california cannabis marijuana
California and the Feds are an odd couple in canna law enforcement.

When the Cole Memo was rescinded in January, uncertainty was rife on all sides of the state-regulated cannabis industry. Neither the regulators, the regulated, nor the unregulated knew what to expect from the federal government. The U.S. Department of Justice told each of its 93 United States Attorneys to exercise his or her own discretion when it comes to enforcing the federal prohibition on cannabis. While some indicated that they would more or less continue to follow the Cole Memo, the nature and status of enforcement priorities suddenly became an open question. Through the recent budget bill, thankfully, we learned that Congress would continue to prohibit the DOJ from enforcing against state-legal medicinal cannabis operators, but case law interpreting that law is relatively undeveloped.

On the other side of the equation, California regulators continue to struggle with the still-unlicensed operators who have decided that it’s better to continue operating unregulated and unlicensed—and tolerate the ongoing risk of a crackdown—than it is to incur the costs of compliance. That calculus depends largely on the robustness of the state’s enforcement efforts, which, like the federal government’s priorities, has also been somewhat of an open question. Two recent developments in California suggest what direction the Department of Justice may be headed on the question of cannabis enforcement. Perhaps even more interesting, however, is how the interests of the federal government and the state of California have apparently converged—if only for a moment—on the issue of cannabis enforcement.

Recently, hundreds of federal agents and local law enforcement officers conducted raids at 74 houses in and around Sacramento, in the Eastern District of California, and filed more than 100 civil asset forfeiture actions against residential properties. The houses, many gutted to make room for indoor grow rooms, were reportedly part of a Chinese organized crime operation for the secret cultivation and export of cannabis, and may have been purchased with funds of dubious origin. But the U.S. Attorney in charge of the enforcement action made clear that it had nothing to do with California’s cannabis regulatory regime, as the authorities weren’t conducting actions interfering with state cannabis laws, and that the alleged actions would be “illegal under anybody’s law.” Needless to say, the suspects did not have state or local licenses to conduct any cannabis activity.

In United State v. Gilmore, a case on appeal from the Eastern District of California, the court held that the operators of an El Dorado County cannabis garden on federal land were not entitled to the protections of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which restricts DOJ funds from being used to prosecute medicinal cannabis in states where it is legal. The court reasoned that nothing in federal or California law purports to allow anyone to grow cannabis on federal lands: In other words, there is no set of circumstances under which this operation would be compliant with state law. (Of particular note was the court’s rejection of the appellants’ claim that they were unaware they were growing on federal land—a good plug for the value of due diligence in a real estate transaction).

In both the Sacramento and El Dorado County cases, the federal government carried out or continued enforcement actions against operators who were neither licensed nor in compliance with state law. Also in both cases, the exit of unlawful operators from the marketplace furthered the state of California’s regulatory priorities; local law enforcement even assisted with the Sacramento raids. It is not clear what DOJ’s cannabis enforcement priorities will be going forward, but it cannot be ignored that at least in these two cases, the interests of both governing bodies were served, and under circumstances consistent with Cole Memo priorities to boot. It begs the question of what might result from future alignments of priorities, but the reality is that California has an unregulated black market cannabis problem, and at least in these two cases, that problem was alleviated to some degree.

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 City of Cotati, an before that, 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 County and the City of Emeryville.

Today’s post is on the town of Truckee.

Welcome to the California Cannabis Countdown.

LocationTruckee is an incorporated town in Nevada County. Truckee is about 200 miles northeast of San Francisco and is just a short drive to Lake Tahoe. With its historic (and often bustling) downtown, background views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and proximity to world class ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area, Truckee has become an attractive tourist destination. If you’re driving during the winter make sure to bring snow chains as you don’t want to veer off the road, get lost, and meat (pun intended) the fate of the Donner Party.

california cannabis marijuana Truckee
Is delivery coming to Truckee?

History with Cannabis: Truckee is known for its open beautiful landscape but no one would ever say it’s a jurisdiction that’s been open to cannabis. Dating back to 2005 the city adopted an interim ordinance prohibiting dispensaries. In 2008 the Community Development Director released a statement that dispensaries were not allowed under Truckee’s Development Code. It was only in 2015, when the California state legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act was going to be placed on the 2016 statewide ballot, that Truckee decided to revisit its prohibitionist stance towards cannabis. At this point the Town Council began to earnestly look into the feasibility of regulating cannabis businesses in jurisdiction. To gauge community feedback the Town Council held public workshops in February, March, April, and May of 2017. After those workshops the Council held three public meetings that focused on the following options: 1) continued prohibition; 2) allowing only commercial medicinal access; or 3) allowing medicinal and adult-use access. In the end the Truckee Planning Commission developed Resolution 2018-04 (“Resolution”) that would authorize delivery services.

