, and it’s now taking public comment on the initial rules. Note that our firm will be hosting a free webinar on June 1 to discuss how applicants can secure licenses under the new regime. Though these rules will no doubt change before (and even after) they are finalized, what won’t change are NIMBYs  who don’t want cannabis businesses near them.

When cannabis businesses come into a community, there can and often will be all kinds of local impact and chaos. We’ve written in the past about various NIMBY lawsuits and how quickly local governments can flip when it comes to non-conforming uses and land use disputes, and that will be the case in California as well, just as it has been the case in all regulated cannabis states.

The entry of the cannabis industry to a state means an influx of entrepreneurs and, with them, an increase in rents in the areas in which they locate. And always there are the angry neighbors who don’t want to smell cannabis harvests every six weeks or so. Most cities and counties zone for growers and manufacturers to be on the outskirts of town or in industrial or agricultural zones and retailers to be in commercial or industrial areas. Occasionally, cities and counties will allow cannabis home farms, but that’s more the exception than the rule.

One of the first notable land use disputes since passage of the MCRSA took place in Santa Rosa, though it’s surely not going to be the last. Most importantly, there is much to be learned from that case. The city of Santa Rosa has welcomed California’s to-be regulated cannabis economy by allowing cultivators and manufacturers to operate in industrial zones. But at least one land developer cried wolf because the city is allowing medium-scale cultivation to move in next door to a long-time planned (but not yet built) residential development.

In February of this year, Fleuron, Inc. applied to and secured approval from the city (through a use permit) to build a 10,000 plus-square-foot cannabis cultivation and processing facility in an industrial zone (on Maxwell Court), part of which was supposed to transition into a residential area. A land developer, who pursued development of apartments for the past 13 years next to where Fleuron wants to build, opposed and appealed the city’s decision and went on record stating that “[i]t is impossible for housing to be built in an area with cannabis uses.” This developer also cited a variety of alleged issues attendant to cannabis grows, like nuisance, public safety, environmental and economic issues. Another nearby apartment land developer said that his investors are “nervous” at the prospect of having a marijuana cultivation site as a neighbor. And a nearby auto-body shop claims to have seen a recent 15% increase in rent attributable to cannabis operators coming in.

Just this week, the city council unanimously rejected the land developer’s appeal against the issuance of Fleuron’s use permit. The city’s mayor even stated that, right now, cannabis seems more “viable as a business than housing.” And council members touted Fleuron’s ownership as “well-regarded, professional businessmen following the rules Santa Rosa established.” Chalk this up as a clear victory for the cannabis industry. But there will no doubt be many more such fights as neighbors in the past have brought nuisance lawsuitsRICO actions, and lawsuits claiming bad odors. Our cannabis lawyers are aware of cases brought against cannabis businesses for creating “marred mountain views,” for making horse riding “less pleasant” during cannabis harvest time, and for loss of business at a hotel where guests allegedly cancelled their reservations upon finding out they were located next to a cannabis business that had not yet even opened.

Though many (most?) NIMBY lawsuits against cannabis businesses have little basis in reality or fact, this does not seem to stop determined NIMBYs from suing neighboring cannabis businesses to try to stop them from ever getting off the ground. NIMBYs are a fact of life in the cannabis industry (our cannabis litigation lawyers have defended enough of these to know this), but smart planning, transparency, and running a compliant business are usually enough to beat them.

California cannabis priority licensingAs part of our series on the initial rules implementing California’s Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA”), this post will break down the issue of “priority” in licensing – meaning, whose state medical cannabis license applications will be processed first once the licensing window opens early next year. Under the MCRSA, and pursuant to AB 266, at Article 4, Section 19321:

“In issuing licenses, the licensing authority shall prioritize any facility or entity that can demonstrate to the authority’s satisfaction that it was in operation and in good standing with the local jurisdiction by January 1, 2016.”

This language left us with a couple of questions, including how to define “operation” and “in good standing with the local jurisdiction.” But the Bureau of Marijuana Control provided answers to these questions in the proposed text of the regulations applicable to all medical marijuana license applicants and licensees. In keeping with, and expanding upon, the above statement from the MCRSA, the proposed rules state:

“Priority review of the application shall be given to applicants that were in operation and in good standing with the local jurisdiction by January 1, 2016, and whose business ownership or premises are currently the same as they were on January 1, 2016. Priority applications shall be processed for review in the order in which they are received.”

The rules define “operation” as the date on which the applicant began actively conducting the same commercial cannabis activity as the license type for which the applicant is applying. And for purposes of the rule, “actively conducting” means “engaging in the transportation, distribution, testing, or sale of medical cannabis goods as authorized by the local jurisdiction.” So if you merely had an entity formed by January 1, 2016, or were operating in contravention of local law, you will not qualify for priority review under the proposed rules.

