How Marijuana Pardons Affect Employee Background Checks

On Oct. 6, 2022, President Joe Biden issued a blanket pardon to all citizens and lawful permanent residents convicted of simple possession of marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The move reflects a shift in attitudes towards low-level drug offenses, and should serve as an impetus to employers to review their policies on criminal record checks.

Because marijuana possession offenses predominantly fall under the jurisdictions of the states, not the federal government, the immediate impact of these pardons is limited. Only about 6,500 people have been convicted for simple possession under federal law and a few thousand more have been convicted under the Code of the District of Columbia.

To read the full text of this article by Duane Morris attorneys Danielle M. Dwyer and Jesse Stavis, originally published in Law360, please visit the firm website.

Medical Cannabis Research Bill Set to Become Law

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed H.R. 8454, or the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act (the “Act”), sending the bill to President Biden’s desk for signature. The bill passed the House this summer by a vote of 325 – 95, and marks the first time a standalone cannabis bill has been approved by the federal government. Essentially, the Act is intended to simplify and expand research into the medical possibilities of both cannabis and cannabidiol as a treatment for certain serious ailments. However, the Act does not de-schedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act, instead keeping cannabis a Schedule 1 drug. This means that cannabis will still be deemed to be a drug with a high likelihood for abuse, with no accepted medical use.

In particular, the Act provides for a streamlined process for the approval of cannabis research applications as follows:

  • An applicant under the Act must submit a completed application to the U.S. Attorney General, which the Attorney General must approve, deny, or request additional information within 60 days. The application must include: 1) details relating to the applicant’s research protocol, reviewed and approved by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (the “DHS”), the National Institutes of Health, or another agency, or according to provisions in the Federal Register, and 2) the safety measures to prevent diversion of cannabis substance (including storing it in a locked, constructed cabinet).
  • If the Attorney General requests additional information and the applicant so provides, the Attorney General must approve or deny the application within 30 days of the applicant providing such additional information. If the Attorney General ultimately denies any application, an explanation of the denial must be provided.
  • A registrant may update its research protocol without informing the Drug Enforcement Administration, if the quantity and form of cannabis, the source of the cannabis, and the conditions of storage will not change. If any of the foregoing items will change, the registrant must notify the Attorney General via registered mail or an electronic means permitted by the Attorney General.
  • If the Attorney General does not object to the changed protocol within 30 days, it is considered approved and the registrant may go ahead with the changed protocol.

Moreover, the Act also streamlines the process for applying to manufacture cannabis products for research purposes. The application timeline is similar to the research application process, but will only begin when the Attorney General posts in the Federal Register that the Attorney General’s office will increase the number of entities able to be registered under the Act as manufacturers of cannabis for medical research purposes. Then, entities may submit applications to the Attorney General. The application must show:

  • The requirements of the Act and the Federal Register have been satisfied.
  • The applicant will only transfer cannabis to those who are registered under the Act to perform preclinical or clinical research.
  • The applicant will only transfer or sell cannabis under the Act with the prior written consent of the Attorney General.
  • The applicant has completed the review process set forth in 21 U.S.C. § 823(a) of the Controlled Substances Act, which discusses general registration requirements for manufacturing Schedule I and II Controlled Substances.
  • The applicant has established and actually follows a process for storing and handling a Schedule I controlled substance.
  • A license to operate, if the State in which the applicant operates requires one.

The Act further authorizes registered covered institutions of higher education, like medical schools and research schools, to manufacture, distribute, dispense and possess cannabis for medical research, with guidance from the DHS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Additionally, the Act allows for doctors to discuss with their patients, and their patients’ parents if the patient is a minor, the potential benefits and risks in using medical cannabis under state medical cannabis laws. Prior to the Act, it was unclear whether such an act was a punishable offense under federal law. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is hopeful this provision, and the Act in general, will help patients with conditions like Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and severe post-traumatic stress.

Lastly, the Act requires the DHS to report to Congress on particular topics of research, including but not limited to, the effects of cannabis on the human body, effects on the adolescent brain, potential impairment of cognitive ability, and barriers and solutions to studying cannabis from states with legal cannabis.

