Recreational Marijuana

california cannabis BCC

Today, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) published its Proposed Text of Regulations Submitted to Office of Administrative Law for review here. We are still in the process of reviewing everything, but there are enough ambiguities to cause us a good deal of concern, particularly with respect to IP licensing and contract manufacturing agreements.

We are also reviewing the BCC’s responses to comments submitted on the proposed regulations back in early November, of which there are about a thousand pages. We’ll be analyzing the regulations section by section and writing about all of the changes over the course of the next week.

Stay tuned.

marijuana bank fincen
Slowly but surely, it’s happening for canna businesses.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), a growing number of financial institutions are willing to work with cannabis businesses. As of September 30, 375 banks and 111 credit unions were managing marijuana business accounts.

These numbers reveal a steady growth in the number of financial providers willing to engage with the cannabis industry, despite its federal illegality. The report confirms what our cannabis business lawyers have observed over the past few years in Washington and Oregon: namely, most of our licensed cannabis business clients in those states are banked, and it isn’t as hard as it used to be to acquire a basic merchant account. (California is a different story.)

Nationwide, though, most financial services providers have been reluctant to serve the marijuana industry for years, fearing the federal cannabis prohibition would trigger liability under money laundering laws. Earlier this year, many concluded that banks would refuse to associate with cannabis businesses following the decision by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to retract policy protections for licensed marijuana businesses from federal interference. However, the latest FinCEN report reveals that those fears were mostly speculative.

The American Bankers Association, which recently conducted a survey on the issues faced by banks that are serving cannabis businesses, is advocating for greater legal clarity to banks operating in states where recreational and medical cannabis has been legalized. Indeed, the guidelines currently used by the financial services industry are those published in 2014 by the FinCEN and could use an update given the continued ascendance of marijuana reform.

Several key officials of the Trump administration have also expressed the need to clarify cannabis banking issues. For instance, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated in congressional testimony that he wants businesses operating in states where marijuana is legal to be able to store their profits in banks.

I assure you that we don’t want bags of cash … We do want to find a solution to make sure that businesses that have large access to cash have a way to get them into a depository institution for it to be safe.”

In June, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chariwoman Jelena McWilliams explained that she instructed her staff to consider ways to address the banking issues, but that the agency’s hands were “somewhat tied” until federal law legalizes cannabis.

Support for clarification and for fixing marijuana banking problems also comes from the states. A few months ago, a coalition of the top financial regulators located in thirteen states asked Congress to take action to protect banks working with the cannabis industry.

In their letter, the regulators wrote:

It is incumbent on Congress to resolve the conflict between state cannabis programs and federal statutes that effectively create unnecessary risk for banks seeking to operate in this space without the looming threat of civil actions, forfeiture of assets, reputational risk, and criminal penalties.”

Finally, back in June, a bipartisan group of twelve governors urged lawmakers to pass the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Entrusting States (“STATES”) Act, which proposed to amend the Controlled Substance Act to exempt state-legal marijuana activities.

This growing support for permanent protections of banks that serve cannabis businesses is a promising sign that legal reform is on its way. The newly formed Democratic House has expressed a strong desire to move cannabis legislation, including banking issues, in the new year. Only time will tell whether the Republican-controlled Senate will allow it.

shelf space california cannabis contract
Shelf space is a big deal right now in California cannabis.

With the roll out of the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA“), our California cannabis attorneys see all kinds of agreements between and among licensees. From IP licensing to white labeling to distribution contracts, we’re beginning to see people emerge from the shadows and enter into written agreements with each other, which is undoubtedly for the best given the amount of litigation that already exists in the industry and given the amount of fighting that’s sure to come regarding commercial disputes. Lately though, what we’ve seen a lot of are “pay-to-stay” and slotting fee agreements between cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. In these agreements, cultivators, manufacturers and distributors are locking retailers into contracts for dedicated, prime-time shelf space. The question, though, is whether such agreements are kosher in California and what you need to know to have a reliable, enforceable, pay-to-stay contract.

