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.

california alameda marin marijuana
Alameda and Marin Counties are moving ahead, slowly.

Our offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles constantly get calls from entrepreneurs looking to launch or expand their cannabis businesses. By far, one of the most challenging aspects for any attorney advising clients in the cannabis industry is staying up to date on all the developments in the Golden State’s 58 counties and 482 cities. And although it’s a daunting task, we work hard to stay on top o things.

Avid readers of our California Cannabis Countdown series are well aware of the ever-changing cannabis regulatory landscape at the local level. Every week there are a number of Board of Supervisors or City Council hearings throughout the state where cannabis-related rules and ordinances are enacted and amended. We are constantly advising our clients about any changes in the cannabis ordinances of the local jurisdictions of interest.

It’s this constant flux of change at the local legislative level that brings me to today’s topic: an update on the counties of Alameda and Marin. We last covered Alameda here and Marin here.

Let’s start with Alameda County. The County passed its most recent cannabis ordinance last September (with some minor amendments since then). That ordinance created a medical cannabis pilot program that authorized up to three dispensaries, and up to four mixed-light and two indoor cultivation permits. The County’s Cannabis Interdepartmental Work Group (“Work Group”) has taken direction from the Planning Department and has proposed to amend their cannabis ordinance to include the following:

  • Authorize adult-use cannabis activities;
  • Allow for up to five dispensaries;
  • Allow for up to ten cultivation permits (only in the East County);
  • Remove cultivation from a pilot program to a permanent use; and
  • Establish a permit fee structure (the fees are quite significant so if the County is serious about bringing operators into the legal market they will hopefully lower the proposed fees).

The Board of Supervisors will meet this Wednesday to discuss these amendments as well as determine whether the County should allow for manufacturing, distribution, and testing. The County has also expressed an interest in the recently released emergency regulations by the Department of Public Health in regard to Type S manufacturing licenses, which we covered here. If you’d like to see Alameda expand the types of cannabis activities it is willing to authorize, showing up is paramount.

As for Marin County, it is still moving at a deliberate pace– some might call it too deliberate. After the County rejected all applications for medical dispensaries, its cannabis ordinance was amended to only authorize medical delivery-only services: Adult-use cannabis activities are still some ways away in Marin County. The County hopes to begin accepting applications this month but that might be overly ambitious. Marin’s delivery-only ordinance only authorizes up to four delivery licenses and applications will be graded on a 100 point scale: Business plan (20 points), operating plan (50 points), and public benefits plan (30 points). Today at 2 p.m., the Board of Supervisors will hold a briefing to discuss the following items:

  • The medicinal cannabis license application;
  • The license application submittal guide (which provides guidance on what to include in your business, operating, and public benefits plan);
  • The owner submittal form;
  • The owner submittal form guide; and
  • The financial information form.

Although these are steps in the right direction, both Marin and Alameda can still make more progress. At the very least both counties should be open to testing laboratories and non-volatile manufacturing. Marin, with nearly 70% of its residents voting in favor of the Adult-Use of Marijuana Act (Prop 64), needs to stop dragging its feet when it comes to allowing adult-use. The slow and restrictive pace of cannabis legislation at the local level is one of the biggest impediments to cannabis operators entering the regulated market. Let’s applaud Marin and Alameda for making progress, but let’s also reach out to our local officials to let them know they can also do better. There are two great opportunities to let them know in person this week.

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.

sonoma california cannabis
Will Sonoma stay green?

In 1996 Californians voted for the Compassionate Use Act (aka Prop 215), but more than twenty years later Californians are still fighting for their cannabis rights. One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that the entire state of California is open to cannabis businesses. Our San Francisco and Los Angeles offices field calls from new clients every week looking to start a cannabis business but on many occasions, I have to crush their business plans before they can even get started. It’s not that their business plan isn’t sound, it’s that their business is prohibited in the city or county where they wish to operate.