To prove the date on which an applicant began actively conducting commercial cannabis activity, the applicant must attest to the date under penalty of perjury, and must provide evidence of the date operations began, which may include:

  1. Articles of incorporation;
  2. Certificate of stock;
  3. Articles of organization;
  4. Certificate of limited partnership;
  5. Statement of partnership authority;
  6. Tax form;
  7. Local license, permit, or other written authorization;
  8. Receipts; or
  9. Any other business record.

The proposed rules also provide clarification as to what an applicant will need to provide to show “good standing” with their local jurisdiction. Proof of good standing must be evidenced by a document issued or signed by the local jurisdiction that contains the following:

  1. Name of the applicant;
  2. Address of the premises to be licensed;
  3. License type that the applicant is applying to the bureau for;
  4. Name of the local jurisdiction;
  5. Name of the local jurisdiction office that issued the license, permit, or other authorization for the applicant to conduct commercial cannabis activity in the jurisdiction as required by Business and Professions Code section 19320;
  6. Name and contact information for the person authorized by the local jurisdiction to sign on its behalf;
  7. Signature of the person authorized to sign on behalf of the local jurisdiction; and
  8. A statement to the effect of: “The above named party has been issued a license, permit, or other authorization from this jurisdiction to conduct commercial cannabis activity. The above named party began operation and was in good standing in this jurisdiction on or before January 1, 2016.”

Of course, the proposed rules wouldn’t be complete without at least some ambiguity. The rules not only state that an applicant must have been operating and in good standing with the local jurisdiction prior to January 1, 2016, but also that the applicant’s “business ownership or premises are currently the same as they were on January 1, 2016.” We are still seeking clarification from the BMCR on this one, as it is unclear whether the entity structure and ownership must be exactly the same, whether a board member of a non-profit mutual benefit corporation could apply on behalf of that company, whether ownership doesn’t matter so long as the premises are currently the same as they were on January 1, 2016, etc. This provision leaves room for interpretation, and we anticipate having a better idea of what this requirement will entail by the time the rules are finalized.

Even though there is some ambiguity in the proposed rules, if you think you may qualify for priority review in licensing, now is the time for you to begin gathering your documentation to prove the date on which you began operating, as well as proof that you were in compliance with local law.

California cannabis bankingPolitical change comes in fits and starts. Cannabis laws did incredibly well at the state level in the 2016 election cycle, but it looks like we are going to be facing the status quo at the federal level for the foreseeable future. That is good news to some extent, as it is seeming less and less likely that the worst case scenario of the Trump/Sessions Department of Justice will come to fruition. We aren’t expecting to see mass arrests, seizures, and shut-downs in the cannabis industry. On the other hand, we also aren’t expecting to see any major positive changes on cannabis banking or taxes coming out of this government either. The unsteady status quo will remain, where agencies at the federal government will continue to grapple with balancing the criminality of marijuana with the fact that they cannot treat it as wholly criminal, lest they bring about more crime by burying their heads in the sand.

With banking in particular, things have remained relatively consistent since 2014. In February of that year, the Department of Justice and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) at the Department of Treasury released simultaneous memoranda creating a civil structure where financial institutions like banks and credit unions that provide services to the cannabis industry could comply with their regulatory obligations. They would still potentially be committing crimes, but the DOJ would treat them as the lowest enforcement priority.

That 2014 announcement of criminal and administrative enforcement strategy was scoffed at by large financial institutions, for good reason. If you are Bank of America, marijuana simply isn’t a large enough market for you to take any sort of criminal risk. But for smaller banks and credit unions, especially those that had been hit hard by the financial crisis, the memoranda provided just enough cover to take the cannabis risk. Between 2014 and now, Washington and Colorado have developed a small but stable network of financial institutions willing to serve the cannabis industry. Oregon has fewer institutions, but it is coming along as well.

California, however, was left behind, and medical marijuana businesses there still struggle to find banks willing to take their money. This is because of the particular wording in the 2014 FinCEN guidance. In order to comply with their regulatory obligations, part of what banks and credit unions that work with marijuana-related businesses have to do is verify that their cannabis business customer is duly licensed by a state that has robust regulations for its marijuana businesses. Until now, California has not had state-licensed marijuana businesses. It has worked under a series of vague state laws, with individual cities and counties coming up with their own regulations for marijuana businesses that have ranged from outright bans to open licensing processes. These local regulations have worked well in some circumstances, but they are insufficient for banks or credit unions that want to provide services to the marijuana industry without facing FinCEN’s wrath.

This is important for the banks because it isn’t only FinCEN that cares about compliance with their guidance. Federal providers of deposit insurance (the FDIC for banks and the NCUA for credit unions) are unlikely to renew a financial institution’s insurance policy if it looks like that institution is working with marijuana businesses but not following the FinCEN guidance. And that deposit insurance is key in separating banks and credit unions that provide real security for your funds and fly-by-night institutions that could potentially lose all your money.