Proposed Cannabis Laws: The proposed Resolution is by no means a gigantic step for Truckee cannabis businesses, but it’s still a step in the right direction. And a step forward is still better than the status quo of outright prohibition. Here are some of the Resolution’s highlights:

  • Allows for both medical and adult-use delivery services;
  • All other cannabis activities are prohibited (unfortunately);
  • The buffer from schools, day care centers, and youth centers would be 1,000 feet as opposed to the state’s 600 foot requirement;
  • The delivery service shall be in a fixed structure and not open to the public;
  • There are no caps on the number of licenses;
  • A license is only transferable with the approval of the Community Development Director; and
  • The term of license is for perpetuity so long as the licensee is operating in compliance with local and state law.

If you’ve been following the slow rollout of cannabis licenses from California’s state agencies, you know that the biggest impediment to securing a cannabis permit has been local regulations. Would we like to see local jurisdictions reasonably regulate all seed to sale license types? Of course we would, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t encourage smaller locales that decide to take their first step into regulating cannabis. This is especially true when a local jurisdiction is putting in place regulations to provide patients and consumers with access to tested cannabis as opposed to forcing residents to buy from the black market.

Making sure Californians have access to cannabis through delivery services has also faced initial hurdles in 2018, so having smaller locales, like Truckee, authorize cannabis delivery will benefit all legal cannabis operators along the supply chain. A hearing on the Resolution was held two weeks ago, but the Planning Commission continued the matter to the next Commission meeting, which will be held on April 26 at 6pm. We’ve seen how public support (and opposition) can sway undecided local legislators so if you want safe access to cannabis in Truckee, it’s paramount that you show up at the Planning Commission meeting!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

california cannabis marijuana

Welcome back to “California Cannabis: Scams and Schemes of the Week.” We are publishing this series to shed light on the unscrupulousness of certain attorneys, consultants, and operators in the California cannabis industry, with the goal of establishing a more ethical and regulated industry in the state. You can find last week’s post here.

Scam #1: Attorneys Representing Buyer and Seller and Taking Commission

We continue to see attorneys representing cannabis entities on both sides of mergers and acquisitions, and in addition to taking an hourly rate, they’re taking a commission on the deal (from both parties)! We are seeing the same attorneys appoint themselves as counsel for the purchased corporation. We’ve seen some shocking deals that harm both parties and benefit only the attorney. Most often, troubling information about a business or property is concealed for the benefit of the seller and the attorney, to the detriment of the buyer. We often see good, trusting people get taken for a ride by attorneys with unethical motivations. The incentive to close a deal as quickly as possible to get a commission is at odds with the incentive to conduct careful due diligence. Make sure your agents and attorneys have your best interests at heart, and if a lawyer tells you he or she can represent “both sides” in a transaction, run!

Scam # 2: The $10 Million Plot of Empty Desert Land

We’ve seen some outrageous land deals in California. There are a number desert parcels without any improvements or utilities, in the middle of nowhere, being offered for millions of dollars. Due diligence is key in real estate transactions, especially in the speculative cannabis market. Just because cannabis activity is possible in a certain jurisdiction does not mean an empty plot of desert land there is worth $10 million. Supplying that land with water, electricity, and building out the structure is no small feat. Many remote desert areas lack the infrastructure to supply these parcels with necessary utilities, and the installation of such infrastructure takes many years and substantial cost. Beware.

Scam #3: Work for Equity in My Nonprofit! 

In California, no one “owns” a nonprofit. One cannot buy or sell a nonprofit corporation, and no stock can be issued or authorized by a nonprofit. We’ve discussed this before on the blog.

Still, we have people asking us to review equity agreements where their nonprofit employer is offering stock instead of salary. In some cases, the company offering these fake stock deals may not know any better because they’re being advised by incompetent attorneys. In other cases, however, these companies are knowingly taking advantage of employees who are blinded by the excitement of being part of a bourgeoning industry. Walk away.

Scam #4: Buy My License!

