California cannabis lawyers

Our California cannabis lawyers are constantly asked how big sales and tax revenues will be in California once adult use cannabis becomes legal there. With recent reports of increased sales in Colorado and Nevada, everyone is expecting California – with its population of nearly 40 million people – to dwarf the sales of other adult use cannabis states. Many see California sales exceeding Colorado and Washington sales (together!) by at least ten times. To say our law firm is bullish on California would be an understatement; we literally cannot find good lawyers fast enough for our two California offices (Los Angeles and San Francisco).

When Californians voted for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (a/k/a AUMA or Prop 64), you could smell the enthusiasm. Our California offices were deluged with a flood of investors looking to invest in California cannabis businesses. Then Governor Brown and the California legislature removed Prop 64’s in-state residency requirement with the enactment of the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (a/k/a MAUCRSA or SB 94) this past June. With residency requirements removed, my firm saw a significant increase in interest from clients outside California seeking to obtain cannabis business licenses in the Golden State.

Unfortunately, local legislators in California’s cities and counties have not kept pace with the enthusiasm on the business side. Prior to SB 94, the legal cannabis landscape consisted of California jurisdictions focused on their medical cannabis ordinances in step with the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act of 2015(MCRSA). The MCRSA was California’s first attempt at establishing a statewide regulatory and licensing regime. The MCRSA also allowed medical cannabis businesses to operate as for-profit businesses starting in 2018.

With most local jurisdictions playing catch-up with the MCRSA, it’s unlikely Californians will be able to purchase recreational cannabis on January 01, 2018. That’s because most California cities and counties are waiting on the state’s main cannabis regulatory agencies – the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Department of Public Health – to publish their emergency regulations before they enact their own adult use cannabis ordinances. The emergency regulations should be released in mid to late November and the Bureau of Cannabis Control has stated that cannabis businesses will be able to apply for temporary permits online in December.

Though it might take a little longer than expected before adult use cannabis sales in California become commonplace, we are seeing local regulators moving in the right direction. In our Cannabis Countdown series, we keep our readers apprised of cannabis ordinance developments on the local level and the below is an updated snapshot of what’s going on across the state regarding adult-use commercial cannabis activities:

Los Angeles: On March 07, 2017, Los Angeles residents came out in full force and voted for Proposition M, a much-needed effort at clearing up Los Angeles’s previously confusing, complicated, and unfriendly position towards medical cannabis businesses. On June 8th of this year, the Los Angeles City Council released draft requirements for commercial cannabis activities – which we covered here. After the release of these draft requirements, there was a 60-day comment period and on September 22nd, the City Council revised the draft requirements – which we covered extensively here. On September 25th the City Council Rules Committee requested the Los Angeles City Attorney prepare and present a draft ordinance addressing the changes made in the revised draft regulations. Though Los Angeles will authorize seed to sale license types (indoor cultivation, non-volatile and volatile manufacturing, distribution, and retail) it’s unlikely it will have an adult use cannabis permitting process in place by the start of 2018.

San Francisco: The city of San Francisco (where I am located) proposed draft cannabis legislation on September 26th of this year. The proposed legislation requires creating an equity program, authorizes the issuance of temporary local licenses for medical cannabis businesses, and will have seed to sale license types (including the microbusiness license). It also allows for medical and adult use cannabis licenses, but adult use licenses won’t be issued until the equity program is in place. The ordinance does not cap the number of permits to be issued citywide, nor does it limit the number of licenses a person can hold – except that testing licensees cannot hold other cannabis licenses. However at a recent stakeholder meeting I attended, it was discussed that the Board of Supervisors (BOS) may revisit the issue of licensing caps (at the individual applicant and citywide level). It’s paramount that cannabis supporters stay politically active and fight complacency — don’t let what happened in San Luis Obispo happen in your city. San Francisco’s Office of Cannabis is to provide the BOS with an equity report, a medicinal access report, and a proposed fee schedule by November 1st of this year. Much like Los Angeles, San Francisco has proposed a cannabis-friendly ordinance that likely will not be ready for 2018.

Humboldt County: As part of the famed Emerald Triangle, Humboldt County is a cannabis business-friendly jurisdiction. On September 7th, Humboldt County’s Planning and Building Department released a draft cannabis ordinance that provides for the following:

  • Licenses all seed to sale commercial activities (including non-volatile and volatile manufacturing);
  • Allows farm-based retail sales, subject to receiving a retailer’s license from the state (we’ll have to see what the Bureau of Cannabis Control has to say about that);
  • Authorizes temporary special events for cannabis sales and consumption;
  • Allows on-site consumption for retailers and microbusinesses (for persons 21 years of age and older); and
  • Allows for cannabis tours and cannabis farm stays.

