Seems like a good approach.

Once upon a time, the cannabis industry had something called the Ogden Memorandum. That was back in 2009, prior to any state legalizing cannabis for recreational use. The Ogden memo gave prosecutorial guidelines to U.S. Attorneys in medical marijuana states. Many people read the Ogden Memo too cavalierly for the feds’ liking (to wit, over 1,000 new Colorado dispensaries opened that year), and Eric Holder’s office attempted to cool industry expectations with the first Cole Memo in 2011. A few years later, after Colorado and Washington legalized adult use cannabis, we got the second Cole Memo and its famous eight federal enforcement priorities to help guide state lawmaking. The second Cole memo, which everyone just called the “Cole Memo”, lasted an astonishing 4.5 years until Jeff Sessions rescinded that guidance in early 2017, with a memo of his own. The Sessions Memo effectively reset everything to a primitive ground zero, lecturing that “marijuana is a dangerous drug and marijuana activity is a serious crime.”

Aside from disrupting longstanding federal policy framework on cannabis, the Sessions Memo directed federal prosecutors “to weigh all relevant considerations” in bringing prosecutions for violations of the federal Controlled Substances Act. As of last week, one such prosecutor gave explicit indications as to what relevant considerations will take priority in his district. That U.S. Attorney was Billy Williams of the District of Oregon. So now we now have the Williams Memo.

The Williams memo is a thoughtful if somewhat awkward document. In the classic posture, it reserves prosecutorial discretion and promises nothing to anyone. Instead, it explains that lawyers in Mr. Williams’ office will primarily focus on five enforcement priorities when deciding whether to enforce the draconian federal laws against cannabis operators. Those priorities are:

  • Overproduction and interstate trafficking;
  • Protecting Oregon’s children;
  • Violence, firearms, or other public safety threats;
  • Organized crime – including tax evasion and money laundering; and
  • Protecting natural lands, natural resources, and Oregon’s environment.

The one that has state compliant operators a little worried is “overproduction,” given that the Oregon legislature has not capped marijuana licenses and does not require verticality in licensees. When I say “a little worried” I mean very little: So far, of the large number of Oregon cannabis and cannabis-adjacent clients my firm represents, I’ve heard from exactly zero of them with concerns over the Williams’ memo. The only people I’ve heard from are reporters.

Still, the Williams memo is important because it could serve as a template for U.S. attorneys in other states, and it illustrates the curious and uncomfortable bind that U.S. attorneys in states like Oregon find themselves. These attorneys are not going to attempt to shutter licensed and compliant cannabis businesses. It would be too costly, too politically hazardous, and ultimately, too late. On the other hand, when you have serious issues of overproduction, and especially interstate leakage, federal actors appointed by “tough on crime” executives may feel compelled to say something. So Williams did.

For states like Oregon, the hardest part about overproduction is that it is driven by significant and unrelenting demand beyond the four corners of the state. This means that if Oregon were to cap marijuana licenses tomorrow, or to shrink the pool of available licenses to a very small number over time, black market activity would persist. Prices for illegal marijuana would rise within Oregon, but there is nothing to suggest that demand would decrease elsewhere. Said another way: As long as there is demand for Oregon marijuana nationwide, Oregon marijuana will ship nationwide.

Federal drug enforcement policy in the U.S. has always focused on the supply side, with abysmal results. (If you’d like to understand the economics of this, there are many years of data and findings, e.g. here, here and here.) Still, the federal government refuses to abandon or adequately reform its supply-side policies. For its part, the Oregon legislature recently enacted SB 1544, which funds interdiction of illegal grows at the state level, but the level of funding is unlikely to kneecap black market activity in any real sense. Southern Oregon especially will always be a banana belt for cannabis.