Under MAUCRSA, state licenses are non-transferable. According to 16 CCR 5023(c), if one or more of the owners of a state license change, a new license application and fee must be submitted to the BCC within 10 business days of the ownership change.

Most local cannabis permits are similarly non-transferable. And if they are transferable, most jurisdictions require you to obtain written approval from the local government prior to transfer. Keep this in mind if you’re looking to buy or lease a “cannabis approved” property, There is simply no guarantee you will be able to get a license to operate there.

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If you’ve come across a California cannabis industry scam, we would like to hear from you! Leave a comment below, or email us at firm@harrisbricken.com.

merger cannabis marijuana

The cannabis industry in California in 2018 is still finding its feet on many fronts – with both a regulatory framework and a banking solution being very much under construction. As these normalize, companies will establish their business metrics and get a firmer idea of the size of their opportunity, and then naturally increased M&A activity will follow, as has been the norm in other states, like Oregon and Colorado.

There’s a strong argument to be made that the M&A market for cannabis ancillary technologies will be very active in coming years, with companies having tremendous opportunities for exits at high valuations relative to their business metrics. Certainly those companies that create technologies and prove business models now stand to gain from future expansion in legalization of adult use, and any future, positive change in federal policy. With a few exceptions, such as Constellation Brands (makers of Corona) buying a minority stake in a Canadian medical cannabis company, almost all large U.S. companies cannot be owners in the cannabis industry, meaning the future acquisition of established companies is likely to be at a premium.

M&A activity for direct operators will continue to be driven by regulatory concerns, including local ownership requirements, political pushback against widespread “big marijuana” acquisitions, and the transferability of underlying permits and licenses. State licenses are not transferable in California, or Oregon, and if other states follow this model, then acquisitions are unlikely to be a primary means to achieving scale for direct operator businesses.

Preparing for M&A Opportunities: Get Your House In Order Now

The M&A diligence process is notoriously comprehensive, invasive, and painful – an acquirer is not only confirming the business assets and backing up the numbers, but just as importantly they are trying to avoid acquiring any liability or future regulatory issues. Therefore, by taking the steps below, you not only minimize the pain of any diligence process, but you also get out ahead of any the issues, and even without M&A on the horizon, you’ll never regret paying more attention to organization and compliance in your business. Here are some steps you can take now to best prepare for future M&A:

  1. Create a Secure Data Room. Include everything a potential acquirer wants to see: business and financial records, tax records and all government filings, equity ownership documents including vesting details, key business contracts, contracts with employees, and all agreements with investors. With all this data, did we mention that it must be secure? Look for a provider with encrypted transmission and two-step authorization, and limit those who have access.
  2. Standardize key contracts, and contemplate M&A Scenarios. If your business depends on key contracts with partners, suppliers, distributors, key customers, etc., and those contract all contain a strict “no assignment” clause, then your desirability as an acquisition target will be severely diminished.
  3. Tie Up Loose Ends and Prepare for the Disclosure Schedule. M&A can be a delicate scenario, and a surprising percentage result in disputes – in my experience, 90% of M&A disputes stem from an undisclosed issue of the target company. Hence, the disclosure schedule, which will list every known issue – the company’s key contracts, financing arrangements, and every claim threatened or brought against the company. Therefore, any claims should be resolved prior to the transaction, if at all possible, and all others will need to be disclosed.
  4. Get a Chief Compliance Officer and Document their Work. We’ve written previously about the work of a Chief Compliance Officer, and although it’s a more primary concern for direct operators, even ancillary business should maintain in strict compliance with applicable state laws.

M&A Consultants – Some are Great, Some are Useless, and Some are Downright Dangerous

The cannabis industry, as a whole, is experiencing an explosion of industry-focused consultants, whose levels of competence run the gamut. As an industry still in its infancy, the consulting market hasn’t yet matured, to weed out the bad actors through reputation or elevate the best firms. I regularly hear from clients that past consultants added zero value or (worse yet) badly mismanaged aspects of their business. Also, remember that consultants are not bound by the same ethical rules as attorneys, for example, concerning confidentiality and conflicts of interest.

So for consulting services in 2018, it’s very much buyer beware, and you should assume no level of competence until competence is demonstrated. If you are hiring an M&A consultant – consider that because so few large-scale cannabis M&A deals have been successfully consummated to date, you may be better served to retain a top M&A consultant that services businesses generally, and then rely on your excellent cannabis-focused attorneys (*ahem*) to guide you on all of the cannabis-related aspects.