This proposed ordinance cements Humboldt’s reputation as a place that thinks outside the box when it comes to attracting cannabis businesses. Humboldt’s proposed ordinance was up for review and public comment on October 18 and we expect its enactment by early December. We are not sure whether Humboldt will allow current medical cannabis businesses to convert over to adult use and for-profit enterprises before January 01, 2018.

Though some of California’s biggest population centers will take their time before enacting adult use cannabis ordinances, we envision some of the more sparsely populated (and tax-starved) California jurisdictions will be the first to move into the adult use cannabis marketplace.

We will be sure to keep you posted on new developments in our Cannabis Countdown series.

California cannabis lawyersCalifornia’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (the “BCC”) held public licensing workshops in three cities in California last week. If you didn’t get a chance to make it, don’t worry. We did and we’ve got you covered.

At the Los Angeles event, hundreds of people showed up to the point where most did not even get inside the building.The workshop focused on licensing information and resources available for people planning on applying for California state cannabis licenses. The BCC staff passed out flyers with the information required for temporary license applications. Temporary licenses will be effective starting January 1, 2018, and will allow businesses to engage in commercial cannabis activity for a period of 120 days.

Local jurisdiction authorization is still paramount to receiving a temporary license. If your business has not yet received this, it will delay your ability to receive a state temporary license. A license or permit issued by the local jurisdiction will be sufficient to show the applicant is allowed to conduct commercial cannabis activity at the location.

Other information required are names of the applicant (either individual or entity); license type; license designation; contact information; names of the owners; physical address and authorization to use the location for commercial cannabis activity; and a premises diagram showing the layout of the proposed location.

The last of the public licensing workshops was held in Sacramento this past Tuesday before a packed house at the Convention Center. Representatives from all of the state’s cannabis licensing agencies – California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”), California Department of Food and Agriculture (“CDFA”), and the BCC – were in attendance to answer the public’s questions. There were also representatives from the following departments:

  • California Department of Tax and Fee Administration;
  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife;
  • California Department of Insurance;
  • California Secretary of State;
  • California Employment Development Department;
  • California Department of Industrial Relations; and
  • Sacramento’s Office of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement.

The scene in the Sacramento’s Convention Center can be described as polite chaos as the public made its way through the tables staffed by these departments. Cannabis businesses, advisors, and investors were all hoping to gather as much information and clarification as possible in what is still an evolving California cannabis regulatory landscape. The lack of clarity is a source of consternation for many cannabis businesses worried about their business model going forward and I highly recommend California cannabis business owners (and all interested stakeholders) review the proposed medical regulations released in April of this year; you can find the BCC’s here, the CDPH’s here and the CDFA’s here. I then recommend you review how each department summarized and responded to public comments when the proposed medical regulations were withdrawn. You can find the BCC’s response here and here (the latter on testing facilities), the CDPH’s here, and the CDFA’s here. Get a pot of coffee brewing and delve into those weeds (too many puns I know but I just couldn’t help myself).

Lori Ajax, the Chief of the BBC, did speak briefly and reiterated that the state will issue emergency regulations in mid to late November and that the state’s licensing agencies will accept temporary license applications online in early December. Ms. Ajax was not able to say what the cost of the temporary permit would be (the fees will be released with the emergency regulations) but did stress that the temporary permit fee will be separate from the annual license application fee.

When the emergency regulations are released in November, our California cannabis attorneys expect a flurry of activity as cannabis businesses seek to gain temporary licensure and an early foothold in what will be the new California cannabis landscape. However, current cannabis businesses and new entrants should take this time to review their business model and entity structure. We’ll be sure to stay on top of this for you and we’ll continue with our popular California cannabis webinar series when the emergency regulations are released.

Stay tuned!

California cannabis rules for deliveryLast week, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (“BCC“) finally announced the withdrawal of the MCRSA retailer, transporter, and distributor rules in light of the passage of the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA” a/k/a SB 94) this past June. With that announcement also came some insight from the BCC on what we can expect in the emergency MAUCRSA rules that will drop this November. Specifically, the BCC posted on the California Cannabis Portal website that:

The three cannabis licensing authorities are in the process of drafting emergency regulations based on the new law for the commercial medicinal and adult-use cannabis industries. The licensing authorities will consider the public comments received on the draft medical cannabis regulations and use the feedback to inform the draft emergency regulations. The emergency regulations are expected to be published in November 2017.

And with that website post, the BCC also included a “high level” stakeholder-focused summary telling the public what it learned from the public comments to the MCRSA rules and how it will address those comments in the forthcoming retailer, microbusiness and distributor MAUCRSA rules.

