california bcc cannabis rules
Huge changes ahead. Get your comments in by Nov. 5!

Last Friday, we wrote about the amended proposed permanent cannabis regulations that are now in a 15-day notice-and-comment period for each California agency—the Bureau of Cannabis Control (“BCC”), Department of Public Health (“DPH”), and Department of Food and Agriculture (“DFA”). Each of the proposed rules can be found here, here, and here. The next round of written public comments is due to each agency by November 5, 2018. It’s important then for California cannabis businesses to get a handle on the proposed regulations as quickly as possible to determine whether to provide written comments since some impactful changes are coming.

Here are the key proposed changes from the BCC regulations:

Intellectual Property Licenses: Yesterday, we explained the threat that the BCC’s regulations pose to cannabis intellectual property licensing in California. Our California cannabis lawyers are regularly involved in intellectual property licensing deals and we think it’s critical for cannabis businesses to speak up in opposition to this proposed rule. California would be the only state in the cannabis union to bar third-party IP-licensing deals for cannabis licensees, which will certainly undercut the business growth of a good amount of operators if this rule passes.

“Owners”: The BCC modified the definition of “owner” (as well as “financial interest holder”; see below), which now includes “[a]n individual entitled to a share of at least 20 percent of the profits of the commercial cannabis business.” This is much broader than the existing 20 percent aggregate ownership threshold (which also still stands). To illustrate, the current ownership threshold definition expressly states that it does not apply where that interest holder holds “solely a security, lien, or encumbrance.” This new addition to the rules seems to capture a mere security holder—so long as that security holder is entitled to 20 percent of the profits.

The BCC also expanded upon the form of “ownership” that requires disclosure based on assumption of responsibility for the license, by specifying certain kinds of persons or entities who qualify (note that this list is not exhaustive or complete, so it likely will be read even more broadly), as:

  • Persons who manage or direct the licensed business in exchange for a portion of the profits. Note, there is no minimum threshold for profit entitlements here, so this could include persons who expect less than 20 percent of the profits.
  • Persons who assume responsibility for the licensed business’ debts. Here too, there is no threshold for debt assumption.
  • Persons who determine how “a portion” of the licensed business is run. This includes things such as “non-plant-touching portions of the commercial cannabis business such as branding or marketing”, but it too could include much more broad categories of business operations.
  • Persons who determine what cannabis goods will be cultivated, manufactured, distributed, purchased, or sold.

Notably too, these modifications now take the position that if an “owner” is an entity, all entities and individuals with a financial interest in that entity must be disclosed to the BCC and may be considered owners of the commercial cannabis business. The BCC emphasized that each entity and person in the corporate chain must be disclosed until the applicant can identify actual persons.

The takeaway from these changes is that the BCC now wants full identification of any person who has anything to do with an applicant entity—even if that person simply owns a company multiple steps away in a corporate chain. That is not dissimilar to what our cannabis business lawyers have seen in Oregon and Washington.

“Financial Interest Holder”: Like before, the BCC considers a financial interest to include an agreement to receive a portion of the profits of a licensed entity. Now, however, the BCC gives a number of examples of what qualifies as such an agreement:

  • An employee who enters into a profit-share plan with a licensee.
  • A landlord who enters into a lease agreement with a licensee for a share of the profits.
  • A consultant who provides services to a licensee for a share of the profits.
  • A person who acts as an agent, such as an accountant or attorney, for the licensee for a share of the profits.
  • A broker who engages in activities for the licensee for a share of the profits.
  • A salesperson who earns a commission.

The BCC will now also require the identification of all persons in the corporate hierarchy for interest holders, similar to the rules regarding owners. Meaning, if a financial interest holder is an entity, everyone in that entity is getting disclosed .

Annual License Fees: The BCC scrapped its previous test for determining the amount of appropriate fees for the annual licenses—estimating the maximum dollar value of planned operations—and now has created a new formula: “To determine the appropriate license fee due, the applicant or licensee shall first estimate the gross revenue for the 12-month license period of the license.”

