When California was getting ready to legalize adult-use and medically commercial cannabis sales on January 1, 2018, we all knew it would be a bumpy ride. Going from the collective, cooperative, and non-profit models that governed marijuana operators (and I use the term “governed” loosely) prior to 2018, to a robust regulatory regime that was going to keep the federal government on the sidelines (hopefully) and better serve the public and the environment was never going to be easy.

When the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) was enacted in June of 2017, it merged the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) and the Adult-Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) into one regulatory regime. Under MAUCRSA there are three state agencies responsible for regulating and licensing cannabis operators: 1) The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), regulates cultivators, processors, and nurseries; 2) The California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch regulates cannabis manufacturers; and 3) The Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) regulates distributors, retailers, delivery-only retailers, microbusinesses, temporary cannabis events, and laboratories.

In November of last year, all three agencies released their emergency regulations and licensing requirements (which we covered here and here). Upon gathering input from the public and cannabis businesses, all three state agencies made changes to their emergency regulations and readopted them last month.

In both the initial and readopted regulations, cannabis businesses were provided with a transition period that allowed for exceptions from certain regulatory provisions. The goal of the transition period was to grant cannabis businesses with a period of less stringent regulations so that they could sell cannabis products that were already in their inventory. The cost of compliance is a steep one and the transition period was an attempt to soften the blow. The readopted regulations made a number of changes (which we covered here) but what they didn’t change is the transition period’s termination date. The transition period ends on June 30, 2018, so starting on July 1 (which is also Canada Day!) the following regulations will apply:

July 1 is almost here!
  • Untested cannabis goods cannot be sold by a retailer and must be destroyed, nor will a retailer will be able to send the untested cannabis goods for testing.
  • Untested cannabis goods manufactured or harvested before January 1, 2018, in possession of a distributor that are owned by the distributor will have to be destroyed.
  • Untested cannabis goods manufactured or harvested before January 1, 2018, in the possession of a distributor owned by a manufacturer or cultivator may be returned to them. The manufacturer or cultivator could then sell the returned cannabis goods after sending them to a distributor and they pass all of the testing requirements.
  • All packaging and labeling of cannabis goods must be properly performed before being transported to a retailer. This also applies to cannabis goods that were in a retailer’s inventory before July 1. The only exception is that a retailer will be able to affix “FOR MEDICAL USE ONLY” for medicinal sales.
  • Cannabis goods in a retailer’s possession that do not meet packaging and labeling requirements will have to be destroyed.
  • All cannabis goods must be in child-resistant packaging, only having exit or secondary packaging be child-resistant shall no longer suffice.
  • Edible cannabis goods may no longer exceed 10 milligrams of THC per serving and may not exceed 100 milligrams of THC per package.
  • Non-edible cannabis products shall not contain more than 1,000 milligrams of THC per package in the adult-use market.
  • Non-edible cannabis products shall not contain more than 2,000 milligrams of THC per package in the medicinal market.
  • All products sold by a retailer will have to meet the CDPH’s requirements for ingredients and appearance.

In the long-term, the end of the transition period will benefit the public as the cannabis goods consumed will have passed stricter testing requirements. However, come July 1, you can expect to see less inventory on retailers’ shelves as there will inevitably be a number of cannabis goods that cannot pass the stricter testing requirements. Cannabis businesses that have been planning for the expiration of the transition period regulations are going to be the ones with good compliance programs and they’ll be able to take advantage of a less crowded marketplace as less forward-looking operators struggle to adapt.

One major concern for the California cannabis industry is whether there are enough licensed laboratories to meet demand. The BCC has currently issued temporary licenses to approximately twenty-nine (29) laboratories and whether they have the capacity to test all the cannabis products supplied by cultivators and manufacturers will have a direct impact on how fast a retailer can restock their inventory. In the short-term, you can expect to see some steep discounts from retailers as they’re forced to unload all their marijuana products that they’d have to destroy if not sold by July 1. Be ready for longer than normal lines at your favorite cannabis retailer on June 30!

It’s no secret that the City of Los Angeles has struggled with implementing its commercial cannabis program under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Act (“MAUCRSA“). The licensing of existing medical marijuana dispensaries (“EMMDs”) under Measure M has been a slow and opaque process, but Los Angeles is committed to the success of its cannabis program long-term and isn’t in any rush to act hastily when it comes to continued licensing by the Department of Cannabis Regulation (“DCR“) and Cannabis Regulation Commission. Indeed, just last week, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a handful of ordinances and made several recommendations to the City Attorney (and other City departments) to tighten, clarify, and technically fix its current commercial cannabis legislation. The amended regulations take effect on July 23, 2018.