California is still pretty dynamic when it comes to contracts between licensees. Unlike other states, California hasn’t really broached the subject of massive restrictions on contracts between licensees (the lone exception is the most recent of proposed permanent regulations that attacked IP licensing and white labeling between licensees and non-licensees). Other states are very particular about licensees exerting undue influence over each other via contract when it comes to things like control, term, and the legitimacy of services/goods being provided to the licensee. Here in California, though, the following are pretty much the only contractual restrictions that exist between licensees in the marketplace:

A licensee shall not perform any of the following acts, or permit any of the following acts to be performed by any employee, agent, or contractor of the licensee:
(1) Make any contract in restraint of trade . . .
(3) Make a sale or contract for the sale of cannabis or cannabis products, or to fix a price charged therefor, or discount from, or rebate upon, that price, on the condition, agreement, or understanding that the consumer or purchaser thereof shall not use or deal in the goods, merchandise, machinery, supplies, commodities, or services of a competitor or competitors of the seller, where the effect of that sale, contract, condition, agreement, or understanding may be to substantially lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly in any line of trade or commerce.
(4) Sell any cannabis or cannabis products at less than cost for the purpose of injuring competitors, destroying competition, or misleading or deceiving purchasers or prospective purchasers . . .
(6) Sell any cannabis or cannabis products at less than the cost thereof to such vendor, or to give away any article or product for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition . . .
In turn, licensees pretty much have free reign to contract for whatever they want for however long they want without fear of interference from state regulators (so long as such agreements basically don’t amount to anti-competitive behavior). In addition, in case you’re thinking that licensee contracts don’t matter, California already passed legislation ensuring that commercial cannabis contracts are indeed enforceable in state court so that no one is left holding the bag over some illegality defense to performance.
On to slotting fee and pay-to-stay agreements. When you walk into the grocery store, the retailer likely isn’t just arranging products by name or color. In fact, what’s likely going on is that certain shelf space for new products has been negotiated and paid for by a manufacturer. And with good reason. In commodities, especially saturated ones, face time with consumers isn’t great and margins can be really poor and the competition is vast. In California, only cannabis retailers can sell to the public, so it’s hugely important for wholesale and distributor licensees to have good placement on shelf space in dispensaries and on the retailers’ online menus. The slotting fee agreement essentially amounts to the lump sum fee the supplier pays to the retailer to reserve their sacred, strategic shelf space. The pay-to-stay agreement (which can be similar to the slotting fee) typically takes things a step further where it’s instituted after the initial slot and addresses issues for existing products like marketing, promotion, inventory stocking, failure fees, and paying extra to ensure that your competitors don’t get any valuable shelf space near you or at all.

What should go into these contracts? Like any other agreement, if you’re the supplier, you want to fully articulate exactly where your placement will be in the store, how often that placement occurs, your inventory schedule, what happens in the event you cannot deliver on the inventory, what happens if no one wants your product despite its placement, what happens if the retailer (for its own benefit) wants to place another, better performing product in close proximity to yours, and the list goes on and on. Suppliers of cannabis in California should not be paying robust slotting fees to retailers willy-nilly. Even though retailers have a lot of leverage where there are still so few of them and because they’re the only licensees with a daily, face-to-face relationship with the public, if you are a supplier of a recognized brand (or even if you’re consistent with product potency and quality assurance testing), you still have some leverage where many cannabis consumers are still coming to the marketplace trying to decide what they like. The other reason cannabis suppliers shouldn’t be paying super high slotting fees is because the contract could be invalidated not because of the cannabis aspect, but because it’s anti-competitive in nature.

You’ve probably already concluded that the companies that can afford the highest slotting fees are the ones who will make it to the shelves of cannabis retailers in California. And you’re likely not wrong since retailers also have to financially survive in this newly regulated marketplace and slotting fee agreements certainly help to allocate the risk on what products to buy and re-sell (or not). In addition, the bigger cannabis brands may not even face the prospect of these contracts from retailers because the retailers desperately want to carry on them on their shelves anyway. That begs the question then of whether slotting fee agreements and pay-to-stay contracts are actually anti-competitive in violation of MAUCRSA. There’s no doubt that they certainly could be if retailers band together and start to create extremely high, universal slotting fees. Or if suppliers decide to lock up entire dispensaries. The upside, though, can be that retailers are actually more willing to take on new products since they shift liabilities for their failure back to the supplier, the slotting relationship makes product distribution more efficient, and consumers can benefit from lower prices where the retailer can better allocate its risk on investing in the presentation of new products. In any event, state regulators have stayed silent on this practice for now (although the FTC, the sleeping giant of the cannabis world, has debated the subject a good amount).

The bottom line? Unless and until regulators squarely address it or suppliers start to sue over the practice, if you’re presented with or need a fee slotting agreement or a pay-to-stay contract, make sure that you check the box on the details of the relationship. Make sure, too, that you’re avoiding anti-competitive terms and conditions if you want to make hay in California.

oregon marijuana cannabis clackamas deschutes We always talk about the cannabis industry being dynamic. That’s true from a markets perspective and it’s true from a regulatory point of view. When it comes to regulations in particular, industry observers tend to focus on the big picture developments: e.g., whether marijuana will finally be re- or de-scheduled at the federal level, whether we will get a farm bill legalizing industrial hemp nationwide, or which new states have legalized cannabis. Those broad issues deservedly get a lot of press. However, marijuana business owners are often more concerned about what is going on locally, at the city or county level. In fact, most cannabis business owners get more passionate about proposed changes to local regulations than proposed state- or even federal law developments.

