In Cannabis Edibles and the FDA, I discussed the basics of FDA regulation of cannabis edibles. On November 1, 2017, the FDA provided further specific examples of prohibited health claims made for cannabis products, in this case, cannabidiol (CBD):

The FDA has grown increasingly concerned at the proliferation of products claiming to treat or cure serious diseases like cancer. In this case, the illegally sold products allegedly contain cannabidiol (CBD), a component of the marijuana plant that is not FDA approved in any drug product for any indication.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb followed up:

Substances that contain components of marijuana will be treated like any other products that make unproven claims to shrink cancer tumors. We don’t let companies market products that deliberately prey on sick people with baseless claims that their substance can shrink or cure cancer and we’re not going to look the other way on enforcing these principles when it comes to marijuana-containing products.

The FDA issued warning letters, usually its first step in enforcement proceedings, to four companies. The prohibited health claims made by these companies included:

  • “Combats tumor and cancer cells;”
  • “CBD makes cancer cells commit ‘suicide’ without killing other cells;”
  • “CBD … [has] anti-proliferative properties that inhibit cell division and growth in certain types of cancer, not allowing the tumor to grow;” and
  • “Non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD (cannabidiol) may be effective in treating tumors from cancer – including breast cancer.”

Recall from our earlier post that the FDA will treat products as drugs if their own labeling suggests they are “intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.” Phrases like “combats tumor cells” and “[has] anti-proliferative properties that inhibit cell division and growth in certain types of cancer” clearly suggest that the CDB product can cure, mitigate, treat or prevent cancer, and is thus a drug.

As shown by the last bullet point, it doesn’t matter if you say “may treat” cancer, instead of “treats cancer.” Any suggestion that a product might have a role in treating or diagnosing disease, or that it is intended to affect the structure or any function of the human body of humans or other animals, is a health claim that subjects the product to drug regulations (unless it falls within the narrow confines of the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act.)

Most importantly, the FDA press release says – again – that “unlike drugs approved by the FDA, the manufacture of these products has not been subject to FDA review as part of the drug approval process….” Only the FDA can determine whether a drug can be labelled as safe and effective for a particular disease. Preventing health claims based on anecdotal evidence has been one of the FDA’s core functions since 1906.

This isn’t the first time the 800-pound gorilla has visited CBD makers. FDA issued warning letters based on similar CBD health claims in February 2015 and again in February 2016. If you want to keep this monkey off your back, don’t make health claims.

For related posts about the FDA, CBDs and health claims, check the:

California cannabis bankingThe lack of reliable banking services has always been a problem for the cannabis industry. We’ve seen the dearth of banking options pose problems for fundraisers, advocacy groups, and state-chartered financial institutions.

Though 29 states and the District of Columbia have broadly legalized medical use of cannabis (eight of those states have also legalized adult-use), cannabis is still illegal under federal law and most financial institutions refuse to bank cannabis businesses. It is against this backdrop that  California State Treasurer John Chiang last week released a report (“Report”) outlining California’s approach to this problem. The Treasurer estimates California adult-use cannabis sales will exceed $7 billion by 2020 and will bring in approximately $1 billion a year in state tax revenues. The Report affirms that the status quo on cannabis banking is untenable for an economy the size of California’s.

The Report lists the following four areas as those on which the State of California must act:

1) Cash Handling for Collection of Taxes and Fees. The state cannot force financial institutions to bank cannabis businesses but it can implement strategies for an easier, safer, and more efficient way for cannabis businesses to remit their taxes and fees. In furtherance of this goal, the Report suggested the following:

  • State taxing agencies, the Treasurer’s office, and financial institutions should contract with an armored courier service to collect state tax and licensing payments.
  • The State of California should install smart safes and kiosks at government agencies and cannabis businesses.
  • California cannabis businesses should be allowed to use money services businesses for smaller tax payments.
  • California cannabis businesses should be allowed to use third-party payment services to make electronic payments (think PayPal or Venmo).

