Washington State cannabis lawsAs Washington’s cannabis industry continues to develop, marijuana businesses continue to face new challenges. And with an ever growing number of consumers buying and using marijuana the risk of lawsuits against those who produce or sell cannabis keeps growing as well. Under what is called product liability law, manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others who make products available to the public can relatively easily be held liable for any injuries those products cause. Cannabis business owners must be mindful of product liability lawsuits arising from the cannabis products they make or sell.

In Washington State, product liability law is codified in the Washington Product Liability Act (WPLA), which broadly applies to virtually any injury claim resulting from a product covered under this act. The WPLA distinguishes between product manufacturers and non-manufacturer sellers. Washington’s marijuana market is divided between businesses who grow and process cannabis and businesses that sell the product to consumers. Manufacturers, for WPLA purposes, are the licensed producers that grow cannabis and turn that cannabis into edibles, extracts, concentrates, and other marijuana products. Non-manufacturer sellers are retailers that sell marijuana to consumers. A business can hold a license to produce and process marijuana but it cannot also have any ownership interest in a retail business. In turn, a retailer may have not an ownership interest in a cannabis producer or processor.

A product manufacturer is subject to liability under the WPLA if it was negligent or failed to provide proper warnings or instructions or if the product was not designed as reasonably safe. A plaintiff can show negligence by proving the manufacturer owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, and the breach caused the plaintiff damages. A plaintiff can prove a manufacturer failed to provide an adequate warning by showing that a product’s warning or instructions were not likely to notify the consumer of the potential harm and the manufacturer could have provided instructions or warnings that would have been adequate. A plaintiff can show that a product was defectively constructed by establishing that “when the product left the control of the manufacturer, the product deviated in some material way from the design specifications or performance standards of the manufacturer, or deviated in some material way from otherwise identical units of the same product line.” Finally, a plaintiff can prove that a product lacked adequate warning and was designed defectively if the product “was unsafe to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer.”

Washington’s robust marijuana regulations may provide producers and processors with some safeguards against claims brought under the WPLA.  Producers and processors may present evidence of compliance with Washington’s extensive cannabis laws and regulations as a defense to a product liability lawsuit. However, compliance with these state law cannabis standards does not automatically bar products liability claims as it is still possible the state required warnings or acceptable standards for growing and processing are inadequate.

Under the WPLA, non-manufacturer sellers can be liable in some scenarios, but simply selling a product that eventually leads to injury does not by itself establish liability. This means that retailers have a lower risk of being subject to product liability than a manufacturer because they do not manufacture the products they sell. However, a retailer may be liable to an injured consumer if the consumer’s harm was caused by the seller’s own negligence by the breach of a warranty made by the seller, or by a seller’s intentional misrepresentation of facts about the product it is selling. A seller may also be liable if there is no financially solvent manufacturer. Because many producers and processors do not have the funds or the insurance to pay off on large (or even not so large) product liability lawsuits, even cannabis retailers in Washington State need to be wary of product liability lawsuits.

Marijuana businesses operators can reduce their product liability risks by doing the following:

  1. Set up your cannabis business so as to protect yourself from personal liability. See Cannabis Businesses And Corporate Separateness and Cannabis Business and Corporate Separateness, Part II
  2. Vet the businesses with which you conduct business and, in particular, seek to ensure they are complying with applicable regulations and industry standards. See Buying a Cannabis Business: The Top Five Due Diligence Items or Buyer Beware.
  3. Draft your contracts so that vendors must indemnify you for any damages arising from their defective product.
  4. Use appropriate packaging and warning labels on the products you sell. See Cannabis Products and Dosing: Educate, Educate, Educate and Label, Label, Label and Pot Puppies? Let’s Talk Labeling and Packaging. NOW.
  5. Get good insurance for your business. The LCB requires cannabis licensees carry and maintain commercial general liability insurance, but you should also consider adding additional insurance to cover potential product liability lawsuits.

1600px-Flag_of_Washington.svgI previously wrote how “change would be coming” to Washington State’s cannabis law were Governor Inslee to sign SB 5131 into law. Governor Inslee has signed SB 5131 and is now set to go into effect on June 23, 2017.

If you hold a license to produce, process, or sell marijuana in Washington, you need to prepare for the legal changes stemming from SB5131. This post summarizes some key of the key changes you should expect from SB5131.