Ultimately, it appears that the majority of public comments will be squared away automatically by MAUCRSA. For example, one summarized public comment was that specialty licenses for “delivery only” or “special events” should be created under the MCRSA (Medical Cannabis and Recreation Act). MAUCRSA takes care of both of these by allowing delivery for only retail and by providing “a state temporary event license at a county fair or district agricultural association event in local jurisdictions that authorize such events.”

There were though some summarized public comments where the BCC’s responses tell us what to expect in the future:

  1. One summarized public comment was that “The regulations should specify which party in the supply chain of transactions (manufacturer, transporter, or dispensary) bears the risk of loss and how much liability should attach.” And the BCC’s response was that liability pretty much has to be negotiated between licensees, which is 100% the right answer. We’ve blogged multiple times about the dangers of product liability (and Prop. 65 violations) in the industry and how to prepare for and shift that risk in your goods and services contracts.
  2. There were several comments about changing the definition of “owner,” lowering the 600-foot buffer requirement, and removing the mandatory labor peace agreement if you have 20 or more employees, dropping the minimum bond requirement, and other MAUCRSA-mandated operational standards, but the BCC made clear that its hands are tied because they must follow SB 94 as written.
  3. The public requested the BCC convene a hotline for assistance with applications, and the BCC replied that “The Bureau will have a call center available to help answer applicant’s questions, as well as materials on its website with information to assist applicants, licensees, and the public.”
  4. Another comment was that “The regulations should provide applicants a streamlined process for converting a business from a not-for-profit business to a for-profit business,” and the BCC punted in its response by stating that MAUCRSA doesn’t require any particular business structure for operation (again, the old collective model is not mandatory for compliance with MAUCRSA, so, if your local jurisdiction permits it, you should begin to think about corporate conversion as application time ramps up).
  5. Colocation of multiple licenses at the same “premises” is still up in the air and the BCC will address it in the emergency rules. Helpfully, AB 133 removed the “separate and distinct” requirement for multiple licenses and licenses of different types.
  6. Regarding comments about continued operations to ensure no disruption of services and goods to qualified patients, the BCC’s response is that temporary licensing should serve to prevent that disconnect.
  7. The public commented that licenses should themselves be transferable and the BCC responded that “By law, each owner must meet certain requirements to hold a license, therefore, a new application is needed. The Bureau is evaluating if a notification, rather than a new application, is appropriate when changes in persons with a financial interest in the business do not include a new owner, who is required to submit fingerprints.” Given that the withdrawn MCRSA rules rendered licenses non-transferable, we’re likely to see that again in the MAUCRSA rules, which means business purchases will likely be the only way to get a hold of a license — as long as you notify the BCC beforehand and the BCC approves that ownership change request. In any event, you should be aware of California’s M & A red flags.
  8. Summarized public comment wanted the distributor license eliminated or small businesses be able to self-distribute. The BCC responded it can’t get rid of the distributor license because it’s required under MAUCRSA, but that it is considering creating another distributor license for transportation only. Not to worry folks, you can self-distribute and you don’t need to contract with a distributor anymore to make a sale to a retailer.
  9. The BCC is reviewing whether cannabis licensees will be able to engage in “other [non-cannabis] activities.” This review came from a summarized public comment that distributors should be able to store and distribute non-cannabis related products. In all other states, licensees are restricted to only commercial cannabis activity for their license type so it would be groundbreaking if California were to go against that norm by allowing California cannabis licensees to take on other lines of business.
  10. The BCC isn’t going to allow for delivery or transport of cannabis other than by enclosed motor vehicle with sufficient GPS tracking despite summarized comments that the BCC should relax restrictions to allow for bike couriers and other modes for transporting cannabis product.
  11. On delivery, public comments asked that the BCC allow delivery by third party contractors or couriers. The BCC batted back, citing to MAUCRSA, which only allows delivery by “an employee of a licensed retailer, microbusiness, or non-profit.”
  12. Summarized public comments also leaned towards asking BCC fees for licenses be set according to a sliding scale of total net revenue. In response, the BCC stated that “Business and Professions Code section 26180 requires that fees are set on a scaled basis based on the size of the business. The Bureau is examining what method is most appropriate to determine the scaled fee, including total net revenue.”

All in all, the BCC has its work cut out for it as it goes back to the drawing board on the MAUCRSA regulations. Many issues will be out of the BCC’s control because MAUCRSA requires certain unchangeable operational standards and restrictions. November will fill in many of the outstanding “don’t knows” that still remain for California cannabis rule-making, so stay tuned.

Leaving on a jet plane

Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), resigned his post last week amid public health and personal travel debacles. Mr. Price’s resignation drew very little coverage from cannabis reporters, however, which was sort of strange because the HHS Secretary wields more influence over cannabis law and policy than any other public official besides Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and whomever the new DEA Administrator turns out to be. If marijuana is ever to be re- or descheduled administratively, it will have to go through HHS.