Given market dynamics and the failures of federal prohibition, the Williams Memo does a nice job of walking the line between what Williams’ bosses probably want and what Oregonians definitely want, as demonstrated by Measure 91 and elsewhere. Ultimately, this memo is unique in that is was penned by a U.S. District Attorney, but it’s nothing new. And it really shouldn’t matter much for state-compliant businesses.

california marijuana cannabis

Whenever government enacts new regulations there will always be some people and businesses that will be unhappy with the new changes. So, it came as no surprise when California embarked on its mission to create a state licensing regime for cannabis businesses (as well as personal use) that issues would arise. What made enacting cannabis regulations in California so difficult is that ever since Californians voted for the Compassionate Use Act in 1996 (a/k/a Prop 215), cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, and dispensaries were operating without regulations in what everyone conveniently called the legal “grey” area (a Michael Cohen area of practice).

That all changed when the state legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) in 2015 and a majority of the good people of California voted in favor of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in 2016 (AUMA). In June of 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 94 (a/k/a the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act a/k/a MAUCRSA). MAUCRSA merged medical and adult-use cannabis activities under one regulatory regime and empowered three state agencies to license and regulate the commercial cannabis industry: The California Department of Food and Agriculture (cultivators, processors, and nurseries); the Department of Public Health (manufacturers); and the Bureau of Cannabis Control (distributors, retailers, delivery-only retailers, microbusinesses, and testing labs). Each state agency released their emergency regulations in November of 2017, which we covered for cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.

The emergency regulations were quite the departure from the previously unregulated “grey” market of the previous twenty years. They were however not without some hiccups: Such as the removal of the cultivation acreage cap or the steadfast intransigence of local jurisdictions in licensing commercial cannabis activities.

After the release of the emergency regulations, representatives from the three state cannabis licensing agencies travelled up and down the state to solicit public input on the regulations. The reason the state continued to solicit feedback from the public was due to the fact that the emergency regulations were actually just temporary regulations. All three state agencies were required to release permanent regulations later this year – when exactly the permanent regulations were going to be released was anyone’s guess. While current cannabis businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs have been busy figuring out how to navigate the licensing landscape, the state just went ahead and made changes to the emergency regulations. Just this Friday all three state agencies released new emergency regulations (nothing like a regulation drop on a Friday!). We’ll cover the changes in greater detail in future posts (stay tuned) but here are a couple of highlights:

  • Applicants can submit one application (and pay one fee) to obtain both an adult-use and medical cannabis license. Previously you had to submit two applications and pay two separate licensing fees if you wanted to operate in the medicinal and adult-use market. This applies to all three licensing agencies.
  • A licensee can now engage in commercial cannabis activities with any licensee, regardless of medical or adult-use designation. This is a permanent extension of the transition period in the emergency regulations that allowed medical cannabis licensees to contract with adult-use licensees and vice versa (the transition period was set to expire on July 1, 2018). This also applies to all three agencies.
  • The Bureau of Cannabis Control’s definition of financial interest holder was amended to specifically state that anyone that has an agreement to receive a portion of the profits of a commercial cannabis business will be considered a financial interest holder (there’s an exception for diversified mutual funds, blind trusts, and similar financial instruments).
  • The BCC regulations also specify that licensees authorized for retail sales may not sell or deliver cannabis goods through a drive-through window.
  • A retailer’s delivery employee can now carry cannabis goods valued up to $10,000 while making deliveries (the cap was previously set at $3,000).
  • The Bureau of Cannabis Control reduced the annual license fees for its licensees.
  • The Department of Food and Agriculture revised how it will measure canopy for indoor, mixed-light, and outdoor license types.
  • The Department of Public Health (DPH) formally incorporated the regulations for shared-use facilities, which we covered here.
  • The DPH specifically removed tinctures from the definition of a product containing alcohol. However, tinctures shall not be sold in a package larger than two fluid ounces and shall include a calibrated dropper or other measuring device.

The public will now have all of five days to comment on the re-adoption of the emergency regulations. The five day window for public comment will begin once the California Office of Administrative posts the emergency regulations on its website – which it can do no earlier than May 25, 2018. When these updated emergency regulations are formally adopted the licensing agencies will have 180 days to develop their final regulations. Be sure to check in as we update you with even more details on these emergency regulations and how they may impact your cannabis business.

marijuana oregon seminar

On June 7, our own Vince Sliwoski will chair an all-day continuing legal education (CLE) event called The Business of Marijuana in Oregon, along with Jesse Sweet, a lawyer and senior policy analyst at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). This will be Vince’s fourth year presenting at the event and his third year as chair. The roster of speakers lined up for this CLE is better than any year to date, and everyone, including non-lawyers, would be well served to attend. For a full event description, including topics, speakers and registration links, click here.

