The Federal Antitrust Laws May Not Protect Competition and Consumers In The Cannabis Industry

Seth Goldberg

To assert a federal antitrust claim, a plaintiff must have standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution and must also have suffered an injury of the type the antitrust laws were intended to prevent and that flows from that which makes defendants acts unlawful. Brunswick Corp. v. Pueblo Bowl-O-Mat, Inc., 429 U.S. 477, 489 (1977).  The Brunswick standard generally benefits consumers who have paid artificially high prices as a result of a defendant’s anticompetitive conduct, or a competitor of a defendant that abused its market power to compete unfairly.

The federal antitrust laws, including the Brunswick standard, are one of the many protections intended to keep competitors on an even playing field and striving to beat one another by offering the optimal combination of quality and price to consumers, and to protect consumers from overreaching and opportunistic manufacturers that use nefarious means to impose a price they would be otherwise unable to charge.  These laws have been critical in shaping industries.

However, it may be that the federal antitrust laws are among the federal laws unavailable to cannabis industry participants, as the federal antitrust laws are limited to commerce “among the states,” i.e., interstate commerce.  Because cannabis is still prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act, its legal manufacture and distribution is generally limited to intrastate activities.  Thus, competition for legal cannabis is, by and large, necessarily intrastate.   Fortunately, most states have antitrust laws that mirror federal antitrust laws, and borrow from the federal judicial precedent they have generated.  However, as a general matter, the federal courts and federal judges are more experienced than the state courts in the complex economics underlying most antirust matters.

For the burgeoning cannabis industry, this may be yet another problem arising out of the federal prohibition of cannabis.  It means that consumers of cannabis products, such as cannabis, vapes, edibles, and possibly ancillary flower-touching products, may not be protected from inflated prices resulting from anticompetitive conduct, such as price-fixing agreements or agreements to allocate markets, and competitors for those products may not be able to ensure a level playing field with the largest companies, allowing the powerful companies to take advantage of their position by inflating prices.

The bottom line is that as the cannabis industry continues its growth at breakneck speed, manufacturers of cannabis, cannabis-infused, and cannabis-related products, may be tempted to engage in the types of anticompetitive conduct the federal antitrust laws are best able to correct, with the help of experienced federal judges, and consumers of those products may unfortunately be exposed to artificially inflated price increases flowing from such conduct left unchecked.  While not all cannabis manufacturers or cannabis-related products are limited to competing in a single state, the bulk are.

To this point, the role the  federal antitrust laws (or state for that matter) can play in shaping the cannabis industry has not been tested.  That day may be on the horizon, however, as some companies continue to grow into industry giants, while others struggle to compete.  Cannabis space participants, especially the larger players, should be aware of the compliance measures taken in other industries to protect themselves from the possibility of antitrust claims brought by their competitors or consumers.

PA Governor To Defend PA’s Medical Marijuana Program Against Federal Attack

Seth Goldberg

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Sessions dated June 15, 2017, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf strenuously objected to the possibility of the federal government attempting to curtail Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, which is scheduled to launch with the issuance of grower, processor and dispensary permits in the coming weeks.  As Governor Wolf stated in the letter:

Your action to undo the protections of the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds to disrupt states’ efforts to implement “their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana” is misguided… If you seek to further disrupt our ability to establish a legal way to deliver relief of medical marijuana to our citizens, I will ask the Attorney General of Pennsylvania to take legal action to protect our residents and state sovereignty.

Governor Wolf’s letter was in response to a letter that Sessions sent to Congress on May 1, 2017, regarding the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment, in which Sessions stated :

I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.

On May 5, 2017, President Trump  extended the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment through September 30, 2017.

Another Positive Development for the Medical Marijuana Industry

Just one week after the DEA and FDA reiterated the federal government’s willingness to allow broader research into the health benefits of cannabis, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision barring the DOJ from using federal funds to prosecute individuals and businesses conducting activities in compliance with state medical cannabis laws and regulations.

In U.S. v. McIntosh, No. 15-10117, (9th Cir. 2016), the Court determined that a rider (§ 542) to the appropriations act that funded the government through September 30, 2015, which provided that funds made available under that act could not be used “to prevent [] States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession. of cultivation of medical marijuana,” was to be read as prohibiting the federal government from prosecuting individuals and businesses acting pursuant to those state laws and regulations because such prosecution would effectively prevent the states from implementing their cannabis laws and regulations.

