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 City of Hayward, and before that 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 County and the Cityof Emeryville.

san rafael california marijuana cannabis
San Rafael’s next mission: medical cannabis

Today’s post is on the City of San Rafael.

Welcome to the California Cannabis Countdown.

LocationSan Rafael is a city in Marin County and dubs itself as “The City with a Mission” which is a play off its famous chapel. San Rafael is also the county seat and economic hub of Marin. No one likes spending time in a courtroom or in government administrative offices but if you’ve got to, having a civic center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright isn’t too shabby.

History with Cannabis: Ever since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (a/k/a Prop 215), San Rafael has prohibited medical cannabis dispensaries and other cannabis businesses from operating within its city limits. Although Marin County and its municipalities have the reputation of being liberal and progressive, that has not translated into forward-thinking cannabis policies. As we’ve covered in the past, Marin has proven to be quite a difficult jurisdiction for cannabis businesses to enter: the well-to-do enclaves of Sausalito and Mill Valley are maintaining their commercial cannabis prohibitions. Surrounded by cannabis friendly jurisdictions (San Francisco, Richmond, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and Sonoma County), Marin’s cannabis stance is probably closer aligned to Alabama’s than the Bay Area. It’s amid this prohibitionist backdrop that San Rafael is attempting to buck the Marin malaise.

New and Proposed Cannabis Laws: On December 4, 2017, the San Rafael City Council adopted a Cannabis Urgency Ordinance (“Ordinance”). The Ordinance was San Rafael’s first attempt to regulate commercial cannabis activities although there were a couple of caveats. The Ordinance would only allow for medical commercial cannabis activities and retail dispensaries were still prohibited. The Ordinance only established the bare contours of a regulatory structure as the City Council was in a rush to pass legislation prior to statewide licensing taking effect in 2018. Upon passage of the Ordinance, San Rafael’s Medical Cannabis Subcommittee prepared a Medical Cannabis Business Resolution (“Resolution”) that built on the framework established by the Ordinance. The Resolution will be up before the City Council today, January 16th. Here are some of its highlights:

  • Up to eight medical infused products manufacturing licenses will be available otherwise known as a “Type N” license from the California Department of Public Health’s Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch.
  • Up to four medical delivery-only licenses will be available.
  • Up to four testing laboratory licenses will be available.
  • Commercial cultivation, manufacturing (other than Type N), distribution, and storefront retail are prohibited.
  • Adult-use commercial cannabis activities are still prohibited.
  • Applications will be ranked based off of business executive summary (20 points), safety and security plan (20 points), patient benefits and education (20 points), local enterprise preference (10 points), qualification of principals (20 points), and community benefits (10 points). An Applicant must receive a total score of at least 85 points to move forward with their application. A secured location is not necessary at this stage.
  • If the number of applicants with a score of 85 or higher exceeds the maximum number of licenses available then a lottery will be conducted to determine which applications will proceed.
  • Hours of operation for medical delivery businesses will be 9am to 9pm. Labs and manufacturers can operate between 7am to 6pm.
  • Six months after the adoption of the Resolution, San Rafael’s economic development director will prepare a progress report of City Council review.

Although by no means a bold entry into regulating cannabis businesses, San Rafael is still taking the initiative – which is more than we can say about the rest of Marin’s cities (only Marin County is proceeding with a medical cannabis delivery-only ordinance). Let’s hope that by the time the City Council reviews the progress of its medical cannabis program that it will be willing to expand its cannabis license types and authorize adult-use commercial cannabis businesses.

Happy MLK Day!

For our international readers, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of its eponymous civil rights hero. Dr. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law. Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, four years after the passage of one of the great U.S. laws of the 20th century, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His death also came two years prior to one of the 20th century’s most controversial and insidious laws, the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA).

mlk marijuana cannabis
Don’t forget that cannabis is a civil rights issue.

As cannabis business lawyers, we write about cannabis law topics every day of the year on this blog, but we seldom address pure social issues. When it comes to cannabis, however, it is sometimes difficult to separate law and policy. This is because the federal prohibition of marijuana in the United States has had a racially disparate impact on non-white individuals, especially black and Latino Americans. That should come as no surprise to anyone: It is well documented that former president Richard Nixon wanted to link marijuana use and its negative effects to African Americans and hippies, who he perceived to be his enemies, when he signed the CSA.

That was almost 50 years ago, but in a way, not much has changed. Although the Trump Administration has instated policies that make it more difficult to track drug arrests, publicly available FBI data reveals that 1,572,579 marijuana-related arrests occurred in 2016, comprising 42% of all reported U.S. drug arrests. This is 10,000 more marijuana arrests than were made in 2015. Thus, marijuana arrests are increasing, even as more states legalize possession and sale of the plant. It is profoundly regrettable that non-white individuals are arrested for marijuana crimes on a grossly disproportionate basis to whites, today and historically, despite lower levels of consumption overall. Most arrests are made for simple possession of small amounts of pot, and are made at the state and local level.

