cannabis marijuana intern
Is your “intern” really an intern?

A simple google search for “Cannabis Intern” turns up around 340,000 results. As an employment attorney, the word “intern” is a major red flag for me — right up there with “independent contractor.”  Why? Because “intern” positions are often misused and many businesses, even sophisticated ones, believe labeling someone an intern means you do not have to pay them.

Employers can—and in certain situations encouraged to—hire interns. Properly classified interns do not have to be paid minimum wage. Employers may have the best intentions hiring an unpaid or low-paid intern. They truly believe the worker will obtain important training and education from the position. That might even be true. But, if a person is providing a service for an employer and is not paid or is paid under minimum-wage, employers could be in a lot of trouble for violation of both state and minimum wage laws.

What makes an intern actually an intern rather than an employee of a company? The U.S. Department of Labor has a seven-part test for determining the status of interns . When evaluating the employment relationship between an employer and an intern a court will consider:

  1. How similar the training is to that which the worker would receive in an educational environment;
  2. The extent to which the training is tied to a formal education program with integrated coursework and academic credit;
  3. The extent to which the program accommodates academic commitments by corresponding to the academic calendar;
  4. The extent to which the internship’s duration is limited to the period of beneficial learning;
  5. The extent to which the internship complements rather than displaces the work of paid employees while providing significant education benefits;
  6. The interns are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and
  7. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to compensation for the time spent in training.

No single factor is determinative, but as you can tell there is a common theme of education. Typically, if the worker is receiving some sort of educational credit for the work, they are an intern. If the worker is improperly classified as an intern and has not been receiving pay, then wage and hour laws apply. As previously discussed, failing to pay minimum wage can come with hefty penalties.

If you’re considering hiring an “intern” for your marijuana business, its best to consult with an employment law expert beforehand to provide a legal analysis of whether the position is truly one fit for an intern. After all, even if a state agency considers the “intern” qualified to work in your marijuana business, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can have them work for free.

cannabis copyright marijuanaCopyright is an aspect of intellectual property (IP) law less frequently considered by cannabis businesses than trademark, trade secrets or even patents it seems. Yet, like these other forms of intellectual property, copyrights can afford their holders with market dominance and profitability when utilized correctly. Almost all marijuana businesses own numerous unregistered copyrights, whether or not they realize it.

This post briefly covers the concept of copyright and how it applies to the cannabis industry.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright is a form of IP law that protects creative expression of ideas. Specifically, copyright protects original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

The cannabis industry protects copyrights in a variety of ways. For example, the writing and photographs on a cannabis business’s website are copyright protected. This might include descriptions of a particular product or just the layout of the website itself. Physical media like labels, product tags, packaging, logos, instructional materials, and product design can all be protected by cannabis industry copyrights. Books that discuss cannabis production methods, such as Ed Rosenthal’s “Marijuana Grower’s Handbook,” also have copyright protection.

Is registration necessary for copyright protection? 

No. A work of authorship is protected the moment it is created and “fixed in a tangible form.” A work is fixed in a tangible form if its expression is sufficiently permanent to allow it to be communicated for more than a transitory duration. Accordingly, registration is not necessary for copyright protection.

However, registration affords significant benefits, particularly in the context of copyright infringement. These benefits include:

  • The right to sue for infringement;
  • Automatic proof that the registrant is the rightful owner of the copyright, which shifts the burden of proof on the defendant to show that the registrant is not the rightful owner or that her work is not protected; and
  • Additional remedies, like statutory damages and attorney’s fees, if the registrant prevails on her infringement claim.

Given the fact that copyrights are inexpensive and quick to register online, we recommend registration in most cases.

Are cannabis copyrights registrable and enforceable?

The Copyright Act contains virtually no prohibitions on what types of work are eligible for copyright protection, including cannabis-related work. Instead, the Copyright Act simply contemplates the level of originality in a given item. And on that point, the Act provides a decidedly low bar to registration, requiring only “a minimal degree of creativity.” For cannabis brands, federal copyright protection is available to protect most business creations, as long as those creations are sufficiently original to be copyrightable.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that under the Copyright Act federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over infringement actions. Therefore, like in patent infringement lawsuits, there is a potential risk that the federal illegality of cannabis would be raised in various litigation aspects and would impeded the enforceability of a cannabis copyright. To this date, no cannabis copyright infringement claim has been raised, making it impossible to determine whether cannabis copyrights are in fact enforceable.

What rights does copyright afford?

Copyright affords the holder the exclusive right to control his work through reproduction, distribution, public display and performance.  Copyright also gives the holder the right to be compensated for the use of his work.

How long does copyright protection last?

Generally, works created by individuals are copyright protected for the life of the author, plus 70 years. Works created anonymously, pseudonymously, and for hire are protected for 95 years from the date of publication or for 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter. Compared to the maximum shelf life of a patent, or terms of trademark registration, copyright protections last incredibly long.

How does copyright infringement occur?

Copyright infringement occurs when an individual uses another’s work without permission. Typically, permission is granted through a licensing agreement, which transfers some of the owner’s exclusive rights to another. In addition, the terms of the license agreement may limit the transfer of those rights to a specific period of time, to a physical location or to the means through which the rights may be exercised.