My law firm has worked with regulated cannabis business in Oregon, Washington and California since 2010. I suspect that none of our cannabis business lawyers support extensive local regulation of marijuana (let alone local licensing programs). Because states tend to promulgate extensive regulatory structures, local rules tend to be duplicative and controversial once you get beyond basic land use concepts. That said, cities and counties are often pressed by their citizens to regulate cannabis businesses, and state governments give ample regulatory authority to local jurisdictions– often including the choice to “opt out” of industry participation altogether.

When localities do regulate cannabis, the process is often iterative, meaning rules are adopted and amended over time. Sometimes the changes accrue in response to changes in state law; sometimes they are in response to litigation; sometimes they are needed when current rules are failing; and sometimes the local population just changes its opinion about cannabis businesses altogether (usually, for the better).

We continue to see cities and counties modify their rules in Oregon. Below is a brief encapsulation of what is going on around the state today, based on client projects. This list is probably not exhaustive, so if you have updates on what is going on in your area, we’d love to hear from you.

Clackamas County

Clackamas County is home to 220 cannabis licenses by our count, making it home to over 10% of OLCC licensees and the fourth largest cannabis county statewide. We have been a part of most rulemaking processes on offer at the County, from the original implementation of Measure 91 to the reversal of the ban on cannabis processing. Recently, Clackamas County proposed to modify its rules yet again, by limiting the availability of production on certain lots. The relevant Planning Commission hearing was held last night, and the Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed license limits on January 16. The amendments, if approved, would limit continguous lots of record under the same ownership to one OLCC producer license, or one medical marijuana (OHA) grow site. The change would apply only to lots zoned as Ag/Forest, Exclusive Farm Use, and Timber. Current OLCC producer licenses existing on contiguous lots in these zones would be grandfathered. The proposed revised regulations are here, and an FAQ is here. There is still plenty of time to submit comments.

Josephine County

Anyone familiar with the Oregon marijuana industry knows that Josephine County has had a rough time in its efforts to regulate cannabis. The County has suffered several consecutive legal setbacks, but apparently is pushing forward with a new effort to limit OLCC marijuana activities on “rural residential” zoned properties. The Board of Commissioners most recently held a land use hearing on November 7, with a first reading of the proposed new ordinance. No word yet on next steps, but it appears that the County is going through the proper public notice requirements this time, and fortunately the current ordinance draft includes grandfathering rights for current licensees (“non-conforming use” application options).

Deschutes County

Deschutes County Ordinance 2018-012 took effect on Friday. The new regulations reduced the available County acreage for cannabis by 17%, mostly by prohibiting marijuana production and processing in the multiple use agricultural (MUA) zone. The ordinance contains many other provisions as well, from new setback requirements to noise and odor mitigation rules. Although Ordinance 2018-012 is now in effect, we are including Deschutes County here because an appeal of this ordinance was filed with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals a few weeks back. The appeal means that these regulations are in flux to some extent, and will not be affirmed or rejected for several months.

New Oregon cities 

Last month, we covered the industry-friendly reversals of Ontario, Klamath Falls, Clatskanie and Sumpter, a quartet of cities scattered about the state which initially prohibited cannabis but are now opening their borders to OLCC licensed businesses. It now appears that the cities of Gates and Joseph may have “legalized” as well. For information on Ontario rulemaking, go here. For information on the Klamath Falls process, go here. We do not yet have information on the remaining four cities, but interested parties should reach out to those City Councils to gauge plans for rulemaking in the newly green jurisdictions.

oregon marijuana OLCC report
Pretty good report for licensed Oregon producers.

On Monday, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (“OLCC”) released results of enforcement inspections of recreational marijuana producers, which indicate that the majority of inspected licensees are in compliance with Oregon laws and the OLCC rules.

“Operation Good Harvest” was a saturation compliance effort that focused on Oregon’s fall 2018 legal outdoor cannabis harvest. OLCC inspectors were in the field for the past two months and conducted 354 inspections across the state, with an emphasis on southern Oregon, a hotbed of marijuana production, accounting for more than a third of the recreational marijuana licenses in the state.