The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), at 21 USC §811, provides that the Attorney General may remove substances from the CSA: (1) on “his” own motion; (2) at the request of the HHS Secretary; or (3) on the petition of any interested party. Number 1 will never happen and number 3 has often failed, but if a reasonable HHS Secretary were appointed, number 2 could get people talking. CSA §811 further provides that prior to the Attorney General moving drugs around, he must consult with HHS for scientific and medical findings. HHS recommendations to the Attorney General are binding, including any “do not control” recommendation.

HHS is also senior on its organizational chart to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a well-known agency with the power to conduct independent research on marijuana and to approve cannabis-based pharmaceuticals. The FDA is the agency that works with HHS whenever “any interested party” makes a petition to remove a substance from the CSA, as referenced above. In fact, the FDA made one such recommendation to HHS and DEA last year on marijuana. Unfortunately, it chose the status quo.

Tom Price is an old-school, War on Drugs hardliner, whose judgment as to cannabis is nearly as bad as his judgment on government travel. Cannabis advocates should be glad to see him go. Given the composition of President Trump’s cabinet, however, it seems unlikely we will have a fair-minded HHS Secretary anytime soon. Most of the candidates being floated as replacements have poor or unascertainable records on marijuana policy.

Ultimately, it seems more likely that marijuana will be re- or descheduled through Congressional action than administrative channels. And as it stands today, two of the three most critical cabinet posts on cannabis—the HHS Secretary and the DEA Chief—are oddly vacant. For cannabis professionals and consumers alike, it seems better to have these posts remain vacant, than occupied by the Chuck Rosenbergs and Tom Prices of the world.

Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

California Cannabis hearings
Attend your local california cannabis hearings

One of the first questions clients usually ask our California cannabis lawyers is “where can I operate or expand my cannabis business?” That is because even though Californians voted for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (a/k/a AUMA or Prop 64) California counties and cities are free to enact their own restrictions on cannabis businesses operating within their jurisdiction.

If you’ve been reading our California Cannabis Countdown series you know that to get a California State cannabis license you first need a license from your local city or county. Further complicating things is that prior to enactment of the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act of 2015 (MCRSA), many cannabis businesses were operating in an unregulated gray market or with tacit approval from their local government because few jurisdictions had their own medical cannabis ordinances and permitting processes in place. When the MCRSA and AUMA passed, most local jurisdictions created their own licensing processes so as to be able to receive a portion of California’s cannabis licensing fees and taxes.

Last week I spoke to the Marin County Bar Association on cannabis ordinances in Marin County and its municipalities. Except for Fairfax, the rest of Marin is generally not friendly towards medical cannabis. If you’re asking why I’m not talking about adult-use cannabis it’s because you’ve got to crawl before you can walk and Marin’s still figuring out how to crawl when it comes to cannabis. Both Marin County and its cities are still contemplating whether to allow medical cannabis; adult use cannabis is most likely quite some time away.

When a California city or county is trying to decide whether to allow cannabis businesses within their jurisdiction, the first thing they do is hold public hearings, with notice of the hearing made online or in the local paper. If your local government has a relevant listserv, I recommend you sign up as that’s the easiest way to stay informed. Our California cannabis attorneys regularly attend public hearings to advocate for our clients and for the cannabis industry and here is our top five list of what you should do if you would like to see your jurisdiction adopt reasonable/favorable cannabis regulations:

  1. Show up. You know the old saying about how 80% of life is showing up? Well, if you want your local jurisdiction to adopt reasonable cannabis regulations you need to show up to these hearings and voice your support – in large numbers.
  2. Be reasonable. Talk to your neighbors and local businesses. Maybe you’ll find out that a dispensary will be heavily opposed but the community is open to manufacturing, testing, and deliveries.
  3. Know your facts. Your local councilman or supervisor probably has a full-time job; most are volunteers with family obligations and work deadlines. They don’t have time to delve into the weeds (pun intended) of the cannabis industry. They want to be informed so let them know what they can expect in tax revenue. How about crime statistics in similar localities? What percentage of local residents voted for Prop 64? They probably don’t have this information so provide it to them. Help them so they can help you.
  4. Parking and traffic. Besides parking garage owners, no one likes a shortage of public parking. If you’re hoping your jurisdiction adopts a dispensary ordinance make sure you address parking and traffic.
  5. SHOW UP! I mention it twice because it’s that important. Time and time again, we’ve seen local legislators get cold feet because naysayers show up to public hearings in full force while proponents stay at home. You need to be there to balance the scales.

The California state agencies that will issue licenses (Bureau of Cannabis Control, Department of Food and Agriculture, and Department of Public Health) can only do so if your local jurisdiction allows it. Don’t take for granted that your local legislators will allow cannabis businesses in your town. Activism has been a hallmark of the cannabis industry for a long time and if you want to see cannabis businesses (either medical or adult-use) in your jurisdiction of choice, it could very well be up to you to help achieve that.