2) Expanding Cannabis Industry Access to Banking Services Under Current Law. California is not the first state to legalize cannabis for adult-use and the Report looked at Washington and Colorado where some credit unions are openly banking cannabis businesses. These Washington and Colorado credit unions are following guidelines promulgated by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”). The FinCEN guidance on cannabis provided information for financial institutions to bank cannabis businesses while still complying with the Bank Secrecy Act and the USA Patriot Act. The Report suggests creating an online portal to assist financial institutions to comply with FinCEN rules. The online portal would gather information from all 11 California state agencies with cannabis regulation or data collection responsibilities.

3) A State-Backed Financial Institution. The Report also looked at the feasibility of creating a state-owned or state-backed financial institution with either a broad mission to expand banking services to underserved groups or to narrowly focus on the cannabis industry. The prospects of a state-owned bank look dim because of the inability to obtain deposit insurance, the possibility of federal asset forfeiture, and the high (pun not intended) start-up costs. The Report also looked into the feasibility of a “bankers’ bank”: a private institution whose customers are other banks. Under this model, the bankers’ bank would help financial institutions comply with the Cole Memorandum and FinCEN guidelines. The biggest roadblock to the bankers’ bank is that it would do little to nothing to reduce financial institution fear of federal enforcement.

4) Full Access to Banking Services: The Federal Solution. In its final option, the Report relies on lobbying with the goal of bringing the federal government to its senses. One piece of legislation worth calling your representative about is the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (“SAFE Banking Act”), which aims to provide a safe harbor for banks that service cannabis businesses. Another focus is achieving the holy grail of the cannabis industry: removing cannabis from the federal government’s list of Schedule 1 controlled substances.

The report does a good job highlighting the unnecessary difficulties imposed on cannabis businesses by the federal government’s listing cannabis as Schedule 1 drug. As more states continue to legalize, regulate, and receive tax revenue from cannabis businesses there is reason for optimism. With staunch conservatives such as Utah Senator Orrin Hatch starting to see the light, it is fair to say that the federal legalization option is increasingly becoming less far-fetched – especially if we continue seeing the sort of election results we saw last Tuesday.

Now is not the time to rest on our precarious laurels. We all need to keep up the intensity, educate our local legislators, and most importantly, vote!

Oregon cannabis employment law issuesIf you’re an Oregon cannabis business owner, you likely employ hourly employees entitled to either paid or unpaid sick leave. Oregon passed comprehensive sick leave legislation in 2015. To put it mildly, the legislation was confusing and employers were unsure how to properly implement its requirements. In July 2017, the legislature amended the act to clear up some of the confusion. This post is aimed to give you some understanding of how the Oregon sick leave laws apply to cannabis businesses that employ a variety of employees.

The Oregon sick leave law requires almost all Oregon employers to provide 40 hours of sick leave per year. Employers that employ at least 10 employees in Oregon (six employees if the employer has operations in Portland) must provide 40 hours of protected paid sick leave. Employers that employ less than 10 (six in Portland) must provide 40 hours of protected unpaid sick leave. Protected sick leave means the employee is permitted to be absent from work without disciplinary consequences or a reduction in benefits. If the sick leave is paid, the employee must be compensated at the employee’s regular rate of pay.

Employees are allowed to use sick time for any of the following purposes:

  • For the employee’s own or an employee’s family member’s mental or physical illness, injury or health condition, need for medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition, or need for preventive medical care;
  • To care for an infant or newly adopted child or newly placed foster child within 12 months after the birth or placement of the child;
  • Absences associated with the death of a family member;
  • Absences related to domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault or stalking;
  • To donate accrued sick time to another employee.

Although an employee can use the sick time for the above reasons, employers cannot ask for verification unless the employee takes more than three consecutively scheduled work days of sick time. The employer must pay for any costs associated with obtaining verification of the use of sick time.

There are two ways employers can award the 40 hours of sick time. Employers can either “front-load” the 40 hours at the beginning of the year by giving its employees all of the hours at once or they can require employees accrue the leave as they work. If an employer chooses the accrual method, an employee must accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked or 1-1/3 hours for every 40 hours worked. Employers can cap accrual at 40 hours or allow the employees to continue to accrue after the 40-hour milestone has been reached. Employers have to allow employees to accrue from the first day they begin working but may require an employee to have worked 90 days before using accrued sick time. Employees can carry over up to 40 hours of unused leave from one year to the next.  An employee may have up to 80 hours of sick leave in one year. An employer can limit actual time used to 40 hours per year.