The OLCC inspected a total of 354 outdoor producer licensees and found that 259, or 73 percent of them did not have any “deficiencies” nor were they likely to commit potential violations. Of the 95 licensees with deficiencies, 41 have potential violations that could lead to the cancellations of their license, which roughly represents 12 percent of the outdoor producer facilities inspected. A more comprehensive overview of the inspection results is as follows:

Region

Inspections Licensees with Deficiencies Compliance Rate

Possible License Cancellations

Statewide

354

95

73%

41

Bend

11

5

55%

2

Eugene

44

9 44%

5

Medford

167

43 74%

22

Portland Metro

102

33 68%

11

Salem

30

5

83%

1

The inspections reflect our agency’s effort to prevent diversion from Oregon’s legal cannabis market, and we’ll continue compliance activity across all license categories to maintain the well-regulated market that Oregonians expect”, declared Steve Marks, OLCC Executive Director.

The results of Operation Good Harvest demonstrate that the OLCC continues to take steps to corral Oregon’s overproduction of marijuana by taking a tougher stance on rule violations by licensees. (For some background on this administrative policy progression, we have recently written about OLCC’s recent “tightening up”, from application scrutiny through dealing with non-compliance.)

The result of Operation Good Harvest also seems to reinforce the fact that the surplus of marijuana in our state does not generally emanate from cannabis grown and produced by OLCC licensees, despite earlier reports to the contrary. Instead, illegal export tends to stem from unlicensed grows and from poorly regulated, quasi-commercial systems like the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

As far as the violations actually turned up by OLCC inspections in Operation Good Harvest, the most common deficiencies pertained to issues with cameras and surveillance coverage. Other common violations included:

  • Data in the Cannabis Tracking System (METRC) not matching plants or product found on the licensed premises;
  • Marijuana plants not tagged and entered into METRC;
  • Failure to provide the OLCC with harvest notification information;
  • Making unapproved alterations to the licensed premises; and
  • Using scales not approved by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The agency is currently investigating licensees for alleged violations and will decide how to charge these license holders once its investigations are complete. Any licensees whose license will be revoked will be entitled to challenge the OLCC charges through the State of Oregon’s Administrative Hearings process However, the final decision on any charges will be made by the OLCC Commission.

Operation Good Harvest produced promising results, showing that Oregon continues to be a leader in regulating cannabis, and that this nascent industry is slowly but surely finding its equilibrium.

california cannabis licensing raceUnless you’ve been completely out of the loop, you already know that many, many people are in a race to submit their California state temporary cannabis license applications before December 31 of this year, which represents the “drop dead” date for cannabis temporary licenses. Add to that the regulatory curve balls thrown by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) at the end of October (those agencies moved up the their temp licensing submission deadlines to December 1) and you have a stampede of people now trying to get their temporary license applications in by the end of this month. Thankfully, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) hasn’t yet said that there’s a low chance of successful processing if you submit after December 1, but given the back and forth it takes with the BCC to even get the temp, you may be out of luck.

Why does all of this matter? If you don’t have, or haven’t held, a temporary license for your current cannabis location (which is good for 120 days and gets renewed for additional 90 day periods so long as you’ve applied for your annual cannabis license), you’re ineligible for a provisional license next year, which means you’ll be on ice and non-operational unless and until you get your state annual license. No one really knows how long that will ultimately take.

If you’re finding yourself scrambling to get a temp license in before December 1, you’re not alone. The biggest roadblock of all has been would-be licensees securing local approval from their cities or counties. Certain local governments, though (like Long Beach, the City of Los Angeles, and San Diego) are obliging folks in their local licensing processes by providing them with letters of authorization. These letters of authorization only allow the applicant to go and apply for their state temp license(s)–they do not allow an applicant to actually open their doors until all conditions of official local approval have been met. That’s only half the battle though. Then you have to complete and submit your state temporary license applications, which depending on agency, is no picnic.

All three agencies will ask that you submit proof of local approval from your local government when applying for the temp license. They then contact the local government to verify local approval and the local government has no less than ten days to respond. By far though, CDPH has the simplest and easiest temporary license application. It’s literally one page, and you email or mail it to the agency. And you don’t have to submit even a lease agreement or a premises diagram either. Contrast that though with the BCC and the CDFA, which are a little more intense– especially since the re-adoption of the emergency regulations, which tweaked the temporary license submission requirements for those agencies.