Changes in Ownership: The BCC is also expanding its prohibition on changes of ownership over a licensed entity. If any new person is added as an “owner” by virtue of a change in ownership of a licensed entity, that person will need to provide the vast categories of information required by section 5002(c)(20) within 14 calendar days of the transfer. This will obviously have an impact on California cannabis M&A. The business can still operate pending the change so long as one previous owner remains on; otherwise, operations will need to cease pending the BCC’s review of the new owner. The BCC is also now requiring 14 calendar days’ notification of changes in any of the following:

  • Any changes to the contact information that was provided to the BCC in the original application;
  • Any change in legal name, business name, trade name, or fictitious business name of the licensee;
  • Any change to financial information, including funds, loans, investments, and gifts required in the original application;
  • Any change in the required bond; or
  • Any change or lapse in a distributor’s insurance coverage.

Annual License Applications and Requirements: As to annual licenses, the BCC made tweaks to the information that it will require for submission, which signals its desire to place more scrutiny on applicants and ensure compliance with California law. We won’t explain every change here, but here are the essential ones:

  • First, the BCC changed the requirement to provide it with “The business-formation documents” for the licenses business to “All business-formation documents”.
  • Second, the BCC is requiring that applicants provide it with state employeridentification numbers (“SEIN”), which the BCC explains in its notice of modification as being “necessary to ensure that all applicants that are required to obtain such a number have obtained it and are thus, in compliance with California law.”
  • Finally, licensees with more than one employee must attest that within one year of receiving their license, the licensee will have employees who have undergone certain Cal-OSHA safety training.

The BCC is also beefing up its requirements for renewal of licenses to require documentation of any change to any item listed in the original application. So, chances are that if a cannabis business obtains an annual license before these proposed changes become effective (and assuming they do), that business will need to provide these additional disclosures later.

Premises: There are a number of modifications to the proposed rules concerning licensed premises, but here are the highlights:

  • While it’s been routine for multiple licensees to operate on the same premises, the proposed modifications now expressly state that they do not “prohibit two or more licensed premises from occupying separate portions of the same parcel of land or sharing common use areas, such as a bathroom, breakroom, hallway, or building entrance.”
  • The premises must consist of permanent structures—shipping containers, modular buildings, or anything on wheels are a no-go—that are affixed to the ground and not capable of movement.
  • There is now a form (BCC-LIC-027) to submit to the BCC to request to make a physical change or alteration to the premises.

Marketing and Promotions: Licensees will be prohibited from selling or transporting goods that are identified as any kind of alcoholic product (and they cannot refer to anything as containing or being an alcoholic product). There are also now definitions for promotional goods and branded goods. If licensees want to sell branded goods that are not listed in the definition, they will need to seek BCC approval first. The proposed modifications also clarify that licensees can provide customers with promotional non-cannabis goods—and it looks like these goods could be provided at the premises or via delivery, too.

Packaging: The proposed modifications set up a time tier for cannabis packaging, whereby until January 1, 2020, cannabis packaging needs to be tamper-evident, in some cases re-sealable, and must not look like packaging that is marketed to children. Until January 1, 2020, retailers and microbusinesses can satisfy this rule by providing opaque exit packaging that meets the foregoing standards.

Testing and Quality Assurance: The proposed regulations include prohibitions on re-sampling previously tested batches, new requirements for remediation plans for failed batches, and new requirements for quality assurance testing for the level of THC, CBD, and terpenoids, among other things. If goods have undergone testing and haven’t been sold in 12 months, they now  have to be destroyed.

Retailer Packaging: Similar to the revised distribution rules, the proposed modifications set up a time table that require tamper-evident packaging until January 1, 2020, and re-sealable, tamper evident, and child-resistant packaging thereafter. There are opposite requirements for retailer exit packaging—it must be child-resistant, re-sealable and opaque until 2020, and then just opaque thereafter.