As far as federal enforcement and policy, both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation operate under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Sessions has a long and well-documented history of fervent opposition to marijuana. Since his confirmation in January of 2017, Sessions has made various attempts to strengthen the hand of federal agencies in prosecution of marijuana-related crimes. Most of these attempts are either aggressively or latently anti-civil rights. These attempts include:

  • reversing a DOJ policy to combat draconian federal sentences for drug-related convictions (which affect blacks and Latinos disproportionately);
  • reversing a DOJ policy phasing out federal private prisons (which impound blacks and Latinos disproportionately);
  • calling for an inquiry into the link between marijuana and violent crime (likely to target blacks and Latinos disproportionately);
  • reinstating the controversial and legally problematic police tool of asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to seize property of individuals who have been suspected of, but not charged with, crimes (in violation of everyone’s civil rights, but to affect blacks and Latinos disproportionately);
  • petitioning Congress for funds to prosecute the retrograde War on Drugs, including recreational and medical marijuana (still more racially disparate impact);
  • importuning state governors with “serious questions” about their state cannabis programs, in an apparent effort to challenge the legitimacy of those programs (latently problematic); and
  • ripping up the Cole Memo, which gave some cover to marijuana businesses.

Jeff Sessions has been dogged by allegations of racism throughout his career, and his fusillade of anti-civil rights actions begs the question: If a racist were in charge of criminal justice for the United States, what would he do? The answer is literally everything listed above. Unfortunately, there may be more to come.

The War on Drugs started out as a war on minority groups, and not much has changed in 50 years. If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, it is almost certain that he would be advocating for an end to the War on Drugs, starting with removal of marijuana from Schedule I of the CSA. Until that happens, and in honor of Dr. King, here are some ways you can pitch in to reverse the racist, immoral and counterproductive state of federal law with respect to cannabis:

  • demand that your Senator co-sponsor to the Marijuana Justice Act;
  • demand that other public officials in your state finally step up to de- or reschedule marijuana as relates to the CSA;
  • support organizations across the political spectrum, from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), with respect to their efforts to end federal prohibition;
  • support trade groups like the Minority Cannabis Business Association, which promote diversity in the cannabis industry; and
  • support and advocate for city and state programs that aim to help disadvantaged communities cash in on marijuana legalization.

Dr. King died 50 years ago, but his legacy continues to resonate and expand. On this day honoring one of our greatest leaders, it is important to remember all of the reasons we strive to put an end to prohibition, including the most important ones.

cannabis marijuana employment tax
Look out for a change in tax deductions for employer provided benefits — at least for some businesses.

President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”) into law on December 22, 2017.  The Act contains several sections that will impact companies that work with cannabis businesses and provide important indications of where states might be going with taxes in the coming year. As for the Act itself, its sweeping provisions went into effect on January 1, 2018.

Note that much of the Tax Act’s deductions and credits won’t apply to cannabis businesses due to IRC 280E, but these deductions and credits are still important to many ancillary businesses that serve the industry, and which may not be subject to 280E (we recommend that anyone with questions as to where they fall seek advice from their CPA or cannabis tax attorney). If these credits and deductions prove to be popular we may see states enact similar changes that will directly affect cannabis business themselves.

On the employment front, many cannabis businesses obtain employees through staffing agencies. Those agencies should will be subject to these new tax deductions and credits. We may see an influx of agency recruits, or a decrease, depending on how the recruitment companies take advantage of these deductions and how the new laws remove deductions for benefits provided to employees.

Sexual Harassment Settlements

Prior to 2017, we didn’t hear much about sexual harassment in the workplace. One reason for this is because a majority of sexual harassment settlements contain nondisclosure agreements. A nondisclosure agreement typically prohibits the employee from discussing the sexual harassment suit, its result or even the fact that harassment was ever alleged. Currently, employers are allowed to take a tax deduction for settlements paid out for sexual harassment and sexual abuse, regardless of the terms of the settlement agreement. That’s finally changing.

Going forward, employers cannot deduct settlement payments related to sexual harassment if the settlement agreement contains a nondisclosure agreement. Employers can receive a tax deductions on sexual harassment settlements that do not contain nondisclosure agreements. Payments in sexual harassment suits can be huge–meaning the tax deduction can also be huge. (Bill O’Reilly paid $32 million to one female accuser.) This will force employers to carefully consider how sexual harassment suits are settled, which is a welcome change. States might follow suit. Plan now how to handle sexual assault cases so you don’t have to make this decision.

