Photo of Daniel Shortt

With a foundation in advocacy for cannabis legalization built through involvement on University of Washington's campus and with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, Daniel has positioned himself as a fearless advocate for the cannabis industry.

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.

industrial hemp CBD legal

As CBD and hemp continue to grow in popularity we are receiving an increasing number of calls and emails from companies that want to distribute hemp across the country. We have written about the legality of hemp and CBD under federal law:

This post focuses on another topic: state law on CBD and Industrial Hemp.

The 2014 Farm Bill grants states the authority to regulate Industrial Hemp, which contains less than .3%  THC on a dry weight basis, through an Agricultural Pilot Program. The Farm Bill also requires that Industrial Hemp is overseen by a state’s department of agriculture. The Farm Bill is light on additional details and states have taken different approaches to regulating Industrial Hemp and CBD derived from Industrial Hemp.

Colorado cemented its place in history as a cannabis pioneer by legalizing marijuana in 2012 along with Washington. Colorado’s hemp credentials are also solid as it has dedicated more acreage to the cultivation of hemp than any other state. Cultivators are permitted to sell hemp to the public. Colorado does not oversee the processing of hemp though which makes the extraction process largely unregulated.

Unlike Colorado, Oregon regulates both the production and processing of Industrial Hemp. Oregon’s Department of Agriculture (ODA) oversees the state’s industrial hemp program. “Growers” must register with the ODA in order to produce Industrial Hemp and “Handlers” must register to process Industrial Hemp. Oregon differs from Colorado in that it does not permit its Growers to sell Industrial Hemp directly to the public. Conversely, Handlers are permitted to sell Industrial Hemp to any person. Growers and Handlers may also sell their products to licensed recreational marijuana businesses giving them access the state’s recreational marijuana market. Growers and Handlers can apply to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) for an Industrial Hemp certificate to transfer hemp to recreational processors. OLCC retailers can then turn around and sell these hemp-based products to Oregon consumers.

Washington recently passed a law that sets up a similar structure. You can read about this law here, as we covered it a few months ago when it was still a proposed  bill. Washington’s licensed processors will soon be allowed to use additives derived from hemp-based products that were grown outside of its licensed marijuana system. These additives may come from Washington’s own Industrial Hemp program, which has been stalled for the last few years due to budget issues, or from Industrial Hemp sourced from other sources.

California has followed a similar path to Washington in that its hemp program has failed to launch in a meaningful way. Part of the hold up has been that California requires that Industrial Hemp only be grown by those on the list of approved hemp seed cultivars. That list includes only hemp seed cultivars certified on or before January 1, 2013. Industrial hemp may only be grown as a densely planted fiber or oilseed crop, or both, in minimum acreages. Growers of industrial hemp and seed breeders must register with the county agricultural commissioner and pay a registration and/or renewal fee. We wrote about proposed changes to California’s program here.

Michigan‘s office of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) recently issued an Advisory Bulletin that only permits the sale of CBD in licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The Bulletin first states that CBD cannot be found in portions of the cannabis plant that fall outside the state’s definition of “marihuana” (i.e., the mature stalks, seeds incapable of germination, fiber from stalks, oil or cake made from seeds or other derivatives of the mature stalks) other than in trace amounts. The Bulletin goes onto state that Michigan’s Industrial Hemp program does not authorize the “sale or transfer” of Industrial Hemp.

This is significant as it means that CBD derived from Industrial Hemp cannot be sold and that CBD derived from marijuana can only be sold in dispensaries. The Bulletin also seems to include Industrial Hemp from other states as it concludes with the following:

Any possession or transfer of industrial hemp – or any product claimed to be “hemp”-related – must be done in compliance with Michigan’s Industrial Hemp Research Act.

The bottom line in Michigan is that to sell CBD in that state, whether from marijuana or hemp, you need to go through a dispensary.

Also keep in mind that some states do not regulate Industrial Hemp at all. This should not be interpreted to mean that they will turn a blind eye to hemp products distributed within their borders. Other states, regulate CBD specifically, which can be found in Industrial Hemp, and those states limit the use of CBD to patients who have received an authorization from a physician for its medical use.

If you want to distribute Industrial Hemp across the country it is not as simple as making sure that you have a licensed cultivator. Sure, you need to know the laws of the state in which you are sourcing hemp, but that’s not enough. You need to also consider the legal landscape of the places you intend to ship and sell Industrial Hemp products.