Deliveries: The rules now more heavily regulate a retailer’s use of tech platforms for delivery (i.e., the platform can’t share profits and can’t be the one doing the delivery, presumably unless it too is licensed). Delivery vehicles cannot contain any exterior markings that indicate that they are delivering cannabis goods. Delivery vehicles may now carry only $5,000 in cannabis goods at once. And the biggest change of all, per the modified section 5416(d), deliveries can be made into any jurisdiction in the state, so long as they comply with the BCC’s delivery rules. Currently, localities can and do prohibit deliveries from other jurisdictions. The BCC’s proposed regulations, however, now open the floodgates to previously “dark” delivery jurisdictions.

For the next few days, we’ll be writing on the proposed rules issued by DPH and DFA. We cannot emphasize enough how licensee stakeholders need to speak up and provide public comment for the rules they like and don’t like so that industry can better shape the regulatory playing field. So, get those comments in by November 5!

california cannabis marijuana
Get your comments in by Nov. 5 and help us fix this.

On Friday, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, California Department of Public Health, and California Department of Food and Agriculture issued 15-day notices of modification to the texts of their respective proposed regulations. The California Cannabis Portal has published links to each notice and the modified texts of the proposed regulations. For each set, the respective Department will accept written comments submitted by November 5, 2018.

And to all parties currently engaging in intellectual property (IP) licensing or manufacturing deals as or with a non-licensee, you should most definitely submit your written comments if you want to be able to keep those deals alive. The modifications to the text of the proposed regulations include the following:

5032. Designated M and A Commercial Cannabis Activity

(a) All commercial cannabis activity shall be conducted between licensees. Retail licensees, licensed retailers and licensed microbusinesses authorized to engage in retail sales may conduct commercial cannabis activity with customers in accordance with Chapter 3 of this division.

(b) Licensees shall not conduct commercial cannabis activities on behalf of, at the request of, or pursuant to a contract with any person that is not licensed under the Act. Such prohibited commercial cannabis activities include, but are not limited to, the following:

(1) Procuring or purchasing cannabis goods from a licensed cultivator or licensed manufacturer.

(2) Manufacturing cannabis goods according to the specifications of a non-licensee.

(3) Packaging and labeling cannabis goods under a non-licensee’s brand or according to the specifications of a non-licensee.

(4) Distributing cannabis goods for a non-licensee.

These regulations would seemingly prohibit most, if not all, IP licensing agreements where the licensor is not licensed by the state, given that such licensing deals call for the licensee’s use of the licensed IP to manufacture particular goods, often utilizing the licensor’s proprietary techniques, recipes or trade secrets. Section (b)(3) above describes exactly what a licensee does under a trademark licensing agreement where the licensor does not possess its own manufacturing license from the state: “packaging and labeling cannabis goods under a non-licensee’s brand or according to the specifications of a non-licensee.”

Until Friday, there was nothing in the proposed regulations prohibiting a non-licensed third-party from engaging in these types of licensing deals, which we have written about extensively. Under those proposed regulations, a non-licensed entity entering into a licensing or manufacturing deal and taking a royalty from a licensed entity would need to be disclosed to the state as a party with a financial interest in a licensee but would not need to obtain a manufacturing license of their own. These kinds of deals are extremely prevalent throughout the industry, and are allowed to varying degrees in the other states in which my law firm’s cannabis business lawyers work (Washington and Oregon). For California to prohibit licensing deals involving non-licensed entities would be a major departure from what we’ve seen in other jurisdictions and would be incredibly disruptive to the cannabis industry as it currently operates.

This change would have far-reaching and unfortunate implications. Here are some examples of deals and structures that would not be allowed if this modification is ultimately adopted:

  • Licensed operators that have set up separate IP-holding companies to hold and license their intellectual property back to the operator;
  • Out-of-state cannabis companies that wish to license their existing cannabis brand to California manufacturers, but do not wish to directly engage in manufacturing in California;
  • Non-licensed third-parties that have developed technology to manufacture a cannabis product or a brand identity and wish to license that technology or brand identity to a licensed manufacturer.