Paid Leave Credit

Paid family and medical leave is a significant benefit for cannabis employees. Providing paid family and medical leave can attract highly qualified employees and help retain those employees. In what has been described as the first step towards a “nationwide paid family leave policy”, the Act provides employers incentives to provide paid family and medical leave—admittedly in a very complicated fashion.

Employers can qualify for up to a 25 percent tax credit for providing paid leave for qualifying employees under the Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA). Employers qualify for the credit by providing at least two weeks paid leave equal to at least 50 percent of the employee’s regular wages. At a minimum, employers will receive a 12.5 percent tax credit for providing paid leave. The credit incrementally increases based on the percentage of regular wages the employee receives. The paid leave credit is only applicable to employees who earn less than $72,000 and have been employed at least one year. Paid leave must be provided separately from vacation leave, personal leave, or other medical or sick leave.

The Paid Leave credit expires in 2019 unless extended by Congress. Some congressional members have suggested Congress is considering enacting separate legislation that requires paid leave. Paid sick leave requirements are already in effect in several states, including those with cannabis laws.

Pay attention to expenses related to paid leave, and consider whether this a feasible option for your cannabis business. Several states already have paid leave and more are likely to follow. If your state does not already have paid leave that applies to your cannabis business, you should assume they will enact similar tax incentives soon.

ACA Individual Mandate

The Act removes the Affordable Care Act individual mandate to purchase health insurance. At first glance, this does not seem like it would affect your cannabis business, but staffing agencies employing more than 50 full time employees. are required to purchase healthcare for their employees. Employees that are recruited to your cannabis business are considered employees of the staffing agency. The ACA’s individual mandate was designed to work with the employer mandate to provide health insurance. The employer mandate is still in place. Employers with 50 or more full-time employees are still required to provide health insurance.  Without the individual mandate, it is likely insurance premiums will continue to rise unless Congress acts to reform health care.

Further, given the mandates were designed to work together, there is a strong suggestion that Congress will start to undo the employer mandate. It will likely come in the form of fewer reporting requirements or a complete removal of reporting requirements. This means that staffing agencies may reduce the number of recruits they have out at a time to avoid the employer mandate of the ACA, meaning you will have less of a pool to pull from.

california cannabis trademark
In California, trademark use comes before registration.

It was big news for California cannabis business owners when the California Secretary of State’s office announced that it would be accepting applications for cannabis-related trademarks under limited circumstances. Until January 1st, one of the biggest hurdles for California cannabis brand owners had been the inability to secure California state trademark registrations for their marks. But we are still receiving a lot of questions from clients regarding whether they are actually eligible for those registrations, particularly when they have not yet received their temporary or full license from the state, or even when they are not yet operating.

As we’ve discussed before, one of the key requirements for obtaining a California state trademark registration (or a federal trademark registration, for that matter) is that you must be making lawful use of the mark in commerce at the time of your application. For any state trademark application, this means you must be making lawful use of your mark in commerce within that state. This requirement has created a good deal of difficulty for those seeking to enter into cross-state brand licensing deals, but it’s also creating some confusion here in California, where it isn’t always clear what “legal use” of a mark entails.

The California Secretary of State’s office has indicated that it will accept trademark applications for goods and/or services that fit within an existing classification code from the USPTO’s Identification of Goods and Services Manual. While it will be easy to register for things that fit squarely within the USPTO specifications, like retail services, registering for cannabis products themselves will prove less clear cut. So every application must specify goods and/or services that the applicant is actually selling, and the sale of those goods and/or services must be legal under state law. Note that mere token sales of goods or services are insufficient to support trademark registration.

To sort through the requirements for a successful state trademark application, it’s useful to go back to the basics of legal trademark use under federal law.

One of the key considerations in any trademark application is that it doesn’t matter how clever the wording of your specification of goods and services is, if you aren’t actually selling goods or services that comply with the relevant law. For example, under federal law, calling your goods “dried herbs,” “dried plant matter,” or “agricultural goods” will not fool the examining attorney if what you are actually selling is cannabis.

How this will play out at the state level, however, is less clear, where the sale of cannabis is now legal for those with a state license (we are intentionally taking a conservative position on this, as a trademark registration that is open to challenge and cancellation down the line could end up doing an applicant more harm than good). As under federal trademark law, you must actually be selling the goods you specify in your application, and the goods you are selling must comport with state law. The Secretary of State’s office has taken a rather ambiguous position here, but we think it’s the best they could do given the lack of legislation amending California’s trademark law. Until the state establishes a specific class under which businesses can register their marks for cannabis products, we expect to see trademark applications with intentionally vague specifications of goods and services, which won’t benefit anyone, including trademark owners.