Note, however, that the legal doctrine of fair use, which promotes freedom of expression, permits certain unlicensed uses of copyrighted works, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching and research.

As this post highlights, copyright affords valuable protection of certain intangible business assets.  As such, every cannabis business should take the time to determine which of its assets are copyrightable and whether registration would give them a competitive edge. Given the ease of registration and the rights associated therewith, it’s a no-brainer.

No shortage of cannabis news in Oregon.

Here we are a few years into legalization of recreational cannabis sales in Oregon, and it’s never a dull moment. Over the past week or so, there were three significant developments around the state with respect to marijuana law and policy. We summarize each below.

     1.     The OLCC hit “pause” on accepting license applications.

A few weeks back, we covered the dramatic Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) announcement that it would “pause acceptance of marijuana applications” effective June 15th. The apparent goal was to ensure that our licensing paralegal, Meghan Saunders, would receive hundreds of urgent client emails and phone calls over a two-week period. And she definitely did.

The official explanation, of course, is that the agency was simply too far behind to perform adequate services for existing applicants and licensees. That is the explanation OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks gave in the May 30th announcement, and it’s the explanation OLCC Policy Director Jesse Sweet gave at the seminar that he and I co-chaired on June 7th. All in all, it seems like a reasonable explanation.

Fortunately, some of the pressure from the initial announcement was alleviated on June 8th, when OLCC clarified that it would consider an application to be timely received for deadline purposes, even if it did not include an approved Land Use Compatibility Statement (LUCS). The pause ultimately took effect last Friday as promised, but not before dozens of our clients submitted last ditch applications (with and without LUCS) and made their way into the forward moving queue. In all, OLCC reports that an astonishing 1,001 additional applications were received in the two week period between its big announcement and the June 15thdeadline.

If you are looking for more evidence that people are extremely interested in being involved in the Oregon marijuana industry, the OLCC reports that as of yesterday morning a grand total of 1,915 active licenses currently exist in the state (over half of them producers), with another 766 applicants assigned to investigators, 530 ready for assignment and 1,070 businesses in line but without an approved LUCS. There are also 30,018 active marijuana worker permits statewide, with another 17,217 approved and awaiting payment. Despite intense competition and price instability, people keep on coming.

     2.     Billy Williams went to court.

Last month, we wrote about the Williams Memo, a policy document authored by Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams regarding his concerns about overproduction of marijuana in Oregon and black market activity. We observed that industry seemed unfazed by the memo, because it would be too costly, too politically hazardous, and ultimately, too late for U.S. Attorneys to attempt to shutter Oregon’s state-sanctioned cannabis programs.

Mr. Williams and others instead have begun working around the edges, drawing lines in the sand on policy and going after bad (black market) actors. Last week, Mr. Williams filed two federal criminal lawsuits concurrent with law enforcement raiding a licensed Corvallis retailer for allegedly selling pot across state lines, and running an illegal credit card scheme. The raid was led by DEA in concert with Corvallis police, and based upon information gathered by the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service. Those agencies, in turn, began their investigations back in December 2016.

For anyone thinking running a state licensed cannabis business is cover for committing state and federal crimes – including the export of marijuana beyond Oregon – hopefully last week’s news will serve as a wake-up call. And hopefully, Billy Williams and the feds continue to chase these people down.

     3.     Josephine County lost again.

Josephine County has had a rough go with cannabis, especially as of late. We covered its half-baked efforts to curb marijuana farming through restrictive zoning ordinances here, here, here and here, and examined the problematic dynamics in southern Oregon cannabis production more generally here and here. Last week, the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected the County’s appeal of a decision that it had failed to give land owners proper notice of the County’s proposal to ban cannabis farming on smaller, rural residential lots.

The decision being appealed was handed down by the Land Use Board of Appeals, a somewhat obscure Oregon court that rules on the validity of governmental land use decisions. In theory, the County could petition the Oregon Supreme Court for certiorari, and seek a reversal of last week’s Court of Appeals decision. But it seems unlikely that the Oregon Supreme Court would take the case, and less likely still that the County would win.

In that sense, the County is in the same position as with its seemingly desperate federal court lawsuit to quash all cannabis production entirely, and hearken back to the days of prohibition. We expect them to lose that one, too.

When California was getting ready to legalize adult-use and medically commercial cannabis sales on January 1, 2018, we all knew it would be a bumpy ride. Going from the collective, cooperative, and non-profit models that governed marijuana operators (and I use the term “governed” loosely) prior to 2018, to a robust regulatory regime that was going to keep the federal government on the sidelines (hopefully) and better serve the public and the environment was never going to be easy.

When the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) was enacted in June of 2017, it merged the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) and the Adult-Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) into one regulatory regime. Under MAUCRSA there are three state agencies responsible for regulating and licensing cannabis operators: 1) The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), regulates cultivators, processors, and nurseries; 2) The California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch regulates cannabis manufacturers; and 3) The Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) regulates distributors, retailers, delivery-only retailers, microbusinesses, temporary cannabis events, and laboratories.