For BCC (for which you must have an online account and then submit online or via hardcopy in Sacramento), you have to submit:

(1) The legal business name of the applicant; (2) The email address of the applicant’s business and the telephone number for the premises; (3) The business’ federal employer identification number; (4) A description of the business organizational structure of the applicant, such as partnership or corporation; (5) The commercial cannabis license that the applicant is applying for, and whether the applicant is requesting that the license be designated as medicinal, adult-use, or both; (6) The contact information for the applicant’s designated primary contact person including the name, title, phone number, and email address of the individual; (7) For each “owner” of the business, the owner’s name, title, percentage of ownership, mailing address, telephone number, and email address if applicable; (8) The physical address of the premises to be licensed; (9) Evidence that the applicant has the legal right to occupy and use the proposed location (that meets all mandatory buffer requirements); (10) A detailed premises diagram; (11) A copy of a valid license, permit, or other authorization issued by a local jurisdiction, that enables the applicant to conduct commercial cannabis activity at the location requested for the temporary license; and (12) a penalty of perjury statement.

For CDFA (for which you must also have an online account and then submit online or via hardcopy in Sacramento), you have to submit:

(1) The license type for which the applicant is applying and whether the application is for an M-license or A-license (note that CDFA still forces people to apply separately for M and A licenses even though those license type designations have since been combined); (2) If the applicant has already submitted an application for annual licensure, the application number; (3) The legal business name of the applicant entity; (4) The full legal name, mailing address, phone number, email address, and affiliation of the “designated responsible party,” who must: (A) Be an owner with legal authority to bind the applicant entity; (B) Serve as agent for service of process; and (C) Serve as primary contact for the application; (5) The physical address of the premises; (6) Copy of local approval; (7) A proposed cultivation plan; (8) Identification of all the following water sources for the cultivation site (as applicable): (A) A retail water supplier; (B) A groundwater well; (C) A rainwater catchment system; (D) A diversion from a waterbody or an underground stream flowing in a known and definite channel; and (9) Evidence of enrollment with the applicable Regional Water Quality Control Board or State Water Resources Control Board for water quality protection programs or written verification from the appropriate board that enrollment is not necessary.

Where are most people going to get screwed up here? Without a doubt, with the BCC it is the premises diagram and the proof of “right to real property” (I.e., your lease agreement). With CDFA, it’s going to be the cultivation plan, identifying water sources, and proof or registration or exemption with the applicable water boards. And many people don’t realize that the cultivation plan, itself, demands the inclusion of a detailed premises diagram, lighting diagram, pest management plan (for which you better have a good amount of knowledge regarding lawful and illegal pesticides and their applications), and waste management plan. All of this is not an insignificant amount of information to compile.

While folks are in the race now to get that initial (and very important) temporary license, there will be another push for these folks prior to the expiration of that 120-day validity period on the temp license where provisional licensing also requires that you have submitted a complete annual license application to the state, which will be another massive information gathering expedition about your cannabis business and how it operates. Undoubtedly, many would-be licensees are going to be out of the game if they don’t get their temps in on time, so stay tuned with updates as the California cannabis regulatory world turns.

cannabis business contractsYou can spend a lot of money on lawyers, accountants and consultants when starting a cannabis business. There is so much ground to cover from concept to execution– especially in a complex and highly regulated industry. Related to this issue, we have written on this blog about finding a team, and we have talked about the importance of things like operating formally, staying away from generic agreements and avoiding the seemingly bottomless pit of industry scams and schemes.

Today’s blog post will cover which documents are really necessary when structuring a cannabis business, and what you may be able to do without— at least in the beginning. Note that these are general guidelines. They are not intended to serve as legal advice and every business should use its best judgment and consult with counsel on these items.

  1. Stuff you cannot do without

Articles of Incorporation or Organization

This is very basic, but you cannot have a company unless the entity has been duly registered with the relevant Secretary of State. These days, most filings in most states can be done online, although there are situations where online filings are a bad idea, like when you want to do anything nonstandard with your Articles of Incorporation (for a corporation) or Articles of Organization (for an LLC). Those situations arise somewhat frequently. For example, you may want specific indemnity provisions for your board of directors beyond what the statutes contemplate. Or you may need to outline the attributes of preferred stock your corporation plans to issue. Many state registration portals do not allow “check the box” options for this type of tailored structuring. Get a solid cannabis business lawyer to help.

Internal Governance Agreements

If you have registered a multi-member LLC, it is a bad idea to proceed without an operating agreement and without an initial set of consent resolutions. The operating agreement in particular is going to define the spectrum of voting and economic rights each member has in the company, as well as crucial operational concepts. These concepts include non-industry specific matters (what happens when the company requires more capital?) to cannabis-specific matters (what happens when a member endangers the company’s state-issued license?).

In a corporation, you are going to have a few more agreements to start. Of these, bylaws and initial consent resolutions cannot be skipped. You will also need a shareholder agreement in most instances, and you will need to issue shares to owners (certificated or uncertificated). Other items, like a voting agreement, proxy agreements, etc., may be less important for some companies and you can often skip these to start.