Looking back over the past four years, it is amazing to see how much things have changed in Oregon cannabis. At this point, the OLCC’s recreational marijuana program is fully built out, with over 3,400 applicants now on file with the state. We are proud to call many of these Oregon producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers our clients, alongside the many investors and ancillary service providers we represent.

Sometimes, it is said that pioneers get slaughtered and settlers get rich. Now that the Oregon regulatory groundwork has stabilized, we have begun to see a second wave of entrepreneurs and investors move in on the local industry. Many of these new entrants bring skills, capital and experience from other regulated markets, while others are new to the space. Over the next year or so, we expect to see a fair amount of market consolidation throughout the Oregon cannabis industry. (See our most recent observations on the “state of the State” here).

Oregon attorneys and business owners alike need to be familiar with the unique regulatory concepts and industry dynamics that will be discussed on June 7, in order to best serve the Oregon cannabis industry. These concepts include state laws and administrative rules, developments in the highly dynamic federal sphere, and practical approaches to working with and in the cannabis industry. Attendees will hear from regulators, bankers, CPAs, and, of course, lawyers aplenty.

We hope you will join us on June 7 for an eight-hour survey of Oregon cannabis that is both broad and deep. And if you are a Harris Bricken client or a friend of the firm, please click here to request a promotional discount code, which can be applied to either the webcast, or to in-person attendance.

See you soon.

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

Our last California Cannabis Countdown post was on the Town of Truckee, and before that the City of Cotati, the City of San Luis Obispo, the City of Redding, the City of San Rafael, the City of Hayward, Alameda County, OaklandSan FranciscoSonoma County, the City of Davis, the City of Santa RosaCounty and City of San BernardinoMarin CountyNevada County, the City of Lynwood, the City of CoachellaLos Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, the City of Desert Hot SpringsSonoma County, the City of Sacramento, the City of BerkeleyCalaveras CountyMonterey Countyand the City of Emeryville.

Today’s post is on the city of San Jose.

Welcome to the California Cannabis Countdown.

Surely there’s room for a few more licensed cannabis businesses?

Location. San Jose is the third most populous city in California and the largest city in Northern California. Located south of San Francisco and Oakland, San Jose is the county seat of Santa Clara county and the soon to be home of a massive new campus for Apple. San Jose is also home to the San Jose Sharks (get them next year) and the fervent fans of the San Jose Earthquakes.

History with Cannabis: Back in 2011, the City Council began the process to enact a land use and regulatory ordinance to govern  medical marijuana operations. Unfortunately, the City Council ended up suspending the land use ordinance and then repealing the regulatory ordinance – the effect of which meant that all medical marijuana collectives, cooperatives, and dispensaries operating in San Jose were doing so illegally. Then in June of 2014, the San Jose City Council passed their Medical Marijuana Program (“MMP”). The MMP was an amended attempt to correct the City’s failure to pass a medical marijuana ordinance back in 2011. The MMP went into effect on July 18, 2014 and gave medical collectives up until October 17, 2014 to submit their applications with the City.

At the time the MMP was passed there were an estimated 78 collectives operating in the San Jose, of which 50 collectives submitted applications with the City. Of those 50 medical marijuana collectives that submitted applications, only 16 were able to successfully navigate the application process and maintain their license in compliance with the San Jose’s regulations. Since the passage of the MMP, there have been no new cannabis licenses issued — only the 16 registered collectives have been authorized to cultivate, manufacture, and sell medical cannabis within city limits.

In November of 2017, the City Council passed Ordinances 30029 and 30030 authorizing adult-use cannabis activities. However, the adult-use ordinances did not open up licensing to new applicants — it only allowed the previously registered medical collectives to operate as adult-use businesses as well. These registered collectives have had a really good run as the only cannabis operators in town (legal operators anyway) but that may change as the City Council is considering opening registration to new cannabis operators for the first time since the MMP.