Here are the major highlights:

  • Off-site Advertising. Ordinance No. 185607 addresses commercial cannabis advertising in the City. We now have a 700-foot distance buffer for any off premises advertising for “Cannabis, Cannabis Products, or Cannabis Activity” in any “Publicly Visible Location” from “any School, Public Park, Public Library, Alcoholism or Drug Abuse Recovery or Treatment Facility, Day Care Center, and Permanent Supportive Housing,” except for those advertising signs that are located inside the licensed premises (unless it’s a window sign), or if the advertising sign is on any “commercial vehicle used exclusively for transporting or delivering cannabis or cannabis products.” The distance buffer also doesn’t apply to “the display of public service messages or similar announcements cautioning against the use of Cannabis or Cannabis Products or that are designed to encourage minors to refrain from using or purchasing Cannabis or Cannabis Products.” However, this exemption won’t be used “. . .to permit an advertisement that purports to caution against the use of Cannabis or Cannabis Products when that message is conveyed in conjunction with the display of a logo, trademark or name used by any person or entity engaged in any Cannabis Activity for marketing or promotion of Cannabis or Cannabis Products.” Lastly, the 700-foot buffer is measured as the crow flies from the property line of the prohibited facility to the “closest visible edge of the advertising sign face of the off-site sign.”
  • On-site Advertising. Ordinance No. 185607 also tackles on-premises advertising. Only one on-site sign per street frontage is allowed. And that signage is included in the “maximum sign area” allowed for the property (this is in addition to any mandatory state signage under MAUCRSA). On-site signage is now going to be content controlled–you can only have the following information on the sign: “name of business; ‘logogram’ of business; and business’ address, hours of operation and contact information. Other than the foregoing information, no advertising for Cannabis or Cannabis Products shall be displayed on any sign in a Publicly Visible Location.” And here’s the list of all the fun signage you CAN’T utilize: Portable signs or sandwich signs located in the public right-of-way; Digital signs; Spinner signs; Monument signs; Illuminated architectural canopy signs; Pole signs; Marquee signs; Roof signs; Temporary signs; Moving signs and signs with moving parts; and Supergraphic signs.
  • Testing. Ordinance No. 185609 addresses quality assurance testing in that licensees won’t have to have their products fully tested “until 120 days after City licensure, or until required under State of California Code of Regulations Title 16, Division 42, Chapter 5, Section 5715, whichever is sooner, after which all cannabis goods shall be labeled and tested.”
  • Technical fix legislation. Ordinance No. 185608 is the first technical fix legislation for existing commercial cannabis regulations in L.A. Here are the need-to-knows:
    1. EMMDs that entered into a payment plan with the Office of Finance to become current on outstanding taxes owed will be considered fully paid up for priority licensure (which closed back in March).
    2. The Type 10 Delivery Retailer License has been deleted–Type 10’s under state law outright allow delivery anyway.
    3. Crimes that will bar you from applying from a license have been further amended to include: “A Person with a felony conviction for violating any State or local law involving violent crimes, sex trafficking, rape, crimes against children, gun crimes or hate crimes for a period of 20 years from the date of conviction or completion of a term of imprisonment, supervised release or probation imposed as a sentence for the conviction, whichever is later.”
    4. EMMDs can now be approved for the full type 11 distribution license (not just “self-distribution transport only”).
    5. Since the April 1, 2018 deadline for accepting “Non-Retail” priority applications has come and gone, the DCR’s new standard is that it will accept those applications for no more than 30 days after it opens that particular application window. There’s City-wide speculation that this window will open on July 1, but the City hasn’t made anything official yet.
    6. If a testing lab obtains and maintains an ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation, the DCR may issue temporary approval to the testing lab before completion of a pre-licensing inspection.

What is probably even more interesting than the foregoing is that the City Council also asked (based on a June 5th motion) that the City Attorney, in conjunction with the DCR and other City offices, prepare and present an ordinance to make the following additional changes to existing cannabis regulations:

  • Address and control cannabis management companies. The City proposed that “management company” be defined as “any person who participates in the management, direction or control of the operations of a business licensed to conduct commercial cannabis activity, or any person who participates in the management, direction or control of another person who participates in the management, direction or control of the operations of a business licensed to conduct commercial cannabis activity.” The City Council has also proposed that “a management company shall not hold equity ownership in the applicant licensee or have the authority to make major decisions impacting the corporate structure of the applicant or licensee or the license held by the applicant or licensee.” However, a management company would be able to “receive revenue or profit-based compensation, subject to limitations established by the DCR.” Of course, this would still make the management company a financial interest holder under MAUCRSA.