Lease Agreement

Even if one of the cannabis business owners also owns the real estate at issue, you are going to need an industry-specific lease. A well drafted lease will insulate the property and its owners from liability if the cannabis business fails, or finds itself in litigation. When your business is leasing from a perfect stranger, the lease becomes even more important to outline the basic terms of the landlord-tenant relationship, on everything from your rights to occupy the property, to your rights to make modifications required to obtain a license.

Employee Handbook

If you have even one employee in your new business, get a handbook together. These internal business documents serve as a key communication tool between a business and its employees. A good handbook will set forth guidelines and expectations for workers, and perhaps most importantly, it can give a broad array of legal protections to business owners, as we previously explained here.

Third-Party Agreements

If your brand new cannabis business is doing a business transaction with a third party (some frequent, early examples include loans and services agreements) make sure you have adequately papered those items. Not memorializing a business or financial relationship in writing is asking for trouble.

  1. Stuff you can probably skip (for now)

Employment Agreements

Today, all states recognize at-will employment, with various limitations. This means that a written employment agreement is not needed (or even desirable) for many types of employees. An exception may be where the employee is occupying a highly specialized or highly compensated position, or has rights to vest in ownership. But if all you are worried about is an employee having access to proprietary information, you can generally cover this in an employee handbook, or through a simple non-disclosure agreement.

Stock Purchase Agreement

Lots of cannabis businesses try to raise capital shortly after formation, or as they approach licensure. They do this by selling stock or another form of ownership in the company. In our experience, though, it’s often best to wait until the business understands exactly how much money it needs to raise, and from whom, before drafting a stock purchase agreement. In many cases funds are raised from just one or two targets, and it does not make sense to draft purchase agreements until terms have been negotiated, or even memorialized in a letter of intent or other term sheet with prospective purchasers.

Business Plan

It’s a great idea to have a business plan, but not to pay a lawyer or consultant thousands of dollars to draft this for you. There is enough publicly available information out there for anyone to put together his or her own marijuana business plan these days; and you will know more than anyone you could hire about your goals. Even if you are unsure about some of the concepts at first, doing the research needed to put this document together will go a long way in educating and setting yourself up for success.


It’s easy to get lost when starting a business, and to rack up costs on unnecessary items, or items that are less important in the near term. Focus on the basics to start, and enlist a knowledgeable cannabis business attorney to get you off the ground. The lawyer should be able to provide you estimates for basic services, and allow you to focus mostly on what matters most– running a successful cannabis industry business.

cannabis marijuana scams
DON’T BE THE MOOCH.

This morning when I went to the gym before work, I put on an NPR podcast that delved into the story of the FTC’s bust of David Diamond. Diamond is an infamous Angeleno who defrauded hundreds of people via telemarketing scams. In the podcast, the interviewee does a great job of explaining the common scammer term, “mooch.” A mooch is, according to the podcast, “… someone who will essentially buy anything from anybody who calls [them] on the telephone.”

This got me thinking about the ideal marijuana mooch since so much fraud and bad behavior is rampant in the national marijuana marketplace. We’ve covered multiple marijuana scams here, here, and here (and have written about fraud and important red flags (and red herrings) in the industry multiple times in this past).

This time however, I want to dedicate this post to the top 5 red flags of which a marijuana mooch should be aware:

1.  Anyone who tells you to invest in cannabis at all costs because you might “miss the boat.”

News flash–big alcohol, big tobacco, and big pharma are not active in the U.S. cannabis space. Even though they may be thinking about it and may have future plans for it (and even if states may already creating “Big Marijuana” interests), there’s not one single U.S. cannabis company (that actually traffics in cannabis under state licensing laws) that’s tied officially or legitimately back to these big business interests. Normally, the mooch hustle is “You’re going to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity with cannabis since the bigger companies are flooding the space already, so you better invest all you have now, now, now.” Utilize your judgment to understand that this statement is not only overblown, but it’s untrue, and the source of the information is seriously suspect, even today. In any event, before you invest cannabis, which is an extremely volatile prospect, do your homework and determine whether there’s real value at the end of the elevator pitch.

2.  Marijuana penny stocks. 

Stay away from most marijuana penny stocks. As both we and the SEC keep pointing out, many (but not all) publicly traded cannabis companies are vehicles for investor fraud. As we have written before:

It almost seems that publicly traded stock companies are more focused on selling their stocks than on competing in the market. The herd mentality of investors seems to encourage this. Here’s how that basic logic works: Marijuana is booming. Therefore, marijuana businesses must be booming. In turn, all marijuana businesses must be booming. Therefore, I need to invest in a marijuana business. The only way I can easily invest in a marijuana business is to buy the stock in a publicly traded marijuana business. And so the stocks just keep booming.

