Category Archives: General

Bill 420 – It’s “That” Time Again!

On 1-9-19, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced H.R. 420, the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.” Blumenauer, the co-sponsor of the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment, better known as the on-going appropriations provision that prohibits the Justice Department from spending federal funds to enforce federal law that is in conflict with state medical cannabis laws.

Proposed Bill 420 is a total overhaul of the federal government’s treatment of marijuana. Among other things, the bill:

1. Decriminalizes marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act;
2. Amends the Federal Alcohol Administration Act to enable the Secretary of the Treasury to issue permits to those who want to to manufacture, distribute, or sell marijuana;
3. Transfers jurisdiction from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives;
4. Prohibits widespread advertising for marijuana; and
5. Grants to the FDA the same authority for marijuana as it has for alcohol.

Rep. Blumenauer noted: “Congress cannot continue to be out of touch with a movement that a growing majority of Americans support. It’s time to end this senseless prohibition.” In this vein, per a Pew Research Center study released last fall, nearly 66% of Americans support legalization at the federal level.

The new co-chairs of the 2019 bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Conference are Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Don Young (R-AK).

David Feldman

New York Proposes Legalizing Adult Use Cannabis

On Tuesday, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo released draft adult use cannabis legislation. Called the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, it is just a few hundred pages long. The bill would set up a new “Office of Cannabis Management” (OCM) to oversee regulation. The office would operate under the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, taking control from the Department of Health, where it currently sits for the existing NY medical cannabis program.

The OCM’s Executive Director would get to decide how many licenses for growing, processing and selling cannabis it will grant. It would also decide the “standards of cultivation and processing” of cannabis and be permitted to conduct inspections and exact civil penalties on rule breakers. In a nod to those historically disadvantaged by the war on drugs, the OCM would be authorized to offer low or zero interest loans to “qualified social equity applicants.” The OCM would also take into account whether a license applicant is minority or woman-owned or owned by a service-disabled veteran or a disadvantaged farmer, and must implement a plan to “actively promote racial, ethnic, and gender diversity when issuing licenses.” Businesses would be prohibited from taking “adverse employment action” against an employee just for conduct which the bill permits unless their job performance is impaired. Three different taxes would be imposed on cultivation and sale, including a 22% combined state and county tax on a sale from a wholesaler to a retailer. The state estimates this could yield as much as $300 million in annual tax revenues. Taxes would be used for traffic safety, small business and substance abuse services.

Medical cannabis availability would be expanded to include, among other things, autism, and the OCM can add to the list in their discretion. Hospitals would be able to dispense medical cannabis. The current “registered organization” model for medical cannabis companies would continue, with the bill requiring at least 10 such ROs (there currently are 10 licensees). Non-NY licensed medical cannabis operators could receive licenses here without going through the rigorous application process if the OCM is satisfied with the regulations in the state of the original license. In fact the proposal requires giving a preference to these companies that are licensed elsewhere. This would likely favor the larger multi-state operators. Medical patients would be permitted to grow up to four plants at home.

Current ROs would be permitted to apply for adult use licenses, and the OCM would be able to conduct an auction of those licenses among the current ROs, with money used to make those low or no interest loans. Qualifying for medical cannabis would be deemed a disability under NY law. Retail pricing of medical cannabis would be approved by the OCM. CBD growers and extractors would also be able to obtain licenses, but food from hemp and hemp that is not intended for consumption generally would be subject to normal agriculture laws. Cannabis testing labs, cannabis brokers, truckers, delivery services, CBD retailers, caterers serving cannabis and warehouses also would be licensed by the OCM.

Regarding adult use, companies would not be required to be “vertically integrated” – a business can be growing, processing, distributing, selling or transporting cannabis or operating an “on-site consumption” location, which would be permitted. Cultivators would only be permitted one license each. Processors would be able to receive up to three licenses. Growers, processors and distributors (other than existing ROs) would not be permitted to own an adult use dispensary, and no one would be allowed more than three adult use dispensaries. Public smoking and outdoor growing of cannabis would not be permitted, but growing in greenhouses would be. Adult use would be permitted for those aged 21 and older.

Municipalities where adult use dispensaries would be located would have the right to express their opinion on the matter, which the OCM can take into account. Larger counties and cities would have the right to opt out of adult use cannabis. One controversial provision requires companies with more than 25 employees to sign union agreements. Advertising would be permitted but regulated. No importing or exporting of cannabis would be permitted unless federal law changes. Licenses would not be transferable. There’s an interesting provision prohibiting state law enforcement agencies from cooperating with the Federal Government in enforcing the Controlled Substances Act against people complying with the proposed law. Licensees’ principal officers and directors do not have to be NY residents, but must be US citizens or permanent residents.