These bans exist because the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) explicitly authorizes local jurisdictions to regulate (or outright prohibit) as they see fit. This authority granted to local jurisdictions is just one of the reasons why commercial cannabis licensing has gotten off to a rocky start. After I tell the client that they can’t operate in Butte County, for example, the next question I usually get is “where can I operate?” If you’re a reader of our California Cannabis Countdown series, you’ll know that cannabis friendly jurisdictions do exist, but whether these locales will always remain open to cannabis is another question. There’s an unfortunate trend occurring throughout the state where local jurisdictions are passing laws authorizing commercial cannabis activities only to later change their minds. This brings me to Sonoma County.

Sonoma County would fall into the category of a cannabis friendly jurisdiction, as the County authorizes all seed to sale license types (for medical cannabis businesses anyway). However, recent events have put the County’s cannabis friendly tag in serious peril. There have been a number of high profile robberies (one of which was sadly fatal) of alleged cultivation grow houses, and cannabis opponents have been highlighting these robberies to press the County to make restrictive changes to its cannabis ordinance. The fact that the perpetrators were from out of state and came with the specific goal of targeting grow houses is also being used to further stoke fears. What the prohibitionists are not mentioning is that the houses that were targeted were not legally licensed cultivators, but instead were selected because they were suspected of being illegal grow houses. Licensed operators have security plans and security protocols, whereas illegal operators do not. This push to restrict cannabis activities in Sonoma is misguided as it will strengthen the black market and thereby increase crime. This small but vocal group of cannabis opponents have approached the Board of Supervisors and requested that the County:

  • Freeze issuing any cannabis permits until the County’s ordinance is amended;
  • Authorize only indoor cultivation, and ban all outdoor cultivation;
  • Restrict cultivation to only industrial zoned areas;
  • Place a cap on the number of cultivation permits based on the amount of cannabis necessary to supply only County residents;
  • Disband the Cannabis Advisory Group; and
  • Make these changes retroactive to apply to existing permit applicants.

If this vocal group of opponents is able to persuade the County’s Board of Supervisors to change the County’s cannabis ordinance to include these restrictive changes, the effect on operators who have spent extensive time and capital to abide by the law will be disastrous. Only those that have never been interested in complying will have benefited.

We’ve spoken at length about the importance of showing up to your local hearings and public support is needed now in Sonoma County now more than ever. We don’t want Sonoma to end up like Calaveras County. The Board of Supervisors are meeting this Tuesday at 1:30pm and the Sonoma County Growers Alliance is requesting that supporters come dressed in green. I hope to see you there wearing your St. Patrick’s Day best.

cannabis marijuana josephine county oregon
Josephine County is ALL IN on prohibition.

For the past several months we have been following Josephine County’s efforts to regulate away its cannabis industry, specifically in rural residential zones. This saga has taken many twists and turns (see here, here, here, and here), but this week brought perhaps the biggest twist yet: Josephine County has sued the State of Oregon in a suit that could effectively invalidate its cannabis program.

The legal skirmishes began back in December, when Josephine County passed an ordinance to severely curtail cannabis production on over 16,000 rural residential properties. A group of growers appealed the ordinance to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), raising a procedural argument (improper notice to affected properties) and two substantive arguments (the county cannot ban pre-existing lawful uses and the ordinance exceeds the county’s ability to impose reasonable time, place, and manner regulations on cannabis production). Last month, LUBA ruled against the county, solely on the procedural issue. Josephine County failed to provide proper notice of the public hearings where the ordinance was discussed. As a result, LUBA did not reach the substantive merits. As expected, Josephine County elected to appeal the procedural question.

Surprisingly, Josephine County also decided to take the drastic step of filing a lawsuit against the State of Oregon in federal court. We gave our initial take on this aggressive move in news coverage here and here. In short, Josephine County wants the federal court to:

  1. Declare that cannabis production cannot qualify as a pre-existing “lawful use” because of federal prohibition;
  2. Declare that counties can place any restrictions they want, including a full ban, on cannabis businesses because state legal regimes are pre-empted by federal law;
  3. Declare that Oregon’s medical and recreational regimes unlawfully restrict the county’s police powers in light of federal prohibition;
  4. Enjoin the State from bringing official misconduct charges against any local or county official that ignores their duties under state law.