In November of last year, all three agencies released their emergency regulations and licensing requirements (which we covered here and here). Upon gathering input from the public and cannabis businesses, all three state agencies made changes to their emergency regulations and readopted them last month.

In both the initial and readopted regulations, cannabis businesses were provided with a transition period that allowed for exceptions from certain regulatory provisions. The goal of the transition period was to grant cannabis businesses with a period of less stringent regulations so that they could sell cannabis products that were already in their inventory. The cost of compliance is a steep one and the transition period was an attempt to soften the blow. The readopted regulations made a number of changes (which we covered here) but what they didn’t change is the transition period’s termination date. The transition period ends on June 30, 2018, so starting on July 1 (which is also Canada Day!) the following regulations will apply:

July 1 is almost here!
  • Untested cannabis goods cannot be sold by a retailer and must be destroyed, nor will a retailer will be able to send the untested cannabis goods for testing.
  • Untested cannabis goods manufactured or harvested before January 1, 2018, in possession of a distributor that are owned by the distributor will have to be destroyed.
  • Untested cannabis goods manufactured or harvested before January 1, 2018, in the possession of a distributor owned by a manufacturer or cultivator may be returned to them. The manufacturer or cultivator could then sell the returned cannabis goods after sending them to a distributor and they pass all of the testing requirements.
  • All packaging and labeling of cannabis goods must be properly performed before being transported to a retailer. This also applies to cannabis goods that were in a retailer’s inventory before July 1. The only exception is that a retailer will be able to affix “FOR MEDICAL USE ONLY” for medicinal sales.
  • Cannabis goods in a retailer’s possession that do not meet packaging and labeling requirements will have to be destroyed.
  • All cannabis goods must be in child-resistant packaging, only having exit or secondary packaging be child-resistant shall no longer suffice.
  • Edible cannabis goods may no longer exceed 10 milligrams of THC per serving and may not exceed 100 milligrams of THC per package.
  • Non-edible cannabis products shall not contain more than 1,000 milligrams of THC per package in the adult-use market.
  • Non-edible cannabis products shall not contain more than 2,000 milligrams of THC per package in the medicinal market.
  • All products sold by a retailer will have to meet the CDPH’s requirements for ingredients and appearance.

In the long-term, the end of the transition period will benefit the public as the cannabis goods consumed will have passed stricter testing requirements. However, come July 1, you can expect to see less inventory on retailers’ shelves as there will inevitably be a number of cannabis goods that cannot pass the stricter testing requirements. Cannabis businesses that have been planning for the expiration of the transition period regulations are going to be the ones with good compliance programs and they’ll be able to take advantage of a less crowded marketplace as less forward-looking operators struggle to adapt.

One major concern for the California cannabis industry is whether there are enough licensed laboratories to meet demand. The BCC has currently issued temporary licenses to approximately twenty-nine (29) laboratories and whether they have the capacity to test all the cannabis products supplied by cultivators and manufacturers will have a direct impact on how fast a retailer can restock their inventory. In the short-term, you can expect to see some steep discounts from retailers as they’re forced to unload all their marijuana products that they’d have to destroy if not sold by July 1. Be ready for longer than normal lines at your favorite cannabis retailer on June 30!

Oregon safety marijauana
The OSHA model. And a good look for cannabis business.

So, what is Oregon OSHA (“OR OSHA”)?

OR OSHA is the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Act. This law requires employers to “furnish employment and a place of employment which are safe and healthful for employees.” In other words, employers are required to maintain safe workplaces. This means that employers are required to identify potential workplace hazards, prevent such hazards, and provide safety measures to employees to protect their health and safety, in all situations where hazards are inherent in the job or otherwise unavoidable. Does this law apply to cannabis employers? You bet.

OR OSHA also identifies certain conditions as inherently hazardous or unsafe, and regulates the condition or practice by imposing employer requirements to mitigate the condition or practice (think fall protection when on a ladder). The kind of marijuana business you run will dictate what OR OSHA regulations are triggered.

For example: marijuana producers are subject to the OSHA agricultural rules. These rules require employers to protect employees from things such as machine hazards, mold, electrical hazards, and heat exposure, among other things agricultural employees are subject to.  Marijuana processors must comply with special requirements for employees handling extraction chemicals. Retail operators must ensure employees are safe from slips, trips, and falls. Etc.

In addition to protecting employees from hazards at work, OSHA imposes reporting requirements on employers. Employers must report to OR OSHA within eight hours epodes like the death of an employee or a catastrophe. A catastrophe is defined as two or more employees fatally injured or three or more employees admitted to a hospital or an equivalent medical facility. Employers must report to OR OSHA within 24 hour of any employee being hospitalized, losing an eye or an amputation, or avulsion that results in bone loss. In addition to these reporting requirements, employers with 10 or more employees must record their injuries and illnesses that are a result of the work environment on a form called the OSHA 300 Log. Employers must also summarize the 300 log on a form called an OSHA 300-A.

Somewhat similar to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (“OLCC”) — which is the state agency that administers marijuana licenses — OR OSHA has the power to investigate employers to determine whether or not they are compliant with OSHA requirements. OR OSHA does not have to provide advance notice of inspections, and the agency may randomly show up at an employer’s place of business to conduct an inspection.