Requires disclosure of IP licensing deals. We previously wrote how the passage of SB 5131 would impact cannabis branding and intellectual property transactions and rights because it requires licensed cannabis businesses to disclose their IP licensing deals to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (the LCB).

Restricts advertising by licensees. SB 5131 focuses heavily on advertising. Since passage of Initiative 502, cannabis licensees have been banned from advertising marijuana or marijuana products within 1,000 feet of a school or other sensitive area where children regularly populate. This largely prevented advertising cannabis products by radio, TV, or in publications likely to be heard or distributed in or near schools. This is why you mostly see marijuana advertisements only in publications geared towards adults. SB 5131 extends this cannabis advertising prohibition to include not only cannabis products but cannabis businesses. In other words, cannabis licensees now need to be cautious about advertising their cannabis business in any medium where their ad could end up within 1,000 feet of a sensitive area.

SB 5131 also makes the following changes to advertising:

  • No advertising on cars.  The use of “transit advertisements,” which includes any cannabis advertisement on public or private vehicles, is prohibited.
  • No targeting tourists. Advertisements and marketing practices may not target “persons residing outside of the state of Washington.”
  • 21 plus. All advertising must contain text stating that marijuana products can only be purchased by persons 21 and older.
  • No marketing to kids. Cannabis licensees cannot market to kids and cannot “use objects such as toys or inflatables, movie or cartoon characters, or any other depiction or image likely to be appealing to youth.”
  • No mascots. Cannabis licensees cannot use commercial mascots outside of or near a licensed marijuana business. “Commercial mascots” include humans, animals, or mechanical devices used to draw attention to a business, and specifically includes inflatable tube displays, persons in costumes, and sign spinners.
  • Limited outdoor advertisements. Outdoor advertisements are limited to only text that identifies the “retail outlet by the licensee’s business or trade name, states the location of the business, and identifies the type or nature of the business.”
  • Limited indoor advertisements. Indoor advertisements are only permitted in facilities where minors are not permitted, such as bars. Under SB 5131, cannabis advertising is explicitly prohibited in arenas, stadiums, shopping malls, state fairs, farmers markets, and arcades.
  • No billboard advertising, except by retailers. Retailers will be the only cannabis licensees permitted to use billboards, but like all outdoor advertising, they too may only include text identifying the name, location, and the nature of their business on these billboards.

Allows ownership of five retail stores.  SB 5131 will allow individuals to possess an ownership interest in five retail stores. up from three under current law. Existing retailers may (and no doubt will) be able to purchase other licensed retailers and rebrand them with their own name and open new storefronts under their already established name.

Changes for producers & processors. Though medical marijuana patients in Washington are already permitted to grow cannabis in their homes for personal use and may form a collective to grow medical cannabis together there has been no legal means for medical patients to buy cannabis plants because cannabis producers were prohibited from selling cannabis to individuals who did not hold a license to produce, process, or sell marijuana. SB 5131 changes this by allowing “qualified medical marijuana patients and designated providers to purchase immature plants, clones, or seeds from a licensed producer.” This means cannabis producers can now legally sell immature plants, clones, and seeds to medical marijuana patients. However, “to purchase plants or clones, the patients and providers must hold a recognition card and be entered in the medical marijuana authorization database.” Patients that choose not to enter Washington State’s medical marijuana database cannot obtain a recognition card and may only purchase seeds. Though SB 5131 goes into place June 23, the LCB will likely need time to create rules and implement this program.

SB 5131 requires the LCB to adopt regulations for designating cannabis as organic similar to the federal the “organic” classification granted pursuant to federal regulations. Since cannabis is illegal under federal law, it cannot qualify under federal standards for organic certification. Cannabis producers and processors who choose to comply with Washington State organic standards can market their cannabis products as compliant with the LCB’s organic-style regulations.

SB 5131 also tasks the LCB with studying the viability of allowing processors to process industrial hemp. Under current Washington State law, processors may only process cannabis material grown by a producer. SB 5131 will not change this. However, depending on the results of the LCB’s study, processors could eventually be allowed to process hemp products grown by Washington farmers with permits to grow industrial hemp.

Washington marijuana businesses for years have faced a very robust set of rules and laws. SB 5131 only adds to the Evergreen State’s complex regulatory framework. Though businesses may view these regulations as overly burdensome, compliance is not optional and come June 23, SB 5131 will be the law of the land. Washington marijuana businesses should do all they can now to avoid pitfalls after June 23.