On September 20, the Josephine County Board of Commissions held a public hearing on proposed zoning amendments that meant life or death for many small cannabis farmers.

At the end of last year, we discussed the successful efforts of Jackson County, Oregon to remove cannabis production as an allowed use in its rural residential zones. This led to an uproar among some growers, and a failed appeal before the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).

For the past several months, Josephine County has been following suit, moving full steam ahead towards severely curtailing cannabis cultivation as an allowed use in residential rural zones throughout the county. This spring, the Board of Josephine County Commissioners (“Board”) placed Measure 17-81 on the Josephine County 2017 Special Election ballot, which asked voters to provide a non-binding advisory opinion: “In your opinion, should Josephine County prohibit the production of commercial, recreational marijuana in all rural residential zones?” Approximately 64% of voters said yes.

The Board listened, and in July 2017, the Board authorized the Josephine County Planning Director to invite applications for proposed language for amendments to the Josephine County zoning codes. The Rural Planning Commission held a public hearing at the end of August and issued draft language for the amendment. The language appeared designed to outright ban medical grow sites, and while it did not outright prohibit recreational cannabis cultivation, it did place severe restrictions that seemed to be written with the hope that no one would ever be able to comply.

Fortunately, over the weekend the Board threw out the planned draft language, thanks to the combined efforts of several licensed farms in the area, including East Fork Cultivars and Medicinal Roots, with the support of the Craft Cannabis Alliance.  (Full disclosure: Harris Bricken is a founding member of the Craft Cannabis Alliance).

This team utilized a savvy media strategy focused on educating Board members and the public. One lesson to be learned from this effort is the importance of engaging respectfully and eloquently at public hearings on any proposed cannabis regulations. For example, at the September 20, 2017 public hearing on these proposed amendments, Yusef Guient, of Medicinal Roots, spoke passionately about the effect the amendment would have had on his small family farm:

As family farmers, local business owners, neighbors and community members, we respectfully urge the commissioners to reject the proposed ordinance. The proposed amendments miss the mark by harming local family farms that are fully licensed and compliant and have invested tremendous resources in order to meet strict state regulations, as well as undermining the efforts of medical farms that are currently preparing to adapt to much higher levels of regulation and scrutiny. Further, the changes as written would expose the county to potential litigation costs without solving the issues raised by community members. Instead, we request that the county allow time for legislative changes to take effect, and to continue to bring community members together through the advisory committee process that is just now getting underway. We can create reasonable regulations that protect livability and public safety while supporting family farms, creating local jobs, and creating a lasting economic opportunity for Josephine County.

It appears the Board was swayed, at least in part, by these and other cogent arguments that the State legislature is aware of the prevalence of black market farming in southern Oregon and is taking appropriate steps. The team argued successfully that the recent changes set forth in SB 1057, including seed-to-sale tracking for medical operations, should be given time to work. However, the team and the Board still recognize the need for more precise regulations that target bad actors in Josephine County, and the Commissioners are going back to the drawing board.

Josephine County will not be the last county to attempt to reign in cannabis production with an axe instead of a scalpel, and the battle for common sense regulations in Josephine County is far from over. With that in mind, it is worth looking at the draconian draft zoning changes that almost became the law of the land. Under the draft amendment as previously proposed:

  1. Any OLCC licensed site would need a 300 ft setback on all sides. Currently the code requires a setback of 30ft in the front, 10ft on the sides, and 25ft in the rear.
  2. The property would need to be owned directly by the OLCC licensee. This would be problematic because many licensees lease land, or hold the land in a separate holding company for liability purposes.
  3. No OLCC site could be serviced by private road, easement, or owner maintained public right-of-way unless the OLCC producer owns all of the land adjacent to the right of way.

Any farm that couldn’t meet these requirements would have had thirty days from the date the ordinance went into effect to request a Determination of Non-conforming Use. To qualify for a non-conforming use determination, a recreational site needed to:

  1. Be in full compliance with the county codes as they existed prior to the amendments; and
  2. Either have obtained a LUCS prior to the adoption of the new ordinance amendment, or have applied for a LUCS prior to the adoption of the amendment that is being “actively processed by [the] OLCC with the intent to issue a license.”

The Board has recognized these kinds of broad brush regulations would do more harm than good, and are not appropriately focused on the few bad actors that are negatively affecting the community. Responsible cannabis cultivation can be a huge boon to local economies, but it always requires a genuine commitment to community engagement, like that on display down in Josephine County over the past few weeks.