So where might the agency show up? OR OSHA prioritizes inspections at locations that are determined to be the most unsafe. An OR OSHA investigator will investigate the employer’s property to determine if there are any violations. If there are violations, the investigator can issue a citation based on the type of violation. As with OLCC citation powers, the type of penalty associated with the citation depends on how serious the violation is.

OR OSHA safety requirements are comprehensive. The agency encourages employer compliance and has a series of free tools available to employers to assist with that compliance. OR OSHA’s most significant tool is its consultation services. Free of charge, an OSHA consultant will inspect a work site and provide safety, health, and ergonomic hazard assessments, recommendations to control and eliminate hazards, a written program evaluation, industrial hygiene services, training on health and safety topics, and assistance with safety and health programs. In short, a consultant will come out and point out potential OSHA violations and provide a plan to help with compliance.

Pro tip: A consultant is a great and free way to assess your compliance with OSHA prior to an inspector coming to your place of business.

Like with most employer regulations, compliance in the first place is the best way to avoid a hefty civil penalty or litigation. However, citations happen even when the best intentions are in place. This post has only scratched the surface of OSHA requirements. If you have additional questions, give us a call.

It’s no secret that the City of Los Angeles has struggled with implementing its commercial cannabis program under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Act (“MAUCRSA“). The licensing of existing medical marijuana dispensaries (“EMMDs”) under Measure M has been a slow and opaque process, but Los Angeles is committed to the success of its cannabis program long-term and isn’t in any rush to act hastily when it comes to continued licensing by the Department of Cannabis Regulation (“DCR“) and Cannabis Regulation Commission. Indeed, just last week, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a handful of ordinances and made several recommendations to the City Attorney (and other City departments) to tighten, clarify, and technically fix its current commercial cannabis legislation. The amended regulations take effect on July 23, 2018.

Here are the major highlights:

  • Off-site Advertising. Ordinance No. 185607 addresses commercial cannabis advertising in the City. We now have a 700-foot distance buffer for any off premises advertising for “Cannabis, Cannabis Products, or Cannabis Activity” in any “Publicly Visible Location” from “any School, Public Park, Public Library, Alcoholism or Drug Abuse Recovery or Treatment Facility, Day Care Center, and Permanent Supportive Housing,” except for those advertising signs that are located inside the licensed premises (unless it’s a window sign), or if the advertising sign is on any “commercial vehicle used exclusively for transporting or delivering cannabis or cannabis products.” The distance buffer also doesn’t apply to “the display of public service messages or similar announcements cautioning against the use of Cannabis or Cannabis Products or that are designed to encourage minors to refrain from using or purchasing Cannabis or Cannabis Products.” However, this exemption won’t be used “. . .to permit an advertisement that purports to caution against the use of Cannabis or Cannabis Products when that message is conveyed in conjunction with the display of a logo, trademark or name used by any person or entity engaged in any Cannabis Activity for marketing or promotion of Cannabis or Cannabis Products.” Lastly, the 700-foot buffer is measured as the crow flies from the property line of the prohibited facility to the “closest visible edge of the advertising sign face of the off-site sign.”
  • On-site Advertising. Ordinance No. 185607 also tackles on-premises advertising. Only one on-site sign per street frontage is allowed. And that signage is included in the “maximum sign area” allowed for the property (this is in addition to any mandatory state signage under MAUCRSA). On-site signage is now going to be content controlled–you can only have the following information on the sign: “name of business; ‘logogram’ of business; and business’ address, hours of operation and contact information. Other than the foregoing information, no advertising for Cannabis or Cannabis Products shall be displayed on any sign in a Publicly Visible Location.” And here’s the list of all the fun signage you CAN’T utilize: Portable signs or sandwich signs located in the public right-of-way; Digital signs; Spinner signs; Monument signs; Illuminated architectural canopy signs; Pole signs; Marquee signs; Roof signs; Temporary signs; Moving signs and signs with moving parts; and Supergraphic signs.
  • Testing. Ordinance No. 185609 addresses quality assurance testing in that licensees won’t have to have their products fully tested “until 120 days after City licensure, or until required under State of California Code of Regulations Title 16, Division 42, Chapter 5, Section 5715, whichever is sooner, after which all cannabis goods shall be labeled and tested.”
  • Technical fix legislation. Ordinance No. 185608 is the first technical fix legislation for existing commercial cannabis regulations in L.A. Here are the need-to-knows:
    1. EMMDs that entered into a payment plan with the Office of Finance to become current on outstanding taxes owed will be considered fully paid up for priority licensure (which closed back in March).
    2. The Type 10 Delivery Retailer License has been deleted–Type 10’s under state law outright allow delivery anyway.
    3. Crimes that will bar you from applying from a license have been further amended to include: “A Person with a felony conviction for violating any State or local law involving violent crimes, sex trafficking, rape, crimes against children, gun crimes or hate crimes for a period of 20 years from the date of conviction or completion of a term of imprisonment, supervised release or probation imposed as a sentence for the conviction, whichever is later.”
    4. EMMDs can now be approved for the full type 11 distribution license (not just “self-distribution transport only”).
    5. Since the April 1, 2018 deadline for accepting “Non-Retail” priority applications has come and gone, the DCR’s new standard is that it will accept those applications for no more than 30 days after it opens that particular application window. There’s City-wide speculation that this window will open on July 1, but the City hasn’t made anything official yet.
    6. If a testing lab obtains and maintains an ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation, the DCR may issue temporary approval to the testing lab before completion of a pre-licensing inspection.