Social Equity Program applicants (“SEPs”) and regular licensees would also have to get written approval from the DCR before engaging with a management company. All SEPs and licensees would also have to disclose to the DCR all written agreements or contracts with a management company and all other documents the DCR requires to identify all persons who will act as the management company for the business premises. And if you can’t qualify for licensure from the DCR, the DCR may also stop you from acting as a management company. Or if you’ve violated any local or state cannabis laws, the DCR may also knock you out from acting as a management company to a SEP or licensee. SEPs and licensee will be responsible for all acts or omissions of its management company in connection with compliance with state and city laws. All management companies engaged in commercial cannabis activity within the City of Los Angeles would have to register and maintain appropriate records with the DCR. Finally, management companies would be limited to entering into management agreements for no more than 3% of commercial cannabis businesses within the City of Los Angeles, by license type. That percentage will increase 1% on July 1st of every year beginning in 2019 until a total of 7% is reached. Tier 1 and Tier 2 SEPs would be exempt from these management company license limits.

  • More clarity on the social equity program and allowing more flexibility for Social Equity-licensed businesses. Among other tweaks and additions, Tier 1 and Tier 2 SEPs would be able to apply for retail licenses under the 2:1 ratio already set by the City, and Tier 3 applicants won’t be able to apply for retail licenses. Tiers 1 through 3 applicants would though be able to apply for non-retail licenses under the 1:1 ratio set by the City. The City also wants to allow the DCR to license incubator projects with multiple licenses for the education, training, etc. for SEPs. The City also asked that SEPs be allowed to apply for licensure even if they do not have local land use authorization, but local land use authorization must be obtained prior to completing the licensing process. The City would also increase term of Social Equity Program agreements to five years, and would allow Social Equity-licensed businesses to terminate their agreement with the actual SEP after five years, all with the approval of the DCR. Interestingly, the City added that the Social Equity-licensed business would have the right of first refusal to buy out the SEP applicant (presumably at any time). The City is also planning to allow the Social Equity-licensed business to replace the SEP under certain criteria and conditions.
  • Taxes and Cannabis Reinvestment Act. The City Council also asked the City Attorney to draft an election “Ordinance and Resolutions” to place a ballot measure before the voters at the November 6, 2018 State General Election entitled the “Cannabis Reinvestment Act,” and that the ballot measure would, among other revenue captures, implement a one percent gross receipts tax on all commercial cannabis activity to be “reinvested in the community with all funds going to a newly created Cannabis Reinvestment Trust Fund” earmarked for various City items and groups.

Without a doubt in the coming weeks we’re going to see even more legislation from L.A. regarding amending its current cannabis regulations (with specific regard to its much-anticipated Social Equity program), and these forthcoming changes will also directly affect would-be licensees’ ability to pursue licensure in the long run in what may end up being California’s largest cannabis marketplace. So, stay tuned!

industrial hemp CBD legal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

california marijuana cannabis

The year 2018 has been confusing so far for California’s commercial cannabis industry in terms of the conflict between federal and state legal regimes. It began with California formally opening its doors for licensed cannabis activity. That was soon followed by the U.S. Department of Justice rescinding its 2013 Cole Memo that deprioritized enforcement against state-legal cannabis operations — a move that sparked considerable concern among operators who had invested substantial resources to become legitimate, licensed cannabis businesses. Then we discovered that the former Republican speaker of the House, previously having been “unalterably opposed” to cannabis, had now become a board member of a cannabis investment company.

Next, we heard about a massive enforcement effort against cannabis grow operations in Sacramento involving one of the largest residential civil asset forfeiture efforts in U.S. history. Meantime, California continued to struggle with its persistent black market problem, as the vast majority of operators have declined to come into regulatory compliance, due in no small part to the enormous market advantage of not paying licensing fees or the extremely high taxes levied on legitimate cannabis businesses.

The uncertainty and apparent inconsistency begs the question, what are the current state and federal policies on cannabis enforcement in California? We don’t have a crystal ball, but we can glean some information based on what the state and federal government are saying and doing as of late. It’s good news.

We’ve previously observed how state and federal enforcement incentives have started to converge based on common interests. That convergence has continued and has actually become somewhat solidified through public statements of federal and state law enforcement officials. Recently, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, McGregor Scott, issued informal guidance on his office’s cannabis enforcement goals: “The reality of the situation is there is so much black market marijuana in California that we could use all of our resources going after just the black market and never get there … So for right now, our priorities are to focus on what have been historically our federal law enforcement priorities: interstate trafficking, organized crime and the federal public lands.” To that end, the federal government will allocate $2.5 million towards enforcement against illegal grows on public land, a concern arising largely due to an increase in the use of banned pesticides on federal land in California.

It has not been lost on careful observers that Mr. Scott’s announced enforcement priorities align closely with those of the 2013 Cole Memo. Mr. Scott also appeared to distinguish the illegal operations he seeks to target from the legal cannabis regime that California is working to implement: “[California’s black market] is of biblical proportions and what we’re talking about here today is a classic example of that market—people who have no intent of ever entering the legal system that has been created and California has attempted to establish.” In other words, a top federal law enforcement authority in California seems to be conveying that the federal government will not prioritize licensed commercial cannabis operations that comply with California laws and regulations.