This is a stunning overreach, as a victory could presumably give counties the ability to even ignore Oregon’s decriminalization statutes. As a county that allegedly wants to crack down on bad actors and the black market, and is apparently struggling to provide basic services, Josephine County should be welcoming law abiding, tax paying cannabis farms with open arms. Instead, I am reminded of my young daughter breaking her own toy when she doesn’t get her way.

This lawsuit raises core constitutional questions, involving states’ rights to promulgate cannabis programs despite the federal Controlled Substances Act, and over the objection of local jurisdictions. In the past, we have seen prohibitionist states attempt to invalidate neighboring states’ cannabis programs, to no avail. This may be the first time, however, that a county in an adult use state has filed such a lawsuit against its sovereign. We will be monitoring this case closely, as will the Oregon cannabis industry at large and other prohibitionist counties nationwide.

California marijuana manufacturer
Finally, a boost for small manufacturers.

This past Friday, the California Department of Public Health—the agency charged with regulating commercial cannabis manufacturing—issued new emergency rules to allow certain types of manufacturers to operate in shared use facilities and on shared equipment, under essentially a sort of timeshare sublease arrangement. The move is a win for small, medium, and artisan manufacturers that don’t have the budget to buy commercial property or take on an expensive lease, and who have the ability to run a lean operation without large space requirements.

The new rules require an existing “primary licensee” with a Type 6 (nonvolatile extraction), Type 7 (volatile extraction), or Type N (infusion) license that either owns or leases suitable manufacturing space. If the locality approves of the arrangement and issues the appropriate permits, the primary licensee can then enter into a use agreement with multiple “Type S” licensees— manufacturers that can engage in packaging and labeling, food infusion, and some butter and oil extraction operations required for the infusion process, all in the same space, as long as they have less than $500,000 in annual revenue.

Each Type S licensee must have their own designated space to store their cannabis and cannabis products, and the shared-use facility must have a security plan as with any other licensee. Under this new arrangement, however, Type S licensees can have exclusive access to the shared-use facility and equipment at their own designated times, like a time share. The California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s existing rules prohibit licensees from subletting all or part of a licensed premises. But under the new Type S rules, the use agreement creating the shared-use arrangement satisfies the requirement of lessees to demonstrate the legal right to occupy a space and obtain landlord approval for the proposed cannabis activity, implying that the relationship is akin to a sublease and thus seemingly creating a limited exception to the prohibition.

What this means for manufacturers looking to break into the market is that even in high-priced areas, there is an opportunity to cut costs by sharing rent and equipment—two of the largest recurring expenses for manufacturing operations. Companies with shared space can also potentially take advantage of group savings on expenses like insurance, maintenance and service contracts, utilities, security services, and distribution. On the other side of the equation, the new rules also present an upside for landlords and master tenant “primary licensees,” whose owned or leased space will now be able to command more overall rent, much like a dated 3-bedroom apartment in San Francisco can command $6,000: more tenants to spread the cost.

The next question will be what other actions the state might take to benefit small and medium commercial cannabis operations, as it faces challenges claiming that it has benefitted large scale operators at the expense of the still-growing artisan industry. Time will tell, but at the moment, small-scale manufacturers have cause to celebrate.

medical marijuana cannabis
Medical cannabis businesses are shielded, for now.

State medical marijuana laws and their implementation are safe until September 30th of this year. In a highly anticipated move, Congress extended the protections of the well-known “Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment” (the “Amendment”) last week. This extension is an important political and legal action after Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw the state-legal cannabis industry into a fit from his rescinding of the Obama era Cole Memo in January (he has provided further, largely unhelpful guidance since then). But what impact does the Amendment really have? It could be significant over the coming months, though I am confident that Sessions and other U.S. Attorneys may seek to undermine the spirit of that law as time goes on.

