Merrick Garland’s Comments Suggest Return to Cole-like Prioritization

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

During his confirmation hearing on February 22, 2021, Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland’s comments hearkened back to the Obama-era de-prioritization of enforcement against marijuana-related crimes under the Cole memorandum, stating: “This is a question of the prioritization of our resources and prosecutorial discretion… It does not seem to me a useful use of limited resources that we have, to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and that are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise. I don’t think that’s a useful use.”

In addition, Garland explained that social justice warranted such deprioritizing, acknowledging that people of color are arrested for non-violent marijuana-related crimes at far greater rates than white people.  According to Garland, the federal government should not be expending resources criminalizing non-violent marijuana related crimes, as doing so in the past “has disproportionately affected communities of color and damaged them after the original arrest because of the inability to get jobs.”

While proposed legislation such as the MORE Act and the SAFE Banking Act could provide greater certainty for the cannabis industry, until such time as laws like those are passed, the establishment of priorities regarding federal enforcement of state-legal cannabis would encourage greater participation in the cannabis industry, as the risks of federal enforcement would become more clear and thus easier to weigh against the rewards of entering the still emerging market.  The DOJ has been largely hands off of the state-legal cannabis market since the Cole memorandum, even though it was rescinded by AG Session, but clarity from Merrick Garland would nonetheless be very well-received by industry participants.

 

NJ – Governor Murphy signs Adult Use Cannabis Bill – Now Adult Use Cannabis is Law of the Garden State

Earlier today, February 22, 2021, NJ Governor Murphy signed legislation to create an adult use/recreational marijuana marketplace, decriminalize cannabis and loosen certain penalties for underage possession of the drug and alcohol.  NJ joins 13 other states (and the District of Columbia) which have legalized adult use marijuana including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D. C. 

The Assembly and Senate passed a compromise bill to address most of Governor’s concerns that had held up the signing of the Bills – these areas mostly focused on easing penalties on underage possession of both alcohol and marijuana.

Under the law, NJ adults may legally purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana; retail sales will be taxed with 70% of such revenue being dedicated to lower income communities; a Cannabis Regulatory Commission will be established and oversee licensing; NJ will allocate 37 new grower licenses over the next 2 years; and currently licensed medical cannabis retail operations will be eligible to sell adult use cannabis.

The firm has an active Cannabis and Hemp practice, with over 65 lawyers who counsel businesses and investors in the regulatory and licensing area, the funds formation and fund raising arena, the leasing and acquisition of real estate fronts and the patents, trademarks and IP area of the cannabis and hemp industry. 

We can be reached at any of the following email addresses and will direct your inquiry to the appropriate person within our Cannabis and Hemp Taskforce – bamolotsky@duanemorris.com; tagallegos@duanemorris.com; ppjosephson@duanemorris.com; or sagoldberg@duanemorris.com.

Be safe.

 

Cannabis – NJ Legislature Passes Historic Adult Use Cannabis Legalization Bill, Off to the Governor’s Desk

Earlier today, Thursday, December 17, 2020, the NJ Legislature passed an historic bill legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana for adults use.

The 240-page Assembly Bill 21 passed by a 49-24 vote with 6 abstentions in the Assembly and a 23-17 vote in the state Senate.

The final bill creates a 5-member Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee the new market, as well as the existing medical marijuana market.

Licenses for cultivators are capped at 37 for the first 24 months following the bill’s enactment.

Cannabis sales will be taxed at 7% – which includes the 6.625% sales tax on retail sales, and a tax on cultivators, which adds up to a 7% rate in total.

70% of sales tax revenue and all the money from a tax on cultivators are dedicated toward legal aid, health care education and other social services for lower-income, minority communities.

The remaining 30% in sales tax revenue will go to fund the Cannabis Regulatory Committee and to help fund local police departments for the training of “Drug Recognition Experts”.

Per NJBIZ, employers must have a “reasonable suspicion” that their workers are high on the job in order to conduct a drug test. And the test must be accompanied by an assessment from a Drug Recognition Expert to ensure the person’s behaviors match someone who’s high.