On the state side of things, the Bureau of Cannabis Control is working on finalizing its regulations and is continuing to process state licenses, and Governor Brown has sought to put teeth behind those regulations, requesting $14 million “to crack down on tax evasion, conspiracy and other financial crimes by the black market cannabis industry as well as stem the flow of illegal cannabis in the mail and parcel delivery systems.” At the same time, licensed cannabis businesses have started to speak out more forcefully against illegal operators, and rightfully so: black market businesses have an enormous market advantage in that they don’t pay taxes or licensing fees, and follow no advertising or distribution restrictions. While the cannabis industry was largely united behind Prop 64, which legalized cannabis in 2016, those alliances have diverged as some businesses have taken the legal route while others have remained in the shadows. In fact, we’ve now reached a point where licensees are filing formal complaints against illegal operators and local prosecutors are encouraging them to do so.

Given the federal government’s desire to protect public lands, eliminate organized criminal operations, and prevent interstate trafficking of cannabis, and given California’s desire to give meaning to its regulatory regime and prop up those operators that have spent the time, effort, and resources to become licensed citizens of the California cannabis industry, it’s no wonder that the previously unthinkable is now materializing: the federal government is now teaming up with the State of California to crack down on unlicensed cannabis operations. What comes next is uncertain, but one thing is clearer now than ever: commercial cannabis businesses in California are now exponentially better off from an enforcement standpoint if they can demonstrate compliance with California laws and regulation. That includes spending the time and effort to obtain a state license.

Tomorrow, June 5th, Californians will go to the polls and vote on a number of state and local races, along with tax measures and other proposed laws. Cannabis will play a large role in many of them.

In the gubernatorial primary race the two favorites, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are both Democrats and they both support the cannabis industry and social justice reforms to right the drug wars’ wrongs. California Treasurer John Chiang is also running for governor and he has made increasing banking opportunities (which we covered here) for cannabis businesses one of his most pressing goals. Even if Mr. Chiang doesn’t win, we hope he continues making progress on this front as lack of access to banking severely hampers cannabis business owners and needlessly creates a danger to public safety. The Republican candidates for governor, John Cox and Travis Allen, hold the same traditional shortsighted and draconian Republican position: cannabis is bad, lock everyone up. To quote the current eloquent speaker in the White House: SAD! Although both Republican candidates are longshots to make the statewide election in November, one of them could get lucky if the Democratic favorites split a large number of votes. That’s because California has an open primary system with the top two vote getters, regardless of party affiliation, moving on to the November election.

Keep the momentum going, California!

Making sure the top two gubernatorial candidates support the cannabis industry and social justice reforms is extremely important but there also a number of other races and measures to keep an eye on tomorrow:

  • Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher faces what looks like a tough race as he’s being challenged by a Republican and a Democrat. Mr. Rohrabacher is one of the biggest Republican supporters of the cannabis industry (If you’ve never heard of the Rohrabacher-Blumenaur amendment, we covered that for you here.) The best-case scenario is that Mr. Rohrabacher and one of the Democratic candidates receive the most votes. Worst-case scenario is that Mr. Rohrabacher and the other Republican candidate, Scott Baugh, move on the November election and Mr. Baugh wins. Mr. Baugh has chastised Mr. Rohrabacher’s support of the cannabis industry, so a Baugh-Blumenaur collaboration is highly unlikely.
  • Residents of the Southern California City of Jurupa Valley will vote on whether to allow commercial cannabis activities in certain commercial zones.
  • Ballot Measure CC in the City of Pasadena would authorize up to six retailers, four cultivators, and four testing laboratories to operate in the City. There will also be a cannabis tax measure on the ballot.
  • The City of San Rafael, which we recently covered in our California Cannabis Countdown series, will also place a tax measure on its ballot. Measure G would authorize the City to tax cannabis business up to 8%.
  • There’s also a tax measure on the County of Santa Barbara’s ballot, however Measure T’s passage carries more than just tax consequences – if Measure T fails then the cannabis ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors that would allow commercial cannabis activities will not go into effect.
  • The County of San Luis Obispo will also put forth a tax measure on its ballot and just as in Santa Barbary County, if the tax measure doesn’t pass then commercial cannabis businesses will not be able to operate in SLO County.
  • Yolo County is proposing a tax measure that would place an initial four percent (4%) cultivation tax and an initial five percent (5%) tax on all other cannabis businesses.