And remember that this determination does nothing to increase your odds of obtaining a federal trademark, even though the state has deemed your use “lawful.” An applicant must have a bona fide intent to use their marks lawfully (under federal law) in commerce under Sections 1 and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1051, 1127.

Note that even an application filed on an intent-to-use basis could be rejected if the record indicates that the identified goods or services are unlawful, because actual lawful use in commerce is not possible. Many applicants have tried and failed to make an argument that because they sold goods only in states that allow for the legal sale of cannabis, their current and intended use therefore constitutes lawful use in commerce under the Trademark Act. The USPTO has repeatedly rejected this argument, citing a decision that “the fact that the provision of a product or service may be lawful within a state is irrelevant to the question of federal registration when it is unlawful under federal law.” In re Brown, 119 USPQ2d 1350, 1351 (TTAB 2016). In other words, the federal interdiction against cannabis will control over state law cannabis legalization.

The takeaway here is that lawful use in commerce will be key to obtaining a California State trademark registration that will hold up in court, and provide you with adequate brand protection. It’s better to hold off on filing your trademark application until you are certain you meet all the legal requirements under trademark law, than to rush and file an application that could be subject to cancellation. We cannot stress enough the importance of engaging with an experienced trademark attorney to ensure that your application is viable before you file.

Oregon cannabis marijuana lease
Same advice for pot leases.

For any marijuana business not fortunate enough to own its land outright, there are few documents more important than the lease. Not only is the lease the only transactional document reviewed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) prior to licensure, but it sets fundamental operating parameters than can determine the success –and even life cycle — of the business. Problematic lease arrangements can sink a ship fast.

In Oregon, there are four main varieties of leasehold: the residential lease, the commercial lease, the ground lease and the agricultural lease. We steer most of our pot industry clients toward commercial and agricultural leases, depending on the circumstance. That said, we have had people walk in with just about everything.

Below is a brief summary on each type of lease, what to look for, and when to use them.

Residential Lease

Do not use a residential lease for a commercial cannabis operation under any circumstances. Even if you think you can revise the lease form to suit your purposes, do not be tempted; and if your landlord insists on this form of lease, say no. We are currently aware of two pieces of landlord-tenant litigation in which the parties used a residential lease for a commercial cannabis grow: those leases were upside down on everything, including the eviction process. One goes to trial next week after thirteen months of litigation.

The only time a residential lease should involve cannabis is in the residential landlord-tenant context, discussing the right of an Oregon tenant to grow up to four plants for home use (not OLCC; not re-sale) in accordance with state law.

Commercial Lease

We have written on commercial leasing a fair bit on this blog, and we have adapted a handful of excellent lease forms for various buildings and circumstances. Generally speaking, commercial leases are broken into three categories: office, industrial and retail. The latter two are used extensively by cannabis businesses.

Prior to entering into a commercial lease, the parties will commonly run some due diligence on each other. From the landlord’s perspective, that usually means looking at a business’ operating history (if any) and financials; from the tenant perspective it’s more about local zoning laws and the space. This last piece is especially important: the lease almost always disclaims any liability for premises defects with “AS IS” language.

Prior to signing a lease, the parties will often start with a letter of intent (LOI) that nails down the high-level terms: e.g. duration, rights of renewal, rental amount, occupancy commencement, rent commencement, landlord and tenant improvements, taxes, insurance, common area maintenance, etc. Once the parties agree on these deal points, the next step is to get busy drafting. Here are some cannabis-centric things to watch for at that point.

Ground Lease

Ground leases are long-term leases (think, 20 years or more) where the parties intend for the tenant to construct a building and other improvements (think, a row of cannabis greenhouses) which ultimately become the property of the landlord. These are almost always “net rent” leases, where the tenant pays all taxes associated with the property, including taxes, insurance premiums, utilities and maintenance.

Recently, we’ve seen an uptick in multi-acre property owners choosing ground leases. In some cases, a master ground lease with a series of subleases for different OLCC licensees is used to create a complex of sorts, assuming compliance with local zoning law and the availability of water rights.

Agricultural Lease

Agricultural leases are a specialized subset of commercial and ground leases, and they are used commonly in rural cannabis grows. These agreements tend to be laced with various provisions not present in other commercial leases, like irrigation, water rights, sharing of farming costs, maintenance of equipment, etc. These leases may also be tailored specifically to the nature of the land. This means that in addition to describing the property at issue, the lease will describe buildings, structures, fixtures and other appurtenances included in (or excluded from) the leasehold.

It is important to note that although commercial and agricultural leases are related in many ways, use of a commercial lease on certain types of rural property, like Exclusive Farm Use (“EFU”) land could theoretically have disastrous effects. In Oregon, “commercial activity” is banned on EFU land. More than one attorney has speculated that use of a commercial lease on EFU land could lead to that parcel’s tax benefits being removed.