On May 22, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) issued an internal directive (the “Directive”) acknowledging the Agency’s jurisdiction over cannabis has its limits. The directive is in line with a plain reading of the federal Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”), which authorizes the DEA’s enforcement power, but does not regulate the whole cannabis plant.

To conceptualize this, think of the CSA distinguishing the cannabis plant into two parts. The first is “Marihuana” which is “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.” The second classification under the CSA is “Exempt Cannabis Plant Material.” As per the CSA definition, we can break Exempt Cannabis Plant Material into four categories:

  1. Mature stalks
  2. Fiber produced from mature stalks
  3. Oil or cake made from seeds
  4. Seeds incapable  of germination

Exempt Cannabis Plant Material also includes “any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation” of the items listed above. However, there is an exception to the exemption as resin derived from mature stalks is considered Marijuana, not Exempt Plant Material. If you are feeling confused at this point, don’t worry: This stuff is not for the faint of heart.

And that is where the Directive comes in. The Directive states that it was issued in order to clarify the ruling in Hemp Industries Ass’n v. DEA, 357 F.3d 1012 (9th Cir. 2004). In this 2004 decision the Court prevented the DEA from enforcing 21 C.F.R. § 1308.11(d)(31), which independently lists THC as a Schedule I substance, with respect to Exempt Plant Material. The Directive also acknowledges that the DEA does not enforce 21 C.F.R. § 1308.35, which was the agency’s attempt to regulate Exempt Plant Material when it was contained in products intended for human consumption. Kyle Jaeger of Marijuana Moment reported that the Directive’s concession was part of a settlement with the Hemp Industries Association (“HIA”).

So why would the DEA is issue a directive based on a case that was 14 years ago? It probably has to do with the HIA’s more recent lawsuit against the DEA over its Marijuana Extract Rule. In that case, the Ninth Circuit declined to review the Marijuana Extract Rule on largely procedural grounds. For those keeping score, HIA has sued the DEA three times, with two wins and a qualified loss.

The “Marijuana Extract Rule” broadly defines a “marijuana extract” as:

“[A]n extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis, other than the separated resin (whether crude or purified) obtained from the plant.”

Under the plain text, the “hook” for this rule is the presence of any cannabinoid from any part of the cannabis plant. Full stop. It makes no distinction between Exempt Plant Material and Marijuana. This seems to go far beyond the scope of the CSA. However, this directive concedes that the DEA’s power is limited to Marijuana and not Exempt Plant Plant Material:

“Products and materials that are made from the cannabis plant and which fall outside the CSA definition of marijuana (such as sterilized seeds, oil or cake made from the seeds, and mature stalks) are not controlled under the CSA.”

The Directive goes a step further by acknowleding that Exempt Plant Material is outside of the DEA’s jurisdiction despite the presence of a cannabinoid:

“Such products may accordingly be sold and otherwise distributed throughout the United States without restriction under the CSA or its implementing regulations. The mere presence of cannabinoids is not itself dispositive as to whether a substance is within the scope of the CSA; the dispositive question is whether the substance falls within the CSA definition of marijuana.”

The Directive goes on to clarify that Exempt Plant Materials are also legal to import and export in compliance with the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act.

The Directive does not explicitly address Industrial Hemp as defined in 7606 of the 2014 US Farm Bill (the “Farm Bill”). The Farm Bill allows states to grow “Industrial Hemp” defined as having less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis in states that have implement agricultural pilot hemp programs. In the Court’s recent decision to deny reviewing the Marijuana Extract Rule, it threw HIA a pretty nice bone:

“[The Farm Bill] contemplates potential conflict between the Controlled Substances Act and preempts it. The Final Rule therefore, does not violate the [Farm Bill].”

Premption means that the Farm Bill overides the CSA, when the two conflict. The DEA cannot use its enforcement authority under the CSA to enforce the Marijuana Extract Rule with regards to extracts derived from bona fide Industrial Hemp. Specifically, the Industrial Hemp must be grown pursuant to a state’s industrial hemp program and contain less than .3% THC. Also, the DEA has stated that the Farm Bill  does not permit the commercial sale of Industrial Hemp or its interstate transfer, although Congress has limited DEA’s ability to use federal funds to prohibit the sale or interstate transfer of Industrial Hemp until September 2018.

So where does that leave us with regards to cannabidiol (“CBD”)? The Marijuana Extract Rule is valid. Obviously, it would cover any product containing CBD if that product were derived from Marijuana. However, based on the Directive and the Ninth Circuit’s decisions, extracts containing CBD derived from Exempt Plant Material or Industrial Hemp would not be within the Marijuana Extract Rule.