There are other marijuana related measures that will be on ballots throughout California this Tuesday and it’s extremely important for current cannabis business owners, future entrepreneurs, and cannabis industry supporters to pay close attention to the language of the ballot measures–especially tax measures tied to the enactment of cannabis ordinances–and the cannabis positions on those running for elected office. The cannabis industry has made great strides recently and now is not the time to let up. Get out there on Tuesday and vote!

california cannabis marijuanaThe movement to legalize cannabis in the United States has come a long way since Californians started it all with the Compassionate Use of Act of 1996 (“Prop 215”). For many years after Prop 215, the pace of change was glacial. In California, it wasn’t until 2004 (8 years after Prop 215) that the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill (“SB 420”). SB 420 recognized the rights of qualified patients and their caregivers to collectively or cooperatively cultivate medical cannabis. Then it took an additional four years until the California Attorney General (who at the time was Jerry Brown, the state’s current governor) released the state’s guidelines (“Guidelines”) on medical cannabis enforcement in 2008.

The Guidelines created the framework for non-profit mutual benefits corporations, collectives, and cooperatives to provide medical cannabis to their patient members. Although the Guidelines were a step in the right direction, they still left many medical cannabis operators uncertain as to what was allowed. It took another seven years before California substantively addressed the cannabis industry when the State Legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act in 2015 (“MCRSA”). But ever since the passage of the MCRSA and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in 2016, the pace of change in California’s cannabis regulatory landscape is perhaps best described by a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” One of the characters, when asked how he went bankrupt, replied, “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.”

In California, we are firmly entrenched in the “suddenly” camp of cannabis regulations. The main reason cannabis operators are seeing a flurry of laws and regulations is because the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA”) allows for both state and local governments to regulate and license cannabis businesses. Keeping up with the state’s dual licensing regime is a never-ending endeavor. As an example, the state licensing agencies – the Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Public Health and the Bureau of Cannabis Control – just recently released and published readopted emergency regulations (which we covered, here).

This week we also saw important legislation make progress on the state and local level. They are as follows.

State Level:  AB 2641 and Temporary Retailer Licenses.

On the state level we saw Assembly Bill 2641 make it out of committee. We previously covered AB 2641, here, but a brief recap will be helpful. Under MAUCRSA only a retailer, delivery-only retailer, or microbusiness (“Retailers”) can sell cannabis products to the public. Currently, cannabis cultivators and manufacturers have no way to directly sell their cannabis goods to their consumers – they are completely reliant on Retailers at the point of sale to tell the public about their product and company mission. AB 2641 would allow certain cultivators and manufacturers the ability to obtain temporary retailer licenses. These temporary licenses would authorize cultivators and manufacturers to sell their products directly to their consumers at temporary cannabis events that are authorized by the appropriate local jurisdiction. AB 2641 needs the approval of two thirds of the State Assembly for it to pass. You can find information on how to support AB 2641 through the California Growers Association website.

Local Level: Sonoma County Recommendations.

As previously mentioned, California is a dual licensing state and we cover local changes in our California Cannabis Countdown series. Each California city and county have their own internal processes for passing cannabis ordinances in their jurisdictions. For example: In Sonoma County, the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors (and their Ad Hoc Cannabis Committee), the Cannabis Advisory Group, and the public (through hearings and workshops) all play a role in shaping cannabis policy in Sonoma County. Ultimately it comes down to the Board of Supervisors and we covered one its more contentious hearings here. The County’s Permit and Resource Management Department just recently released a staff report (“Report”) with proposed changes to the county’s cannabis ordinance. Here are some of the Report’s recommendation highlights:

  • Allow adult-use cannabis operations;
  • Extend the life of new cannabis permits from one to two years;
  • Allow transferability of permits between operators;
  • Add processor, microbusinesses, self-distributor transport-only, and shared-use manufacturing as cannabis license types;
  • Amend whether a conditional use permit or zoning permit is needed depending on the zone and parcel size of the property; and
  • Create a cannabis inclusion zone for cultivation applicants that do not have eligible zoning, but which have unique characteristics that may make them eligible for a conditional use permit.

You can download the full Report from the County’s cannabis page, here. The Planning Commission will hold a hearing to discuss the Report’s proposals on June 7th at 1:30pm. AB 2641 and Sonoma County’s Report can provide instrumental lifelines to many cannabis businesses, so let’s do what we can to ensure they pass. Keep checking in as we’ll be sure to keep you posted on their developments.

marijuana banking fraud california
“Offshore cannabis bank.”

Of the many issues that prevent cannabis businesses from acting like regular businesses, lack of access to banking is probably the most hindering. Since commercial cannabis activity remains a federal crime, the federal Bank Secrecy Act prohibits financial institutions from accepting cannabis-generated dollars. Most cannabis businesses therefore must operate on an all-cash basis. This makes them targets for actual criminals and helps further the need for access to a bank account.

This lack of bank access in turn creates desperation, which hucksters and fraudsters then prey upon. This post is dedicated to helping cannabis stakeholders avoid those who blow smoke about “marijuana banking.”