What is probably even more interesting than the foregoing is that the City Council also asked (based on a June 5th motion) that the City Attorney, in conjunction with the DCR and other City offices, prepare and present an ordinance to make the following additional changes to existing cannabis regulations:

  • Address and control cannabis management companies. The City proposed that “management company” be defined as “any person who participates in the management, direction or control of the operations of a business licensed to conduct commercial cannabis activity, or any person who participates in the management, direction or control of another person who participates in the management, direction or control of the operations of a business licensed to conduct commercial cannabis activity.” The City Council has also proposed that “a management company shall not hold equity ownership in the applicant licensee or have the authority to make major decisions impacting the corporate structure of the applicant or licensee or the license held by the applicant or licensee.” However, a management company would be able to “receive revenue or profit-based compensation, subject to limitations established by the DCR.” Of course, this would still make the management company a financial interest holder under MAUCRSA.

Social Equity Program applicants (“SEPs”) and regular licensees would also have to get written approval from the DCR before engaging with a management company. All SEPs and licensees would also have to disclose to the DCR all written agreements or contracts with a management company and all other documents the DCR requires to identify all persons who will act as the management company for the business premises. And if you can’t qualify for licensure from the DCR, the DCR may also stop you from acting as a management company. Or if you’ve violated any local or state cannabis laws, the DCR may also knock you out from acting as a management company to a SEP or licensee. SEPs and licensee will be responsible for all acts or omissions of its management company in connection with compliance with state and city laws. All management companies engaged in commercial cannabis activity within the City of Los Angeles would have to register and maintain appropriate records with the DCR. Finally, management companies would be limited to entering into management agreements for no more than 3% of commercial cannabis businesses within the City of Los Angeles, by license type. That percentage will increase 1% on July 1st of every year beginning in 2019 until a total of 7% is reached. Tier 1 and Tier 2 SEPs would be exempt from these management company license limits.

  • More clarity on the social equity program and allowing more flexibility for Social Equity-licensed businesses. Among other tweaks and additions, Tier 1 and Tier 2 SEPs would be able to apply for retail licenses under the 2:1 ratio already set by the City, and Tier 3 applicants won’t be able to apply for retail licenses. Tiers 1 through 3 applicants would though be able to apply for non-retail licenses under the 1:1 ratio set by the City. The City also wants to allow the DCR to license incubator projects with multiple licenses for the education, training, etc. for SEPs. The City also asked that SEPs be allowed to apply for licensure even if they do not have local land use authorization, but local land use authorization must be obtained prior to completing the licensing process. The City would also increase term of Social Equity Program agreements to five years, and would allow Social Equity-licensed businesses to terminate their agreement with the actual SEP after five years, all with the approval of the DCR. Interestingly, the City added that the Social Equity-licensed business would have the right of first refusal to buy out the SEP applicant (presumably at any time). The City is also planning to allow the Social Equity-licensed business to replace the SEP under certain criteria and conditions.
  • Taxes and Cannabis Reinvestment Act. The City Council also asked the City Attorney to draft an election “Ordinance and Resolutions” to place a ballot measure before the voters at the November 6, 2018 State General Election entitled the “Cannabis Reinvestment Act,” and that the ballot measure would, among other revenue captures, implement a one percent gross receipts tax on all commercial cannabis activity to be “reinvested in the community with all funds going to a newly created Cannabis Reinvestment Trust Fund” earmarked for various City items and groups.

Without a doubt in the coming weeks we’re going to see even more legislation from L.A. regarding amending its current cannabis regulations (with specific regard to its much-anticipated Social Equity program), and these forthcoming changes will also directly affect would-be licensees’ ability to pursue licensure in the long run in what may end up being California’s largest cannabis marketplace. So, stay tuned!

We’ve written (and talked) extensively about the dos and don’ts of filing cannabis-related state and federal trademarks, and we all know by now that you cannot obtain a federal trademark registration for goods or services that are not lawful pursuant to federal law. But I’ve heard a lot of creative arguments in this space, and have had many clients indicate an interest in challenging the status quo at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board (TTAB) has handed down numerous opinions of precedent that lay forth the USPTO’s position on the “lawful use in commerce” requirement in detail. In this post, I thought it would be useful to breakdown the TTAB’s analysis on this issue via their In re PharmaCann LLC opinion, which was issued in June of 2017.

marijuana cannabis trademark
No lawful use in commerce = no trademark.

In the PharmaCann case, the Applicant sought registration of two trademarks: PHARMACANN and PHARMACANNIS, both for “retail store services featuring medical marijuana,” in International Class 35, and “dispensing of pharmaceuticals featuring medical marijuana,” in International Class 44. The Examining Attorney refused registration of both marks pursuant to Sections 1 and 45 of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1051 and 1127, on the ground that Applicant could not allege a bona fide intent to make lawful use of the marks in commerce because the services identified involved the distribution and dispensing of cannabis, which is a controlled substance whose distribution and dispensing are illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. §§ 801 et seq..