All of which leads to pump and dump scams where “the group behind the scam increases the demand and trading volume in the stock and this new inflow of investors leads to a sharp rise in its price. Once the price rise has formulated, the group will sell its position to make a large short-term gain.” Pump and dump scams with publicly traded marijuana companies are still quite popular, especially as more and more states have legalized and “medicalized.”

3.  Marijuana franchises. 

Most marijuana franchise “offers” are just plain garbage because they fail to account for all of the reporting, registration, and disclosure requirements required by federal and state franchise laws and regulations. Franchising is governed by FTC and various state agency rules. Because of the state and federal law conflict with cannabis, franchising a cannabis business is a very risky proposition, and we are finding that most cannabis “franchisors” are not providing their potential “franchisees” with nearly enough risk disclosures to really inform franchisees and their investors what they’re getting themselves into at the end of the day.

4.  Marijuana reverse mergers (ESPECIALLY CANADIAN ONES).

Seems like everyone and their mother is trying to accomplish a Canadian reverse merger in the U.S. cannabis industry. Reverse mergers are a relatively fast, cheap and easy way for a private company to “go public” without having to go through all of the SEC reporting, disclosure, and registration requirements required by a standard initial public offering. Just like penny stock fraud though, reverse merger stock fraud is nothing new. In the typical reverse merger transaction, a privately operating company seeks to acquire controlling shares in an already publicly traded company with the goal of acquiring the public company’s listing. In the reverse merger scam, the underlying publicly traded company is usually just a shell company with little or no assets or positive business history. Because the underlying publicly traded shell has no assets, no real management base, and oftentimes no business at all, the whole point of these scams is to acquire investors and raise capital based on pumped-up stock statistics, prices, and claims before everything eventually goes bust. These scams tend to involve the same subset of marginal accounting and law firms that assist by securing IRS and SEC reporting delays. Like anything else, if you’re looking at acquiring stock in a reverse merger company, do your due diligence and know the red flags.

5.  Marijuana crowdfunding.

Back in May of 2015, the SEC released new crowdfunding rules designed to let the small fry swim with the sharks. As of May 16, 2016, companies were able to solicit $2,000 from anyone (and more in many cases) in exchange for an equity stake in their business. Companies can now raise up to $1 million annually through these offerings, which fall under Title III of the 2012 JOBS Act. As we have written before, the SEC does not care whether your business is a pot business, so long as you follow its offerings rules. Though the SEC’s rules for crowdfunding advertising are incredibly strict, we know there are a wind of crowdfunding cannabis companies seeking to skirt these new rules to the detriment of investors and mooches.

Don’t be the marijuana mooch! For more on cannabis scams, check out the following:

Earlier this year, the Washington Legislature passed House Bill 2334 (the “Bill”) into law. The Bill allows 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. The Bill essentially allows Washington processors to add CBD from industrial hemp derived in other states into Washington marijuana products.

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.

cannabis washington lcb marijuana
Start ramping up ahead of December 1.

On October 31, the LCB enacted new regulations in light of the Bill. These new rules impose some additional requirements and restrictions with regards to CBD derived from sources outside of Washington’s framework. The LCB will not allow the addition of CBD to useable marijuana flower. That means CBD additives will be limited to edibles, oils, tinctures, and other products that are derived from marijuana. Licensees will have to enter CBD products into the LCB’s traceability system, keep the records up-to-date, and the additives labeled. And licensees must also keep CBD additives quarantined from other marijuana until the CBD additives have gone through lab testing.

The LCB already requires that all marijuana and marijuana products undergo lab testing. WAC 314-55-102. CBD additives will go through additional testing under these new regulations. CBD additives that do not pass testing cannot be added to marijuana products.

In addition to the THC threshold, outside CBD must be tested for contaminants and toxins by the same accredited labs that test other marijuana and marijuana products in Washington. Licensees must submit samples of CBD additives to accredited labs. The samples must be representative of the entire product and must be one percent of the product as packaged by the manufacturer but no less that two grams. The samples must be collected in a sanitary manner, meaning the person collecting the samples must wash her hands, wear gloves, and use sanitary utensils and storage devices. Samples must be labeled with an unique identifier number, the trade name of the lab receiving the sample, the license number and tradename of the licensee, the date the sample was collected and the weight of the sample.

The CBD additives must be tested for THC to ensure that the product contains less than 0.3 percent. The additives are also tested to determine/verify the levels of THC and CBD. CBD additives must be tested for pesticides, heavy metals, residual solvents, microbiological matter, and mycotoxin.