As the Court explained, “DOJ, without taking any legal action against the Medical Marijuana States, prevents them from implementing their laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana by prosecuting individuals for use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana that is authorized by such laws. By officially permitting certain conduct, state law provides for nonprosecution of individuals who engage in such conduct. If the federal government prosecutes such individuals, it has prevented the state from giving practical effect to its law.”

The Court was also careful to warn industry participants that cannabis-related conduct falling outside a state’s cannabis laws and regulations would not be protected from federal prosecution:  “We conclude that § 542 prohibits the federal government only from preventing the implementation of those specific rules of state law that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. DOJ does not prevent the implementation of rules authorizing conduct when it prosecutes individuals who engage in conduct unauthorized under state medical marijuana laws. Individuals who do not strictly comply with all state-law conditions regarding the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana have engaged in conduct that is unauthorized, and prosecuting such individuals does not violate § 542.”

 

 

The Marijuana Business Takes Root in Pa.

Duane Morris’ Seth Goldberg was quoted in the Philadelphia Business Journal  on the opportunities and risk facing entrepreneurs in the development medical marijuana industry in Pennsylvania.

While the upfront costs to entrepreneurs wanting to enter the market are expected to run into the millions of dollars, the payoff could be substantial. The ArcView Group, a market research firm that studies the cannabis industry, estimates the Pennsylvania medical marijuana market will start out with annual sales at about $125 million and grow at a rate of about 180 percent per year in the program’s first few years.

“There will also be huge opportunities for entrepreneurs who want to create ancillary businesses that are integral to the core growing and dispensing businesses,” said Seth Goldberg, a Philadelphia attorney with Duane Morris who specializes in commercial and health care matters.

Continue reading “The Marijuana Business Takes Root in Pa.”

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act: Key Components and Potential Risks

On April 17, 2016, Pennsylvania became the 24th state to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Senate Bill 3, known as the “Medical Marijuana Act” (the “Act”).  While the Act will become effective on May 17, 2016, its implementation will not be fully realized until various reports and regulations contemplated in the Act are developed. The Act will be administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Health (the “Department”).

The Act limits the use of medical marijuana to patients suffering from one of the 17 “Serious Medical Conditions” identified in the Act, which are: cancer; HIV/AIDS; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; multiple sclerosis; epilepsy; inflammatory bowel disease; damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity; neuropathies; Huntington’s disease; Crohn’s disease; post-traumatic stress disorder; intractable seizures; glaucoma; sickle cell anemia; severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective; and autism.

The Act also restricts the forms in which medical marijuana may be dispensed to patients and caregivers to pill, oil, topical cream/ointment, vaporization, nebulization, tincture or liquid, and it makes smoking and incorporating into edible form unlawful. Continue reading “Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act: Key Components and Potential Risks”

PA Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Legislation Again

Earlier this year, I wrote that 2015 might be the year that medical marijuana legislation is passed in Pennsylvania.  This was because in 2014 the PA Senate approved such legislation, and, although the legislation sat in the PA House through the end of the term, the election of Governor Tom Wolf removed the additional hurdle of a veto by former Governor Tom Corbett were the PA House to pass the legislation.

On May 12, 2015, the PA Senate again passed a medical marijuana bill.  It obviously remains to be seen what the PA House will do, but given Governor Wolf’s indication that he would not veto such legislation should it reach his desk, and reports that up to 88% of PA residents are in favor of legalized medical marijuana, the odds of legalization in 2015 seem to be improving. Continue reading “PA Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Legislation Again”

Bankers, Lawyers, and the Conflict Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws

An article in The Philadelphia Inquirer reported about the reluctance of major banks to participate in the marijuana industries in those states that have legalized marijuana for recreational and/or medicinal purposes because marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substance Act.   I have previously written that lawyers in those states share similar concerns because the rules of ethics prohibit lawyers from assisting clients in illegal activities.

The conflict between state legalization and federal criminalization of marijuana thus appears to be depriving the businesses and individuals, such as investors, growers, manufacturers, dispensaries, physicians, patients, and consumers, currently or potentially participating in the emerging marijuana industry from the two resources – lawyers and bankers – that are arguably the most important to the establishment and sustained growth of an emerging, regulated industry.    This is especially concerning given the importance to all citizens of the careful implementation of marijuana legislation. Continue reading “Bankers, Lawyers, and the Conflict Between State and Federal Marijuana Laws”