Because marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance, proceeds from cannabis sales trigger anti-money laundering laws for banks. The Bank Secrecy Act requires banks combat fraud and money laundering and protect against criminal and terrorist activity. Certain banking laws require that national banks and credit unions file Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), when the financial institution knows or suspects an account holder is engaged in or trying to cover up illegal activity. Consequently, banks routinely deny or shut down cannabis business bank accounts (and cannabis-based financing) even in cannabis-friendly states.

In 2014, new FinCEN guidelines for cannabis banking provided that financial institutions could provide services to state-legal marijuana businesses without running afoul of federal regulations so long as they do the following:

  • Verify with state authorities that the business is duly licensed and registered.
  • Review the state license application and related documentation the cannabis business used to obtain its state license to operate its marijuana-related business.
  • Request from the state licensing and enforcement authorities available information about the cannabis business and related parties.
  • Develop an understanding of the normal and expected activity for the cannabis business, including the types of products to be sold and the types of customers to be served.
  • Monitor publicly available sources for adverse information about the cannabis business and related parties.
  • Periodically refresh information obtained as part of customer due diligence using methods and timetables commensurate with the risk.

These guidelines are still in place, despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s rescinding of the 2013 Cole Memo, and the Department of Justice’s Guidance Regarding Marijuana Related Financial Crimes. Banks acting under the FinCEN guidelines must file SARs for all their marijuana businesses customers. There are no direct consequences arising from these SAR filings, but this means that the federal government knows exactly who is involved in the marijuana indusry and with whom they’re banking.

The FinCEN guidelines demand transparency and strict due diligence of cannabis customers. Because of this, in states like California that are just coming online with a regulated cannabis regime, there are a host of fraudsters who claim to have access to “marijuana banking,” when all they are really doing is opening bank accounts with shell companies and/or obscure offshore entities and then running cannabis operators’ money through those accounts. This clearly violates the FinCEN guidelines and it puts both the financial institution and the cannabis company at great risk. My firm’s California cannabis lawyers are seeing a lot of this in California, to the point that many cannabis companies are convinced that what they are doing is legal.

What are the specific red flags to look for if you’re being pitched on a “solution to the marijuana banking problem”?

  1. A refusal or inability to disclose the actual financial institution is the biggest red flag. There’s no reason why the financial institution that will hold your cannabis funds cannot be disclosed to you by the person pitching you. And any third party that’s telling you otherwise is probably illegitimate and not planning to operate in line with the FinCEN guidelines.
  2. If the third party does not discuss the FinCEN guidelines or the level of reporting you will need to do with your financial institution or the level of due diligence with which the financial institution will put you through, you are almost certainly dealing with a hack.
  3. Huge fees to third parties that are unrelated to opening a legitimate bank account. The third party will tell you that you need to pay them a large premium for them to get you a coveted bank account, but there is rarely any reason why this should be the case.
  4. Running money through various accounts and third parties that are supposed to be acting as wardens of your cannabis money without direct verification of a vendor relationship with the ultimate financial institution. The FinCEN guidelines don’t bar a bank or credit union from using third parties to provide account marketing or due diligence support, but full transparency between banks and cannabis customers is mandatory.
  5. Out-of-state bank accounts require significant caution. For banks and credit unions to comply with Fin-CEN, they need to have a due diligence system that is tailored to each specific state. Cannabis businesses need to verify not only that a bank is willing to take cannabis customers but also that the bank has the due diligence and cash handling resources to take customers in the specific state.

At least twice a week, one of my firm’s cannabis business lawyers will get contacted by an ancillary company trying to pitch us on referring our clients to them for “marijuana banking services,” claiming they’ve cracked the code on marijuana banking. We routinely ignore these solicitations and all cannabis stakeholders should do the same.

What then should you do to properly secure a legitimate cannabis bank account? I’ll cover that in my next post.

Editor’s Note:  A version of this post originally appeared in an Above the Law column, also by Hilary Bricken.

california cannabis leasing
Again and again and again.

Last Friday, California released another round of emergency regulations that essentially renewed the existing emergency rules, but with some updates, a fair amount of which affect commercial cannabis leasing. Here are some of the notable ones.

“Premises” distinctions defined. SB 94 and AB 133, the statutes enacted in 2017 to implement and refine Prop 64, both defined a licensed “premises” as a “designated structure” that is held “under the control” of the licensee for commercial cannabis activity, and must be contiguous and held by only one licensee. The statutes did not, however, define what those terms meant with regard to physical segregation of licensed spaces, which is an important factor for places like warehouse spaces where multiple tenants want to operate concurrently, or any rental space with common areas. The new emergency regulations address this issue by clarifying that for the areas of a licensed premises required to be under a licensee’s exclusive control for operations, actual walls and locked doors will be required, but that common or shared spaces will be allowed for multi-tenant spaces without violating that requirements. This may seem like common sense, but until now it was not codified. This means that landlords and tenants alike will have more certainty in planning out the leased premises.