There is significant scientific research showing that meaningful levels of CBD cannot be extracted from Exempt Plant Material. The Farm Bill provides protection to all parts of the cannabis plant if the plant is Industrial Hemp, including the flowering tops. CBD could be extracted from Industrial Hemp without necessarily falling under the DEA’s jurisdiction. And can it be sold interstate? Well, given what Congress has done, at least until September.

industrial hemp tax 280E
Not always taxed like marijuana, in theory.

Short answer: It depends.

As we discussed last week, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Hemp Industries Assn. et.al., vs. U.S. Drug Enforcement Admin., upheld the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) broad rule creating a separate classification for “Marijuana Extracts.”  Marijuana Extracts are broadly defined as “any extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis”. The ruling received an extraordinary amount of press, but lost in all of this breathless reportage was a very important point for a certain class of hemp businesses: The Court explicitly stated that the 2014 Farm Bill (“Farm Bill”) preempts the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Accordingly, expenses incurred through an activity conducted strictly within the parameters of the Farm Bill arguably are not subject to IRC §280E.

Businesses that are operating outside the narrow parameters of Section 7606 of the Farm Bill, however, whether trading in hemp or any derivative product, will have to deal with IRC §280E. As a refresher, the Farm Bill allows a state to grow “Industrial Hemp” if it has implemented an official agricultural pilot program. These pilot programs, generally administered through state Departments of Agriculture, issue licenses or permits to businesses and individuals, allowing the cultivation of “Industrial Hemp.” That cultivar is defined as any part of the cannabis sativa plant with less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis. If a plant contains 0.3% or more THC on a dry weight basis, or is not cultivated by a pilot program licensee, the cultivator is operating outside of federal law and hence subject to IRC §280E.

So why is this such a big deal? As we explained previously, IRC §280E prohibits a deduction for any amount paid or incurred in carrying on any trade or business that consists of trafficking in a Schedule I or II controlled substance under the CSA. Accordingly, any industrial hemp business conducting the following activities is possibly subject to the horror of IRC §280E including:

  • Food and Body Care;
  • Textiles;
  • Building Material; and
  • Cannabinoids.

If IRC § 280E applies to a hemp business, that business will lose deductions otherwise available to almost every other US business. Clearly, IRC §280E puts these businesses at a competitive disadvantage. The disadvantage can be so severe as to be fatal in certain cases.

It’s important to note that although IRC 280E disallows expenses and credits paid for trade or businesses engaged in trafficking of marijuana listed as a Schedule I drug, this onerous code section does not apply to cost of goods sold. As such, a grower, farmer, cultivator, processor, or a manufacturer of hemp products may deduct any costs that are properly included in cost of goods sold. This rule is noncontroversial: In 2015, the IRS Chief Counsel issued a memorandum that clarified that a cannabis business may deduct these costs under IRC §471 and related regulations. Specifically, under IRC §471, costs included in cost of goods sold are those costs incident and necessary to production including:

  • Direct material costs;
  • Direct labor costs;
  • Utilities;
  • Maintenance;
  • Rent (real estate and equipment); and
  • Quality control.

Depending on your treatment for financial statement purposes, the following indirect costs may be included in cost of goods sold including:

  • Taxes necessary for production;
  • Depreciation;
  • Employee Benefits;
  • Factory administrative costs; and
  • Insurance.

On the other hand, a non-Farm Bill compliant hemp producer will lose under IRC §280E deductions related to sales, marketing and non-production related management costs.

In addition to creating headaches for non-Farm Bill compliant growers, the application of IRC §280E will have a detrimental impact on wholesalers and retailers of CBD products who also are not operating in full compliance with the Farm Bill. For these businesses, IRC §280E would operate to disallow a deduction for most overhead costs. This could have an especially severe impact on mixed retail businesses that sell CBD products in conjunction with other products.

Example: A pharmacy that sells products containing non-Farm Bill CBD as well as more traditional health products (e.g., shaving cream) may now be subject to IRC §280E. Unless the sale of non-CBD products can be considered a separate trade or business, it is possible that IRC §280E would operate to disallow the deduction of all operating expenses.

Finally, it is unclear if the IRS will apply IRC §280E retroactively to non-Farm Bill hemp businesses. The IRS could apply IRC §280E retroactively on audit or to years otherwise open. For example, the IRS could go back to tax year 2014 and adjust the income tax returns of certain taxpayers engaged in hemp manufacturing and sales of hemp products.