Employers are required to maintain records of the hours worked, the paid sick time accrued and used by each employee, and provide quarterly written notification to each employee of the amount of accrued and unused paid sick time available for use.

As you can tell, there are a lot of moving parts involved with Oregon’s sick leave laws. For ease of accounting, it may be best to front-load your employees with 40 hours of sick leave at the beginning of the year (a year can be an annual period and does not have to be at the beginning of the calendar year). If you go with the accrual method you will need to track each of your employee’s hours and provide them with one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work. For many of our Oregon cannabis clients — most of whom employ a variety of hourly and salaried employees — this is just too much work. Regardless of the method you choose for awarding sick time, you must at least quarterly give each of your employees with a written statement of sick time accrued and unused sick time available for use at least quarterly.

Last week we expanded our litigation series to focus more broadly on the different kinds of litigation in which your canna-business is likely to become embroiled. For ease of reference, here is the series so far:

Cannabis litigation
Cannabis Litigation: The waiting is the hardest part.

Today we will talk about one of the most vexing aspects of litigation: timing. According to Above the Law, the longest legal case in US history lasted 57 years! Fortunately, your typical state court case will usually be set for trial within one or two years of filing (with exceptions for expedited cases), though some federal cases can take much longer. For example, federal patent litigation cases can take about three years before trial.

Clients almost always have a justifiable sense of urgency when it comes to litigation. It feels like the other side is trampling on their rights, and each passing day brings more legal fees and more damage to the business. Litigation can often make clients feel helpless in the face of a legal system designed to slowly and methodically ferret out the truth.

This sense of urgency is particularly acute when the opposing party’s conduct is actively and irreparably harming your business interests. In these cases when patience is not a viable option, your lawyer will likely discuss the possibility of seeking provisional remedies, specifically temporary restraining orders (“TRO”) and preliminary injunctions.

A party seeking provisional remedies is asking the court to halt certain conduct prior to a full determination on the merits. Since it comes before you win your case, this is an extraordinary remedy, and the burden on the movant is high. Additionally, the purpose of provisional remedies is typically to preserve the status quo, for example, to prevent a landlord from wrongfully evicting a tenant.

The law varies by jurisdiction, and for purposes of this post, we will focus on Oregon state law. Under Oregon Rule of Civil Procedure 79 (ORCP 79), a party can obtain provisional remedies in a civil action when it appears the movant is entitled to relief demanded in a complaint and the requested relief involves halting the commission of an act that will cause injury to the movant during the course of the litigation. The movant can ask for a preliminary injunction, or, pursue a TRO if the danger is immediate.

Preliminary Injunctions

A preliminary injunction prohibits the non-movant from taking specific actions that will harm the movant, and the scope of the Court’s authority to craft an appropriate remedy is remarkably broad. A preliminary injunction can even bind non-parties, specifically a party’s “officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys and … those persons in active concert or participation with any of them that receive actual notice of the order by personal service or otherwise.”

When considering a preliminary injunction you should be aware of the cost. A hearing on a preliminary injunction is a mini-trial, with both sides presenting witnesses and evidence, and all of the attorney fees and costs that entails. Additionally, even if you prevail you will need to post a bond in an amount set by the Court, based on the Court’s estimate of the potential damages that the injunction will cause to the other party. If you ultimately lose at trial, then the other party will get the full amount of the bond.

Temporary Restraining Orders

In Oregon, you must give the other party at least five days notice of the preliminary injunction hearing, so that the parties can prepare their evidence. If you absolutely cannot wait five days, then you can file a motion for TRO and order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not enter. Given the emergency nature of this type of pleading, it is typically submitted ex parte: the movant will personally appear at the court and hand deliver the pleading and supporting documents to the clerks and will likely speak directly to a judge on the same day. The Court will typically decide whether to issue the TRO based on the affidavits and evidence submitted by the movant on the same day. The non-movant may appear but likely won’t have much of an opportunity to submit contradictory evidence.