For any questions on these new rules, give us a call. The new rules take effect December 1, 2018.

 2018 marijuana cannabis midterms michigan utah missouri

Today was a stellar day for marijuana advocates around the country. Not only did a handful of states authorize legalization of medical and recreational marijuana at the polls, but the Democratic Party took control of the House of Representatives, and one very problematic Congressman, Pete Sessions, was sent packing down in Texas.

Below is a summary of the big changes nationwide, with many of these results still firming up at the time of writing. Note that this post does not detail some of the “smaller” local developments, such as decriminalization in certain Ohio cities, enthusiasm for cannabis by Wisconsin voters, or many other positive developments ushered in by this evening’s voting.

Michigan

Congratulations to the Wolverine State, which voted to legalize adult use (recreational) marijuana statewide. Individuals who are at least 21 years of age will be permitted to possess and use marijuana and marijuana-infused edibles, and grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal consumption (that’s quite a bit). Permitted retail sales will be subject to a relatively modest 10% tax. Per state law, ballot initiatives take effect 10 days after results are certified, which can take up to three weeks from yesterday. So, legalization should take effect by the end of the year. Michigan is the tenth most populous state in the nation, and the first Midwestern state to legalize cannabis– which is a big deal. (Yes, Michigan is a part of the Midwest.)

Missouri

Missouri is another Midwestern state to make giant strides on cannabis, legalizing medical marijuana statewide. Missourians reviewed three medical cannabis legalization measures on the ballot: the one that passed is known as Amendment 2. Amendment 2 is an impressive entrée into legalization for a couple of reasons: first, it actually amends the state constitution to allow medical cannabis; and second, it contemplates a licensing program extending far beyond decriminalization, to state licensure for cultivators, manufacturers, testing labs and dispensaries. Under the new regime, qualified patients with physician approval will be allowed to receive cards for any condition the physician sees fit. There will be a 4% tax on retail transactions. Of the three initiatives on Missouri’s ballot, this one was the best.

North Dakota

Alas, North Dakota failed to move beyond the confines of its medical marijuana program. Measure 3 would have allowed people 21 and older to possess, use, grow, buy and sell marijuana for recreational purposes, and it would have expunged previous cannabis convictions from criminal records. Stepping back, Measure 3 was an odd initiative in that it failed to include any language regarding regulation or taxes. Apparently, the idea was to let the legislature figure that part out, but Measure 3 advisers may be kicking themselves for that strategy today.

Utah

Like North Dakota, Utah is a fairly conservative state. In keeping with that ethos, Utah passed a fairly conservative ballot measure last night to legalize medical marijuana – but passed it nonetheless. Proposition 2 allows qualified patients with physician approval to a purchase two ounces of medical marijuana in any two week period, or products containing 10 grams of CBD or THC. Curiously, smoking medical marijuana isn’t allowed. To the good, patients who live more than 100 miles from a dispensary will be able to cultivate 6 plants at home, and there will be a caregiver program. The state will issue licenses for cultivation, processing, testing and dispensaries.

In all, Proposition 2 had a very interesting backstory, such that today’s legalization of medical marijuana in Utah was something of a fait accompli. You can read about that here.

Congress

Democrats took back the House of Representatives last night, which is great news for federal legislation prospects. Although cannabis is not a distinctly partisan issue these days, most progressive cannabis legislation tends to come from the House, and the prospects of moving marijuana legislation are far superior today than yesterday. The fact that the Senate is still solidly Republican is not ideal for federal legalization, but the prospect of compromise legislation on everything from decriminalization to banking to taxes — to say nothing of issues like industrial hemp — is better than ever.

Pete Sessions (“Prohibition Pete”)

This one could probably fall under the “Congress” paragraph above, but it’s a significant enough development to merit special mention. Back in March, I had fun writing about how Pete Sessions was almost single-handedly blocking cannabis reform, including bipartisan proposals, from his perch as Chair of the House Rules Committee. Well, Pete lost yesterday. This means that the undemocratic nonsense of blocking floor votes on issues that both parties want to vote on, is likely over. This development will probably be under-reported given everything else that occurred today, but it’s huge.

All in all, voters across the U.S. once again expressed their desire to do away with prohibition on November 6. This morning, 33 states and the District of Columbia have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. The President may be open to reform, and we expect industrial hemp to be legalized within a couple of months. Interestingly, the U.S. has also found itself in a marijuana sandwich of sorts, between Canada’s recent federal legalization and Mexico’s imminent legalization. But that’s a story for another day.

For now, cannabis reform advocates should rejoice: Voters rejected prohibition in many places, nationwide.