Proposed Cannabis Laws: This Monday, May 21 (6pm at City Hall), the City Council will hold a public hearing to discuss allowing new cannabis businesses to register and operate in San Jose. The City Council is considering allowing new businesses to register for the following types of cannabis licenses:

  • Manufacturing (volatile and non-volatile).
  • Distribution.
  • Testing laboratories.
  • Additional cultivation licenses are not currently on the agenda.

These are just the additional stages of the discussion that’s set to take place. It’s still to be determined whether the City will cap the number of additional licenses (or remove some of the proposed license types altogether) so it’s especially important for cannabis entrepreneurs to show up on May 21st and voice their opinions. All in all, it’s about time that new cannabis businesses get a chance to enter the cannabis market of California’s third largest city.

california cannabis employee
More employees. More laws.

Cannabis companies are subject to both state and federal employment laws and regulations. Certain employment laws only kick in once your cannabis business employs a certain number of employees. This post will the first in a series to explore when different employment laws take effect, relative to the size of your workforce. Today’s post focuses on California’s Sexual Harassment Requirements.

As we have discussed in the past, sexual harassment policies and trainings are very important for every cannabis business. California’s anti-discrimination and harassment statutes and implementing rules are some of the most comprehensive in the country. California has strict anti-harassment requirements and is one of the few states that requires certain private sector employers provide sexual harassment training for managers and supervisors. The anti-discrimination and harassment statute has different requirements depending on the size of the employee workforce.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“the Act”) requires all California employers to take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring. This requirement means that employers have to: 1) distribute the Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s brochure on sexual harassment (or a writing that complies with statutory requirements); 2) post an anti-discrimination poster and; 3) develop and distribute a written harassment, discrimination, and retaliation prevention policy. The requirements of the anti-harassment and discrimination policy are extensive and specific. In general, the policy must prohibit discrimination and harassment; create a complaint process; create an investigation process; and make clear that employees will not be exposed to retaliation for reporting discrimination or harassment. To put it simply—an expert should draft your anti-harassment policy.

California cannabis businesses that employ at least 50 employees must provide at least two hours of sexual harassment training every two years to each supervisor employee and to all new supervisor employees within six months of the assumption of a supervisory position. The training must be “effective interactive training” and includes: in-person instruction; e-learning; webinars; or a using audio, video, or computer technology with any of those training methods. The trainer must be a qualified trainer which is defined as “attorneys, professors or instructors, HR professionals or harassment prevention consultants.”

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing enforces the Act and rules. DFEH can impose a civil penalty on any employer that fails to follow the above requirements. Those penalties can range from the moderate to the severe, depending on the violation and attending circumstances. Suffice it to say that you do not want to be caught up in a state-level enforcement action.

Although Act provisions go take effect at the 50 employee threshold, any new cannabis company should have an anti-discrimination and harassment policy in place as soon as it intends to hire its first employee. As cannabis business grow, additional requirements are placed on them. California’s requirements are strict and its best to get in front of these requirements before its too late.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where I will discuss state and federal family leave requirements for marijuana businesses.

San Luis Obispo California marijuana cannabis

As of May 1, the City of San Luis Obispo is one step closer to permitting adult-use cannabis retail stores. At its most recent meeting, council members approved the first reading of a draft ordinance intended to regulate marijuana businesses. Currently, Ordinance 1633 which was adopted in March 2017, expressly prohibits all commercial and industrial, medical and recreational cannabis activity within city limits.

Pursuant to Ordinance 1633, the Council directed staff to monitor developments in other jurisdictions, monitor development at the federal level, engage with the community regarding various land use and taxation issues, and return to the City Council with a recommendation. We now have those recommendations, which would establish new Municipal Code provisions that would become effective if a cannabis revenue measure is placed on the November 2018 General Election ballot and approved by voters.