But things are finally changing in California as we coming up on the issuance of state cannabis licenses in January 2018. This will finally give California’s banks and credit unions a system that allows them to comply with the FinCEN and DOJ guidance. And we predict that much like in other states, the early movers will be small banks and credit unions that are willing to take on a little bit of risk to gain the first-mover advantage. I have said for a long time that I don’t think a “cannabis-only” financial institution is the answer. A bank that only serves cannabis businesses would be subject to too much risk because it is only exposed to a single industry that happens to be criminal at the federal level. They would be completely uninsurable. So the best bet is for financial institutions that already have robust and diverse holdings to work with a number of cannabis businesses up to a maximum based on the size of the rest of the bank’s or credit union’s business.

For banks and credit unions looking to do this, it isn’t too early to start working on developing cannabis specific procedures. Well-run financial institutions have a compliance program in place that includes standard operating procedures and one or more employees dedicated to complying with the Bank Secrecy Act and other federal regulations. Those compliance officers will need to update standard operating procedures to include additional scrutiny for marijuana businesses and regular account updates. It is imperative for financial institutions to make sure those procedures are well-tailored so they are sufficient to meet the FinCEN guidelines while not being so cost-prohibitive that the bank or credit union will lose money on cannabis clients.

Most financial institutions in Washington and Colorado and Oregon that operate in the cannabis industry do so with little fanfare and rely on customer networking to get business. That will likely be the case in California as well, so there may not be much fanfare from banks and credit unions that are getting into the market. But we are confident that very at least some California banks and credit unions will start taking on cannabis accounts in the coming months.

California cannabis manufacturing lawNow that California’s Department of Public Health (through its Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety) has released its initial rules for cannabis manufacturing, our California cannabis attorneys are fielding numerous calls from existing cannabis businesses (along with new entrants into the field) with a simple question: How do these rules affect me? Last week we covered some of the technical provisions of the rules. Since the regulations for manufacturing come in at a hefty 95 pages, I thought it would be helpful to go over some more rules and how they can affect your cannabis manufacturing business in California. First, it’s important to note that these regulations may change after the public and interested stakeholders have a chance to comment on them, but this is still a significant first step in clarifying what was previously a confusing landscape. The regulations for manufacturing are a clear and effective attempt by California to enact robust regulation to comply with the Cole Memo issued by the U.S. Department of Justice. Here are some areas of importance for anyone looking to engage in cannabis manufacturing in the Golden State:

Types of Licenses. The regulations state that California’s Department of Public Health will issue four types of licenses: Type P, Type N, Type 6, and Type 7. Type N licensees can conduct infusions and can package and label their own products while Type P licensees can do only packaging and labeling for other licensed cannabis manufacturers. Type 6 (non-volatile) and Type 7 (volatile and non-volatile) licensees can conduct extractions and infusions, and can package and label their own products. If you obtain a license there are two important things you need to consider: 1) Unless you obtain a type 7 license you will need to submit a new application if you want to change the type of manufacturing you are conducting; and 2) You need to be sure your cannabis manufacturing operations are in a location that can be sustained because relocating any portion of your manufacturing operation to new premises will require you submit a new license application.

DON’T PROCRASTINATE! If you have a cannabis manufacturing business that is legally operating in California before January 1, 2018, you will be able to continue operating it until the Department of Public Health approves or denies your application. This is extremely important considering it’s the next best thing to getting priority of review – which only applies to cannabis manufacturers that were operating and in good standing with their local jurisdiction as of January 01, 2016.

DO YOU REALLY KNOW YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER?! We’ve already covered who is considered an owner under California’s new cannabis regulations and it’s important you go over the ownership classifications because it can have profound implications on your business. Your application can be denied for a number of acts that your business partner may have committed. Strict attention must be paid to past acts because these prior offenses can torpedo your application and they’re not all obvious. Ever heard of the California Food Sanitation Act? How about the Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Law? You don’t need to know them inside and out but you do need to make sure your business partner never violated either of those acts because they can be grounds for denying your application.

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. The rules state that no applicant or associated applicant shall hold a Type 8 (testing) or Type 11 (distribution) license. The rules also state “a manufacturer licensee shall not manufacture, prepare, package or label any products other than cannabis products at the licensed premises.” If you hoped to merge your cannabis manufacturing operation with a non-cannabis business for increased efficiency, sorry but NO SOUP FOR YOU. Lastly, the rules prohibit a manufacturer licensee from subletting any portion of the licensed premises.

These proposed regulations for cannabis manufacturers could not have come out at a better time, as the lack of legal specificity for cannabis manufacturing had been dampening the enthusiasm and desire of those looking to operate a marijuana manufacturing business in California. Before these new rules issued, our California cannabis attorneys were starting to see a slow but steady increase in sophisticated clients looking to start a California cannabis manufacturing business, but even just since they have come out the number has soared.

California cannabis retailer rules
California medical cannabis retailer rules

This post is on California’s initial rules governing medical cannabis retailers as part of our ongoing series analyzing California’s initial medical cannabis rules pursuant to the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA“). For information regarding the licensing rules for California cannabis manufacturers and cultivators, go here and here.