That would allow workers to use marijuana while off the clock, just as with alcohol.

Separately, another measure, Senate Bill 2535, was passed which ends arrests for possession of up to 6 ounces of cannabis, while Senate Bill 3256 will also lower penalties for possession of psilocybin (i.e., mushrooms).

Duane Morris attorneys in offices throughout the U.S. have extensive experience with the wide array of issues attendant to legal cannabis business activities, including real estate development and leasing; licensing for cultivation, processing and dispensing; litigation; banking and finance; raising and deploying capital; protecting intellectual property; public company representation and SEC filings; land use and zoning; healthcare and research; and taxation.

For more information on this blog post, do not hesitate to contact Brad A. Molotsky or Paul Josephson or any of the other Duane Morris attorneys you regularly engage with.

FTC Ratchets Up Enforcement Against “Spurious” CBD Health Claims

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

In connection with a crackdown on CBD manufacturers pursuant to its “Operation CBDeceit,” the FTC announced today settlements with six CBD-infused product manufacturers who, according to the FTC, allegedly made a “wide range of scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat serious health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and others.” Under the settlements of the respective Complaints against them, each of the manufacturers will be required to pay a fine, and cease making “unsupported health claims” in connection with the marketing of their products.

In issuing its press release today the FTC attached the Consent Agreement and the FTC’s findings of violations of the FTC Act, which are set forth in a draft Complaint. These documents illustrate the FTC’s procedures in actions like these, and highlight the FTC’s concerns regarding allegedly misleading representations about CBD-containing products in violation of the FTC Act. Specifically, the FTC views health claims in connection with marketing such products to be misleading unless they “rely upon competent and reliable scientific evidence that is sufficient in quality and quantity based on standards generally accepted by experts in the relevant disease, condition, or function to which the representation relates, when considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence, to substantiate that the representation is true.”

Significantly, the FTC has not required the settling manufacturers to remove their products from the shelves and to cease selling them. They must, however, remove any unsupported health claims. Moreover, it would not be surprising if the announcement of these settlements spawns consumer fraud litigation against the manufacturers, which is often a much more serious concern to the business.

It is unclear how “Operation CBDeceit” will be implemented when the Biden administration takes over. For now, however, CBD manufacturers should continue to be mindful of their packaging, labeling and other marketing materials.

NJ Lawmakers Agree on Adult Use Cannabis Legislation – Vote slated for later in December

According to lawmakers, a deal has been reached to compromise on legislation to enable adult use cannabis in NJ.

The compromise bill allows for 37 licenses for marijuana growers during the first 2 years of legal sales. The license limit does not apply to micro-licenses, which can be granted to businesses with 10 or fewer employees.

Minority Communities – 70% of the sales tax revenue as well as all of the funds raised by a tax on cultivators will be used to support restorative programs for legal aid, health care, mentoring in minority communities.

NJ voters approved a ballot question seeking to amend the state constitution and legalize marijuana on Nov. 3.

Per NJ Biz, legislators reached another deal on that issue earlier last week to pass a bill that will allow people to possess up to 6 oz. of marijuana.

Lawmakers are also expected to move forward with the bill to decriminalize marijuana later in December.

Senators also introduced a new constitutional amendment that could go before voters in 2021. It seeks to solidify the tax structure outlined in Senate Bill 21, ensuring that the money only go to social and racial justice causes, and not the state’s general fund.

Given the current legislative calendar, it is likely that the legalization bill will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 14 and for a full vote on Dec. 17, 2020.

Duane Morris attorneys in offices throughout the U.S. have extensive experience with the wide array of issues attendant to legal cannabis business activities, including licensing for cultivation, processing and dispensing; litigation; banking and finance; raising and deploying capital; protecting intellectual property; real estate development; public company representation and SEC filings; land use and zoning; healthcare and research; and taxation.