The list goes on. If you have any type of licensing or manufacturing deal in place that involves both a licensed entity and a non-licensed entity, you should talk to your attorney as soon as possible to determine what the implications of this modification would be. And most importantly, you should provide written feedback immediately to the Bureau of Cannabis Control during the very short 15-day comment period expressing opposition to this modification.

equal pay oregon marijuana employmentIn 2017 Oregon passed sweeping Equal Pay Legislation. Towards the end of August, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) issued draft rules implementing the Oregon Equal Pay Act. This series of post is exploring those new rules and how they will affect cannabis businesses. In my last post, I unpacked the definition of “compensation” under the Equal Pay Act and the proposed rules. This week I’ll discuss “work of a comparable character.”

The Oregon Equal Pay Act prohibits employers from paying wages or other compensation to “any employee at a rate greater than that at which the employer pays wages or other compensation to employees of a protected class for work of a comparable character.” To put it simply, cannabis businesses need to pay employees doing the same work the same pay. But what is “work of a comparable character?”

Work of a comparable character is not determined simply by job title alone. Two cannabis workers who have the same job title but perform different tasks are not necessarily performing “work of a comparable character.” Similarly, two cannabis workers that perform essentially the same tasks but have different job titles may be performing work of a comparable character.

According to the BOLI draft rules, to determine if different jobs constitute “work of a comparable character” the employer must consider whether the jobs require “substantially similar knowledge, skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions.” No one factor is determinative. Meaning, an employer should balance the factors against each other to determine if employees are performing the same work and therefore should be receive equal pay. The proposed BOLI rules further define each factor.

  • Knowledge. When considering whether two jobs require similar “knowledge,” the employer should consider whether the jobs require similar education, experience, or training.
  • Skill. Things to consider to determine if two jobs require the same “skill” include the ability, agility, coordination, efficiency or experience required to perform the job.
  • Effort. Considerations to determine the “effort” of a job include the “amount of physical or mental exertion needed; amount of sustained activity; or complexity of job tasks performed.”
  • Responsibility. To determine if responsibility of two positions are “similar,” an employer should consider the “accountability, decision-making discretion, or impact of an employee’s exercise of their job functions on the employer’s business; amount, level, or degree of significance of job tasks; autonomy or extent to which the employee works without supervision; extent to which the employee exercises supervisory functions; or extent to which an employee’s work or actions expose an employer to risk or liability.
  • Working conditions. Finally, to determine if employees are working in similar “working conditions” an employer should consider the “work environment; hours; time of day worked; physical surroundings; and potential hazards.”

Determining how to pay your employees is not an easy task. The Equal Pay Act, while it has good intentions, may make that task even more difficult. Regardless, now is the time to analyze how you are paying your cannabis employees. Now is the time to look at the jobs that are being performed, identify work of a comparable character, and adjust wages accordingly. If you’re unsure whether two workers should be receiving equal pay, you should contact an employment attorney.

The Equal Pay Act pay provisions are effective on January 1, 2019. Again, now is the time to ensure compliance before BOLI starts handing out penalties next year.

california cannabis regulations
Here we go again!

This morning, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, California Department of Public Health, and California Department of Food and Agriculture issued 15-day notices of modification to the texts of their respective proposed regulations. The California Cannabis Portal has published links to each notice and the modified texts of the proposed regulations. For each set, the respective Department will accept written comments by November 5, 2018.

Stay tuned to the Canna Law Blog for future posts analyzing modified proposed regulations, which are extensive.

california cannabis indemnity
Don’t skim over that indemnification clause!

Coming from Seattle to Los Angeles, I’ve already seen one state flip from being a “gray medical cannabis state” to a fully regulated licensing system and I understand how painful a process this can be. So much of what I saw in Washington State is now happening in California.