The MCRSA defines “dispensary” as “a facility where medical cannabis, medical cannabis products, or devices for the use of medical cannabis or medical cannabis products are offered, either individually or in any combination, for retail sale, including an establishment that delivers, pursuant to express authorization by local ordinance, medical cannabis and medical cannabis products as part of a retail sale.” There are  two kinds of dispensary licenses under the MCRSA: Type 10 for a general dispensary and Type 10A, defined as just a “dispensary.”

The MCRSA restricts vertical integration of cannabis licenses by limiting applicants to one or two licenses in certain separate licensing categories (Governor Brown’s Trailer Bill will change this if it passes this summer). A Type 10 licensee can only be a retailer and until January 1, 2026, a Type 10A licensee can be a retailer at no more than three retail locations by holding three separate Type 10 licenses: that of a manufacturer and a cultivator (so long as the Type 10A license has no more than four acres of total canopy size of cultivation throughout the state).

In addition to the mandatory submissions for “owners” and their spouses we discuss here, California cannabis retailers must also submit a complete list of every individual with a non-controlling interest in the retailer, though there are no indications non-controlling interest holders will be vetted by the state in the same way “owners” will be.

Retail applicants must submit all of the following to the State of California as well:

  1. A list of funds belonging to the retailer held in savings, checking, or other accounts maintained by a financial institution.
  2. A list of investments made into the retailer entity.
  3. A list of all gifts of any kind given to the retailer for its use in conducting commercial cannabis activity.
  4. Whether an owner or their spouse has a financial interest in any other cannabis license. “Financial interest” means an investment into a commercial cannabis business, a loan provided to a commercial cannabis business, or any other equity interest in a commercial cannabis business.
  5. A list of all convictions (excepting juvenile crimes and traffic infractions under $300 that didn’t involve alcohol, controlled substances, or dangerous drugs) as well as a rehabilitation list for each conviction.
  6. Application for fingerprints through the Department of Justice.
  7. Documentation issued by the local jurisdiction in which the applicant proposes to operate certifying the applicant is in compliance with all local ordinances and regulations, or will be in compliance with all local ordinances and regulations by the time the Bureau issues a license.
  8. Evidence that the proposed dispensary location is at least a 600-foot radius from any school. In addition, the retail premises must be in a contiguous area and may only be occupied by one licensee, and retailers cannot sublet any portion of the retail premises.
  9. If you have 20 or more employees, an attestation that the applicant has entered into a labor peace agreement and you must provide a copy of that agreement.
  10. A $5,000 surety bond.
  11. A scaled diagram of the dispensary premises that shows “the boundaries of the property and the proposed premises to be licensed, showing all boundaries, dimensions, entrances and exits, interior partitions, walls, rooms, windows, doorways, and common or shared entryways. The diagram must show the areas in which all commercial cannabis activities will take place, including but not limited to, limited-access areas.”
  12. A list of your quality assurance, security, and inventory practices.
  13. Proof of acknowledgement from the dispensary property owner that you can use the property for dispensing and a copy of your lease agreement if you have it. Or if you own the property, provide the deed.

Regarding retailer operational standards, the retailer is responsible for sufficiently tracking and tracing all of its inventory and for record keeping — certain records must be kept for at least seven years. The retailer must also follow all security, surveillance (including installation of 24-hour recording cameras of a certain pixellation that covers certain areas of the operation by a specific number of feet), alarm, and premises access requirements. The retailer is also responsible for cannabis waste-management destruction and disposal. And though California cannabis retailers cannot package or label any cannabis goods, they still must provide “exit packaging” for products, which basically means re-sealable and opaque child resistant packaging. And if a retailer discovers any defective product, it may return the medical cannabis goods only in exchange for a non-defective version of the same medical cannabis goods. So, no cash refunds.

As far as customers go, between the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., only verified qualified patients or primary caregivers over 18 can freely shop in the dispensary. Nonetheless, anybody younger than 18 can enter the dispensary to purchase medical cannabis goods if they are a medical cannabis patient accompanied by their parent, legal guardian, or primary caregiver. Customers are free to inspect medical cannabis goods through secured containers, but no sampling is allowed. A customer purchase no more than 8 ounces in a single day, unless their physician’s recommendation authorizes more.

Under the MCRSA, “delivery” means “the commercial transfer of medical cannabis or medical cannabis products from a dispensary, up to an amount determined by the bureau to a primary caregiver or qualified patient . . .  or a testing laboratory.” “Delivery” also includes “the use by a dispensary of any technology platform owned and controlled by the dispensary . . . that enables qualified patients or primary caregivers to arrange for or facilitate the commercial transfer by a licensed dispensary of medical cannabis or medical cannabis products.” So long as city or county law allows for delivery, dispensaries must deliver all product themselves; they cannot use a third party contractor or courier to do it. All deliveries must be done in person by a retail employee who’s at least 21, and all deliveries have to go to physical addresses in California. When making deliveries, dispensary employees cannot carry more than $3,000-worth of cannabis goods at any time. No delivery can be made to an address on “publicly owned land or any address on land or in a building leased by a public agency.” Finally, delivery hours are from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

These rules are currently in a 45-day comment period and are by no means final. So, stay tuned to see if and when the Bureau makes additional changes. I am sure these rules seem onerous to many of you, and they are. But for what it is worth, they are in many respects very similar to the laws in various other states where we have helped our clients secure cannabis licenses — Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Nevada and Alaska, for instance — and so as difficult as they may seem, it is certainly possible to satisfy them.
California cannabis cultivation license
California cannabis cultivation licensing procedures. Maze-like.

The Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA”) left us with many questions regarding how cannabis cultivation would be regulated. But now that the California Department of Food and Agriculture (“DFA”), through its CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing division, dropped 58 pages of proposed regulations for the Medical Cannabis Cultivation Program we have plenty of answers. Though these rules are not final, they provide us with the general framework for the forthcoming medical cannabis cultivation (and processing) licensing regime in California.

“Cultivation” means any activity involving planting, growing, harvesting, drying, curing, grading, or trimming of cannabis. And “Processing” means all activities associated with drying, curing, grading, trimming, storing, packaging, and labeling of nonmanufactured cannabis products. The rules define “Nonmanufactured cannabis product[s]” as dried flower, shake, leaf, and pre-rolls intended to be sold for use by medical cannabis patients. Nurseries are also encompassed within the cultivation rules, and are defined as licensees that produce only clones, immature plants, seeds, and other agricultural products used specifically for the planting, propagation, and cultivation of medical cannabis. The rules governing cannabis manufacturing, including extraction and infusion, were developed by the Department of Public Health.

The DFA will offer 14 different cultivation licenses (including the initial application fee – a higher annual license fee will also be required), as follows:

  1. Specialty Cottage Outdoor ($65) – an outdoor cultivation site with up to 25 mature plants;
  2. Specialty Cottage Indoor ($100) – an indoor cultivation site with 500 square feet or less of total canopy;
  3. Specialty Cottage Mixed-Light ($285) – a mixed-light cultivation site with 2,500 square feet or less of total canopy;
  4. Specialty Outdoor ($130) – an outdoor cultivation site with less than or equal to 5,000 square feet of total canopy, or up to 50 mature plants on noncontiguous plots;
  5. Specialty Indoor ($1,070) – an indoor cultivation site between 501 and 5,000 square feet of total canopy;
  6. Specialty Mixed-Light ($555) – an indoor cultivation site between 2,501 and 5,000 square feet of total canopy;
  7. Small Outdoor ($265) – an outdoor cultivation site between 5,001 and 10,000 square feet of total canopy;
  8. Small Indoor ($1,935) – an indoor cultivation site between 5,001 and 10,000 square feet of total canopy;
  9. Small Mixed-Light ($1,105) – a mixed-light cultivation site between 5,001 and 10,000 square feet of total canopy;
  10. Medium Outdoor ($765) – an outdoor cultivation site between 10,001 square feet and one acre of total canopy;
  11. Medium Indoor ($4,260) – an indoor cultivation site between 10,001 and 22,000 square feet of total canopy;
  12. Medium Mixed-Light ($2,435) – a mixed-light cultivation site between 10,001 and 22,000 square feet of total canopy;
  13. Nursery ($60) – cultivation of cannabis solely as a nursery; and
  14. Processor ($310) – a cultivation site that conducts only trimming, drying, curing, grading or packaging of cannabis and nonmanufactured cannabis products.

The basic background and corporate information required for the cultivation license application will be nearly identical to the information required of applications for manufacturing, retail, distribution and transportation licenses. Once the application becomes available in early 2018, applicants will need to submit required background information on all owners. An “owner” is the CEO or any person or entity within a publicly traded company that has, in aggregate, greater than a 5% ownership interest and, for all other business entity applicants, “owner” means any individual who has, in aggregate, greater than a 20% ownership interest (excluding the ownership of a security interest in, lien on, or any other encumbrance of the business entity applicant). And if there’s a business that has an ownership stake of greater than 20% in the entity applying to the state, its CEO and all directors are considered owners. Finally, an individual is considered an owner if he or she participates in directing, controlling, or managing the applicant. This includes “discretionary powers” to, among other things, direct and/or control the hiring and firing of personnel, contracting for the sale of goods on behalf of the applicant, and making policy decisions on behalf of the applicant.

As with the other license types, if an owner is married, their spouse does not need to go through the rigorous background check process or get fingerprinted, so long as he or she is not an Owner of the applicant, as defined above, although the spouse must nevertheless be disclosed to the state.

Applicant owners will need to provide the state with a detailed description of any criminal convictions, excepting juvenile adjudications and traffic infractions. Cultivation license applicants must also provide a statement of rehabilitation for each conviction. This statement must be written by the owner and contain all evidence the application would like the DFA to consider that demonstrates the owner’s fitness for licensure. Such evidence may include a certificate of rehabilitation under Section 4852.01 of the Penal Code, or dated letters of reference from employers, instructors, or professional counselors that contain valid contact information for the person providing the reference.