Under the new tax law effective January 1, 2018, Congress gave U.S. business several targeted tax benefits. For many businesses in the developing industrial hemp sector, the impact of IRC §280E reverses many of the benefits of the new tax law. Perhaps Congress can address some of these issues by passing the expansive Hemp Farming Act of 2018 which, as currently written, would explicitly remove Industrial Hemp and derivatives of that cannabis cultivar from the Controlled Substances Act. Better yet: repeal IRC §280E.

CBD hemp extract
The law on CBD is still a maze.

If you were hoping for some clarity as to the legality of industrial hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) derived from industrial hemp, I have some (mostly) bad news.

On Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied a lawsuit challenging the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) controversial Marihuana Extracts Rule. In Hemp Industries Assoc. v. DEA, the petitioners and other industry groups challenged the DEA’s rule creating a new drug code number for “”Marihuana Extracts” which is defined to include any extract “containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis.” This rule is so broadly drafted that it seems to prohibit extracts from parts of the cannabis plant that are legal or at least unregulated under federal law. Petitioners requested the Court clarify or strike down the DEA’s land-grab rule.

The Court denied both requests. Rather than diving into the substance of the petitioners’ complaint, the Court dismissed the action on largely procedural grounds, as we recently predicted it would. First, the court pointed to the fact that the petitioners failed to make an argument to the DEA while it was accepting comments on the Marihuana Extract Rule and are therefore barred from raising those issues before the Court. The petitioners claimed that another commenter raised their concerns by submitting a question as to whether the rule would cover “100% pure Cannabidiol by itself with nothing else?” But the Court determined the DEA considered this comment and altered the rule to clarify that it covered all cannabinoids. The Court also determined that several of the petitioners’ other arguments were waived for failure to raise the issue during the DEA’s notice and comment period.

The Court did determine that the petitioners’ argument that the Marihuana Extract Rule conflicted with 7606 of the 2014 US Farm Bill (the “Farm Bill”) was not waived, because Congress passed that law after the notice and comment period ended. The Farm Bill allows states to grow “Industrial Hemp” defined as having less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis in states that have implement agricultural pilot hemp programs. However, the Court determined that the argument failed on the merits. The Court found that the Farm Bill “contemplates potential conflict between the Controlled Substances Act [CSA] and preempts it. The Final Rule therefore, does not violate the [Farm Bill].” To the positive, the Court is stating that when the Industrial Hemp portions of the Farm Bill conflict with the CSA, the Farm Bill prevails.

This decision makes it clear that the Marihuana Extract Rule is unfortunately still valid, meaning that any products extracted from marijuana is still illegal under federal law, which has long been the case according to the DEA. The great unknown is how this ruling will be interpreted. It’s possible that the ruling could have a chilling effect on the growing CBD industry, by emboldening the DEA to actively pursue products that contain CBD. On this point, it’s important to note that Congress has limited the DEA’s ability to use federal funds “to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of industrial hemp” grown in accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill. However, it can be difficult to prove where a product containing CBD was derived and the DEA may try to push its boundaries in light of the decision. Therefore, it’s important that companies who are distributing CBD verify that it was derived from a legal source and are prepared to prove it.

State law enforcement agencies could also interpret this decision to crack down on CBD, especially in states that have not implemented Farm Bill hemp programs. These agencies are not limited by the budget provision that restricts the DEA enforcement activities. Although we have not heard any instances of state law enforcement cracking down on these sales, it is certainly possible that some will do so.

The Ninth Circuit could have used this as an opportunity to state explicitly that CBD derived from a legal source is also legal. Unfortunately, it did not. Because the Court did explicitly state that the Farm Bill preempts the CSA, though, the silver lining here is that Industrial Hemp, grown pursuant to the Farm Bill, is not illegal under the CSA according to the Ninth Circuit. In addition, shortly after the HIA filed its petition, the DEA made the following helpful clarifications: 

  • The “marihuana extract” definition does not include materials or products excluded from the definition of marijuana set forth in the CSA.
  • The rule includes only those extracts that fall within the CSA definition of marijuana.
  • If a product consists solely of parts of the cannabis plant excluded from the CSA definition of marijuana, such product is not considered “marihuana” or a “marihuana extract.”

Consistent with the Court’s ruling, this appears to exempt extracts that are derived from lawfully grown Industrial Hemp. It also exempts extracts derived from portions of the cannabis plant that are not included in the CSA’s definition of “marihuana”, which include the mature stalks and seeds incapable of germination.