Cannabis licensing dealsAs we wrote a few days ago, the Washington State Legislature recently passed SB 5131, which updates Washington’s cannabis laws and includes a provision that explicitly addresses licensing agreements. The bill has yet to be signed by Washington Governor Jay Inslee, but we are nevertheless exploring what the implications of these new regulations will be for our clients with existing and pending intellectual property licensing deals.

Section 16 of the bill reads as follows:

Sec. 16.   A new section is added to chapter 69.50 RCW to read as follows:

  • A licensed marijuana business may enter into a licensing agreement, or consulting contract, with any individual, partnership, employee cooperative, association, nonprofit corporation, or corporation, for:
    • Any goods or services that are registered as a trademark under federal law or under chapter 19.77 RCW;
    • Any unregistered trademark, trade name, or trade dress; or
    • Any trade secret, technology, or proprietary information used to manufacture a cannabis product or used to provide a service related to a marijuana business,
  • All agreements or contracts entered into by a licensed marijuana business, as authorized under this section, must be disclosed to the state liquor and cannabis board.

On its face, this provision does little to change things for those with existing licensing deals, except that those deals will now need to be disclosed to the licensee’s enforcement officer. But the provision does validate the position that these types of licensing agreements were permissible under the rules all along, which provides some level of security to the parties as to the legitimacy of the contracts.

The big question that remains unanswered is whether the State’s acknowledgement of the permissibility of “licensing agreement[s]” is also an acknowledgement of the permissibility of standard trademark licensing practices, including royalties. Currently, it is impermissible under the rules for a licensor to receive a royalty based on sales or profits from a licensee, where that licensor has not been vetted by the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) as a true party of interest. Undisclosed true party of interest relationships are grounds for license cancellation by the LCB, so it’s important to structure these deals so they do not implicate Washington’s true party of interest rules when dealing with an out-of-state licensor, or a licensor that simply would not meet the state’s requirements.

Even if state cannabis law reform in Washington makes the state law compliance piece of any trademark licensing deal more straightforward, these deals are still by no means as cut and dry as your typically IP licensing deal. Ownership of IP in the cannabis industry remains a tricky issue, in large part because the USPTO will not issue federal trademark registrations for cannabis-related marks. Cannabis companies routinely come to us with proposed licensing deals where basic due diligence quickly reveals the licensor simply does not own what it purports to own. As a refresher, if you are looking to get a license for another company’s IP, here are the most basic questions you should be able to answer about that other company and its IP:

  • Does the licensor own any federal trademark registrations?
  • If so, what goods and/or services do those trademark registrations cover?
  • Was the description of goods and/or services filed with the USPTO accurate and true? Were there possible misrepresentations?
  • Are the trademark registrations based on actual use, or upon intent-to-use?
  • What representations and warranties is the licensor making (or, often more importantly, not making) regarding the marks?
  • If the licensor doesn’t own any federal trademark registrations, is it licensing someone else’s trademarks?
  • Does the licensor have a master licensing agreement? Do the terms of any proposed sub-licensing agreement mirror that master licensing agreement?
  • What quality control standards will you be held to by the trademark owner? Could these standards amount to impermissible control over a licensee under Washington’s cannabis rules?
  • Has the trademark owner warranted to keep all USPTO filings up-to-date?
  • Does the licensor own any state trademark registrations?
  • If so, has the licensor made lawful use of its mark in commerce in the state of registration?
  • Does the licensor have any common law trademark rights? Can the licensor even legally acquire common law trademark rights in your jurisdiction?

This is a substantial list, but it only scratches the surface of the issues you and your cannabis IP counsel must consider before you enter into any IP licensing deal. Parties are often quick to skip straight to negotiating commercial terms for a deal, without ever assessing whether the rights they are licensing actually exist. Just as with any other type of property, like a house or a car, a licensor of intellectual property must actually own the rights to that property to be able to confer those rights to another party. Seems basic, but it’s truly shocking to see the deals we’ve seen put together by attorneys who either do not know cannabis or, more often than not, do not know the intricacies (or even the basics) of intellectual property law.

Though cannabis IP licensing deals remain complicated, it’s encouraging to see the Washington State Legislature acknowledge and condone their existence. We’ll be following this bill closely to see whether its passage results in any changes to the current difficulties surrounding a royalties-based payment structure.

So stay tuned.

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.

UPDATE: On May 16, 2017, Governor Inslee signed SB 5131 without vetoing any sections of the bill.

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.

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.