Specifically, staff recommended “repealing the current ban on commercial cannabis business activity and establishing standards to protect public health and safety regulating personal cannabis cultivation, cannabis business operators, and permitted cannabis business activities in the City.” Staff also recommended land use regulations for commercial cannabis activity and personal cultivation and provided for the creation of overlay zones where the proposed regulations would apply.

Before regulations are adopted, though, staff will still need to return to City Council with additional implementing measures, including zoning map amendments for the proposed overlay zones, criteria for ranking permit applications, and a fee schedule for applications and annual licenses.

A summary of the proposed ordinance was provided in the Staff Report as follows:

  1. Allows for access to medical and recreational marijuana in the City, with storefront and delivery options (at least one storefront will be reserved for a holder of a medicinal retail license)
  2. Prohibits onsite consumption
  3. Establishes a two-step process requiring prospective business operators to be certified and ranked prior to applying for a land use permit
  4. Includes requirements for energy and water efficiency, and limits total amount of cultivation, to ensure consistency with City climate action goals
  5. Limits manufacturing uses to non-volatile extractions only
  6. Limits cultivation to indoors only, and total City-wide amount of cultivation allowed to 70,000 square feed of total canopy coverage within indoor areas, cumulatively (includes total canopy of either horizontal or vertical growing situations)
  7. Provides for the creation of overlay zones where cannabis business activity may be permitted, and buffers within those overlay zones for cannabis retail stores of 300 feet from residential zones, and 1,000 feet from schools, and parks
  8. Requires retail stores to be located at least 1,000 feet apart
  9. Only three retail storefronts, which must be on arterial streets, will be allowed within the City

According to the City Council, they intend to adopt regulations by early summer of 2018, but given that the voters must approve a tax revenue measure in November in order for the ordinance to go into effect, we’re still looking at quite some time before the City begins accepting permit applications. We will keep you posted!

marijuana cannabis supreme court
Nice work by the Court.

Back in December, we wrote about Murphy v. NCAA (“Murphy”), a case where the State of New Jersey challenged a federal law that bans states from allowing sports gambling. We explained that this case has important implications for state-legal marijuana programs, because it asks whether the Constitution’s anti-commandeering doctrine prevents the federal government from forcing states to ban certain activities. The case took a long and winding path, but on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by an impressive 7-2 margin that federal prohibition did not preempt the state’s gambling laws. This is great news for cannabis.

We have argued on this blog that applicable law prohibits the feds from shutting down state cannabis programs. In support of this argument, we have observed that the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution (the source of the anti-commandeering doctrine), coupled with the express, anti-preemption language of the federal Controlled Substances Act, grants the states ample authority to run cannabis programs. Given the precedent established in Murphy on Monday, it is hard to imagine any other outcome if the feds were attempt to enjoin (shut down) a state licensing program for marijuana.

In reaching its opinion, the majority acknowledged that the question of whether to legalize sports gambling “is a controversial one” that “requires an important policy choice.” But that choice, the majority continued, “is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own.” It is hard not to see parallels with marijuana legislation there. Along those lines, the Court also observed that:

“The legalization of sports gambling is a controversial subject. Supporters argue that legalization will produce revenue for the States and critically weaken illegal sports betting operations, which are often run by organized crime. Opponents contend that legalizing sports gambling will hook the young on gambling, encourage people of modest means to squander their savings and earnings…”

Substitute “marijuana” for “sports gambling” and you have an almost perfect distillation of the broad policy arguments made by pro- and anti-cannabis prohibition camps. Because of these striking parallels, supporters of cannabis filed an amicus brief in support of the State of New Jersey. In addition, litigants in the Supreme Court’s most notable marijuana case to date, Gonzales v. Raich, were quick to opine that Murphy is easily distinguished from the former case, which dealt only with the federal government’s ability to enforce federal laws within state borders, and not with the feds’ ability to require states to pull state laws off the books.

For cannabis advocates, Murphy is an especially fun case, because it originally was brought by former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and the case was known as Christie v. NCAA before Phil Murphy became the state’s governor. Christie, of course, is known for his repeated attacks against state legalization of marijuana, and his disregard of states’ rights in that context. Today, however, he is applauding the Murphy decision and the “rights of states and their people to make their own decisions.” Go figure!