Remember this is just a proposed bill. It still has to go through the NYS legislature, though both of those houses are currently controlled by Cuomo’s Democrats. The Governor has stated he would like to pass legislation by mid-April.

 

New Cannabis Regulations Approved in California

 

On January 16, 2019 the California Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approved the final regulations that were submitted by California’s three licensing agencies, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), the Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the Department of Public Health (CDPH), in December.  These new, approved regulations went into effect immediately, meaning the previous emergency regulations (under which the industry has been operating for the past year) are no longer in effect.  The regulations can be viewed here.

In a joint press release issued by the three agencies, BCC Chief Lori Ajax stated: ““These approved regulations are the culmination of more than two years of hard work by California’s cannabis licensing authorities.  Public feedback was invaluable in helping us develop clear regulations for cannabis businesses and ensuring public safety.”

Continue reading New Cannabis Regulations Approved in California

Business as usual at the Patent and Trial Appeal Board: the first cannabis related Patent and Trial Appeal Board decision at the United States Patent and Trademark Office

Cannabis patent proceedings are no longer something reserved for a hypothetical future when cannabis becomes legal at the federal level. On January 3, 2019, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board at the United States Patent Office (USPTO) issued its decision in the Inter Partes review, Insys Development Company, Inc. v. GW Pharma Limited and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., (IPR 2017-00503). This is the first time that a patent covering a cannabis-related technology has been the subject of an inter partes proceeding at the USPTO. Even though cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance under U.S. federal law, the USPTO, a federal agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, routinely grants patents covering cannabis-related technologies. Because enforcement of patent rights is governed by federal law, the Schedule I status of cannabis has cast uncertainty over whether cannabis patent rights can actually be challenged or enforced. The recent PTAB proceeding shows that they can be challenged.

Inter Partes Review (IPR) is a trial proceeding at the Patent and Trial Appeal Board (PTAB) of the USPTO that permits a third-party to challenge the validity of claims of a granted patent. If the challenger demonstrates that the claimed technology was known to the public before the patent application was filed, then the claims fail to meet the novelty and/or nonobviousness requirements and the Board can declare the patent invalid. Continue reading Business as usual at the Patent and Trial Appeal Board: the first cannabis related Patent and Trial Appeal Board decision at the United States Patent and Trademark Office

David Feldman

Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment Expired with Shutdown

A long standing legal prohibition on federal enforcement against state legal medical cannabis operators expired on December 21, 2018 when the U.S. Government partially shut down. The amendment had been renewed and extended multiple times through that date.

First adopted in 2014, the amendment to annual appropriations bills known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment is expected to be reimplemented when the Government is reopened and the current budget stalemate resolved. In the meantime, however, technically, federal enforcement against state legal medical cannabis companies is possible. That said, most of the government agencies who could pursue such enforcement remain unfunded and shut down.

Most commentators also do not expect to see any change in federal enforcement activity as public sentiment, Congressional activity and state legalization efforts are all moving in the direction of ultimately eliminating prohibition on the medical and adult use of cannabis.

 

Opportunity Zones – Government Shut Down Stalls Treasury Responses and requested clarifications

Putting aside partisan points of view on the wall and whether a government shut down to get a wall paid for is a good idea, the shut down is already impacting US Treasury’s ability to finalize new regulations to clarify certain aspects of the Opportunity Zone program.

Comment letters have been sent in by various trade association and OZ groups my team and I are involved with to the IRS and Treasury but, unfortunately, the clarity we are looking for will need to wait until the shutdown has been resolved plus two weeks thereafter (at least) per a notice posted in the Federal Register.  Open issues that the Real Estate Roundtable, Novogradac’s OZ team and others are seeking include the following:

  • Defining original use and substantial improvements
  • Two tiered structures and the “working capital” impact – 31 months
  • How vacant land might qualify as “original use” property
  • Clarifying how and when the 180 day rule applies to certain pass through entities
  • Clarifying how Section 1231 gains of pass through entities are eligible for deferral
  • Seeking a removal of the fixed end of 2047 for sale purposes to qualify for a stepped up basis
  • Clarification regarding the methodology for applying the 90% and 70% asset tests
  • Requesting limitations on non compliance penalties to the portion of the aggregate assets of a QOF that are funded with gains for which a deferral election has been made
  • Definition of “substantially all” –  keeping the definition at 70% and generally requiring real property businesses to hold 90% of tangible property inside a QOZ
  • Clarifying if property that straddles a QOZ can treat the improvements as being all within the QOZ
  • Clarifying the requirement that a substantial portion of the intangible property of a QOZB be used in the “active conduct of a trade or business” in the QOZ
  • Clarifying the timing of capital gains and dividend treatment for REITs

While our clients are still closing deals and effectively using the OZ program to defer, reduce and ultimately, hopefully, create a capital gain free sale after 10-years at the federal level, additional clarity would, in fact, be nice.