In California today, folks are jockeying for operational licenses on the state and local levels under MAUCRSA and “the cream” is rising to the top, just as it did in Washington. One-to-two-person shops and mom and pop operators are feeling the financial pinch of licensing costs and compliance woes. The secondary market for buying cannabis businesses is also beginning to open up as cities and counties solidify and stick with their local cannabis entitlement programs. Transactions between cannabis licensees are becoming increasingly sophisticated, from IP licensing agreements, to distribution agreements, to white labeling agreements, to purchase and sale agreements for inventory.

And just as happened in Washington State at the onset of legalization there, we are seeing many cultivators and manufacturers overpromising on what they can deliver, more often due to overconfidence as to dishonesty. In legal terms, this means we are also seeing cultivation and manufacturing licensees, and distributors agreeing to indemnify retailers and other licensees for everything under the sun, quite often to their own detriment. Even though the cannabis industry is maturing rapidly in California, many are still using boilerplate or Google-discovered or Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer contracts for these very serious transactions. This use of bad template documents (most of which are modified little if at all for the realities of the cannabis industry) has got to stop, or cannabis licensees will soon find themselves embroiled in costly and counter-productive disputes/litigation.

And that brings me to the crux of this post, which is one of the most important “boilerplate” contract provisions that absolutely must be tailored for a California cannabis contract: indemnification. What, exactly, is indemnification? It’s when one party (the “indemnitor”) agrees to hold harmless and compensate the other party (the “indemnitee”) for losses suffered by the indemnitee.

Many cannabis sellers in California are far too willing to indemnify third parties for things completely out of their control, like lab results, changes in regulations that may affect the other party’s operations, and unforeseen conduct by users of the cannabis product. These blanket indemnification provisions are creating liability and exposure.

In the past month or so, many cannabis companies have come to us (both in Los Angeles and in San Francisco) with poorly drafted, irrelevant or nonsensical indemnification provisions and agreements from cannabis sellers. So, what makes for a good indemnification provision in a cannabis contract?

A preliminary question should be the breadth of the indemnification. If you are the seller and you want to protect yourself, you should tailor your indemnification to what makes sense and to what you can afford. You do not want something like the following (which is being used fairly often in California these days by inexperienced lawyers and lawyerless companies):

“The Indemnitor agrees to indemnify, defend, and hold harmless the Indemnitee, its officers, directors, employees, owners, agents, assigns, and affiliates (collectively, the “Indemnified Parties”) from and against any and all claims, liability, loss, expenses, suits, damages, judgments, demands, and costs(including reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses) (each a “Claim”) arising out of any accident, injury, or death to persons, or loss of or damage to property, or fines and penalties which may result, in whole or in part, by reason of the use or sale of any Product, or its packaging, except to the extent that such damage is due solely and directly to the gross negligence or willful misconduct of the Indemnified Parties and that the Indemnified Parties, or any of them, were acting in bad faith.”

This sort of provision is a bad idea for any cannabis seller. It means that seller will be liable to the buyer for just about anything that could go wrong–anywhere, for anyone–from the product. No one wants to be on the hook for things they cannot control.

Here are a few important things to consider when crafting a cannabis indemnification term:

  • Both the cannabis seller and buyer need to focus on what kinds of losses will or will not be covered by indemnification. If I’m the seller, I’m going to want to exclude incidental, punitive, and indirect damages even if foreseeable. If I’m the cannabis buyer, I’m going to want to include at least incidental damages and foreseeable indirect damages.
  • It is both unusual and risky for a seller to agree to indemnify a party indefinitely, and yet this too has become common in California. If you are the seller, make sure your indemnity agreement or provision has an end date.
  • Your indemnification agreement or provision should include a protocol for making indemnification claims to the indemnifying party. The boilerplate indemnification provisions and agreements we are seeing typically never even mention any claim deadline or claim notice requirements. As the cannabis seller you should, at minimum, address these two issues in your indemnification provision or agreement.
  • If the indemnification is mutual, and captures reciprocal indemnification obligations in the same paragraph or contract section, ask yourself “why?” Putting the same parameters around indemnification for both parties often makes no sense, because each party has a different role in the business relationship. Consider separating the indemnity obligations and applying tailored language for each party, as appropriate for that party’s role in the transaction.
  • Finally, can you just cross it out? If you have deal leverage, and someone presents you with an indemnification provision (particularly an onerous one), you may be able to get rid of it altogether. Sometimes, you can convince the other party to give you everything they need to feel comfortable through appropriate representations and warranties.