All in all, this convoluted mess of marijuana, hemp, and CBD law could soon become much clearer if Mitch McConnell’s Hemp Farming Act of 2018 is passed. Stay tuned for more information on the ongoing saga of legal hemp and its derivatives.

hemp federal law
Are the glory days of hemp returning?

Senator Mitch McConnel (R-KY) recently introduced S.2667, a bill which would allow states and tribes to regulate hemp production. The proposed law is appropriately titled the “Hemp Farming Act of 2018” (the “Act”). As the Senate Majority Leader, McConnell is one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, so it goes without saying that this is a big deal. In addition, the Act is being fast-tracked through the Senate, bypassing the standard committee review process.

The Act is currently in draft form and the details are subject to change. As written, “hemp” would be defined as:

“the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-0 [THC] concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

This proposed definition is significant, because it specifically includes the term “extracts”, thereby undermining the DEA’s much-maligned “marihuana extract” rule, which broadly defines any extract from the cannabis plant as “marijuana” and not hemp. The proposed “hemp” definition also includes “cannabinoids” contained in hemp which could add much needed legal certainty to the already booming CBD market. The Act would also explicitly remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act’s definition of marijuana.

The authority to regulate legal hemp would be placed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One major issue with the current federal “Industrial Hemp” program is that the 2014 Farm Bill, which established the program, does not name a federal agency to oversee it. Feel free to debate whether government regulations help or hurt an industry, but at least this bill provides some guidance as to who is responsible for the program.

Speaking of the 2014 Farm Bill, the Act would repeal and replace the “Industrial Hemp” section of that the 2014 Farm Bill one year after Act is passed into law.  The 2014 Farm Bill allows states to enact pilot programs for hemp research making hemp legal within the state’s borders. Hemp cultivated in compliance with a State’s program is expressly legal under the Farm Bill. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other federal agencies have issued a joint Statement of Principles claiming that the commercial sale and/or the interstate transfer of Industrial Hemp is outside the scope of the Farm Bill and therefore unlawful. However, Congress has limited the DEA’s ability to use federal funds “to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of industrial hemp” grown in accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill.

Ultimately, the Act would require that states and tribes submit a plan to the US Department of Agriculture in order to cultivate hemp. The plan must include details on how to track the land where hemp is produced, a procedure for testing the THC concentration in hemp, a procedure for disposing of products that are not in compliance, and procedures for enforcing the Act. The Act would also allow hemp researchers to apply for grants from the and make hemp farmers eligible for crop insurance.

McConnell introduced the Act in the Senate on April 12, 2018, and it was co-sponsored by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. That same day saw Representatives James Comer of Kentucky introduce companion bill H.R. 5485 in the House of Representatives with and Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado co-sponsoring.

McConnell hails from Kentucky and it’s no surprise that lawmakers from Kentucky, Oregon, and Colorado would support hemp legalization. In 2014,  we predicted Kentucky would lead the nation in industrial hemp as it was one of the first states to implement a hemp cultivation program under the 2014 Farm Bill. Kentucky was also one of the first states to legally obtain hemp seeds after it stepped up to fight the DEA in federal court in order to obtain those seeds. Since then, farmers in Kentucky have been happily producing hemp as a replacement for tobacco crops. McConnell and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles highlighted Kentucky’s hemp program in announcing the Act:

McConnell: Hemp has played a foundational role in Kentucky’s agricultural heritage, and I believe that it can be an important part of our future. I am grateful to join our Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles in this effort. He and his predecessor, Jamie Comer, have been real champions for the research and development of industrial hemp in the Commonwealth. The work of Commissioner Quarles here in Kentucky has become a nationwide example for the right way to cultivate hemp. I am proud to stand here with him today, because I believe that we are ready to take the next step and build upon the successes we’ve seen with Kentucky’s hemp pilot program.

Quarles: Here in Kentucky, we have built the best Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program in the country and have established a model for how other states can do the same with buy-in from growers, processors, and law enforcement. I want to thank Leader McConnell for introducing this legislation which allows us to harness the economic viability of this crop and presents the best opportunity to put hemp on a path to commercialization.

In addition to Kentucky’s leadership on hemp, Oregon has reconfigured its hemp program and is a national bellwether in this space. Oregon hemp growers and handlers are able to sell their products to state-licensed marijuana businesses (as well as anyone else in the country). The merger of Oregon’s hemp and marijuana markets is unique and other states will likely follow suit, especially if the Act becomes law. Finally, Colorado has more acreage dedicated to hemp cultivation than any other state at present.