In its opinion, the TTAB pointed out that it has “consistently held that, to qualify for a federal … registration, the use of a mark in commerce must be ‘lawful’.” In re JJ206, LLC, 120 USPQ2d 1568, 1569 (TTAB 2016) (affirming refusal to register POWERED BY JUJU and JUJU JOINTS for cannabis vaporizing and delivery services for lack of lawful use in commerce). The TTAB further elaborated that for a mark to be eligible for federal registration, “any goods or services for which the mark is used must not be illegal under federal law.” In re Brown, 119 USPQ2d 1350, 1351 (TTAB 2016). And even if an Applicant files on an intent-to-use basis (meaning they intend to use the mark in commerce in the near future but have not done so yet), if the identified goods or services with which the mark is intended to be used are illegal under federal law, “the applicant cannot use its mark in lawful commerce, as it is a legal impossibility for the applicant to have the requisite bona fide intent to use the mark.” JJ206, 120 USPQ2d at 1569.

In general, registration will not be refused for lack of lawful use in commerce unless either “(1) a violation of federal law is indicated by the application or other evidence …, or (2) when the applicant’s application-related activities involve a per se violation of a federal law.” Brown, 119 USPQ2d at 1351. In the case at hand, the TTAB deemed the Applicant’s marijuana distribution and dispensing activities to be a per se violation of the CSA. The analysis here was pretty straightforward, where the CSA prohibits, among other things, manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing controlled substances (21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)), and where marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance under the CSA. 21 U.S.C. § 812(c) Schedule I (c)(10).

The Applicant here made two arguments in opposition to the TTAB’s position. The first argument was that “[s]ince 2009 the Department of Justice has consistently refused to treat medical marijuana as an illegal drug by consistently refusing to enforce the Controlled Substances Act against it.” In making its argument regarding the federal government’s lack of enforcement against medical marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state law, the Applicant relied on the (now rescinded) Cole Memorandum. But the TTAB clarified that it had previously decided in JJ206 that the Cole Memorandum “provides no support for the registration of a trademark used on goods whose sale is illegal under federal law,” and that this determination applied with equal force to the Applicant in this case’s intended use of its marks for distributing and dispensing medical marijuana.

The Applicant’s second, and more novel, argument was that “Congress has taken the same position as the Department of Justice,” because in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (as renewed in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, subsequent continuing resolutions, and in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017), Congress has prohibited the Department of Justice from utilizing funds to prevent states that have legalized medical marijuana from implementing their own state laws authorizing the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. The Applicant’s argument was that Congress’ decision not to fund the DOJ to enforce the CSA against medical marijuana, “it would make no sense and serve no purpose for the Board to take a different position…”.

The TTAB, however, found this second argument equally lacking, and relied on United States v. McIntosh (833 F.3d 1163, 1169-70 (9th Cir. 2016)) for its analysis. In that case, the court concluded that the Appropriations Acts and the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment did not make medical marijuana legal under the CSA. The TTAB applied that conclusion to the case at hand and rejected the Applicant’s argument.

These TTAB opinions are instructive in that they give us a clear view into how the USPTO is lawful use in commerce requirement; although the legal status of cannabis and particularly the federal government’s enforcement efforts remain murky, so long as marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, federal trademark protection will not be available.

For other posts on cannabis trademarks, check out the following:

…all the way through the patent application process.

The cannabis industry relies on trade secrets and increasingly, patents, to protect intellectual property (IP) assets. Patents protect new and non-obvious inventions, including plants, processes, and machines, while trade secrets protect any information, including “patentable inventions,” that provide economic value to the holder if kept confidential. Accordingly, the same information could potentially be protected by patents or trade secrets.

Although patents and trade secrets are alternative protections, marijuana businesses should treat them as complementary to expand the lifetime of a trade secret disclosed in a patent application until the patent issues.

Patents afford the most powerful IP protection in that they provide their owner with a temporary monopoly to exploit her invention, including against those who independently discover the invention. In exchange for this temporary monopoly, the patent owner is required to fully disclose the invention to the public, so that once the patent expires, anyone may freely utilize the invention.

Generally, the disclosure of the invention occurs roughly eighteen months from the date of filing through a process known as “publication.” Publication does not grant the patent nor does it guarantee that the patent will be issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Instead, publication simply allows the public to examine the patent application while it is being reviewed.

The initial filing of a patent application does not immediately break the confidentiality of the trade secret disclosed in the application. The law requires the USPTO to keep all patent applications—with a few exceptions—confidential before they are published. Before publication, the trade secret will not lose its secrecy so long as the trade secret owner continues to take reasonable confidentiality measures.

At the end of the eighteen-month period, an applicant may extend the confidentiality of the patent application by avoiding publication. The applicant may do so by expressly abandoning the patent application, or by filing a request for non-publication (so long as the applicant does not seek patent protection in a foreign country). Maintaining an application as confidential as long as possible allows the applicant to delay the disclosure of its invention until the patent issues. In a highly fragmented and competitive market like cannabis, this can make a world of difference.