The TRO can only last about ten days, so if the TRO is granted, then the Court will quickly set an evidentiary hearing to determine if the TRO should be converted to a preliminary injunction, as described above. As with the preliminary injunction, you will need to enter a bond with the court before the TRO will go into effect.

Seeking provisional remedies is an extraordinary and expensive step, but may prove vital towards protecting your cannabis businesses. We have seen it be particularly effective in stopping wayward business managers from stealing company assets and other misconduct. The preliminary injunction procedure can prove to be dispositive, as the result will often drive the parties to settle in one or the other party’s favor.

Next week we will continue this series by discussing another method of quickly resolving litigation disputes: dispositive motions.

California cannabis lawyers
Big changes are coming to California cannabis collectives

Pretty much every state that’s dealt with an unregulated medical cannabis program has had to face the issue of what to do when heavily regulated adult use cannabis is introduced. In pretty much all of the West Coast states, you have had medical cannabis programs for qualified patients that revolve around an opaque “collective” model whereby patients are supposed to come together to pool resources to cultivate and distribute cannabis for medical use (via a physician or health care provider recommendation) among themselves and/or their caregivers. California was the first state to allow for medical cannabis for qualified patients back in 1996 under the Compassionate Use Act, which is part of the state’s health and safety code. Using “creative” legal advice to take advantage of this Act’s multiple loopholes and ambiguities, the “collective model” in California usually involves patients joining  a “closed loop” membership system (sometimes a formal corporate entity and sometimes not) to receive their medicine allegedly from other patients in the collective who grow or make it for them. What now happens to this collective model since California’s new cannabis laws (and forthcoming regulations) do not repeal the Compassionate Use Act?

When other states have faced the issue of what to do with their old and ambiguous medical marijuana laws after having enacted new and hardcore cannabis regulatory systems, they choose to have the new hardcore regulations cover all or nearly all cannabis issues in their state. This is due mostly to a desire to get into full compliance with the 2013 Cole Memo.

Our California cannabis lawyers are often asked whether it will be worth it to abandon the collective model in favor of receiving a state license under MAUCRSA, which will take time, money, and no small amount of effort. Our answer that it will be, especially because eventually you will no choice anyway. Even though the California legislature cannot disturb the Compassionate Use Act, it has already amended and repealed key provisions of the Medical Marijuana Program Act from 2003 that provided immunity to medical cannabis collectives and this will eventually eliminate the current collective model altogether.

Following implementation of MAUCRSA, qualified patients and their caregivers may continue to operate with limited criminal immunity without a state license, so long as: (1) the patients and caregivers operate in full compliance with state law, and (2) the local government does not prohibit the activity.  See, H&S Code sections 11362.5, 11362.765, 11362.77, and 11362.7. Immunities for medical cannabis collectives (i.e., non-profit mutual benefit corporations, non-profit corporations, non-profit cooperatives, etc.), on the other hand, expire one year after the state begins issuing licenses. See, H&S Code section 11362.775(d). 

Though MAUCRSA expressly exempts qualified patients and caregivers from licensure requirements, it does not allow qualified patients, their caregivers, or cannabis businesses to conduct commercial cannabis activity without a license. So, despite the one-year grace period provided to current collectives in H&S Code section 11362.775(d), a collective that is engaging in commercial cannabis activity that exceeds the very strict qualified patient and primary caregiver limits (see below) violates MAUCRSA and is operating illegally. We are hearing far too many stories (more in our Los Angeles office than in our San Fransisco office) of so-called cannabis lawyers and cannabis consultants charging small fortunes to help their collective clients avoid extinction. We urge you not to waste your money on these schemes.

To be immune from prosecution under the Compassionate Use Act and MAUCRSA, a primary caregiver (or a collective) must operate within the following confines when acting without a state license:

  1. Cultivation, possession, storage, manufacture, transportation, donation, or provision of cannabis must be exclusively for the personal medical purposes of no more than five specified qualified patients for whom the caregiver is the primary caregiver. (B&P section 26033(b));
  2. The caregiver cannot receive remuneration for these activities other than for actual expenses, including reasonable compensation incurred for services provided to an eligible qualified patient or person with an identification card to enable that person to use cannabis under this article, or for payment for out-of-pocket expenses incurred in providing those services. (B&P section 26033(b), H&S Code section 11362.765(c));
  3. The caregiver cannot possess more than eight ounces of dried cannabis per qualified patient unless a physician’s recommendation or local guidelines allow amounts in excess of this limit. (H&S Code section 11362.77(a)-(c)); and
  4. The caregiver cannot maintain more than six mature or twelve immature cannabis plants per qualified patient unless a physician’s recommendation or local guidelines allow amounts in excess of this limit. (H&S Code section 11362.77(a)-(c)).