There are certainly very good and reliable stock indemnification provisions in most contracts, and there’s a reason for that boilerplate in that it’s time-tested and mostly appropriate for more standard business agreements. However, be sure that whatever you’re putting into your cannabis contracts on indemnification is tailored to your specific situation. If not, you could find yourself holding the bag on way more than what is fair — let alone what you expected or can afford.

cannabis marijuana FDALast Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it was seeking public comments regarding “abuse potential, actual abuse, medical usefulness, trafficking, and impact of scheduling changes on availability for medical use ….” of cannabis and other substances currently under international review. If you want to take FDA up on its offer, go here.

The FDA’s announcement was released as the World Health Organization (“WHO”)’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (“ECDD”) prepares to discuss the medical and legal status of cannabis in a November meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. Specifically, the ECDD is evaluating whether to recommend that certain international restrictions be placed or removed on the plant.

As we have previously discussed (here and here), marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance under U.S. federal law and international drug treaties. Schedule I drugs, substances, and chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and with a high potential for abuse. Consequently, nations that are signatories to these international drug treaties are expected to treat cannabis as an illegal substance. However, depending on the outcome of the survey conducted by the ECDD, the November meeting may bring us one step closer to the rescheduling of cannabis, giving signatories the freedom to decriminalize, and possibly legalize, the plant within their own borders.

Legalization advocates are hopeful that a careful review of the medical values of the plant will result in the rescheduling of marijuana. Groups like the Marijuana Policy Project intend to submit scientific and anecdotal evidence detailing the benefits of cannabis. Their optimism is undoubtedly fueled by previous ECDD recommendations to deschedule “preparations considered to be pure CBD,” the non-psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant, which the ECDD concluded did not appear to have abuse potential nor present a significant risk to the public health.

However, even if the ECDD report were to favor the legalization of cannabis, it would take some time to implement this global reform. In its announcement, the FDA explained that it will not make any recommendations to the ECDD regarding whether cannabis should be subject to international controls at the moment. Instead, it will defer such consideration until the ECDD has made official considerations to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which are expected to be made in mid-2019. Moreover, the FDA declared that any position it takes on this issue will be preceded by another Federal Register notice, soliciting public comments.

Of course, the United States could deschedule marijuana before the international community takes that step—after all Canada, Uruguay and Portugal have managed to go around the international ban. According to a recent Fox News interview of Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the Trump administration intends to relax federal marijuana laws and regulations after the midterm election.

Rep. Rohrabacher declared he has been “talking to people inside the White House” about ending cannabis prohibition and that he has been “reassured” that the president will stick to his promise to protect state cannabis laws from federal interference.

While it is premature to determine whether the Trump Administration will soon loosen, and possibly legalize, federal cannabis laws, it is clear that the international effort to study the medical and legal status of cannabis are promising steps.

U.S. border policy on Canadians and marijuana is tough.
On the eve of the Canada’s cannabis legalization, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) held a teleconference to explain the agency’s enforcement policy and field questions from journalists.

The on-the-record teleconference featured the head of the CBP’s Office of Field Operations, which has a staff of 28,000+ employees and an operating budget of $5.2 billion to oversee the agency’s operations at 328 ports of entry and air preclearance locations worldwide.