In any case, anyone in favor of states’ rights, including the right to ignore retrograde federal laws around marijuana prohibition, should be excited about the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy. It stands as the latest in a string of promising federal developments signaling the of cannabis prohibition. Hopefully, the end is finally near.

intellectual property marijuana cannabis

We have been counting down the days until this Thursday at 12pm PST, when Harris Bricken will present a free, lunch-hour webinar entitled “Intellectual Property in the Cannabis Industry.” Registrations for this webinar have been impressive to date, and we expect the number to continue to surge in the next 48 hours.

Protecting and monetizing intellectual property (IP) in the cannabis industry is an important but challenging step for most businesses. The market is highly dynamic and competitive, and in addition to state and local rules, federal law creates an unusual environment. Several cannabis businesses have established significant market share through the creation and leveraging of intellectual property. Others have been served demand letters or lawsuits because their branding allegedly infringes upon existing protected IP – whether owned by cannabis businesses or non-cannabis businesses. As a corporate cannabis law firm serving the marijuana industry since 2010, we have seen just about every possible scenario.

This webinar is designed to help you gain a high-level understanding of cannabis IP and how to use it. Vince Sliwoski will moderate a discussion by intellectual property attorneys Alison Malsbury, John Mansfield, and Mike Atkins, who will provide a detailed overview of what you need to know to protect your cannabis brand. The attorneys will cover topics such as the following:

  • Categories of goods and services eligible for IP protection
  • Federal protections available to cannabis businesses
  • The importance of copyrights, trade secrets, patents, and trademarks to your cannabis business
  • IP hurdles cannabis business owners frequently encounter
  • IP licensing, both within state borders and across state lines
  • How to avoid cannabis IP disputes, and what to do in the case of a dispute

Questions will be taken throughout the presentation. To register for this free webinar, please go here. We look forward to this discussion!

In the meantime, feel free to check out some of our other recent webinars, to get a feel for what to expect on Thursday:

california cannabis insurance
In California, it just got easier for landlords.

One of the most important elements of a commercial tenancy is insurance. Generally, the landlord maintains property insurance for damage to the building, existing improvements, and surrounding property, as well as liability insurance for bodily injury and property damage occurring on the premises. The landlord will typically pass the cost of that coverage on to the tenant as an operating expense, proportionally according to the tenant’s share of space in the building. The tenant will typically be required under the lease to carry, at its own expense, property insurance on all tenant improvements and tenant personal property, as well as its own liability policy covering injury and property damage occurring on the premises.

Because marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance that is federally illegal to produce or sell, most traditional insurance companies have declined to write insurance policies for the commercial cannabis industry. This relates to the federal illegality of marijuana itself, and also the increased risk associated with commercial cannabis as a result of such illegality, e.g. increased rate of loss from theft or burglary. As a result, landlords and tenants alike have often had to look to non-admitted carriers or surplus lines insurers to write a rider on a policy to cover cannabis activity. Such coverage is often extremely limited in scope, rife with exclusions, and very expensive. That said, rolling with a general liability policy that is not specific to cannabis is often even worse.

In industries other than cannabis, buyers tend to disfavor non-admitted carriers. This is due to the risk of losing out on various benefits offered through admitted carriers. Such benefits include: the certainty of financial stability and good business practices that comes with the state’s stamp of approval, the right to appeal claims that are denied, and the guarantee that the state will pay certain claims if the insurance company goes bankrupt. Cannabis businesses have had none of these benefits, until now.

Last week, the California Department of Insurance announced that it has approved a Lessor’s Risk policy issued by California Mutual, a traditional carrier with an “A- excellent” rating, for landlords renting to commercial cannabis tenants. Lessor’s Risk coverage is typically a comprehensive landlord insurance package that includes both the property and liability coverages often carried by commercial landlords. Specific commercial cannabis activities and businesses services by this announced coverage would include cannabis labs, product manufacturing, cultivation, and dispensary operations.