 

 

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

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

The Washington Administrative Code separates cannabis violations into five categories:

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

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

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

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

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

Cannabis LawA litany of comments made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and many other Tump administration officials have sent tremors through the cannabis industry in the weeks since Trump’s January inauguration.

Most alarming to many cannabis industry stakeholders was the administration’s uncertain position on state-legal cannabis programs. True to form, Press Secretary Sean Spicer predicted, “greater enforcement” of the Controlled Substances Act in recreational states under the Trump administration during a press conference two weeks ago. More recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly reassured some GOP senators that he will not be moving away from Obama-era deference to state-legal cannabis programs. To many invested in the marijuana industry, however, Sessions’ statement is cold comfort coming from an Attorney General who harbors an irrational hatred of cannabis and intends to enforce existing federal drug laws to the letter.

Nevertheless, a glimmer of silver lining shines from the House of Representatives hopper for Democrats in the form of HR 1227 or the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017. The bill, introduced by Congressman Tom Garrett (R-VA), is co-sponsored by congressional Democrats Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Peter Welch of Vermont. This law would de-schedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and allow for states to self-regulate their own cannabis programs.

If passed, the Act would be an unprecedented win for the cannabis industry as a whole and fundamentally change the landscape of legal cannabis in the United States. Here are the details:

What would HR 1227 do?  Essentially, the Act would remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This is distinct from hints from the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2015 that it might consider re-scheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II of the CSA. Though de-scheduling cannabis would allow state marijuana programs to carry on essentially unfettered, re-scheduling could introduce new obstacles akin to those that other fledgling and experimental drugs must overcome.

What wouldn’t HR 1227 do? HR 1227 will not give blanket permission for transferring cannabis across state lines; states would be free to prohibit shipments of cannabis to and from their own jurisdictions. The bill also would not override state-level regulations that set standards for licensure, labeling, and purity. The status quo of state cannabis laws would therefore persist, but against a far less draconian backdrop of federal criminal law.

What are the bill’s prospects in 2017? Not great, unfortunately, but it is not all its fault. Congress has a lot on its plate this session – including still-pending confirmations of several presidential appointees – and cannabis reform is just not a high priority for lawmakers on either side of the aisle. Prospects for meaningful cannabis reforms on the federal level are dim under a unified Republican government absent an ideological shift. At least in the short term.

Why does this sound so familiar? The bill is identical to the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015 introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VA). The 2015 bill was a hit among Sanders’ core supporters at the time but it failed to gain any significant traction in Congress.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Marijuana Real EstateTomorrow, I will co-present a national continuing legal education (“CLE”) seminar for the American Law Institute, titled “Cannabis and Commercial Real Estate.” I will present this 90-minute seminar and webcast with Daniel Dersham, a talented real estate attorney with the San Francisco law firm Wiley & Bentaleb LLP. The seminar is designed for lawyers around the country who wish to assist clients in buying, selling and leasing real estate in the cannabis industry. It is also a great opportunity for non-lawyers to gain insight on how cannabis properties are rented, bought and sold, and to understand how attorneys approach these unique transactions.

Over the past few years, our Oregon, Washington and California offices have advised on hundreds of real estate transactions related to state-legal cannabis. In the Oregon office alone, we are continuously working on these deals, which may range from the negotiation of a 1,500 square foot lease for a dispensary, to the purchase of a 150+ acre property for large-scale agriculture across multiple licenses. Each deal is a snowflake, and each brings unique opportunities and challenges.

Because we are always doing real estate deals, we tend to write about them often. For a recent sampling of work related to this field, including topics that will be covered at tomorrow’s CLE, please see the following recent Canna Law Blog articles:

Like many aspects of the cannabis industry, the central issue that makes real property transactions challenging, unique, and even sort of fun (at least for us cannabis business lawyers), is federal illegality. That issue ripples through pretty much every cannabis real estate deal in myriad ways, and a skilled practitioner with knowledge of the following is required: (1) the dynamic interplay of state and federal law; (2) the intricacies of state and local regulatory programs for cannabis– including zoning and land use laws; and (3) industry standards on achievable deal points for a lease or sale transaction.

Over the next year or two, existing state marijuana markets will continue to mature and new markets will come online. We expect to see a continued emphasis on real estate deals during this period. Buyers, sellers, landlords, tenants and service providers who understand the way this game is played will have a considerable advantage. And for many in the cannabis industry, negotiating a real estate transaction will be the largest decision of all.

I hope that you can join us.