Potential for shared entrances. On a related note, the new rules contemplate the use of a shared entrance, so that each licensed premises need not have its own exclusive access to the outside world. The catch, however, is that if neighboring licensees share a common entryway, and state inspectors are prevented from accessing a licensed premises due to a neighboring licensed premises preventing passage, then both licensees shall be responsible for the access violation and subject to discipline. Be warned!

No change to license stacking. Sometimes a lack of change is more significant than a change. The prior emergency regulations caused some controversy by allowing for stacking of small cultivation licenses and the potential proliferation of cannabis mega-farms. In fact, the state had to defend a lawsuit over this very issue. But despite all the controversy, the new regulations do not change the situation: a single licensee can still hold an unlimited amount of cultivation licenses each for up to 10,000 square feet of canopy, with no requirement that those licenses each have a separate and distinct premises.

Strict separation of residential and commercial buildings. It’s very common for commercial cannabis cultivation property purchases, especially in California’s Emerald Triangle, to include a residential home on the property. We’ve previously written about the pitfalls of these farmhouse purchases. The new emergency regulations reflect the state’s concern with mixing home and work when it comes to cannabis. The rules now require that the premises diagram in the license application clearly define which buildings on site are residential and which are commercial, and prohibit any licensed premises from being located within a private residence or from requiring a person to pass through a private residence to access the licensed premises.

Expanded access to shared utilities. An update to the rules last month created a new opportunity for manufacturer co-tenants to sublease shared space under certain circumstances, similar to a time-share arrangement. The new emergency regulations provide additional opportunities for tenants in a multi-tenant building or shared space to pool resources, including security camera systems, security guard services, and alarm systems. The catch, however, is that if multiple licensees decide to share such resources, each licensee is responsible for the violation of any regulations by any other licensee as it pertains to the shared resource.

It remains to be seen what other changes the state might make to its cannabis regulations when it issues its final rules, but it does seem that the rules are tending towards economies of scale in some respects. It will be interesting to see how strictly the state decides to enforce its rules as it continues to deal with black market stragglers that have thus far declined to join the regulated community.

california marijuana cannabis

Whenever government enacts new regulations there will always be some people and businesses that will be unhappy with the new changes. So, it came as no surprise when California embarked on its mission to create a state licensing regime for cannabis businesses (as well as personal use) that issues would arise. What made enacting cannabis regulations in California so difficult is that ever since Californians voted for the Compassionate Use Act in 1996 (a/k/a Prop 215), cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, and dispensaries were operating without regulations in what everyone conveniently called the legal “grey” area (a Michael Cohen area of practice).

That all changed when the state legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) in 2015 and a majority of the good people of California voted in favor of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in 2016 (AUMA). In June of 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 94 (a/k/a the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act a/k/a MAUCRSA). MAUCRSA merged medical and adult-use cannabis activities under one regulatory regime and empowered three state agencies to license and regulate the commercial cannabis industry: The California Department of Food and Agriculture (cultivators, processors, and nurseries); the Department of Public Health (manufacturers); and the Bureau of Cannabis Control (distributors, retailers, delivery-only retailers, microbusinesses, and testing labs). Each state agency released their emergency regulations in November of 2017, which we covered for cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.

The emergency regulations were quite the departure from the previously unregulated “grey” market of the previous twenty years. They were however not without some hiccups: Such as the removal of the cultivation acreage cap or the steadfast intransigence of local jurisdictions in licensing commercial cannabis activities.

After the release of the emergency regulations, representatives from the three state cannabis licensing agencies travelled up and down the state to solicit public input on the regulations. The reason the state continued to solicit feedback from the public was due to the fact that the emergency regulations were actually just temporary regulations. All three state agencies were required to release permanent regulations later this year – when exactly the permanent regulations were going to be released was anyone’s guess. While current cannabis businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs have been busy figuring out how to navigate the licensing landscape, the state just went ahead and made changes to the emergency regulations. Just this Friday all three state agencies released new emergency regulations (nothing like a regulation drop on a Friday!). We’ll cover the changes in greater detail in future posts (stay tuned) but here are a couple of highlights:

  • Applicants can submit one application (and pay one fee) to obtain both an adult-use and medical cannabis license. Previously you had to submit two applications and pay two separate licensing fees if you wanted to operate in the medicinal and adult-use market. This applies to all three licensing agencies.
  • A licensee can now engage in commercial cannabis activities with any licensee, regardless of medical or adult-use designation. This is a permanent extension of the transition period in the emergency regulations that allowed medical cannabis licensees to contract with adult-use licensees and vice versa (the transition period was set to expire on July 1, 2018). This also applies to all three agencies.
  • The Bureau of Cannabis Control’s definition of financial interest holder was amended to specifically state that anyone that has an agreement to receive a portion of the profits of a commercial cannabis business will be considered a financial interest holder (there’s an exception for diversified mutual funds, blind trusts, and similar financial instruments).
  • The BCC regulations also specify that licensees authorized for retail sales may not sell or deliver cannabis goods through a drive-through window.
  • A retailer’s delivery employee can now carry cannabis goods valued up to $10,000 while making deliveries (the cap was previously set at $3,000).
  • The Bureau of Cannabis Control reduced the annual license fees for its licensees.
  • The Department of Food and Agriculture revised how it will measure canopy for indoor, mixed-light, and outdoor license types.
  • The Department of Public Health (DPH) formally incorporated the regulations for shared-use facilities, which we covered here.
  • The DPH specifically removed tinctures from the definition of a product containing alcohol. However, tinctures shall not be sold in a package larger than two fluid ounces and shall include a calibrated dropper or other measuring device.

The public will now have all of five days to comment on the re-adoption of the emergency regulations. The five day window for public comment will begin once the California Office of Administrative posts the emergency regulations on its website – which it can do no earlier than May 25, 2018. When these updated emergency regulations are formally adopted the licensing agencies will have 180 days to develop their final regulations. Be sure to check in as we update you with even more details on these emergency regulations and how they may impact your cannabis business.

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

Our last California Cannabis Countdown post was on the Town of Truckee, and before that the City of Cotati, the City of San Luis Obispo, the City of Redding, the City of San Rafael, the City of Hayward, Alameda County, OaklandSan FranciscoSonoma County, the City of Davis, the City of Santa RosaCounty and City of San BernardinoMarin CountyNevada County, the City of Lynwood, the City of CoachellaLos Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, the City of Desert Hot SpringsSonoma County, the City of Sacramento, the City of BerkeleyCalaveras CountyMonterey Countyand the City of Emeryville.

Today’s post is on the city of San Jose.

Welcome to the California Cannabis Countdown.

Surely there’s room for a few more licensed cannabis businesses?

Location. San Jose is the third most populous city in California and the largest city in Northern California. Located south of San Francisco and Oakland, San Jose is the county seat of Santa Clara county and the soon to be home of a massive new campus for Apple. San Jose is also home to the San Jose Sharks (get them next year) and the fervent fans of the San Jose Earthquakes.

History with Cannabis: Back in 2011, the City Council began the process to enact a land use and regulatory ordinance to govern  medical marijuana operations. Unfortunately, the City Council ended up suspending the land use ordinance and then repealing the regulatory ordinance – the effect of which meant that all medical marijuana collectives, cooperatives, and dispensaries operating in San Jose were doing so illegally. Then in June of 2014, the San Jose City Council passed their Medical Marijuana Program (“MMP”). The MMP was an amended attempt to correct the City’s failure to pass a medical marijuana ordinance back in 2011. The MMP went into effect on July 18, 2014 and gave medical collectives up until October 17, 2014 to submit their applications with the City.

At the time the MMP was passed there were an estimated 78 collectives operating in the San Jose, of which 50 collectives submitted applications with the City. Of those 50 medical marijuana collectives that submitted applications, only 16 were able to successfully navigate the application process and maintain their license in compliance with the San Jose’s regulations. Since the passage of the MMP, there have been no new cannabis licenses issued — only the 16 registered collectives have been authorized to cultivate, manufacture, and sell medical cannabis within city limits.

In November of 2017, the City Council passed Ordinances 30029 and 30030 authorizing adult-use cannabis activities. However, the adult-use ordinances did not open up licensing to new applicants — it only allowed the previously registered medical collectives to operate as adult-use businesses as well. These registered collectives have had a really good run as the only cannabis operators in town (legal operators anyway) but that may change as the City Council is considering opening registration to new cannabis operators for the first time since the MMP.

Proposed Cannabis Laws: This Monday, May 21 (6pm at City Hall), the City Council will hold a public hearing to discuss allowing new cannabis businesses to register and operate in San Jose. The City Council is considering allowing new businesses to register for the following types of cannabis licenses:

  • Manufacturing (volatile and non-volatile).
  • Distribution.
  • Testing laboratories.
  • Additional cultivation licenses are not currently on the agenda.

These are just the additional stages of the discussion that’s set to take place. It’s still to be determined whether the City will cap the number of additional licenses (or remove some of the proposed license types altogether) so it’s especially important for cannabis entrepreneurs to show up on May 21st and voice their opinions. All in all, it’s about time that new cannabis businesses get a chance to enter the cannabis market of California’s third largest city.