Sometimes, an agricultural lease is the only way to go.

sessions marijuana cannabis
The worst.

If your New Year’s resolution was to stop paying attention to the news you may have missed that last Thursday U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions formally rescinded the Cole Memo – which we covered here and here. By rescinding the Cole Memo, Sessions, whose outdated and prohibitionist stance on cannabis is well documented, has sown uncertainty in the states that have legalized cannabis use. This is especially true for the states that have legalized and are regulating adult-use cannabis businesses and individual rights.

To some extent, cannabis businesses are already feeling the effect of this new and uncertain landscape. But in following up on his antiquated stance on cannabis, did Sessions overplay his hand? Will this be a Pyrrhic victory for the prohibitionist crowd? With recent polls showing that 64% of Americans support legalizing cannabis (even 51% of Republicans support legalization) Sessions might have done cannabis proponents a favor by bringing the federal government’s stance into the national spotlight. So the next question everyone’s got to be asking themselves is “what do we do now?”

The most pressing thing that we can do is get Congress to extend the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment (“RBA”) and include adult-use cannabis into its provisions. We covered the RBA a couple of weeks ago but in case you missed it, here’s the Cliffs Notes version: the RBA is a federal budgetary provision that prohibits the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with the implementation of a state’s medical cannabis laws. The RBA has proven to be a valuable protection for medical cannabis businesses as evidenced by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in U.S. v McIntosh. In McIntosh, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the DOJ could not use funds to go after medical cannabis businesses that were operating in compliance with their medical cannabis state laws.

The RBA provides medical cannabis businesses with some protective certainty (at least for those states under the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction), but moving forward there are two glaring concerns: 1) the RBA only applies to medical cannabis businesses; and 2) since the RBA is a budgetary provision it needs to be included in the federal budget and that budget is set to expire on January 19! The likelihood of a Republican led congress including adult-use cannabis into the RBA prior to January 19th is pretty slim, but if Republican Senators like Corey Gardner and Lisa Murkowski are serious about protecting their respective states’ residents, they will need to hold Trump and Sessions’ feet to the fire.

Legally compliant cannabis businesses have always had to deal with a level on uncertainty and risk when it comes to federal government but there’s been one industry that’s remained afraid to openly engage with cannabis businesses: the banking industry. Many observers feel that Sessions’ main goal is to slow the growth and investment in the cannabis industry by keeping cannabis businesses from obtaining bank accounts. If you want to know what a cannabis business owner has to do find proper banking, take a look at this recent piece in the New York Times Magazine where my colleague in our Seattle office, Robert McVay, was interviewed. Cannabis businesses had a difficult enough time finding banking options when the Cole Memo was in place and that won’t get easier any time soon.

To be sure, Sessions has taken an odd and extremely hypocritical stance. He fancies himself a states right guy (when convenient) and a law and order guy (always), but he would rather have cannabis businesses dealing in cash, placing everyone at greater risk. It’s time that our elected officials make access to banking for the billion dollar state-legal cannabis industry a priority. Making sure cannabis businesses have access to banking services will only increase compliance, since cannabis business that continued to operate in cash-only would immediately be flagged by regulators as suspicious. To that end, we all need to press our regulators to support the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (“SAFE Banking Act”). The SAFE Banking Act would prohibit a federal banking regulator from penalizing a banking instituting from providing services to a cannabis business. The SAFE Banking Act was introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and currently has twelve co-sponsors (8 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and Bernie).

In the House of Representatives there’s the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act (“RSMA”) that was introduced by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) which would amend the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) so that its provisions would not apply to a person acting in compliance with a state’s cannabis laws. The RSMA is basically an attempt to codify the Cole Memo it had twenty-four sponsors prior to Sessions revocation of the Cole Memo -it now has thirty-seven!

It’s also time to gather support for the Marijuana Justice Act (“MJA”) that was introduced in the Senate by Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) on August 01, 2017. The goal of Mr. Booker’s bill is to remove marijuana from the CSA and end the federal government’s criminalization of cannabis. As of this writing only one other Senator has co-sponsored the MJA, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). While the Cole Memo was still in place a number of senators probably didn’t fell the necessity to co-sponsor the MJA, so it will be interesting to see if that calculus will change under the new landscape.

Those of us that live in California can expect that our state government will push back against this federal encroachment against the will of Californians – as California hasn’t been afraid to take the Trump administration head on. Other states have also sued the Trump administration and although states exerting their rights are a good thing, cannabis rights (personal and commercial) will ultimately be decided on the federal level. Sessions has made his position on cannabis clear, it’s now up to Congress to speak for the people.

california kamala harris cannabis
Talk is cheap.