As mentioned above, it appears that McConnell is flexing his considerable political muscle to get this bill fast-tracked through Senate. McConnell is using procedural Rule 14 which allows a bill to skip over the committee process so that legislation may be brought up on the Senate floor. This doesn’t guarantee that the Hemp Farming Act will get a vote, but it does indicate that McConnell means business.

washington cannabis license

As of April 1, 2018, Washington marijuana processors are required to hold a special endorsement from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to make marijuana-infused edibles (MIEs). This requirement follows from the WSDA’s appointment to share regulatory authority over MIEs with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB). The WSDA’s Food Safety Program regulates, inspects and provides technical assistance to food processors generally, regarding product safety issues. Now, the WSDA will conduct similar activities with MIE processors including carrying out enforcement and recalls when necessary.

The endorsement costs $895 initially and $895 for each annual renewal. Applications must be submitted to the Washington State Department of Revenue Business Licensing Service website. Technically, processors are required to hold the endorsements as of April 1, but WSDA is providing a 30-day grace period. Therefore, the clock is ticking on any processors who have not yet acquired this mandatory endorsement.

Note that the endorsement is only available to businesses that already hold a processor license. The LCB is not currently accepting applications for new processor licenses. To add an MIE endorsement, a business or individual must currently have a processor license and only produce MIE products at a single facility. A business or individual cannot add MIE products under a Food Processor license, process MIE products at a facility that processes non-marijuana food products, or process non-marijuana food products at a facility that produces MIE products.

Prior to April 1, the WSDA had contracted with the LCB to inspect the facilities of processors making MIEs, so in some ways, not much is changing. Other than the new $895 fee, processors shouldn’t feel the impact of this regulatory change immediately. The LCB will maintain authority over marijuana activities such as processor license requirements, packaging, and labeling. Processors that are currently in compliance with food-related regulations for MIEs will not need to re-submit food safety information (e.g., floor plan, sanitation procedures) when applying for the MIE endorsement. If there are no changes to ownership, location, or products, WSDA will not require an inspection. Processors that have not produced MIEs before will have to submit additional information to WSDA and LCB. In 2015, the WSDA provided an outline of the basic requirements for processing MIEs and that document is available here.

Looking forward, processors can expect to deal with the WSDA more frequently. The WSDA now has authority to undertake enforcement action and implement recalls. On March 19, the WSDA issued a letter to stakeholders, stating that processors “may experience more frequent inspections, as well as more outreach efforts and industry engagement.” WSDA intends to inspect MIE-producing facilities within 12 months of the endorsement and may collect additional information during those inspections. Processors who make ownership, location, or product changes must submit materials to both WSDA and LCB.

If you hold a processor license that currently produces MIEs, you need to apply for this special endorsement this month to continue operating. This firm is very familiar with licensing procedures and can assist your business throughout the process of applying for this new endorsement. Feel free to contact us with any questions and stay tuned for additional updates.

An appeals court in Washington ruled last week that Clark County has the authority to ban the retail sale of recreational marijuana, settling any remaining dispute as to whether local governments in Washington can ban marijuana activities. The ruling was a long time coming, and not unexpected.

Washington law and rules promulgated by the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB or the Board) give local authorities the option to object to whether the LCB will grant a license. However, the LCB gets to make the final decision. In 2014, Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a General Opinion that opined that state law had not preempted local jurisdictions from banning marijuana. Shortly after the Attorney General’s opinion, Clark County passed its prohibition ordinance.

The dispute in Emerald Enterprises LLC v. Clark County stems from Clark County’s ordinance prohibiting the retail sale of recreational marijuana in unincorporated Clark County. In spite of the ordinance, Emerald Enterprises applied for a retail marijuana license at a location in Clark County. The Board granted the license but Clark County revoked Emerald’s business permit for violating the ordinance by selling recreational cannabis.

Emerald challenged the ordinance in court, claiming that state law preempted Clark County’s ordinance and the County could not ban all retail sales. The trial court ruled in favor of the County and Emerald appealed, arguing that state law preempts local law with respect to permitted sales of cannabis.

“Preemption” occurs in situations when a higher authority takes precedence over a law passed by a lower authority. This comes up when state and federal law conflict but also applies to state and local law. Preemption is limited to laws that are actually in conflict. The Court of Appeals summarized when preemption occurs under Washington law:

A local law must yield to a state statute on the same subject matter if a conflict exists such that the two cannot be harmonized. The focus of the inquiry is on the substantive conduct proscribed by the two laws. For example, . .  an ordinance may punish littering more harshly than state law because both prohibit the same underlying conduct. No conflict exists if the provisions can be harmonized.  Here,the County’s local ban on retail marijuana stores can be harmonized with state law.