In the bigger picture, this is an important development for at least two reasons. First, it signals to other large insurers that the water is warm to start writing policies for cannabis businesses, and increased competition will mean lower prices, which will encourage more landlords to lease to cannabis tenants. Second, it is a huge step towards further legitimizing the cannabis industry by treating it like any other industry that requires business and government services. And it also highlights the need for perhaps the most important business service, banking, which is currently headed in the right direction as well.

All in all, when you have the Insurance Commissioner for the fifth largest economy on earth organizing cannabis facility tours for insurance executives, you can’t help but notice how seriously the state is taking this industry. That’s a good thing for landlords and tenants alike.

marijuana cannabis trademark

An issue we’ve seen with increasing frequency among clients and prospective clients alike is a misunderstanding of the basic requirements for obtaining federal trademark protection in the United States. We’ve worked through the issues surrounding federal registration of cannabis and cannabis-goods before, and it is common practice in the cannabis industry to obtain federal trademark protection for ancillary goods and services that do not violate the Controlled Substances Act. But the key to obtaining such trademark protection is that you must either be using the applied-for mark in commerce, or you must have a “bona fide intent” to do so. This post will explore what exactly it means to have a bona fide intent to use a mark in commerce, and what level of proof will be required to substantiate it.

A common scenario is that a cannabis business owner thinks of a name that sounds great–one they would ideally like to use on their cannabis goods and services–but they know they can’t obtain federal trademark protection for anything that is federally illegal. So, they start brainstorming similar goods and services for which they could register, oftentimes looking to large, established companies’ trademark registrations for inspiration. The problem, however, is that the cannabis company often does not have a plan in place for actually selling those goods or services. This can be a big problem.

Recall that there are two bases on which one can file a U.S. federal trademark application: actual use or intent-to-use. An application based on actual use requires proof of that use in the form of photo specimens showing the mark on the goods and a date of first sale. An intent-to-use application, on the other hand, requires “only” that the applicant have a bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce. This is a great tool for start-ups to ensure that their brand is protected while they’re getting their business off the ground. But it also raises the question of what truly constitutes a “bona fide intent” to use a mark?

Section 1(b) of the Trademark Act allows federal trademark applications to be filed based on a “bona fide intent” to use the mark in commerce, and this intent must be stated in the application under penalty of perjury. The Act further states that an intent-to-use trademark filing must be “under circumstances showing good faith.” This language indicates that there must be some objective evidence of good faith, a position that courts have consistently agreed with.

While the USPTO does not require that an applicant submit proof of their bona fide intent at the time of application, an application may be challenged on the basis of lack of bona fide intent at the time the application was filed. This is why it is critical to be able to prove your bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce at the time of filing.

Case law, including Honda Motor Co. v. FriedrichWinkelmann, provides some guidance for applicants who are unsure if they’ve met the threshold of having a bona fide intent to use their mark in commerce, and helps us understand what types of objective evidence of a bona fide intent must be shown. The Honda case involved an opposition by Honda to FriedrichWinkelmann’s application to register VIC for “vehicles for transportation on land, air or water” and related goods. The Trademark Office in this case stated that in order to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to its intent to use on a motion for summary judgment, an applicant must rely on specific facts that establish the “existence of an ability and willingness to use the mark in the United States to identify [the goods in the application] at the time of the filing of the application.”

This case, among others, reaffirms the importance of having documentary evidence to support your bona fide intent to use the mark in commerce at the time of filing. This evidence may consist of business plans, marketing plans, or correspondence with potential manufacturers, distributors or licensees, but there is no bright line test as to how much or what kind of evidence will be sufficient. When filing a U.S. trademark application, it is important to consult with your attorney about the validity of your intent to use your proposed mark. Sometimes, it may make sense to wait to file until you have a business plan in place, or until your intent is easily substantiated.

If you have any burning questions about this topic, or anything else related to intellectual property protection in the cannabis industry, be sure to tune into our free webinar, “Intellectual Property in the Cannabis Industry” on May 17th from 12pm – 1:15pm PDT. The webinar will be moderated by Vince Sliwoski, and I’ll be joined by John Mansfield and Mike Atkins to talk about trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, and patents, all in the context of the cannabis industry. Hope to see you there!