When it comes to ending federal prohibition, some public officials are do-ers, and other are talkers. Here in Oregon, we are lucky enough to have Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who is a relentless advocate for ending prohibition. Blumenauer helped found the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and appended his name to the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment (RBA), which prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from spending money to interfere with state medical cannabis laws. We are also fortunate to have the likes of Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley in the Senate, who introduced a marijuana banking bill as far back as 2015, and Governor Kate Brown, who has always been stellar on cannabis.

Those four individuals are Democrats, of course, but there are plenty of vocal Republican advocates for ending prohibition as well. Dana Rohrabacher (of RBA) gets an A+ rating from NORML, and Corey Gardner, the Republican Senator from Colorado, was one of the most strident critics of Jeff Sessions’ recent move to rescind the Cole Memo, pledging to block DOJ nominees until Sessions relents. All of this makes sense, given the status of the plant in these individuals’ respective states, but also the fact that a majority of Republican voters now support marijuana legalization nationwide.

At this point, you would think that every politician in a cannabis-legal state – especially adult-use states – would be pulling on the rope of ending prohibition. Some of our elected and appointed officials, though, are mostly just talk. These individuals give lip service to the notion that the federal government should stand down on cannabis, but they cannot be bothered to introduce legislation, let alone sponsor a bill or make any other attempt to re- or deschedule cannabis with respect to the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, was sometimes criticized for this.

As DOJ head, Holder had the power to press Health and Human Services for an evaluation of cannabis, sufficient to remove it from the CSA. We explained how that works here. Whether Mr. Holder would have succeeded is an open question, but the fact that Holder is now one of the most vocal critics of Session and his cannabis policy, only lends credence to the argument that he should have done more when he had the chance.

Today, at this important time, there are other public officials who should be doing more to end the War on Drugs, but they too are mostly just talk. Case in point: California Democratic Senator Kamala Harris. There are several reasons why Ms. Harris has been catching significant flak for her half measures on cannabis, as compared to other officials: 1) she hails from California, the first state with a medical cannabis program and the world’s largest cannabis economy; 2) she comes from the executive side, having served as California Attorney General; 3) she is a celebrity national politician, who is often floated as a 2020 presidential candidate; and 4) she is constantly talking about the failed War on Drugs. In fact, she talks about it pretty much every single day.

But it’s all talk. As California Attorney General, Ms. Harris did little to advance her state’s interest as to cannabis. In 2014, when she was asked for her opinion on legalizing adult-use cannabis, her response was dismissive laughter. As a state Senator, she has failed to sponsor or even co-sign any bill to re- or deschedule marijuana (and there are some good ones). Aside from lots of talking, Harris’ one big move has been to put together a petition to decriminalize marijuana nationwide (but not to revise the CSA). My eight-year-old niece could do that.

Industry advocates, cannabis users, and voters in general should all pay attention to which of their representatives are talking the talk, and which are walking the walk when it comes to ending prohibition and protecting state industries. Given her career arc and superstar potential, Kamala Harris has famously been referred to as “Eric Holder in a skirt.” When it comes to cannabis, unfortunately, that comparison looks like a pretty good fit.

Los Angeles Cannabis Marijuana San FernandoOur Los Angeles cannabis business lawyers, including me, are constantly being asked about the local cannabis laws of the various 88 incorporated cities in Los Angeles County.

Because it is both important and difficult to decipher each individual city’s local laws, we thought it would be helpful to provide you with charts showing the same. We divided the county into four regions, and over the next few weeks we will publish charts for each of these regions to keep you updated on each of the cities and their current laws.

This week’s post highlights the cities located in and around the San Fernando and Antelope Vallesy. Here is a chart showing the laws regarding cannabis cultivation, dispensing, distribution, and manufacturing in those areas.

Before you can receive a California cannabis license (temporary or annual) you must provide the state with proof of local approval. Our charts in this series are intended to help you figure out whether such local approval is possible and, if so, what it takes to get it.  Please note that although we hope find this research useful, local cannabis zoning ordinances tend to change quickly, so you will want to confirm these findings and run related due diligence, prior to taking action.

California marijuana cannabis
ICYMI: We have answers to your marijuana retailer, distributor, and microbusiness questions from our MAUCRSA webinar

Last month, we hosted a webinar analyzing the emergency cannabis regulations released by the California state agencies in charge of administering the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA). We had over 1,000 people sign up to find out what the California cannabis regulatory landscape will look like in 2018 for cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and microbusinesses.