The Amendment first passed back in 2014 and has been consistently renewed and extended by Congress in the form of budget riders since then (and this last one is around 2,200 pages). The Amendment has been construed as stopping the federal government from prosecuting state-legal medical cannabis operators, but outside of the Ninth Circuit it has not been tested. The Amendment provides that:

“None of the funds made available under this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

On its face, the law only precludes the Department of Justice (DOJ) from spending funds to “prevent” any of the foregoing states “from implementing” their medical cannabis laws. However, in the Ninth Circuit, as a result of the McIntosh case, the Amendment has some serious teeth. In that case, the Court ruled in favor of medical cannabis providers who disputed the DOJ’s enforcement of the federal Controlled Substances Act against them in their respective states (all of which have legalized medical cannabis) due to the Amendment. In doing so, the Court reaffirmed Congress’s intent to halt federal enforcement measures against medical marijuana providers in states that have legalized and regulated it.

To date, the McIntosh ruling represents the highest judicial approval of that legislation as an effective means of curbing federal crackdowns on state-legal medical marijuana programs. Nonetheless, the Court made clear that its ruling only applies to medical cannabis operators. And the Court remanded the cases back the lower courts to investigate whether the appellants were, in fact, in full compliance with their states’ laws regarding medical cannabis. Notably, the DOJ didn’t appeal this ruling to SCOTUS, and it also dropped another major case—the Harborside Health Center forfeiture case that had raged on for years–after the McIntosh ruling.

Clearly, to avail yourself of the protections of the Amendment in the Ninth Circuit, you must be on the medical cannabis side and you must be in completely compliance with your state’s medical cannabis laws and regulations. While the McIntosh and Harborside cases show us that the Amendment can be used as an effective shield, those cases resolved before Jeff Sessions took the helm at the DOJ (and, in case you missed it, Sessions is a major marijuana hater).

Whether the Amendment will be interpreted as strongly in other U.S. District and/or Circuit Courts (or even by SCOTUS) in the future remains to be seen. At the same time, Sessions has already asked Congress in the past not to renew the Amendment (which Congress has continually ignored) and, back in 2015, the DOJ already instructed its personnel (prior to McIntosh) on how to soundly defeat in court any defense raised by a cannabis operator under the Amendment. Given that Sessions recently called for U.S. Attorneys to seek the death penalty for drug dealers of all kinds (which, under current federal law, includes cannabis business operators), I am confident that the DOJ is not going to lay down for use of the Amendment in Court so long as Sessions has any kind of influence.

california cannabis licensing

Today, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released its proposed emergency regulations governing cannabis manufacturing in shared-use facilities. We’ve written previously about CDPH’s statement that it was developing an additional license type, Type S, which would allow businesses to share facility space, and we’re pleased to see such quick progress in rules development. We see this license type as benefiting small business owners who may not otherwise be able to afford buildout of their own manufacturing facility.

According to the CDPH, the proposed emergency regulations will be filed with the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) on April 3, 2018, and will then undergo a five-day public comment period until April 8th. The stated goal of these new regulations is to “provide opportunities for small manufacturing businesses,” and is “in response to demand from cities and counties wishing to implement equity programs.” The regulations should be important to an often neglected segment of industry players.

Under the current rules, each manufacturing licensee must occupy its own separate and distinct premises, with the exception being that a licensee may hold both an M- and an A- license of the same type on one premises. But under the proposed rules, Type 6, 7 or N licensees would be able to register their location as a shared-use facility. After approval by the CDPH, other cannabis manufacturers wishing to utilize that shared-use facility would apply for a Type-S license.

This new license structure would “allow for operations similar to a commercial kitchen or agreements in which larger manufacturers offer space and use of equipment to smaller ones.” This license type will open the door to many small manufacturers who have been unable to secure their own real estate in a highly competitive market, or do not possess the requisite capital for building out their own facility. In that sense, we are pleased to report today’s development.