Finally, if you have your house in order as described above, you may have much less of a need for an M&A consultant and a much smoother time through the M&A process. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

For more on cannabis company acquisitions, see:

sonoma california cannabis
Will Sonoma stay green?

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

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

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

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

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

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

california cannabis scam

I’ve had it with the scams and schemes in the cannabis industry. I’ve never seen so much dangerously ignorant and downright criminal behavior. Since beginning work in the cannabis industry, I have yet to go a day without encountering some sort of scam. The unscrupulousness of some attorneys, consultants, and operators in this industry needs to be called out and eliminated so we can establish an ethical, regulated industry in California. Towards that end, I’ll be posting a weekly list of scams and schemes to help unsuspecting victims avoid getting taken for a ride.

Scam #1: We Turn Your Cash into a Check Through Real Estate Investment!

There is a group pitching a scheme to turn dispensary cash into checks that can be deposited in the bank. The method: fork your cash over to this group. They toss your cash in with other “investors” and buy real estate with it. They flip the property, and send the proceeds to you in a check. Folks, this is textbook money laundering. The pitcher of this scam is exhibiting at industry conferences across the country and handing out “attorney-approved” contracts. Brazen, stupid, and dangerous for all involved.

Scam #2: Cannabis Cryptocurrency

If you want a lesson on what the government thinks about combining anonymous cryptocurrency with a federally prohibited substance, look no further than the life sentence handed down to Ross Ulbricht, creator of the Silk Road. Ulbricht was convicted of money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics. Those are the exact same charges that could be brought against any cannabis cryptocurrency company. Don’t get me started on the value of cannabis cryptocurrency on the secondary market. It’s complete b.s.

Scam #3: You Must Cultivate Before Obtaining a Permit

Most people laugh out loud when they hear this. Unfortunately, there are a few attorneys who provide their clients with downright criminal advice, trying to convince would-be business partners or landlords to engage in unlawful behavior. The days of collectives and “creative” lawyering to get around the laws are over. We now have a robust regulatory system under MAUCRSA that makes it clear that you cannot engage in any sort of commercial cannabis activity before obtaining all local approvals and a state license.

Scam #4: Your DUI Attorney Can Handle Your Tax Audit

Just say no. You are a legitimate business, and you need to retain a legitimate and experienced lawyer to handle your legal matters See Seven Keys to Choosing Your Cannabis Business Law Firm.

california marijuana public consumption
Coming to a California locale near you?

As more cities begin to allow for and regulate commercial cannabis businesses, the State of California is seeing an influx of cannabis tourism. We’ve written before about the touchy relationships governments have with the idea of “cannabis lounges” (see here and here) and often questioned who will lead us in regards to cannabis tourism (our bets have often been on California).

Consumption of cannabis in public is illegal in the State of California, and many hotels and Air B&B’s do not allow smoking or “drug use” in their guest rooms. Nonetheless, MAUCRSA allows local jurisdictions to authorize the on-site consumption of cannabis by state-licensed retailers and/or microbusinesses, which gives tourists at least one legal way to consume. Specifically, so long as your city or county okays it, retailers and microbusinesses can have on-site consumption if: (1) access to the area where cannabis consumption is allowed is restricted to persons 21 years of age and older, (2) cannabis consumption is not visible from any public place or nonage-restricted area, and (3) the sale or consumption of alcohol or tobacco is not allowed on the premises. However, most local governments have explicitly prohibited “cannabis lounges” and on-site consumption by licensees (including the City of Los Angeles). Some cities, however, are capitalizing on the tourism potential in The Golden State. We have compiled a list of notable locales below.

The City of West Hollywood is the only city in the Los Angeles area that allows for on-site consumption. The City plans to permit eight (8) on-site consumption businesses for smoking, vaping, and ingesting, and it will also allow 8 on-site consumption businesses for edible ingestion only. The window for submission for on-site consumption applications (and for other commercial cannabis businesses) is expected during the month of May, so we may see on-site consumption up and running for the busy summer months. Los Angeles, which is an area already known for tourism, will see a lot of its cannabis tourism go to the City of West Hollywood.