During the webinar, we took questions from attendees, but we couldn’t get to all of them due to the sheer number of questions asked. Alison Malsbury covered the webinar questions related to cannabis manufacturers, Habib Bentaleb handled the questions regarding cultivation, and I’ll cover the retail/distribution/microbusiness questions here.

Q: Please explain the logistics of distributors collecting excise tax from retailers. Is it collected at the time of invoice/delivery or can the retailer wait and not pay the distributor until up to 90 days later? If so, how the heck will distributors track all of this and what recourse do distributors have if a retailer doesn’t pay the excise tax?

A: The Distributor is the focal point in the California Cannabis and Excise Tax system. Cultivators and Retailers are prohibited from remitting Cannabis Taxes to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA).  The law intentionally places a serious burden on the Distributor to pay up. Although only a Distributor may remit taxes to CDTFA, all licensees in the supply chain are subject to a 50% late payment penalty if the tax is not paid when due. Accordingly, Distributors should receive payment of the Cannabis Excise Tax from the Retailer at the date of sale. This will likely be a serious point of contention as the Retailer will want to defer payment until product is sold to a consumer, so be sure to cover it in your distribution agreements.

Q: Do retailer Exit Bags need to be labeled?

A: 16 C.C.R. § 5413 requires an “opaque exit package” for all product leaving a retail storefront going into a consumer’s hands, but the regs say nothing about having to have a specific label on that exit packaging.

Q: What are the child resistant packaging requirements for retail sales in the first few months?

A: During the transition period (January 1 through July 1, 2018), cannabis goods in a retailer’s inventory at the time of licensure that are not in child resistant packaging may be sold if the retailer puts them into child-resistant packaging at the time of sale. “Child resistant” means designed or constructed to be significantly difficult for children under five years of age to open, and not difficult for normal adults to use properly.

Q: Can licensed dispensaries purchase manufactured material from nonlicensed manufacturers during the transition period?

A: No. Licensees may only conduct business with other licensees, even during the transition period.

Q: What is a microbusiness?

A: A commercial cannabis business engaged in at least three of the following activities: cultivation (less than 10,000 square feet), manufacturing (non-volatile or no solvnets), distribution, and retail sale.

Q: Do microbusinesses activities need separate addresses?

A: No. In fact, microbusinesses must conduct all cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and retail activities on the same premises.

Q: Can you clarify what adult use licensees and medicinal licensees are allowed to do during the transition period? Can an adult use licensee purchase products from a medicinal licensee? Can a medicinal retailer sell to non-patients?

A: During the transition period, from January 1 through July 1, 2018, licensees can transact business with each other regardless of the “M” or “A” designation. However, a medicinal retailer cannot sell products to “adult use” customers and vice versa. In other words, medicinal retailers can only sell products to qualified patients and caregivers. A medicinal retailer cannot act as an adult use retailer during the transition period, or ever, without an adult use license.

Q: Can you talk more about the distribution license and if you will have to package, test, etc.?

A: It depends. You could be a “storage only” or a “transport only” distributor that does not handle packaging and testing. Otherwise, a distributor may package, re-package, label and re-label cannabis flower for retail sale. A distributor cannot, however, package, re-package, label or re-label manufactured cannabis products unless the distributor also holds a manufacturing license and is packaging, re-packaging, labeling or re-labeling its own manufactured cannabis products. Testing and quality assurance services are also on the table for distributors. Regarding testing, after taking physical possession of a cannabis goods batch, the distributor must contact a testing laboratory and arrange for a lab employee to come to the distributor’s premises to select a sample for testing. The distributor also has duties and obligations for which it is responsible during the testing sample retrieval process.

Q: Is self-distribution considered a “transport only” distribution license or can businesses wishing to self-distribute do all distribution activities package/label/testing/quality assurance review?

A: To be clear, a testing licensee is totally separate from all other licensees. A distributor is responsible for the coordination and verification of testing, but cannot do the testing itself. An entity with a distribution license, so long as it is not “transport only” or “storage only,” can engage in any of the activities that a licensed distributor is authorized to do.

Currently, the licensing fee schedule divides the distributor license into three categories: Distributor, Distributor Transport Only Self-Distribution, and Distributor Transport Only. Obviously, if you apply for the Transport Only Self-Distribution license, you will be limited to transport only (and even that has certain limitations regarding what you can transport and to whom).

Q: Would a cannabis yoga and meditation business be OK?

A: It depends on the local government. If onsite consumption is authorized, and the location is zoned for yoga and meditation (as well as onsite consumption of cannabis), then such activity would presumably be allowed pursuant to a retail or microbusiness license so long as the following are met: (1) Access to the area where cannabis consumption is allowed is restricted to persons 21 years of age and older, (2) Cannabis consumption is not visible from any public place or nonage-restricted area, and (3) Sale or consumption of alcohol or tobacco is not allowed on the premises. Appropriate permits/licenses from your local government would need to be obtained for yoga or meditation as well.