CBP officials confirmed that U.S. government policy remains unchanged in the face of cannabis legalization in Canada: past use of, and any affiliation with, cannabis is grounds for getting a lifetime ban from entering the U.S. without a waiver, as explained in a previous post.

The key takeaways from the teleconference are as follows:

  • Possession: Individuals attempting to cross the Canadian-U.S. border while possessing marijuana are subject to arrest and prosecution. If prosecution is deferred, the individual is potentially subject to a fine of $5,000.
  • Amnesty or Pardon for Past Use: U.S. law will not recognize any amnesty or pardon by Canadian authorities for cannabis-related convictions. Admitting to a CBP officer that you used marijuana any time before legalization is the equivalent of a formal court conviction for that crime and you will likely be denied entry into the United States.
  • Cannabis Industry Workers: Those who legally work in the Canadian cannabis industry must provide details about their role and convince U.S. border officers that their trip to the U.S. is purely personal. Cannabis workers will likely need to prove that while in the U.S., they will not engage in any networking or strategic meetings, presentations, marketing efforts, or any manufacturing or distribution activities with customers or cannabis industry colleagues.
  • Cannabis Investors: Investors who knowingly financed and furthered the growth of the cannabis industry will almost certainly be denied U.S. entry and they risk a lifetime ban. Exceptions to this rule may be made for individuals whose mutual fund investment portfolio happens to have, without their knowledge, some stock in cannabis companies.

There appears to be some latitude at the border for occasional users of marijuana who start using marijuana post-legalization, and can demonstrate to the CBP officer’s satisfaction that they will not consume marijuana while in the U.S., even in states that have legalized it. Testing this theory, however, is for the brave who will put their hand in the crocodile’s mouth after being told that the crocodile does not bite.

canada cannabis marijuana

 

Congratulations to all of our Canadian readers! Today is the big day!

Whether you are a cannabis business owner, consumer, lawyer, doctor, advocate, or even an opponent, you can surely appreciate this historic day. Canada has bucked international trends and become the first North American country to legalize recreational, adult-use marijuana.

Canada has instantly become an international leader in marijuana policy. If states like Washington, Oregon, and California are any indication, there will surely be bumps along the way, but Canadians should be excited about what comes next.

For those celebrating today, be safe and enjoy responsibly!

For more on Canadian cannabis, check out these posts:

u.s. border customs marijuana cannabisCanada’s cannabis legalization creates yet another wrinkle in the relations between the U.S. and its northern neighbor.

U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions harbors a well known hatred towards anything cannabis and he clearly has no love for Canada’s Cannabis Act either. What will this mean though for Canadians who are 100% legally involved in Canada’s cannabis industry when coming to the United States?

The answer came last week, when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) issued its Statement on Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana and Crossing the Border:

[a] Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S. [H]owever, if a traveler is found to be coming to the U.S. for reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible. (Emphasis supplied).

Though this statement is a welcome surprise, it still provokes skepticism from U.S. immigration lawyers who have seen countless foreign nationals banned for life from entering the U.S. because they once used marijuana or were once associated with the cannabis industry.

Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), passed by U.S. Congress in May 1971, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for substances like heroin and LSD, among others, that: (i) have a high potential for abuse; (ii) have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S.; and (iii) lack accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

U.S. federal law – more specifically the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) — governs entry into the United States and under the INA, a “conviction” for controlled substances renders a foreign national inadmissible into the U.S. INA’s definition of “conviction” expands beyond a formal finding of guilt by a court of law to include instances where a foreign national admits to the essential elements of the crime under oath to a U.S. consular or CBP officer. For example, by answering “yes” to the question, “Have you ever smoked pot?”

Even a foreign national who has never consumed marijuana could be declared inadmissible under the INA based on his or her involvement in a legal cannabis business, either as “a knowing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator, or colluder with others” or “an illicit trafficker” of a controlled substance. Earlier in the year, we saw two examples of this when Canadian businesspersons Sam Znaimer and Jay Evans were banned for life from entering the U.S. because of their intended affiliations with U.S. cannabis industry.