San Francisco has been California’s leader when it comes to the cannabis lounge concept (and cannabis businesses in general). San Francisco’s regulations outright permit retailers and microbusinesses to allow customers to engage in on-site consumption. Unlike other cities that have placed strict limits on consumption lounges or outright banned them, San Francisco is fully embracing the cannabis lounge model.

The City of Oakland allows medical and adult-use cannabis dispensaries the opportunity to apply for and “obtain a secondary on-site consumption permit in order for cannabis to be consumed on the premises of the dispensary.” See Oakland Municipal Code §5.80.025. The City has not disclosed any limits as to how many on-site consumption permits may be issued, but the City has thus far only allowed eight dispensary permits and, as a result, there won’t be more than eight on-site consumption permits available (because only retailers and microbusinesses are allowed to undertake on-site consumption under state law).

The City of Alameda will only issue two dispensary/retailer permits. The City’s ordinance allows those retailers to have on-site use or consumption of cannabis or cannabis products in interior areas of the licensed premises. The City has made it relatively easy for those granted a dispensary/retail permit to also capitalize on on-site consumption.

Palm Springs has expanded its cannabis regulations to allow for cannabis consumer lounges. “Cannabis Lounge Facility” permits are available in the City, and those holding the proper permits may additionally sell medical and adult-use cannabis and cannabis products. With festival activities fast-approaching in the desert cities, many tourists will flock to the Palm Springs area looking to partake under California’s new cannabis laws. Palm Springs will likely see a high demand in cannabis and cannabis products from tourists looking to consume during festival time.

Other California cities that have explored the idea of cannabis lounges are Cathedral City and South Lake Tahoe, but nothing official has happened in either city as of yet. Over time, as legalized cannabis becomes more normalized (and socialized) in the state, California will likely see an increase in cities that allow cannabis lounges. For now though, on-site consumption is a rare occurrence and a political hot potato. And for the few on-site consumption lounges that exist, we expect nothing but success and increased tourism.

california cannabis labeling
It’s not optional for California packaging and labeling.

California is just starting to get its cannabis packaging and labeling regulations right under MAUCRSA.  As part of this multi-part series on these regulations, I covered transition period product packaging and labeling in a previous post, and I analyzed the packaging and labeling for “New Products” in another post. Today’s post will cover Proposition 65 labeling issues for California’s cannabis businesses. Note that MAUCRSA makes no specific mention of Prop. 65 compliance, so marijuana business owners are on their own in identifying whether or not they must adhere to that law.

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (a/k/a Prop. 65), requires theOffice of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other types of reproductive harm. The list now includes more than 850 chemicals. Given this fact, there is hardly a manufacturing business in California that won’t find itself subject to Prop 65 warning requirements at some point.

Prop. 65 requires businesses to provide their customers with notice of these chemicals when present in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. The ultimate intent is to allow consumers to make informed decisions with respect to chemical exposure (though there have been allegations of abusive lawsuits against businesses by “bounty hunters” almost from the outset of the passage of Prop. 65).

Effective June 19, 2009, marijuana smoke was added to the Prop. 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. The Carcinogen Identification Committee of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment  “determined that marijuana smoke was clearly shown, through scientifically valid testing according to generally accepted principles, to cause cancer.” And back in 2015, a “citizen enforcer” served the first five 60-day notices on medical cannabis dispensaries around the state.

As MAUCRSA licensing and regulation steadily comes online, you can bet that we will see a smattering of Prop. 65 attacks on cannabis business owners who fail to properly label their products. So, what do you need to look out for as a cannabis business? The first thing is to realize that, yes, Prop. 65 likely applies to you where any of the products you’re selling may contain Prop. 65 chemicals above safe harbor levels that warrant the mandated labeling warnings: Prop. 65 applies to everyone in the chain of distribution, not just retailers. Also, just because your products do not contain “marijuana smoke” doesn’t mean you don’t have to adjust your label: If your products contain any of the other ~849 chemicals, you have to disclose accordingly under Prop. 65. For example, any carcinogens or toxins that go into any oil inserted into a vapor pen cartridge are likely going to warrant a Prop. 65 warning.

There have also been updates to Prop. 65, the latest of which passed in 2016 and will be fully effective on August 30, 2018 of this year. These updates to the law affect how you must label your products to secure the safe harbor. The typical warning that’s out there right now in the cannabis community is some iteration of:

WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.