(Citations and quotations omitted.)

According to the Court, nothing in Washington law either expressly or implicitly preempted Clark County from passing its ordinance. Initiative 502 (I-502) and related statutes grant the LCB the authority to issue marijuana retail licenses but do not grant an affirmative right to sell cannabis. In other words, the law does not require the Board to issue licenses. The court stated that the fact that an activity can be licensed does not mean that the activity must be allowed under local law.  The Court also ruled that Clark County’s ban did not thwart the intent of I-502 because the purpose of legalization was to regulate and tax marijuana, not encourage the sale of cannabis.

Additionally, the Court determined that the State legislature considered the possibility that local governments would prohibit marijuana sales because it created a system where local governments that allow the sale of marijuana could share in the tax revenue derived from cannabis sales and cities and counties that prohibit retail sales can not. In 2015, when the state legislature created this tax program, we wrote that this settled the question of whether or not local authorities could prohibit marijuana activity.

Shortly after the Court of Appeals published its opinion, the Washington Attorney General issued a press release reiterating the fact that Bob Ferguson has long held the opinion that local governments have the authority to prohibit marijuana businesses and highlighting that his office intervened in the case. The press release also argued that allowing local governments to prohibit cannabis could help keep marijuana legal in Washington despite a hostile federal administration:

Local governments like Clark County that have banned marijuana businesses have indicated that if I-502 requires them to allow marijuana businesses, then they will challenge I-502 and argue that it is preempted by federal law. If courts agree with this argument, it could potentially threaten I-502 and Washington’s regulated marijuana system. But if courts continue to agree with the AGO opinion that Washington’s marijuana law does not require local governments to allow marijuana businesses, this threat will be avoided, because courts will not need to rule on the question of federal preemption. This allows legalized marijuana to continue in Washington, in accordance with voters’ wishes.

This result is not surprising and for the most part, marijuana businesses are not trying to operate in areas where cities or counties have banned marijuana activity. Cannabis businesses in Washington need to be aware of local rules and regulations in addition to the state’s robust regulations. For individuals living in Clark County (or any other jurisdiction that bans retail sales) who don’t like this result, this decision makes it clear that you’ll need to take it up with the County Commissioner, not the courts.

Crafting laws and regulations is more art than science. The authors of initiatives, legislators, and administrative agencies who create and implement rules to legalize medical and recreational marijuana are bound to get some things wrong. This may be due to political pressures, competing interests, and the simple fact that marijuana is prohibited under federal law.

Now that so many states have legalized, we figured a good way to determine what was working and what was not, would be to ask individuals those living in those states. So we did just that on our lively Facebook page by asking for our readers’ feedback. The responses were interesting and all over the board.

marijuana cannabis surveyMany of our readers expressed a concern that California has been over-regulating cannabis since voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016. (We wrote about this issue recently here.) Complaints were focused on the increased price of cannabis products since legalization went into effect on January 1. There were also complaints about how medical patients no longer had access to products that were available prior to the state’s new and expansive cannabis regulations.

In a similar fashion, many commentators claimed that Washington‘s regulatory framework was overly burdensome, though there were not nearly as many complaints about the price of cannabis which has dropped significantly since Washington retail stores first opened in 2014.  Washingtonians did take issue with the state being the only state that legalized recreational cannabis without allowing for home cultivation. Washington regulators have also faced criticism for the slow implementation of the state’s new traceability system.

Generally, people commented positively on Colorado and Oregon, citing the ability to home grow and good access to dispensaries. Some commentators complained about inconsistent enforcement in certain counties, claiming that police in some areas seemed to continually take issue with marijuana despite legalization. Hopefully, this issue subsides.

We did not get much feedback on other adult use states. One Facebook user was happy with Nevada but hoped that the state would have more options with regards to available strains. Alaska‘s program was criticized for problems with lab testing and the unfulfilled expectation that Alaskans would have social use cannabis clubs. One user from Massachusettes complained that legalization was progressing too slowly. And we did not receive any feedback on Maine or Washington D.C., unfortunately.

Some common complaints regarding states that only permitted medical marijuana were that it was too expensive to obtain an authorization card, and that the state burdened patients by the ways which patients could consume cannabis products. For example, New York allows medical cannabis but does not allow for smokeable forms of cannabis. Others argued that the cost of medical marijuana was too high or that states did not have enough products to satisfy the needs of patients.