Once the USPTO decides that the patent application meets all the patentability requirements, the patent will issue in its final form. At that point, even an unpublished patent application inescapably becomes public and loses its trade secret protection. However, in return, the patent holder now has a patent that it can enforce against infringers. In other words, trade secret protection is no longer required.

So despite their significant differences, patents and trade secrets are closely intertwined and should be considered concurrently when applying for a cannabis-related patent. By keeping the patent application from becoming public for as long as possible, you can extend your trade secret protection until the moment the patent issues. That is a critical competitive advantage, especially in a rapidly developing industry.

For more on cannabis patents and trade secrets, check out the following:

bank marijuana cannabis
Banking is within reach for many cannabis businesses.

In my previous post, I wrote about avoiding the scammers that abound when it comes to cannabis banking. Because cannabis is federally illegal, getting a bank account has been very difficult for cannabis businesses even though the 2014 FinCEN guidelines (see here) allow financial institutions to provide banking services to cannabis businesses under certain circumstances — which guidelines are still alive despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Cole Memo. Ultimately, FinCEN makes clear in its guidelines that they “should enhance the availability of financial services for, and the financial transparency of, marijuana-related businesses.”

But what exactly should a cannabis business do to get a legitimate bank account with a real financial institution? Plain and simple, you make it as easy as possible for the bank or credit union to abide by the FinCEN guidelines. This means you do not lie about or omit anything regarding your cannabis business.

To even get to this point though, your cannabis business must be in a state with “robust regulations” that give its regulators the authority to tightly control and govern its cannabis industry. And not all states are created equal when it comes to this.

In states like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, banking is made a little easier because those states have hardcore regulations ranging from financial and criminal background checking on all cannabis business owners to knowing every single dollar that comes into a given cannabis operation and its source. In medical cannabis states like New Mexico and Arizona, which are basically unregulated medical cannabis states, banking is non-existent.  And in California (where I am based), which still has relatively weak cannabis licensing rules (for example, there are no spousal vetting requirements for owners of cannabis businesses), it is still nearly impossible for a cannabis business to get a bank account and this is not likely to change until California tightens up on its licensing regime.

But if you’re in a state with robust cannabis regulation, here’s what you need to do and expect when pursuing a bank account under the FinCEN guidelines:

  1. Banks that follow the FinCEN guidelines do so in open violation of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). This is the case because they are directly engaging in money laundering because cannabis remains federally illegal and this is why virtually none of the really big banks (like Bank of America and Wells Fargo) will knowingly take on cannabis accounts. But for those banks that are willing to take on cannabis bank accounts, you need to be prepared to basically do whatever the bank tells you to do to secure that account because the bank will be the one to be held accountable to the federal government for violating the BSA.
  2. You should expect your bank or credit union to conduct comprehensive due diligence on your cannabis business – nearly always at your expense. This due diligence usually will include the following:

(i) verifying with the appropriate state authorities whether your cannabis business is duly licensed and registered;

(ii) reviewing your cannabis license application and other documents your cannabis business submitted to obtain its state license to operate;

(iii) requesting information about your business and its related parties from state licensing and enforcement authorities;

(iv) developing an understanding of the normal and expected activity of your business, including the products to be sold and the type of customers to be served (e.g., medical versus recreational customers);

(v) ongoing monitoring of publicly available sources for adverse information about your business and its related parties;

(vi) ongoing monitoring for suspicious activity, including for any of the red flags described in the FinCen guidance; and

(vii) constantly updating the above information.

  1. Don’t get frustrated with the bank or credit union over this mandatory due diligence. Your job is to fork over as much documentation as you can to demonstrate that you are licensed and in full compliance with state and local laws.
  2. The Cole Memo, though rescinded, still matters to FinCEN. Specifically, the FinCen guidelines state that “[a]s part of its customer due diligence, a financial institution should consider whether a marijuana-related business implicates one of the Cole Memo priorities or violates state law. This is a particularly important factor for a financial institution to consider when assessing the risk of providing financial services to a marijuana-related business. Considering this factor also enables the financial institution to provide information in BSA reports pertinent to law enforcement’s priorities. A financial institution that decides to provide financial services to a marijuana-related business would be required to file suspicious activity reports (“SARs”).” This means you should review the eight Cole Memo priorities and implement them in your business practices.
  3. Your bank will regularly file SARs on your business. A financial institution is required to file a SAR if it knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that a transaction conducted or attempted by, at, or through the financial institution: (i) involves funds derived from illegal activity or is an attempt to disguise funds derived from illegal activity; (ii) is designed to evade regulations promulgated under the BSA; or (iii) lacks a business or apparent lawful purpose. Because commercial cannabis activity is federally illegal, SARs are a must in the cannabis banking world.
  4. The following SARs will likely apply to your cannabis business: (i) Marijuana limited SARs, which mean you are not violating state law or violating a Cole Memo priority; (ii) Marijuana priority SARs, which mean the bank believes you are violating state law or a Cole Memo priority; and (iii) Marijuana termination SARs, which mean the bank thinks you are a threat to its anti-money laundering systems under the BSA so it must end its relationship with you. All these SARs get sent to the federal government for possible investigation.
  5. Your bank will constantly monitor the financial activity of your cannabis business because it must do so under the FinCEN guidelines. Your bank will monitor everything from your deposits to your social media accounts to your ability to keep your license in good standing to ensure that you are complying with state laws and rules. Again, if you want to keep your bank account, you need to assist your bank with this continued due diligence.
  6. The FinCEN guidelines list various red flags banks must watch for. One of those red flags is using management companies or middlemen to secure your bank accounts. The FinCEN guidelines are clear that Cole Memo priorities may be violated if a “customer seeks to conceal or disguise involvement in marijuana-related business activity. For example, the customer may be using a business with a non-descript name (e.g., a “consulting,” “holding,” or “management” company) that purports to engage in commercial activity unrelated to marijuana, but is depositing cash that smells like marijuana.” Cash structuring, commingling of funds with an unrelated business, and “deposits by third parties with no apparent connection to the accountholder” are additional red flags. Pay attention to the FinCEN guidelines’ red flags list and strive to avoid them.