With regard to the cultivation site, applicants must provide evidence that the applicant has the legal right to occupy and use the proposed location. If the applicant is the owner of the location, this evidence should include a copy of the title or deed to the property. If the applicant is not the owner of the property, the applicant shall provide the DFA with the following:

  1. A document from the property owner that states the applicant has the right to occupy the property and acknowledges that the applicant may use the property for commercial cannabis cultivation;
  2. Property owner’s mailing address and phone number; and
  3. Copy of the lease or rental agreement, or other contractual documentation.

All cannabis cultivation sites must be located at least a 600-foot radius from a school, as defined by Section 11362.768 of the Health and Safety Code. Applicants will also need to show they have a valid seller’s permit, or are currently applying for a seller’s permit, have obtained a surety bond in the amount of not less than $5,000, payable to the DFA, have permits issued by the applicable Regional Water Quality Control Board or State Water Resources Control Board (the rules contain very detailed requirements for proving that water for cultivation is properly sourced), and have conducted a hazardous materials record search of the EnviroStor database for the proposed premises, among many other requirements.

Importantly, applicants will also need to show that they are either operating in compliance with, or that their location will comply with, applicable local law, and that the necessary local permits and approvals have been obtained. With local regulations varying widely from city to city, and county to county, it will be critical to get a head start on ensuring local law compliance for your cultivation business.

The details on “priority status” can be found here, and for cultivation businesses that do not meet the requirements for priority status, but were operating prior to January 1, 2018, the state will provide a grace period for operations during the license application status. If a cultivation business was in operation prior to January 1, 2018, it may continue to operate while its application is pending if a completed application is submitted to the DFA no later than 5:00 pm PST on July 2, 2018, and the continued operations of the applicant are the same activities in which the applicant is seeking licensure. If the license application is denied, the applicant must cease operating until a license is obtained.

The DFA will not restrict the total number of cultivation licenses a person is authorized to hold, so long as that person’s total licensed canopy does not exceed 4 acres. Unless a person has a Producing Dispensary license, that person shall be limited to one Medium Outdoor, or one Medium Indoor, or one Medium Mixed-Light license. Additionally, the rules state that multiple cultivation licenses and license types may be located on the same property, but each licensed premises must have a unique entrance and immovable physical barriers between each uniquely license premises.

We’ll be delving more deeply into the additional requirements for cannabis cultivation licenses in the coming weeks, including operational and site requirements. And we’ll also be breaking down the rules for cannabis transportation, distribution and retailers in a forthcoming post.

Stay tuned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California cannabis leaseWe’ve written before on how commercial leasing for cannabis business is a uniquely different animal that requires special attention beyond a boilerplate commercial lease agreement. The new multi-agency rollout of California’s proposed medical cannabis regulations under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA“), as well as Governor Brown’s recent budget trailer bill to harmonize the MCRSA and Proposition 64 (California’s adult use cannabis initiative), highlight just how complex things could become as part of California’s new licensing regime, and why it’s important you have a commercial lease agreement that protects your interests, particularly if you are the landlord.

Here are a few things you should consider when drafting a medical or adult use cannabis lease in the new frontier of regulated cannabis in California:

  1. Defining the Permitted Use. Since California will have at least 20 different types of cannabis business licenses under the MCRSA and Proposition 64 and since unlicensed activity can lead to revocation or denial of a tenant’s license, your lease should specifically define the business activity the tenant contemplates engaging in on the property and set out an anticipated timeline for the tenant’s license application and eventual licensure. Any deviation from the tenant’s permitted use defined in the lease or any failure to acquire a license should be cause for terminating the lease agreement. Clearly defining the permitted use is also necessary for the tenant as the new MCRSA cannabis regulations require licensee applicants to demonstrate property owner approval for the proposed license type if the license applicant is leasing the space.
  2. Compliance with Local Laws. Though Proposition 64 does not require proof of local approval to qualify for a license, the MCRSA does. And though Governor Brown’s reconciliation bill would require the State work with local governments to determine compliance for both medical and recreational cannabis licensees at some point in the licensing process, if there is no local permitting structure, the cannabis tenant must conduct an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). If the local government does not approve the EIR and/or the EIR determination disallows the tenant’s proposed use, but the tenant has already signed a lease, that’s a problem for both the tenant and the landlord. For these reasons, landlords and tenants need to know any applicable local laws (which change constantly), and their lease for a medical or adult use cannabis tenant should include a provision requiring compliance with specific local laws and setting out what will happen to the lease in the event of a bad EIR.
  3. Compliance with State Laws and Regulations. The MCRSA (in AB 266) mandates that “a person or entity that holds a state license is prohibited from licensure for any other activity … and is prohibited from holding an ownership interest in real property, personal property, or other assets associated with or used in any other license category.” This means individuals with a state license cannot have an ownership interest in any real property held by any other licensee not within their same license category or license combination allowed by the State. Proposition 64 does not have this real property prohibition. And though the State has yet to come out with its Proposition 64 regulations, other existing state regulations must be addressed in a lease for an MCRSA tenant. For example, there are certain security practices and ID badge requirements to which everyone accessing an MCRSA premises must adhere, including the landlord. There can only be one license per location and the licensee in that location cannot sublet to other licensees. MCRSA retailers are only allowed to operate from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and their products must be sight-obscured from the public. The premises of MCRSA licensees must have certain security and surveillance and MCRSA licensees must have a general commercial liability insurance policy of at least $1 million. Your MCRSA lease should include provisions addressing all of these state law requirements.
  4. Compliance with Federal Enforcement Priorities. Your cannabis lease should also have provisions requiring compliance with relevant current and future state and federal laws, except to the extent federal law is inconsistent with California cannabis laws. The 2013 Cole Memo is still the most important federal guidance on state-regulated cannabis operators and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated at least some continuing support for it.  Landlords should ensure their tenants comply with the Cole Memo in addition to state and local laws as this best ensures against federal law enforcement action.
  5. Asset Forfeiture and Indemnity. No one can predict how the federal government will approach cannabis enforcement, but one thing is clear: landlords need to do whatever they can to avoid getting caught up in any kind of civil asset forfeiture stemming from a tenant’s federally illegal cannabis activity, even if the activity is otherwise allowed by California law. A prime example of how this can go wrong for landlords is the Harborside case where the landlord was unable to evict her medical cannabis dispensary tenant because it was not violating the lease agreement, which was drafted to be upheld according to California, not federal law. Your cannabis lease should include language requiring that the tenant indemnify the landlord for any enforcement action and making any such action constitute a default under the lease.
  6. Signage and Advertising. Proposition 64 has specific requirements on where, what, and how a cannabis business can advertise and market to the public and a proposed bill would extend these restrictions to medical cannabis businesses under the MCRSA.  Adult use cannabis businesses cannot advertise or market within a 1,000-foot radius of any school, day care center, or playground, nor can they advertise or market “on a billboard or similar advertising device located on an Interstate Highway or State Highway which crosses the border of any other state.” At minimum adult use retail business leases should mandate compliance with Proposition 64’s advertising and marketing restrictions.

Federal cannabis prohibition, coupled with the fluidity of California’s new cannabis laws, makes standard commercial lease agreements dangerous for leases involving cannabis businesses. Your cannabis commercial lease needs to address the realities and multiple legal issues involved with operating a cannabis business and managing a cannabis business tenant.

California cannabis lawIt’s finally happened. Three of the California agencies implementing the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MCRSA”) released their initial draft rules last Friday. These long-awaited rules make up the bulk of the regulatory standards for: transportation, distribution, and retailers (as developed by the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation/Bureau of Marijuana Control); cultivation (as developed by the Department of Food and Agriculture through its CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing arm); and manufacturing (as developed by the Department of Public Health through its Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety).

Within their 209 pages of regulatory mandates, these rules are a serious step toward California finally bringing its entrenched medical cannabis marketplace in line with federal enforcement priorities. Though our California cannabis attorneys will be blogging in depth about each license type and their respective regulations in the upcoming week, we wanted to first provide you with a brief overview of these initial rules. This post does that by highlighting the basic requirements under each set of the initial rules.

Under the initial rules, the basic background and corporate information submissions to the state are nearly identical for cultivators, manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and transporters. Each of these license types will have to submit to the state required background information on all owners. An “owner” is the CEO or any person or entity within a publicly traded company that has, in aggregate, greater than a 5% ownership interest and, for all other business entity applicants, “owner” means any individual who has, in aggregate, greater than a 20% ownership interest — excluding the ownership of a security interest in, lien on, or any other encumbrance of the business entity applicant. And if there’s a business that has an ownership stake of greater than 20% in the entity applying to the state, its CEO and all directors are considered owners. Lastly, an individual is considered an owner if he or she participates in directing, controlling, or managing the applicant, which includes “discretionary powers” to, among other things, direct and/or control the hiring and firing of personnel, contracting for the sale of goods on behalf of the applicant, and making policy decisions on behalf of the applicant.

If an owner is married, the spouse does not have to go through the intense background checking process or get fingerprinted so long as he or she is not an owner in or controlling the applicant. Either way though, the spouse must be disclosed to the state.

The rules also require applicants submit to the state the first and last name of a primary contact person for the application and the organizational structure of the applicant. Applicants must also submit a copy of their business formation documents. The rules nowhere prohibit out-of-state companies from applying for licenses so long as they are registered to do business in the State of California. All owners must be disclosed to the state along with their stated ownership interest in the applicant and they also must disclose if they (or their spouse) have a “financial interest” in any other licensee applicant, which includes any “investment in a commercial cannabis business, a loan provided to a commercial cannabis business, or any other equity interest in a commercial cannabis business.”