Chuck “pot probably isn’t as bad as heroin” Rosenberg

Tuesday afternoon, the Washington Post broke an article that acting Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Chuck Rosenberg plans to resign within a week. Rosenberg is an Obama administration holdover going back to 2015, so the news was not totally unexpected. President Trump will be tasked with selecting a successor, which will lead to a confirmation hearing process, which will lead to yet another public referendum over U.S. law and policy regarding cannabis and other controlled substances. Such a referendum occurred most recently during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, and had begun to ramp up again with Trump’s recent nomination of Terrible Tom Marino to the post of National Drug Control Policy Director (a.k.a., the “Drug Czar”).

The DEA Administrator and the Drug Czar are both important government posts, with the DEA Administrator wielding considerably more power. The DEA Administrator is head of the chief U.S. agency for Controlled Substances Act enforcement, whereas the Drug Czar coordinates anti-drug propaganda and advises the President. The DEA is also seated within the Department of Justice (DOJ), directly downline from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump can, and probably will, appoint someone with retrograde views on marijuana to fill Rosenberg’s vacant seat. It would be a surprise if he did not. That said, cannabis supporters should not be sad to see Rosenberg go, as his views on cannabis were none too enlightened. As Rosenberg packs up his office, here are a few of his greatest hits and misses:

  • May 2015. President Obama taps Rosenberg, a former FBI official, to lead DEA. This happened because DEA agents were participating in sex parties with prostitutes supplied by drug cartels in Colombia. Rosenberg was expected to focus less on marijuana than his predecessors. Cannabis boosters cheered.
  • November 2015. Rosenberg called medical marijuana “a joke.” Cannabis boosters collected 160,000 signatures demanding his resignation, and high-ranking officials called for his head, but Rosenberg survived.
  • December 2015. Rosenberg opined that marijuana is “probably not” as dangerous as heroin. This was an outlandish statement, but one that his predecessor refused to concede. A few days later Rosenberg caved to public ridicule, telling reporters that “heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana.” Cannabis boosters cheered, a bit.
  • December 2016. DEA issued a final administrative rule, establishing a controlled substances code for “marijuana extract.” That rule maintained marijuana, hemp and their derivatives as Schedule I substances. Cannabis boosters booed. And sued.
  • August 2016. DEA pledged to make it easier for private companies to grow and obtain marijuana for study. This was welcome news at the time, although nothing much has happened over the past 13 months, apparently due to DOJ stonewalling. But on August 11, 2016, at least, cannabis boosters cheered.
  • August 2016. DEA teamed up with a few other agencies to author the Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp, which construed the 2014 Farm Bill to permit cultivation for “industrial purposes (fiber and seed)” and not to authorize sales “for the purpose of general commercial activity.” Cannabis boosters booed.
  • August 2017. Rosenberg instructed DEA agents to disregard President Trump’s call to be rougher with suspects, including those suspected of drug crimes. Cannabis boosters cheered.

The record shows Rosenberg was no friend of cannabis. Still, given the posture of recent Trump appointees regarding the plant, we may wish him back one day. Industry advocates should watch the pending developments closely. Aside from Jeff Sessions, Trump’s next DEA appointee could have more impact on the cannabis industry than anyone in the current administration.

We should know more very soon.

Los Angeles cannabis regulations
Los Angeles just came out with new cannabis regulations

California has lately been on its game with progressive changes to tis cannabis laws. Last week, AB 133 passed, making needed technical fixes to the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA” a/k/a SB 94). And then last Thursday, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control publicly revealed details behind its temporary licensing program (see here for the Bureau’s brochure on that process). And now the City of Los Angeles just released its 42-page revised draft regulations under Proposition M and they contain some interesting, comprehensive, and important changes from the original draft (if anyone forgets what Prop. M is, go here).

Here are some of the highlights from the revised ordinance if you’re looking to have a cannabis business in Los Angeles:

  1. Remember the controversial certificates of approval? Those have been eliminated in favor of a straight licensing program that includes provisional and permanent City licenses. This new licensing program will give applicants greater and better-protected rights to operate within the City’s borders. Upon initial approval, you will receive a provisional license and once you get your state license to operate, the City will issue you a permanent City of Los Angeles license.
  2. Under the original Prop. M draft regulations, certificates of approval were set to issue in four waves in this particular order: Prop. D-compliant existing medical marijuana dispensaries (EMMDs), non-retail registrants (i.e., growers and manufacturers), the social equity program, and then the general public. Formerly, non-retail registrants were only eligible for a certificate of approval in that second wave if they could show they were operating in the City before January 1, 2016. That’s all changed as there is no longer any non-retail registry priority.
  3. The City of Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation will still give first priority in processing EMMD applications that “demonstrate to the Department the EMMD has operated in compliance with the provisions of the limited immunity and tax provisions of Proposition D.” Note that in the previous draft rules, the City required “substantial compliance” with Prop. D. Once applications become available, these EMMD applicants will have only 60 days to get their applications in and, after that, that application window closes indefinitely. And, just like in the original rules for EMMDs, “any mitigating circumstances due to gaps in operations, location change or involuntary closure, ownership, tax payments, etc. must be described in detail for the Department to consider eligibility.”
  4. EMMDs will only be allowed to apply for Retailer Commercial Cannabis Activity (including delivery), which may include on-site cultivation as allowable under Prop. D. On-site cultivation in this scenario may not exceed the size of the EMMD’s existing canopy or square footage of building space as documented by a lease or Certificate of Occupancy prior to January 1, 2017. A maximum of three Licenses per EMMD with a valid Business Tax Registration Certificate will be allowed–the example the City gives is: One Type 10 (retailer), One Type 10 (retailer with delivery) AND one Type 2A OR Type 3A (on-site cultivation if applicable).
  5. One of the biggest boons for EMMDs (and for any cannabis applicant in the city of L.A.) is that “changes in ownership status from non-profit status to for-profit status are allowable.” Now is the time for all LA operators to think about getting away from their precarious non-profit mutual benefit corporations and other bizarre corporate setups and to prepare to convert to a legal, for-profit business entity in order to apply for a license with the City in line with the California Corporations Code.
  6. The City of Los Angeles is still working on its social equity program. It is expected that will be finalized and made part of the Prop. M rules sometime in October.
  7. The general public will be allowed to apply for licenses at the same time as the social equity program opens up. The most positive change for the general public is that they are no longer limited to the number of licenses that will issue in the social equity program. Without a doubt, the general public now has a much better chance to participate in L.A.’s cannabis scene.
  8. Here’s the deal on license caps in the City: all retailers and microbusinesses in the City will be limited to three licenses at the most. There are no license caps for cultivators so long as a given business does not have more than 1.5 acres of plant canopy within the City. Type 7 volatile manufacturing is now allowed (previously it wasn’t), and there are no set caps on manufacturing licenses within the City. There also is no licensing cap for distributors.
  9. As part of the application process, applicants must provide a site diagram to the City. The premises must be a contiguous area and may only be occupied by one business. However, multiple businesses may be located on the same property (as established by an assessor’s parcel number) if each premises has “a unique entrance and immovable physical barriers between unique premises.” Our cannabis lawyers have dealt with these sorts of restrictions in other states and they are usually not a problem and should be dealt with in your lease.
  10.  Applicants must provide a detailed description and plan for hiring “local residents, including making an ongoing good-faith effort to ensure that at least 30 percent of hours of their respective workforce be performed by residents of the City of Los Angeles, of which at least 10 percent of their respective workforce shall be performed by Transitional Workers whose primary place of residence is within a 3-mile radius of the proposed Business.”
  11. An applicant with ten or more full-time equivalent employees must enter into a labor peace agreement.
  12. On the M & A front, neither the City licenses nor the businesses are transferable once a provisional or permanent license issues, but you can still apply to the City to change the business structure, which does allow for you to sell the business so long as the City of Los Angeles approves the sale. See here for more on buying cannabis businesses in Los Angeles.
  13. No licensed retailer of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products can apply for a City of Los Angeles cannabis license.
  14. Foreign companies from outside the U.S. are not allowed in the City, but the City specifically states that this prohibition “does not preclude out-of-state investment in a Business proposing to conduct Commercial Cannabis Activity.” If you are thinking about investing in a California cannabis businesses, you should be sure to join us at our September 28th California Cannabis Investment Forum in San Francisco. But do NOT wait because we must limit the number attendees to 250 and we are getting dangerously close to that already.
  15. The City is still discussing what to do about zoning for cannabis businesses and changes to that proposed ordinance are sure to affect your ability to secure an eligible property.

All in all, Los Angeles is finally starting to embrace comprehensive cannabis control and oversight with a regulatory system that should catapult it into its rightful place as a cannabis powerhouse with serious operators.

Will the (former) Senator yield?

The Oregonian, Willamette Week, and KGW, to name a few, are reporting that US Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions is visiting Portland today to meet with federal and local law enforcement. These reports suggest Mr. Sessions is in town primarily to discuss immigration, sanctuary cities, and his unconscionable position on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (“DACA”).

Given the recent exchange of letters between Oregon Governor Brown and the Attorney General, it seems likely Mr. Sessions has also come to Oregon to discuss and criticize Oregon’s medical and recreational cannabis programs. We’ve recently discussed how this exchange of letters demonstrates how Oregon sits uncomfortably within Mr. Sessions’ crosshairs. Governor Brown eviscerated Mr. Sessions’ reliance on a leaked, incomplete, and misleading draft of a report prepared by the Oregon State Police on cannabis in Oregon. Our money says Mr. Sessions is also here on a fact-finding mission, to see if he can drum up some better (or any?) sources for his claims that Oregon has so far failed to comply with Cole Memorandum guidelines.