For more information on this blog post, do not hesitate to contact Brad A. Molotsky or Paul Josephson or any of the other Duane Morris attorneys you regularly engage with.

House Passes Bill To Legalize Marijuana at the Federal Level

Deanna Lucci

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Today, the House of Representatives passed the groundbreaking MORE Act – legalizing marijuana at the federal level.  The bill passed by a vote of 228 to 164. 

As we previously discussed in our November 10th and September 4th blog posts, the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) legalizes marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates some cannabis criminal records.

While the bill represents a first step toward legalizing cannabis, states would need to adopt similar measures to fully decriminalize its use – currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized (or recently voted to legalize) cannabis for adult recreational use, and 35 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.

The bill also makes other changes, including:

  • Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
  • Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
  • Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
  • Makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
  • Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.

While Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), the Vice President-Elect, introduced a counterpart bill (S.2227) in the U.S. Senate, its passage in the chamber is unlikely this Congress as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to endorse the bill.

While this legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate this Congress, proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration.  And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5, 2021.  If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate, with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances.  While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes – he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states.  Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe this symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration that this is a Democratic priority.

Even though federal legalization may not be on the immediate horizon, the passage of the MORE Act in the House, and the legalization of adult-use and/or medical marijuana in five more states on November 3, 2020, could influence a Biden-appointed attorney general’s views on enforcement of marijuana related activities. While AG Sessions attempted to reverse the liberal Obama administration marijuana policies set forth in the Cole Memorandum, and AG Barr has reluctantly acknowledged that the Cole priorities have been relied on and should thus be followed, an AG appointed by Biden, given the current pro-legalization wave, Biden’s favoring of state’s rights on this issue, and Kamala Harris’s favoring of decriminalization, might endorse an approach consistent with, if not even more liberal than, the Cole priorities.   Thus, while the appointment of AG Sessions sent shockwaves through the cannabis industry, market participants and those who have been standing on the sidelines eager to get on the field seem to have a lot to look forward to.

 

 

 

Update: House to Vote on Historic MORE Act in December

As an update to our September 4th blog post, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the historic MORE Act on September 21.  However, days before that vote House Democrats postponed the vote indefinitely.  It was reported that moderate Democrats expressed concern about voting on the MORE Act before voting on a second Coronavirus relief package.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the bill’s sponsor, suggested the vote could be delayed until after the November elections. However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in an emailed statement that Democratic leaders were “committed” to scheduling a vote on the bill before the end of the year.

On Monday, November 9, Hoyer wrote in a letter to colleagues that the House would vote on the MORE Act in December.  Hoyer’s letter did not specify which week the vote will take place, but the House is scheduled to be in session Dec. 1-4 and Dec. 7-10.

As discussed previously on this blog, if enacted The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) would legalize marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate some cannabis criminal records.  As Hoyer wrote in his letter this week, the MORE would “decriminalize cannabis and expunge convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses that have prevented many Americans from getting jobs, applying for credit and loans, and accessing opportunities that make it possible to get ahead in our economy.”

While it is unlikely that this legislation would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate – ensuring it will die this Congress – proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration. And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections set to take place on January 5, 2021.  If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate.

However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances.  While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes, he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states.  Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe even a symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration.

 

 

 

 

 

State-Legal Marijuana a Clear Winner in 2020 Voting

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Voters in the five states where the legalization of marijuana was on the ballot voted in favor.

In the populous states of New Jersey and Arizona, voters legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults over the age of 21. Given New Jersey’s proximity to New York and Pennsylvania, where medical marijuana programs have been popular, legalization in New Jersey could have a domino effect in the northeast, especially considering the tax revenue that will be gained by New Jersey from New York and Pennsylvania residents who travel there every day for work, the Jersey shore and casinos, and other reasons.

Voters in South Dakota and Montana also voted to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, South Dakota voters also approved medical marijuana, and voters in Mississippi voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes to treat 22 qualifying health conditions.

Seth Goldberg is a Team Lead of the Cannabis Industry Practice at Duane Morris