Border security for sure, but let’s get these rules clarified now so we can spur investment where its needed without the histrionics and the child like tantrums.

See attached Novogradac letter to US Treasury for more details – https://www.novoco.com/system/files/group/Opportunity%20Zones%20Working%20Group/novogradac_wg_comment_letter_proposed_regs_122818.pdf

Federal Court Tosses RICO Claim Against California Cannabis Growers, Landlord

On December 27, 2018, the Northern District of California dismissed a civil RICO claim brought against the owners and operators of a Sonoma County cannabis growing operation and the operation’s landlord. See Bokaie v. Green Earth Coffee LLC, 3:18-cv-05244-JST, 2018 WL 6813212 (N.D. Calif. Dec. 27, 2018). The lawsuit was filed by neighbors who alleged that the operation’s “skunk-like stench” interfered with the enjoyment of their property and drove down their property values. The Bokaie court found that such alleged harms did not constitute a “RICO injury,” and thus dismissed plaintiffs’ claim (albeit without prejudice, allowing 30 days to amend).

The Bokaie case is part of a growing trend of RICO lawsuits filed in legalized states—to date, roughly a dozen have been filed in California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Oregon—that seek to exploit the tension between state law and the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). RICO defines “racketeering activity” to include CSA violations, and a civil lawsuit can proceed upon allegations that an enterprise’s pattern of racketeering activity caused damage to the plaintiffs’ business or property. 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961(1), 1962(c), 1964(c). RICO’s civil remedy provision awards prevailing plaintiffs triple damages and attorneys’ fees, id. § 1964(c), thus giving “not in my backyard” plaintiffs and their attorneys a powerful tool against their neighbors. By alleging that the smell of cannabis interferes with the enjoyment of their property and drives down their property value, plaintiffs in these cases are effectively elevating common law nuisance claims into federal RICO lawsuits.

Read the full Duane Morris Alert.

Meet the Duane Morris Lawyers Who Are Working on Some of the Biggest Deals in the Booming Marijuana Industry

With the rapid spread of marijuana legalization in the US, lawyers are discovering that the tangled web of regulations guiding the rapidly growing industry is a boon for business. …

There are several key reasons lawyers are attracted to the marijuana industry. For one, as cannabis companies grow, merge, and start getting the attention of Fortune 500 corporations as acquisition targets, they need more sophisticated advice on financing, tax planning, corporate structure, and M&A. …

That’s an opportunity to a select group of lawyers who have cut a trailblazing path into the industry. Once reluctant, some of the biggest law firms, like Duane Morris, Baker Botts and Dentons, are building out specialized cannabis practice groups as the industry continues to grow in profitability and complexity. …

Business Insider has pulled together a list of the top lawyers who’ve worked on the largest deals in the past year in the growing marijuana industry.


Seth GoldbergDavid FeldmanJen FisherNeeraj Kumar: Duane Morris

Firm: Duane Morris

Location: Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco

Duane Morris has staked out big territory: It’s one of the few AmLaw 100 firms marketing its cannabis practice group, said Neeraj Kumar, an associate at the firm who works on cannabis issues.

“This is a very good opportunity for our firm,” said Seth Goldberg, the chair of the firm’s practice in Philadelphia. Cannabis is one of the “few emerging markets that has multibillion-dollar potential.”

Goldberg, a seasoned trial lawyer with decades of experience, said he spearheaded the firm’s involvement in the industry in 2014 after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational pot shops.

And for Kumar, the opportunity to become an expert in a field where there’s “a new development every week” was something he couldn’t turn down.

Duane Morris represented iAnthus, a US cannabis company, in its $640 million merger with MPX Bioceutical, also the first public-to-public transaction in the US cannabis industry. Further, the firm has advised investors on real-estate acquisitions.

For more information, visit the Business Insider website.

California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control Submits Final Regulations for Administrative Review

The three agencies that regulate the cannabis market in California, the Bureau of Cannabis Control, Department of Food and Agriculture, and Department of Public Health, submitted a final version of regulations to the Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”) in California this month. The OAL reviews regulations for compliance with procedural requirements and substantive standards under California law. The OAL has 30 working days — until January 16, 2019 —  to review the regulations.

This blog post will highlight some of the important changes to the regulations made by the Bureau of Cannabis Control (“BCC”). Continue reading California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control Submits Final Regulations for Administrative Review