Finally, in states that have either no legal marijuana program or medical programs that are limited only to CBD, the criticism was fairly straightforward: prohibition is not working! However, many commentators were hopeful that their state would legalize in the near future or that federal cannabis prohibition would end soon. Here’s hoping.

The Washington State House of Representatives is considering  House Bill 2334, which would allow licensed marijuana producers and processors to use cannabidiol (CBD) from a source not licensed by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB). The bill defines a “CBD product” as “any product containing or consisting of cannabidiol” and would permit the use of CBD products from unlicensed sources so long as the CBD product has a THC level of 0.3 percent or less on a dry weight basis and has been lab tested.

Washington’s regulated cannabis market is a closed loop that works on the principle that no marijuana comes in and none goes out. Everything sold in a licensed retail store is grown by licensed producer and processed into products like oils and edible by a licensed processor. If a licensee is caught bringing in marijuana from an outside source, the LCB will cancel the license.

HB 2234 would have the most impact on processors who could add CBD to products such as marijuana oils, candies, capsules, and other infused products. Though HB 2334 is still far from being law, processors in Washington have flirted with the idea of using unlicensed CBD to create products with higher CBD concentrations. Processors who choose to enrich products with unlicensed CBD do so at their own risk.

The legal basis for claiming that using CBD from cannabis outside of Washington’s regulated market is based on the idea that not all cannabis is in fact “marijuana” and that products containing CBD derived from “Industrial Hemp” or from portions of the cannabis plant that are excluded from the federal Controlled Substances Act’s (CSA) definition of “marijuana” are legal under federal law.

Section 7606 of the 2014 US Farm Bill  (the Farm Bill) creates the framework for the legal the cultivation of “Industrial Hemp”, which is defined as cannabis with a THC concentration of less than 0.3% on a dry weight basis. The Farm Bill allows states to enact pilot programs for hemp research purposes. Washington has such a program, though it is underfunded. Hemp that is cultivated in compliance with a state’s pilot program is legal pursuant to the Farm Bill, although the sale of any products derived from this research is not explicitly allowed.

Last year, the state legislature required that the LCB study the viability of allowing processors to use hemp cultivated by licensed hemp farmers. See RCW 15.120.060. It’s also possible that a processor could use CBD derived from a hemp cultivator in another state that has implemented an Industrial Hemp program under the Farm Bill, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has issued a Statement of Principle claiming that the interstate transfer of Industrial Hemp is outside the scope of the Farm Bill and therefore unlawful.

Processors may also claim that if CBD is derived from the mature stalks of the cannabis plant, it is not prohibited by the CSA. The CSA’s definition of marijuana “does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.” 21 USC §802(16). In the early 2000’s, two cases out of the Ninth Circuit, Hemp Indus. Ass’n v. DEA, 357 F.3d 1012 (9th Cir. Cal. 2004) and Hemp Indus. Ass’n v. DEA, 333 F.3d 1082 (9th Cir. 2003) clarified that the DEA could not regulate hemp products merely because they contained trace amounts of THC. According to these rulings, some portions of the cannabis plant are explicitly outside the scope of the CSA. Thus, the court ruled that the DEA was not permitted to expand the scope of the CSA to encompass all parts the cannabis plant.

Because it was illegal to grow hemp in the United States until 2014, the Ninth Circuit decisions only applied to hemp imported from other countries. For CBD sourced from domestically grown hemp, today’s processors would need to know for certain from which part of the cannabis plant the CBD was derived to have a credible argument. If the CBD were sourced from any portion other than the mature stalks or seeds incapable of germination, then the product would be derived from marijuana and the processor could lose its license. There is also a question of whether a meaningful amount of CBD can even be extracted from mature stalks and seeds incapable of germination.

Processors who are using CBD additives do so at their own peril. Neither of the above legal theories provides much security as the licensee is counting on the fact that the LCB will accept this complex legal analysis and determine that the licensee is not using unlicensed cannabis. HB 2334 would provide some clarity and create a legitimate method to use unlicensed CBD. HB 2334 could also create an incentive for more farmers to participate in Washington’s fledgling hemp market. Finally, the bill would likely result in an increase in high-CBD products that some consumers–especially medical cannabis users–feel Washington’s market lacks.

For the bill to become law, it would have to pass the House, pass the Senate, and be signed by the Governor. It’s still too early to tell with HB 2334 will make it, but it’s worth keeping an eye on for now.