Getting a patent for a cannabis product is no more difficult than getting a patent for any other kind of product. However, with a high number of cannabis patent applications being approved, it is likely that many will be challenged for invalidation in the coming years.
Already one of these patents has gone to court in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. In United Cannabis v. Pure Hemp Collective, United Cannabis Corp. claims that Pure Hemp Collective Inc. used a cannabis extract that United Cannabis had a patent on. Pure Hemp filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing United Cannabis should not have had a patent on the extract because it was something that occurred naturally. In April, U.S. District Judge William Martinez found the strain was altered and would not have occurred naturally and denied the motion for partial summary judgment. The case is still pending..
On May 3, 2019, the Florida legislature passed SB 1020, creating the state hemp program and authorizing the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to enact regulations to govern the program. The bill, first filed in the Florida Senate on February 13, 2019, passed with overwhelming support; the final version passed by a margin of 39-0 in the Senate after passing 112-1 in the House. Governor Ron DeSantis has until May 18, 2019, to veto the bill or it will automatically become law.
“The historic vote,” according to FDACS Commissioner Nicole Fried, is in response to the federal 2018 Farm Bill, which “removed the prohibitions on industrial hemp in place since 1937 and authorized states to create hemp programs.” Id. If SB 1020 becomes law, it will fundamentally alter the treatment of hemp and hemp extracts, including cannabidiol (CBD) products, under Florida law.
On May 2, 2019, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) made available a new examination guide aimed at clarifying the examination procedure for trademarks used in connection with cannabis and cannabis-derived goods and services.
These guidelines are a direct response to the signing of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) into law on December 20, 2018. The 2018 Farm Bill changes certain federal authorities relating to the production and marketing of “hemp,” defined as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” These changes include removing hemp from the Controlled Substance Act’s (CSA) definition of marijuana, which means that cannabis plants and derivatives such as cannabidiol (CBD) that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC are no longer controlled substances under the CSA.
In a recent decision approved for publication on March 27, 2019, the New Jersey Appellate Division addressed an issue of first impression: whether an employee can state a claim for disability discrimination based on an employer’s refusal to accommodate legal, off-duty use of medical marijuana, as permitted by the New Jersey Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act (Compassionate Use Act).
In Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc., et al., A-3072-17T3 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Mar. 27, 2019), the plaintiff was a licensed funeral director for Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc. (Carriage). His duties included, among other things, driving the funeral home’s hearse and other vehicles. After working for Carriage for approximately three years, the plaintiff was involved in a car accident in the course of his employment. At the time of the accident, he was driving one of Carriage’s vehicles during a funeral when another driver ran a stop sign and struck the vehicle driven by the plaintiff.
With 10 states plus the District of Columbia legalizing cannabis for recreational use and medical marijuana legal in another 23 states, cannabis sales are projected to grow from $10.8 billion today to about $100 billion over the next five years, according to the National Institute for Cannabis Investors.
As a result, investors in cannabis-related industrial real estate can expect exceptional returns on investment (ROI). In a 2018 survey by Denver-based PropTech developer Apto, 76 percent of commercial real estate brokers handling cannabis deals in all states where the drug is legal in some form reported cannabis deals pricing above market.
Cannabis real estate values are likely to continue rising due to the supply-demand imbalane, says Clint Callan, a Bay Area-based partner at the national law firm of Duane Morris LLP. “With cannabis, there are only so many spaces and opportunities available, which runs up the price,” he adds.
Last week the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued guidance indicating that working in the marijuana industry, or even just possessing cannabis, could be grounds to reject a citizenship application—regardless of whether it is done in a state where it is legal. This guidance also would apply to permanent residents or “green card” holders seeking citizenship. The policy guidance is set forth in the USCIS Policy Manual and seeks to clarify that violations of federal controlled substance law, including violations involving marijuana, are “generally a bar to establishing good moral character for naturalization, even where that conduct would not be an offense under state law.” The policy guidance also clarifies that an applicant who is involved in certain marijuana-related activities may lack good moral character if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws.
Reports by various news outlets indicate that some lawful immigrants have already been denied naturalization by USCIS because of their employment in the cannabis industry. According to USCIS, as long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the agency won’t grant special considerations to individuals whose marijuana activities may be decriminalized under state or local law. The position of USCIS is that “marijuana remains illegal under federal law as a Schedule I controlled substance regardless of any actions to decriminalize its possession, use, or sale at the state and local level, federal law does not recognize the decriminalization of marijuana for any purpose, even in places where state or local law does.”
As we know, the U.S. Customs & Border Patrol has prevented some Canadian citizens from entering the U.S. because of their involvement in the cannabis industry. It remains unclear how strict USCIS will be in enforcing the latest policy guidance on citizenship. For the time being, participation in the cannabis industry will continue to constitute a potential bar to a determination of good moral character for naturalization eligibility, even where such activity is not a criminal offense under state law.
Jennifer Briggs Fisher, partner and a team lead of Duane Morris’ Cannabis Industry Group, has been named Cannabis Attorney of the Year by Bonaventure Equity. The award was presented at the Cannabis Dealmakers Summit on April 18 in San Diego.
Ms. Fisher regularly works with cannabis companies and ancillary businesses in California and throughout the nation, as well as in Canada, to provide compliance advice on a wide range of issues related to legal cannabis and hemp business activities. She is an experienced litigator, provides advice on regulatory and compliance issues and has represented corporations and individuals involved in a broad range of complex and high stakes civil, criminal, legislative and administrative proceedings.
With the enactment of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (also known as the 2018 Farm Bill), hemp-derived CBD appeared to be on the table for marketing all across the country. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) press release issued that same day put a hold on the jubilation, stating that FDA considered any and all cannabis-containing or cannabis-derived products as drug products and not food or dietary supplements, regardless of whether the CBD was hemp-derived.
On April 2, 2019, departing FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement about FDA’s next steps to advance a regulatory pathway for cannabis-containing and cannabis-derived products. At the same time FDA updated its cannabis-containing products and cannabis-derived products Q&A. It is clear that, at this point, FDA has not changed its position.