For retailers, distributors, transporters, and cultivators, owners must also supply a detailed description of any convictions, excepting juvenile adjudications and traffic infractions. Owners of retailers, distributors, and transporters need not disclose traffic infractions under $300 “that did not involve alcohol, dangerous drugs, or controlled substances.” Owners of manufacturing businesses must disclose all convictions substantially related to operating a manufacturing facility in addition to a specific list of other convictions that can be found at Section 40128(3)(A) of the manufacturing rules. Depending on license type, owners may or must also provide a statement of rehabilitation for each conviction.

Retailers, distributors and transporters will face the most financial scrutiny as the state will require that they submit the following:

  1. A list of funds belonging to the commercial cannabis business held in savings, checking, or other accounts maintained by a financial institution.
  2. A list of investments made into the commercial cannabis business; and
  3. A list of all gifts of any kind given to the applicant for its use in conducting commercial cannabis activity.

Notably, none of the rules for any license type contain any residency requirements on ownership, financing, or investment. These licenses will not be transferable and any change of ownership structure will require either a new license application or at least notification to the regulating agency before it can happen.

The rules also mandate that applicants provide a premises diagram along with other substantive information about their operations, including security layouts and plans, surveillance standards, standard operating procedures, and quality assurance controls and practices. All applicants must also submit proof of their right to their real property location that demonstrates they can use it for their specific license type. Every applicant that employs more than 20 employees must also provide a copy of its labor peace agreement to the state. And, though Governor Brown’s technical fix bill hasn’t passed yet, all license applicants must demonstrate either prior compliance with or the capability of compliance with local law before they can receive a California state license.

Priority status” has also finally been defined across the license categories. Generally, the MCRSA states that “In issuing licenses, the licensing authority shall prioritize any facility or entity that can demonstrate to the authority’s satisfaction that it was in operation and in good standing with the local jurisdiction by January 1, 2016.” All of license types must show their ownership or premises are currently the same as they were by January 1, 2016 and also that they are in “good standing.” Proof of “good standing” is generally met by providing the state “a document issued or signed by the local jurisdiction that contains: the name of the applicant; the address of premises to be licensed; the name of the office that issued the local license, permit, or other authorization; the name, contact information, and signature of the individual authorized to sign on behalf of the local jurisdiction; and a statement to this effect: The above-named party has been issued a license, permit, or other authorization from this jurisdiction to conduct commercial cannabis activity. The above-named party is currently in operation and is operating in good standing in this jurisdiction.” And in order to prove the date on which commercial cannabis activity began before January 1, 2016, all priority license applicants have to show their dated articles of incorporation, certificate of stock, articles of organization, certificate of limited partnership,  statement of partnership authority, tax form(s), local license, permit, or other written authorization, collective or cooperative membership agreement, receipts, or any other business record.

Overall, these rules are a pretty thorough first shot out of the gate for regulating commercial cannabis activity in California. Nonetheless, these are draft rules and that means what you are seeing now will no doubt be different from what comes out in their final version. The three California agencies tasked with these regulations will be holding public hearings in June to get feedback on these rules, so, if you are in the process of mapping out the future of your California cannabis business, you should keep an eye on these initial rules and their evolution so you can plan accordingly.

California Cannabis LawyersThis past Friday, three of the California state agencies charged with implementing the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act released their initial draft rules that will govern all medical cannabis commercial activity in California. These long-awaited rules make up the regulatory standards for: transportation, distribution, and retailers (as developed by the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation/Bureau of Marijuana Control); cultivation (as developed by the Department of Food and Agriculture through its CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing arm); and manufacturing (as developed by the Department of Public Health through its Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety). The summary/statement of reasons for each set of rules can be found here, here, and here.

As expected, the regulations are voluminous and comprehensively cover everything from what applicants must submit to receive a cannabis license (including required background checks) to all operational standards for each type of license, including, packaging and labeling standards, ownership qualifications, defining how to meet “priority status,” quality assurance testing, distributor controls, delivery, hours of operation, sales limitations, licensing fees, environmental protection standards, medium cultivation license limits, traceability requirements, pesticide limitations, quality control standards for manufacturing, security and surveillance, extraction standards, product recall procedures, edible product serving size limitations, and what products will be allowed in the marketplace.

Notably, these initial rules say nothing about any regulations under the Adult Use of Marijuana Act and we probably won’t see those rules until Governor Brown’s technical fix bill passes this summer. We are though betting those rules will be similar if not identical to some of these MCRSA rules, at least when it comes to operational standards. Note though that these are initial MCRSA rules and they are not yet official. Friday marks the beginning of a 45-day public comment period. So don’t be surprised if these agencies go back to the drawing board after taking public comments at various public hearings the’ve set for themselves. You can find the public hearing schedule here.

Nonetheless the release of these regulations is a huge deal and our California cannabis attorneys (Hilary Bricken, Alison Malsbury, Habib Bentaleb, Daniel Dersham, and Carlton Willey) will throughout the upcoming week be writing about each license type and its corresponding MCRSA regulations. And later next month, we’ll be hosting a webinar to discuss these regulations and what they will mean for your California marijuana business and licensing application.

Please stay tuned.