With the new laws coming into play on August 30, the foregoing will no longer be good enough. Instead, unless you meet one of the few exceptions (one of which is that your product was manufactured prior to August 30, 2018 and contains the September 2008 safe harbor warnings), you’ll need to follow the new regulations. One of the most important changes with the new regulations is that you now need to actually identify at least one triggering chemical depending on the type of harm caused by that chemical. Specifically, OEHHA mandates that:

If, for example, there are five possible chemical exposures from a given product, and all five chemicals are listed only as carcinogens, then the business would only be required to name one of those five chemicals in the warning. . . If there are exposures to both carcinogens and reproductive toxicants, a business would be required to name one of the chemicals that is a carcinogen and one of the chemicals that is a reproductive toxicant, but the business could choose to identify more chemicals in the warning.

In turn, your new Prop. 65 warning labels will look like one of the following:

For carcinogens: “This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”

For  reproductive toxicants: “This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”

For exposures to both listed carcinogens and reproductive toxicants: “This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer, and [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
For exposures to a chemical that is listed as both a carcinogen and a reproductive toxicant: “This product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov.”
If you’re starting to worry, you can also use a short-form label under certain circumstances. Finally, the look of the label has also changed with the new regulations:

“A symbol consisting of a black exclamation point in a yellow equilateral triangle with a bold black outline. Where the sign, label or shelf tag for the product is not printed using the color yellow, the symbol may be printed in black and white. The symbol shall be placed to the left of the text of the warning, in a size no smaller than the height of the word ‘WARNING'”.

You can download the symbol here.

There are a slew of other mandates under Prop. 65, but the bottom line is that if you fail to comply with this law, you’re going to be facing costly legal challenges and/or settlements, none of which will have to do with your MAUCRSA compliance. So double check your labels now to ensure that you’re prepared and in compliance for August 30, 2018.

Did San Mateo’s new ordinance moot the CEQA issue?

Last month, we blogged about the writ petition brought against the County of San Mateo by petitioners who alleged non-compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).

CEQA requires environmental review of discretionary projects to inform the public and government decision makers of the environmental consequences of their decisions. The law must be interpreted in such manner to afford the fullest possible protection to the environment within the reasonable scope of the statutory language. Unless exempted, all discretionary projects must receive environmental review pursuant to CEQA.

Under CEQA, the “lead agency”—the public agency principally responsible for approving a proposed project—is responsible for preparing the environmental documents for a project, including any negative declaration or environmental impact report (EIR). If a project is not exempt from CEQA, the lead agency must prepare an initial study to determine whether the project will have a significant impact on the environment, or skip the initial study and conduct an EIR if it is obvious that an EIR is required.

The County of San Mateo’s challenged ordinance allowed cannabis cultivation subject to ministerial approval of license applications. This means there was no deliberation or discretion involved, and the County could issue licenses over the counter, if an applicant checked all applicable boxes.

As we explained in our last post, the County issued a negative declaration with the challenged ordinance following an initial study, determining that there was not substantial evidence that the ordinance would have a significant effect on the environment. Petitioners disagreed, claiming the record contained substantial evidence supporting myriad arguments that the ordinance would adversely impact hydrology and water quality, sensitive species and habitat, air and light pollution, climate change, and other effects.

Further, as ministerial licenses, each cannabis cultivation project under the challenged ordinance would have been exempt from CEQA and none would require their own environmental analysis. That fact alone seems like an end-run around the law.

At the end of February, petitioners and the County held a settlement conference. Shortly thereafter, the County repealed and replaced their cultivation ordinance with one that subjects each cultivation project to discretionary approval. Now, each cultivation project will be subject to CEQA unless otherwise exempt.

MAUCRSA provides a temporary exemption to CEQA to cities and counties adopting a cannabis ordinance subject to specific conditions.  So long as a city or county ordinance requires discretionary review and approval of permits, licenses, or other authorizations to engage in commercial cannabis activity, and includes any applicable environmental review pursuant to Division 13 of the Public Resources Code, the adoption of the ordinance itself is exempt from CEQA. Bus. & Prof. Code, § 26055(h). This exemption expires July 1, 2019.

Arguably, the County of San Mateo’s new ordinance is exempt from CEQA pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 26055(h), and the petition is moot. There are no future hearings on calendar, but the writ petition is still pending. We will keep you posted on any developments: The viability of San Mateo’s approach could have a significant impact on the approach taken by other local jurisdictions with respect to California marijuana licenses.