Additionally, collectives and caregivers still must comply with applicable local city and county laws, which are quickly changing with respect to how they deal with commercial cannabis activity so as to embrace MAUCRSA licensing standards (if there’s not a ban).

If you do not believe the above will be enough to bring the current collective model to a halt by January 1 (when California cannabis licenses begin to issue and when temporary licenses are supposed to become effective), there’s more. Commercial cannabis activity is only permitted among licensees and once a business entity or individual receives an active temporary license or a full-blown license from the state, they must immediately stop doing business with non-licensed entities (including unlicensed collectives), or they risk losing their license. See B&P section 26053(a).

Those who think they will be able to milk the current unregulated collective model for the next year or so as the state implements MAUCRSA are likely to be sorely mistaken. Like the other adult use states that came before it, California will very soon essentially wipe out the old collective model in favor of the transparency and regulation its citizens chose. Trying to hold on to the collective model after January 1, 2018, is going to be a dangerous legal mistake.

 

 

 

California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (along with its Departments of Public Health and Food and Agriculture) dropped their much-anticipated emergency rules this afternoon (see here, here, and here) to fully implement the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act in California. The agencies kept a lot of what we saw from the withdrawn rules under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA). (see herehere, here, and here), but there are also some new, notable additions and some interesting gap-fillers that now give us the foundation for operational standards across cannabis license types.

Though we can’t cover every single change or topic from these rules in one post (and because we’ll be covering the license types and application details in other posts in the coming days and weeks and at our SoCal Cannabis Investment Forum), I will instead focus on the following highlights of the emergency rules:

  1. We now have a revised definition of “canopy,” which is “the designated area(s) at a licensed premise that will contain mature plants at any point in time.” In addition, canopy shall be calculated in square feet and measured using clearly identifiable boundaries of all area(s) that will contain mature plants at any point in time, including all of the space(s) within the boundaries. Canopy may be noncontiguous, but each unique area included in the total canopy calculation shall be separated by an identifiable boundary which includes interior walls, shelves, greenhouse walls, hoop house walls, garden benches, hedgerows, fencing, garden beds, or garden plots; and if mature plants are being cultivated using a shelving system, the surface area of each level shall be included in the total canopy calculation.
  2. “Nonvolatile solvent” has been further defined to mean “any solvent used in the extraction process that is not a volatile solvent,” which “includes carbon dioxide (CO2) used for extraction and ethanol used for extraction or post-extraction processing.”
  3. Temporary licensing has now been fully detailed to include online applications, the personal information for each owner that must be disclosed, contact information for the applicant’s designated point of contact, physical address of the premises, evidence that the applicant has the legal right to occupy the premises for the desired license type, proof of local approval, and the fact that the temporary license (which is good for 120 days) may be renewed and extended by the state for additional 90 day periods so long as a “complete application for an annual license” has been submitted to the state. No temporary license will become effective until January 1, 2018.
  4. For the full blown “annual license,” the application requirements are pretty much the same as under the MCRSA rules except that you must disclose whether you’re applying for an “M License” or an “A License” and you have to list out all of your financing and financiers which include: “A list of funds belonging to the applicant held  in savings, checking, or other accounts maintained by a financial institution, a list of loans (with all attendant loan information and documentation, including the list of security provided for the loan), all investment funds and names of the investors, a list of all gifts, and a list with certain identifying information of anyone with a “financial interest” in the business. “Financial interest” means “an investment into a commercial cannabis business, a loan provided to a commercial cannabis business, or any other equity interest in a commercial cannabis business.” The only exempt “financial interests” are bank or financial institution lenders, individuals whose only financial interest is through an interest in a diversified mutual fund, blind trust, or “similar instrument”, and those shareholders in a publicly traded company who hold less than 5% of the total shares.
  5. As part of your licensing application, you will still need to submit a premises diagram drawn to scale along with all of your security procedures and inventory procedures (and pretty much all corresponding operational SOPs) A $5,000 bond is still required for all licensees (as well as mandatory insurance) and all owners must submit their felony conviction criminal histories as specifically enumerated in the regulations, as well as rehabilitation statements.
  6. Several new licenses have been created (and/or brought back from the dead from MCRSA): the cannabis event organizer license (to enable people to take advantage of the temporary cannabis event license), the distribution transporter only license (which allows this licensee to only move product between licensees, but not to retailers unless what’s being transported are  immature plants or seeds from a Type 4 nursery), the processor license (a cultivation site that conducts only trimming, drying, curing, grading, packaging, or labeling of cannabis and non-manufactured cannabis products), the Type N and P manufacturing licenses are back, and there’s now a Type 9 delivery only Non-Storefront Retailer license.
  7. We also now have the non-refundable licensing fee schedules and though they vary depending on the license type they mostly are nominal, though some increase with increased gross receipts, and small and medium-sized growers will have to pay pretty robust fees.
  8. If you want to make changes after-the-fact to your premises or to your ownership structure, you first must secure state approval to do so.
  9. All growers are again limited to one Type 3 medium cultivation license each, whether it’s an M License or an A License.
  10. A retailer can sell non-cannabis goods on its premises so long as their city or county allows it (this excludes alcohol, tobacco, and tobacco products). Retailers can also sell non-flowering, immature plants (no more than six in a single day to a single customer). M-licensed retailers and micro-businesses can also give cannabis away free of charge to qualified patients or to their caregivers.
  11. Notably, until July 1, 2018, licensees may conduct commercial cannabis activities with any other licensee, regardless of the A or M designation of the license.
  12. The renewable energy requirements for cultivators have been revamped hopefully to the satisfaction of cannabis growers.
  13. Again, the licenses are NOT transferable, so we’re looking at folks only being able to purchase the businesses that hold them.
  14. Distributors will be able to re-package and re-label flower, but not infused cannabis products unless they hold a manufacturing license. Distributors also cannot store any non-cannabis goods at their premises. The state has laid out what must take place during a distributor’s quality assurance review and the chain of custody protocol with third party labs for testing.
  15. We have a detailed list of all permissible extraction types, including that any CO2 extractions must be done within a closed loop system.
  16. The prohibited products list is pretty much the same as it was under the  MCRSA rules (so, no nicotine or caffeine infused cannabis products).
  17. In regards to “premises,” the Bureau’s regulations mandate that a licensee may have up to two licenses at a given premises of the same license type so long as they’re owned by the same company and one is an A-License and  the other is an  M-License.
  18. In addition to other relatively onerous advertising requirements, licensees must “Prior to any advertising or marketing from the licensee involving direct, individualized communication or dialog, . . .  use age affirmation to verify that the recipient is 21 years of age or older.” Direct, individualized communication or dialog, may occur through any form of communication including in person, telephone, physical mail, or electronic. A method of age verification is not necessary for a communication if the licensee can verify that “the licensee has previously had the intended recipient undergo a method of age affirmation and the licensee is reasonably certain that the communication will only be received by the intended recipient.”
  19. Retailers and micro-businesses are now required to hire third party security to protect and watch their premises.
  20. To hold a micro-business license, a licensee must engage in at least three of the following commercial cannabis activities: cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and retail sale. There are also now a slew of regulations surrounding each activity a micro-business can undertake.
  21. Live entertainment is now allowed at a licensed premises so long as it follows the bevy of regulations regarding content and presentation.

Overall, we have a close-ish copy of the withdrawn MCRSA rules that will lead us into 2018. Be sure to read the rules again and again before pursuing your California cannabis license. Applicants will have their work cut out for them on both the state and local levels.

 

 

On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential election. That same day, voters in California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine legalized marijuana for recreational use, and voters in Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Montana approved medical marijuana initiatives. For supporters of marijuana, Election Day was bittersweet; the overall success of marijuana ballot initiatives was undercut by a potentially hostile new administration.