Of course, lying about the use of or affiliation with marijuana would also render a foreign national inadmissible and you should avoid this at all costs. CBP has the legal authority to search electronic devices, and if it finds conflicting and/or incriminatory evidence about a foreign national’s actual or intended activities, that foreign national may be refused entry into the U.S. or even given a lifetime ban.

Once declared inadmissible, a foreign national needs a waiver of inadmissibility from the CBP to enter the U.S. These waivers are discretionary, costly, time-consuming, and limited in validity to between one and five years. Even with a waiver, a foreign national will typically face secondary questioning and delays each time he or she attempts to enter the U.S., even when the purpose of the visit is purely personal.

Foreign nationals have also been historically denied entry for profiting from the drug trade. Because of this, cannabis lawyers were concerned that virtually all foreign nationals lawfully engaged in Canada’s cannabis industry would be deemed inadmissible even if coming to the U.S. for purely personal reasons.

The recent statement from the CBP appears to exempt individuals who seek to enter the U.S. for reasons unrelated to cannabis. However, the process of admitting foreign nationals into the U.S. remains discretionary and subjective and only time will tell just how exactly the new policy will be applied at U.S. ports of entry.

Today let’s talk about Matthew Price, the Oregon marijuana businessman headed to jail for tax crimes. This story got a lot of coverage when it broke last month, partly because it was the first known tax-related prosecution for a licensed pot business owner, and partly because Price was fairly well known in Oregon. He once sat on an Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) rules advisory committee for cannabis retail, and he owned three dispensaries. Seems like he was off to a pretty good start.

Well, not any longer. In addition to the seven-month lockup, Price was ordered to pay the I.R.S. $262,776 in restitution on the nearly $1 million in taxable income he raked in from 2011 to 2014. He will probably never be allowed to participate in the OLCC program again, given the agency’s recent tightening of the screws, and its authority to bar anyone with a federal conviction “substantially related to the fitness and ability of the applicant” to obtain a license.

cannabis marijuana tax IRS

Generally speaking, marijuana businesses are liable for lots of tax under IRC 280E. As cannabis business lawyers, we work with CPAs and others to attempt to mitigate our clients’ tax liability, but at the end of the day, that liability is always there. Tax obligations do not end at the federal level, of course: Most states have income tax programs, and all states with legal cannabis programs seem to collect additional taxes on the sale of marijuana. In Oregon, for example, that sales tax must be escrowed by OLCC retailers and paid to the state Department of Revenue. As to Matthew Price, the news reporting was silent on whether he was also shirking those payments.

Having advised state-legal cannabis businesses since 2010, we have seen a lot of monkey business when it comes to tax. We have seen bad lawyers advise clients not to pay taxes, on the theory that tax programs violate business owners’ rights against self-incrimination. We have seen businesses attempt to claim “non-profit” status and avoid taxes in that manner, despite the impossibility of receiving an I.R.S. exemption. And we’ve seen lots of “management company” schemes, most of which are nonsense. At the end of the day, a baseline level of tax is unavoidable.

Interestingly and appropriately, the judge in this case didn’t seem to treat Price differently because his income derived from cannabis sales. It was reported that federal prosecutors petitioned the judge to go hard on Price, in order to send a message to the marijuana industry. The judge wasn’t having that:

The fact that the product involved here is marijuana is utterly meaningless to me in passing a sentence,” the judge said. “It’s a tax case to me.”

That didn’t stop the Justice Department from bragging a bit, but it’s encouraging to see cannabis entrepreneurs being treated like everyone else — in theory, anyway — and for better or worse. On that point, we have often said on this blog that just because someone is violating one federal law by trading in cannabis, that doesn’t make it a good idea to violate all the others. And we always advise entrepreneurs to run their cannabis business like real businesses. That includes paying taxes.