Some important things to note about these new regulations:

  • A licensed premises still cannot be used to manufacture any non-cannabis products, and each manufacturer on the premises must be licensed by the state.
  • Type-S licensees may only conduct the following cannabis manufacturing activities:
    • Infusions;
    • Packaging and labeling;
    • Extractions with butter or food-grade oils (the extract or concentrate produced can only be used in the Type S licensee’s infused products).
  • The shared-use facility must include storage for the Type-S licensee’s cannabis and cannabis products.
  • The primary licensee/owner of the shared-use premises must assign a designated area to be used as a shared space. They must post an occupancy schedule, outlining the days and/or times that the space will be used by Type-S licensees, and only one licensee can utilize the space at a time.
  • There is no limit to the number of Type-S licensees that can operate within a registered shared-use facility, but again, only one licensee can utilize the shared space at a time.
  • The primary licensee is responsible for ensuring that the entire facility meets the conditions for cannabis manufacturing under state and local law and the cannabis manufacturing regulations. This includes providing security, waste management and contamination controls and providing secured storage for Type S licensees to hold their cannabis and cannabis products.

Also important to note is that all Type-S license applicants will need to submit a copy of a valid license, permit or other authorization issued by the local jurisdiction that enables the applicant to conduct commercial cannabis activity. This authorization will be required of both the primary licensee (showing that the local jurisdiction approves of a shared-use space) and all Type-S licensees utilizing the shared space. Most local jurisdictions have not explicitly addressed the issue of licensees sharing space, so it will be critical to communicate with your local government if you intend to apply for a shared-use facility designation or a Type-S license to determine what the licensing and permitting requirements will be.

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.

oakland cannabis marijuana

Oakland’s City Council recently passed what is, to our knowledge, a first-of-its-kind ordinance intended to protect residential tenants in the city’s “Green Zone” from being evicted by cannabis businesses (as a resident of Oakland’s “Green Zone,” this is an issue of both personal and professional importance to me). The ordinance passed on its first reading last week, and the second reading will happen today.

The issue of cannabis-fueled residential displacement in Oakland seems to have come to everyone’s attention a few months ago, when a Denver-based cannabis company called Green Sage bought The Oakland Cannery, a community of live-work lofts that house more than 30 artists and makers. The tenants learned from representatives of the company that their intention was to convert the building to commercial use space, and to use it as a cannabis cultivation facility. Residents were told they would not be allowed to stay.

While many within the industry are quick to tout the economic benefits brought about by cannabis legalization (which are undeniable), Oakland is one of the first cities to grapple with the potential negative downstream effects on communities that are suddenly flooded with cannabis business dollars. The City recognizes the Bay Area’s affordability crisis in terms of housing, as well as the importance of “affordable housing and space for artistic and creative enterprises and small economic enterprises and businesses.” The City of Oakland Planning Code allows for a variety of live/work uses in its industrial and commercial zones, which provides important affordable housing and space for these creative and small economic enterprises.

The live/work spaces that the City is seeking to protect are located within the City’s “Green Zone,” which was established in May 2016. Since Spring of 2017, when the City began receiving applications for cannabis businesses, they have received more than eight hundred such applications. In its report, the City identified at least twenty-five permitted live/work properties in the “Green Zone” where cannabis businesses are allowed to situate. The City recognized that these properties, which are located in traditionally industrial areas, tend to be “both more affordable for residents and more conducive to businesses that support artists, makers, and other workers in creative sectors than in other areas of the City that allow more traditional housing and commercial uses.”

As anyone with any experience in vying for a properly-zoned space for their cannabis business in California knows, these spaces are hard to come by, and competition is fierce. The fact that an out-of-state cannabis company purchased The Oakland Cannery does not surprise us, and without intervention by the City, it’s likely that other owners of these live/work buildings would be tempted by the soaring purchase prices commanded by buildings that are zoned for commercial cannabis uses. Buildings in areas of Oakland that were for many years completely undesirable are now quite valuable, if those buildings can be put to use for cannabis cultivation or manufacturing.

In passing this ordinance, the stated purpose of the City Council is to “restrict and prohibit the issuance of cannabis approvals and permits in properties utilized for Work/Live or residential purposes [that existed as of March 6, 2018] to preserve the public peace, health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens and residents of the City of Oakland.” As we stated above, this is the first ordinance we’ve seen that intentionally carves out a cannabis zoning exception for live/work spaces, and given the character of the communities in Oakland that are encompassed by the “Green Zone,” I think this ordinance makes sense. It certainly shows that the City of Oakland continues to regulate cannabis in a way that is both progressive and beneficial to its communities and residents.