Now that we have a year’s worth of Trump administration comments and action on cannabis, it’s a good time for us to access where things are with this administration.

1. Donald Trump changed his tune on drug policy before becoming President. Donald Trump has been a wildcard on marijuana, having made statements on every side of the issue. In 1990, Trump told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that US drug enforcement efforts were “a joke” and advocated for legalizing all drugs to “take the profit away from these drug czars.” During his campaign, Trump responded to a question about Colorado cannabis legalization as follows:

I say it’s bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think [recreational marijuana] it’s bad. And I feel strongly about that. If they vote for it, they vote for it. But they’ve got a lot of problems going on right now, in Colorado. Some big problems. But I think medical marijuana, 100 percent.

2. President Trump has barely discussed cannabis since becoming President. Trump appears to have publicly commented on cannabis but once since he became president when sports journalist Jim Gray asked him whether NFL players should be allowed to use medical cannabis and Trump replied by saying he had “no opinion on it. They’re going to have to take a look at that. They’re going to talk with the league, they’re going to be talking to, obviously, government officials wherever it may be.” This Trump statement is hardly illuminating regarding his current position on cannabis.

3.  Jeff Sessions hates cannabis.  Trump appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Sessions has a long history of being vehemently anti-marijuana. As a Senator, Sessions often criticised President Obama’s “hands-off” approach to marijuana and once stated that “we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.” He also went so far as to say that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Sessions’ hatred for cannabis has not cooled since taking over as Attorney General and he made the following statement earlier this year:

I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana—so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.

4. Sean Spicer warned of a crackdown on recreational cannabis that hasn’t happened. In February, then Press Secretary Sean Spicer made comments that sent tremors through the legal cannabis industry when he predicted “greater enforcement” of the Controlled Substances Act in recreational states. Spicer stated, “[t]he president understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing, especially terminal diseases, and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them,” Spicer went on to tell reporters that states’ allowance of marijuana for recreational purposes “ is something the Department of Justice, I think, will be further looking into.” Fortunately, this prediction has not come true.

5. Sessions is evaluating the Cole Memo. At his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Sessions said that he intended to consider the viability of the Cole Memo:

The Department of Justice under Lynch and Holder set forth some policies that they thought were appropriate to define what cases should be prosecuted in states that have legalized, at least in some fashion marijuana, some parts of marijuana…. But, fundamentally the criticism I think was legitimate is that [the policies] may not have been followed. Using good judgment about how to handle these cases will be a responsibility of mine.

Sessions was critical of the Cole Memo during his confirmation but he has not yet rescinded the memo or its underlying policies. In March, Sessions reportedly reassured some GOP senators that he will not be moving away from the Cole Memo and the Obama-era deference to state-legal cannabis programs. But the Huffington Post uncovered a July 24, 2017, letter Sessions sent to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee that was harshly (and inaccurately) critical of Washington State’s marijuana regulatory system. Earlier this week, Sessions confirmed that his office is continuing to follow the Cole Memo with regards to state-legal marijuana.

Trump as president so far seems not to care much one way or the other about cannabis legalization. In the meantime, cannabis legalization continues to move forward.

 

California cannabis events

Just a last reminder that pricing for our November 30 Southern California Cannabis Investment Forum in Los Angeles will be increasing at midnight tonight. If you buy now, you can get your tickets for $55 for one or $100 for two. Tomorrow, those costs will  increase to $75 and $135.

The Forum will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a keynote by Hilary Bricken (our lead cannabis business attorney in Los Angeles) addressing the many recent changes to California’s medical and adult use cannabis laws under MAUCRSA. From 6:45 to 8 p.m., Hilary will then moderate a panel comprised of the following:

This panel will cover the following:

Audience questions will be taken throughout the presentation. A cocktail (the food and a drink is included in the ticket price) networking session will follow the panel and last until 9:30 pm.

The Southern California Cannabis Investment Forum will be held at Wanderlust in Hollywood. Hors-d’oeuvres and drinks will be provided. Doors open at 5:30 pm. We sold out of this event when we put it on in San Francisco two months ago so don’t wait to get your tickets!

We look forward to seeing you there!

Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems to have made it his personal M.O. to go after and take down state-legal marijuana programs and businesses, medical and recreational alike. He has made no bones about not being a fan of marijuana or its users, but the state-legal marijuana industry can breathe a (slight) sigh of relief on the heels of Sessions finally providing some guidance from the Department of Justice. According to Sessions, this administration will follow the 2013 Cole Memo in the enforcement of marijuana-related crimes in states with marijuana legalization and/or medicalization and corresponding regulatory systems.

During the House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing yesterday, Sessions stated the following on the record:

Our policy is the same, really, fundamentally as the Holder-Lynch policy, which is that the federal law remains in effect and a state can legalize marijuana for its law enforcement purposes but it still remains illegal with regard to federal purposes.

Hopefully then, cannabis businesses in states with “robust regulation” that adhere to the eight enforcement priorities of the 2013 Cole Memo will be the lowest enforcement priorities for the DOJ. However, neither that Memo nor Sessions’ apparent acceptance changes the federal Controlled Substances Act and marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Still, Sessions agreed with Representative Steve Cohen (derived from a line of questioning from Cohen) that marijuana is not as dangerous as heroin (despite the Schedule I classification they share under the federal Controlled Substances Act). Despite all of Sessions’ anti-marijuana rhetoric (and his poking and prodding of states with recreational marijuana licensing systems), it seems he’s finally coming around to facts and science. Do not though expect this Attorney General to make an effort to reschedule marijuana anytime soon as he will no doubt continue taking the Republican Party line on continuing the failed war on drugs.

Another big boon from yesterday’s hearing is that, despite Sessions requesting Congress essentially undo state medical marijuana protections set forth in various Congressional budget riders (which have actually shown major teeth in the Ninth Circuit), he admitted the Department of Justice must respect those laws so long as they’re in place. In other words, he conceded the DOJ must abide by federal law.

So, for now, the 2013 Cole Memo remains the DOJ’s enforcement policy for state-legal marijuana, and we can expect states to continue their democratic experiments with marijuana regulatory systems at a regular clip. We’re glad to see that the DOJ will (hopefully) follow the 2013 Cole Memo, but we’re even happier that Sessions plans to respect the federal budget riders (as he should have done from the get go) and that he recognizes that marijuana is not the same as heroin.

Among the hundreds of California cannabis events and conferences out there, I’ve come to find few offer much insight or even tips for investing in California’s cannabis industry and ancillary sector. Many of our California cannabis clients have been engaging in all kinds sophisticated hybrid equity and debt deals to put dollars into the hands of California cannabis operators and ancillary businesses as we head into licensing in 2018.

On September 28th of this year, our San Francisco office hosted our first California Cannabis Investment Forum, and it was a huge success. Not only did we sell out and have more than 250 people in attendance, those who attended really enjoyed it and many requested we do something similar in Los Angeles. Their reasons for wanting a similar event in Los Angeles ranged from wanting their SoCal people to be able to attend to wanting to hear what is happening in Southern California and to meet and network with cannabis industry operators and investors in our area. So, by popular demand from attendees and clients, we’re hosting another investment forum at the end of this month, but this time it’s in Los Angeles and with new panelists and a new moderator!

We hope you can join us on Thursday, November 30th for a discussion on investing in Southern California’s newly regulated cannabis industry. Hosted by Harris Bricken‘s Los Angeles office, the Southern California Cannabis Investment Forum will bring together top investors and leading companies in Southern California’s cannabis and ancillary industries.

The Forum will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a keynote from me that addresses the many recent changes to California’s medical and adult use cannabis laws under MAUCRSA. From 6:45 to 8 p.m., I will moderate a panel comprised of the following:

Panelists will cover:

Audience questions will be taken throughout the presentation. A cocktail (the food and a drink is included in the ticket price) networking session will follow the panel and last until 9:30 pm.

The Southern California Cannabis Investment Forum will be held at Wanderlust in Hollywood. Hors-d’oeuvres and drinks will be provided. Doors open at 5:30 pm. If you act now, you can get two tickets for $100. Early bird pricing ends at midnight tomorrow, so don’t wait to get your tickets!

We look forward to seeing you there!