Q: Are you able to start a cannabis lounge, like a Hookah lounge?

A: The foregoing rules apply for cannabis lounges, too. Be sure to check on whether your local government authorizes onsite consumption.

Q: Can you have entertainment and onsite consumption?

A: See above regarding onsite consumption. Entertainment is often restricted by local zoning codes, but as long as it is locally authorized, live entertainment is expressly permitted by the regs so long as there is no nakedness, no live sex and no nipples (male or female)! Basically no strip club/consumption lounges are allowed in this context. See 16 C.C.R. § 5807 for more on that.

Q: Can you cover which of these licenses can be held concurrently? Or, if it’s a shorter list, which licenses have restricted concurrent licensing?

A: All licenses can be combined, with the exception of testing (and Type 5 cultivation licenses, which are not yet available). A testing licensee cannot hold any other cannabis licenses.

Q: Can distributors use professional employment organizations (such as ADP) and have these count as employees for the purposes of transport?

A: No. 16 C.C.R. § 5311 specifically states that transportation shall only be conducted by licensed persons or their employees. Further, Business & Professions Code § 26070(c) says “[t]he driver of a vehicle transporting or transferring cannabis or cannabis products shall be directly employed by a licensee authorized to transport or transfer cannabis or cannabis products.” Employees are expensive, but distributors need to budget accordingly if they want to comply with MAUCRSA.

Q: Can autonomous vehicles distribute cannabis or manufactured goods?

A: No. Unmanned vehicles are prohibited per 16 C.C.R. § 5311(c).

Q: If a product has been tested by a lab and deemed clean or cleared to go to market, why is the liability on the distributor and not the lab, cultivator or manufacturer if something ends up being wrong with that product?

A: Distributors are statutorily obligated to oversee the quality assurance process. A distributor is responsible for ensuring that the certificate of analysis from the lab correctly corresponds with the batch, that the label is consistent with the certificate of analysis, the packaging complies with MAUCRSA and is tamper-evident, the weight or count of the batch comports with that in the track and trace system, and that all events prior to receipt have been entered into the track and trace system. That does not mean that the distributor will be solely liable if something is wrong with the product, but we believe we will see a lot of distributors named in lawsuits involving product liability issues because of their statutory duty to do everything mentioned in the previous sentence. This does not mean cultivators, manufacturers, and testing labs are not also liable. As a result, insurance and indemnity agreements are key here.

Q: Does an indemnification contract remove the liability for the distributor? Or only possibly?

A: An indemnity agreement is a good tool to use to shift liability, but as I mentioned during the webinar, an indemnity agreement only works if the other party is well-capitalized and/or well-insured. If you have an indemnity agreement with a party that goes bankrupt and never carried insurance, you will not recover your losses. Nothing, not even a great indemnity clause, can guarantee full insulation from liability.

Q: What type of permitting or licensing do I need for a compassion program that is currently running is not a storefront. We do not sell cannabis at all, host our donation day at a brick and mortar and deliver to homes at no cost to patients that are low income, disabled or suffering from an acute illness.

A: For an answer to this question, please see California Cannabis Licensing and The Collective Model: How Long Will That be Going On? 

Q: Do I need to secure a location prior to applying for the license?

A: Yes. With your state application, you must submit the physical address of the premises, evidence of the legal right to occupy the premises, and a diagram of the premises, among other things.

Q: Is delivery considered a retail activity under the microbusiness license?

A: Yes. 16 C.C.R § 5500(e)(4) expressly contemplates non-storefront delivery as a retail element of a microbusiness.

If you are involved in the marijuana industry, understanding business disputes and how to avoid them is critical. Tomorrow, January 11, from 12pm to 1:15pm, four of Harris Bricken’s cannabis business attorneys and litigators will present a webinar on how to avoid cannabis disputes and how to prevail should you be involved in such a dispute.

Led by Vince Sliwoski, Will Patterson, John Mansfield and Megan Vaniman, this webinar will cover the following topics:

  • The present state of cannabis litigation
  • Emerging trends in cannabis litigation
  • Disputes involving cannabis partnerships and other business entities
  • Intellectual property disputes involving cannabis
  • Employment litigation
  • Administrative litigation (including license denials, etc.)
  • Federal law issues inherent in every cannabis case
  • Nuisance cases against cannabis businesses
  • Arbitrating and mediating your cannabis disputes
  • How disputes involving cannabis businesses differ from other disputes

The attorneys will address audience questions during and after the presentation. To register for this free webinar, please go here.  And for a more comprehensive description, go here.

We look forward to next week’s discussion!