Anyone in the cannabis industry here in Oregon knows Oregon treats these guidelines with the utmost respect and importance. Heck, if they didn’t, our Oregon cannabis business lawyers would not all be putting in 12 hour days! The Governor, the legislature, and Oregon’s relevant regulatory agencies, including the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and Oregon Health Authority, have been working tirelessly to improve their policies and procedures to ensure that Oregon’s recreational and medical cannabis programs protect public safety and prevent illegal activity.

Hopefully, Mr. Sessions’ visit will change his heart, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Alameda cannabis lawyersCalifornia has 58 counties and 482 incorporated cities across the state, each with the option to create its own rules or ban marijuana altogether. In this California Cannabis Countdown series, we cover who is banning cannabis, who is waiting to see what to with cannabis, and who is embracing California’s change to legalize marijuana — permits, regulations, taxes and all. For each city and county, we’ll discuss its location, history with cannabis, current law, and proposed law to give you a clearer picture of where to locate your California cannabis business, how to keep it legal, and what you will and won’t be allowed to do.

Our last California Cannabis Countdown post was on Oakland and before that San FranciscoSonoma County, the City of Davis, the City of Santa RosaCounty and City of San BernardinoMarin CountyNevada County, the City of Lynwood, the City of CoachellaLos Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, the City of Desert Hot SpringsSonoma County, the City of Sacramento, the City of BerkeleyCalaveras CountyMonterey County and the City of Emeryville.

Today’s post is on Alameda County.

Welcome to the California Cannabis Countdown.

Location.  Alameda County is the 7th most populous county in the state of California. Its county seat is in Oakland and it occupies much of the East Bay region. It’s home to the Alameda County Fair and the Alameda County Fairgrounds, which can boast to being the home of the oldest one-mile horse racing track in America. Hope that tidbit comes in handy on trivia night.

History with Cannabis and Current Cannabis Laws. Back in 2005, Alameda County (this post is addressing only Alameda County and not the City of Alameda) began regulating cannabis by passing a medical cannabis dispensary ordinance. Though we’re always happy to see cities and counties embrace cannabis businesses with sensible and reasonable regulations, Alameda’s first foray should be described as a very timid one. Alameda’s ordinance only addressed medical cannabis dispensaries and it capped the number of dispensary licenses at three and it also limited the amount of cannabis a dispensary could keep on its premises.

With friendlier regulations in Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and Emeryville, this first ordinance put Alameda at a competitive disadvantage with potential cannabis businesses when compared to those cities. With the passage of the Medical Cannabis Regulation Safety Act (MCRSA), Alameda County (along with a number of other California jurisdictions) decided it was time to amend their cannabis ordinance. In June of 2016, the Alameda County Community Development Agency and the Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council held a meeting to begin the process of updating Alameda’s cannabis ordinance. If you’ve ever followed a cannabis ordinance as it winds its way through your local jurisdiction you are well aware that after one meeting comes many others – supervisor meetings, planning commission meetings, citizen advisory committee meetings, and interdepartmental working group meetings, just to name a few. Like Gremlins, the meetings just continue to multiply. Let me not be too harsh on Alameda because slow progress is better than no progress and definitely better than these alternatives.

Proposed Cannabis Laws: On August 1, 2017, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors conducted the first reading of its proposed amendments to their cannabis ordinance and on September 12th of this year (we like to keep you up to date here on the Canna Law Blog) the Board held a second reading of their cannabis ordinance. Here’s a list of the some of the highlights of Alameda’s cannabis ordinance:

  • Increases the number of dispensaries allowed from three to five.
  • Allows delivery of medical cannabis from permitted dispensaries within the county and from outside jurisdictions from 9:00am to 9:00pm.
  • Allows the sale, distribution, and delivery of edibles.
  • Removes the 100-pound limit on the amount of cannabis that can be stored by a dispensary on its premises.
  • Implements a two-year pilot program authorizing medical cannabis cultivation. This pilot program will authorize up to six cultivation permits – up to two indoor cultivation operations and four mixed-light operations. Outdoor cultivation is prohibited.
  • Nurseries may be permitted where cultivation is permitted.
  • Cultivation sites will have to be at least one thousand feet from any pre-K to 12th grade school, licensed child or day care facility, public park or playground, drug or alcohol recovery facility or public recreation center.

Although the caps imposed on medical cannabis dispensaries and cultivators will limit the innovation, investment, and tax revenue generated by Alameda County cannabis businesses, this is still a step in the right direction and we should not let perfect be the enemy of the good. We’re also optimistic that Alameda County will continue on its path towards increased legalization – perhaps with fewer meetings next time.