Securing a bank account will not be easy but it is possible if you are in the right state and you prepare and act accordingly. Though state public banking and cryptocurrency have been floated as ways to provide wider access to banking, the FinCEN guidelines are still the key for both cannabis operators and financial institutions. And that’s not likely going to change anytime soon.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in an Above the Law column, also by Hilary Bricken.

It is no secret that cannabidiol (CBD) is having a moment right now. Unlike its cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant, CBD is not psychoactive. It has been growing in popularity for years for medical and other applications, but has really taken off lately.

Though CBD has become increasingly popular, it is still important to proceed with caution for any businesses operating in this space. Below are five important questions to keep in mind when dealing with CBD.

1.  What is the source of the CBD?

It’s not an accident that this question is first on this list. The source is key. If you are selling CBD at a licensed dispensary in a state that permits the sale of marijuana, then you need to verify that the product comes from a licensed source. Some states like Washington and Oregon may allow CBD additives from other sources, while other states are silent on the topic. You should act cautiously either way.

If you are selling across state lines or in stores that are not licensed to sell marijuana, then you must ensure that  your product is either derived from industrial hemp or from portions of the cannabis plant exempt from the Controlled Substances Act’s (CSA) definition of “marijuana.” If using industrial hemp, you need to make sure that the cultivator has a license from a state that  has implemented an agricultural pilot program in compliance with Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill. If you are using exempt plant  material, you need to verify that the product was derived from mature stalks or seeds incapable of germination  as those sections are specifically exempted from the CSA.

If you a buying from a cultivator or processor, you should carefully draft your purchase and sales agreements to include representations and warranties from the supplier. It’s also important to learn about  who you are doing business as the question of source can determine whether or not something is legal.

2.  What do the lab tests say?

If your first thought in reading this is, “should I be testing CBD products?” the answer is “yes!” It’s important to test for items that could pose a risk to public health including pesticides, heavy metals, and microbials. States may require such testing, but the risk will ultimately fall on any company in the line of production. If a consumer is harmed, the cultivator, processor, and distributor may all be sued for product liability.

CBD is not independently listed as a controlled substance in the CSA. However, THC is. This means you need to test to make sure you CBD product does not contain THC, unless you are selling it in states that have legal marijuana programs. This is important whether your are dealing with Farm Bill hemp as it is defined as containing less than .3% THC on a dry weight basis, or if you are dealing with exempt plant material as THC alone is a Schedule I controlled substance.

3.  Where is the CBD going to be sold?

I recently wrote about how state law impacts the distribution of hemp-derived CBD products. If you are distributing products in a state that restricts the sale of CBD, like Michigan, you products could be seized and your company and its stakeholders could face criminal sanctions. It’s important to track where your products are being distributed and to inform your potential customers that they too must monitor state law.

4. What claims are you making about CBD?

We’ve written before that the FDA will treat products as drugs if their own labeling or marketing 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.

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, which the FDA has ruled that  CBD does not.)

It’s important to remember that 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 is one of the FDA’s core functions and  the agency will not hesitate to issue warning letters based on CBD health claims.

Long story short, don’t make health claims about your CBD products or allow others to post testimonials on your website.

5.  Has the law changed?

Finally, it’s important to keep up with the ever changing legal landscape. Tom Angell of Marijuana Moment recently reported that Mitch McConnell announced that his proposed  hemp bill will be included in the broad ranging agricultural act of 2018. This comes shortly after Congress approved a non-binding resolution acknowledging the vast potential of hemp.

In addition to federal law, stakeholders need to stay informed as to how the DEA feels about CBD that week. The DEA is often changing its policy on this subject, whether  that comes through a post on its website or an internal directive. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the  DEA’s latest position on CBD.

Finally, monitor state law. This is probably the hardest to accomplish  since there are 50 states who each  may  treat CBD  differently. Still, if you  are doing  business in  a state, it’s on you to  know the rules.

CBD law is incredibly complex and this list only scratches the surface as to what you need to look out for. If you have additional questions, give our firm a call to see how we can help your CBD business thrive.