Importantly, there are a few things the Act does not do. The Act does not allow research using state-legalized products for medical research purposes; the Act only allows for using the products manufactured through the Act’s protocols. Therefore, there will not be research into the products people are currently using to treat their medical ailments under state medical cannabis laws. Furthermore, as mentioned above, the Act does not de-schedule or re-schedule cannabis. President Biden issued an executive order in October asking the Secretary of the DHS and the Attorney General to begin the administrative process of de-scheduling cannabis. Presumably, research performed under this Act may lead to either de-scheduling or re-scheduling cannabis, but it is far too soon to tell.

Additionally, the Act does not implement more widespread reform. President Biden issued a pardon last month for simple cannabis possession offenses under federal law, but further reform will not be enacted unless the Senate passes one of several reform bills on the table. Even so, critics and proponents alike across the political spectrum, are lauding the Act as a necessary step for the federal government to catch up to the state legalization wave.

To read the full text of the Act, see https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/8454/text.

An Update on New York’s Conditional Adult-Use Licensing Process

New York State legalized adult-use cannabis in March 2021 through passage of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (the “Act”), and the state is currently processing its first applications for retail dispensaries. The Act established the New York Office of Cannabis Management (the “OCM”), which is responsible for promulgating regulations under the Act as well as issuing licenses to participants in both adult-use and medical cannabis markets. Through the OCM, New York began issuing licenses for cannabis cultivation in April, and for processing – converting plants grown in the state to usable products such as edibles and vape oils – in August. Approximately 240 conditional cultivation licenses have been granted, and 15 conditional processor licenses.

New York’s legalization scheme includes a focus on social equity, whereby it is currently accepting applications only for “conditional” licenses, available primarily to businesses and nonprofits owned by or serving individuals affected by marijuana convictions. The state is currently reviewing applications for Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary (“CAURD”) licenses – the application period was open from August 25 to September 25, and the state received approximately 900 applications, for 175 available licenses.
The state has two categories for CAURD licenses, which both have slightly different criteria. Up to 150 of these licenses will be issued to qualifying businesses, and 25 to nonprofits. To be eligible for a CAURD license, an applicant must be a business with at least 30% ownership interest held by a person who:

• First, is “justice-involved” – was either convicted of a marijuana-related offense in New York State before March 31, 2021, or who has a family member with such a conviction;
• Second, has owned at least 10% of a business which earned a net profit for at least two years; and
• Third, has a significant presence in New York – either lives in, or owns land or property in, the state.

Any type of business organization may apply for a CAURD license. Licensees may operate one retail dispensary, and are eligible to receive loans from the New York Social Equity Cannabis Investment Fund to pay for construction, renovations, and equipment associated with the dispensary location.

The second category of CAURD licenses is available to qualifying nonprofits, which must have a history of serving or employing currently or formerly incarcerated individuals, at least one justice-involved member, officer, or advising committee member, and a history of at least two years of net profits. One key distinction between the two types of licenses is that nonprofits are not eligible for financial support from the Fund, and must provide their own retail storefront, over which the OCM has approval authority.

While the OCM is currently reviewing applications and granting conditional licenses for cultivation, processing, and retail sales, it has not yet promulgated regulations governing general adult-use licenses – available to applicants not eligible for conditional licenses – but has stated it will do so in the coming weeks and months.

Wage Loss Claims Find Their Way Into PA

FarmaceuticalRX LLC, licensed to process cannabis in Pennsylvania and Ohio, describes itself as “bringing healthcare, science, and innovation to the medical marijuana sector.” FarmaceuticalRX LLC boasts a “world-class research and development team” tasked with studying the effects of the cannabinoid in the treatment of opioid addiction, to lung cancer, and tumor cell remediation.

A lawsuit was filed in the USDC for the WDPA by former FarmaceuticalRX LLC delivery drivers, classified as independent contractors, seeking lost wages for overtime pay under the FLSA and PA Minimum Wage Act resulting from a misclassification as independent contractors rather than employees. According to the Complaint, the drivers attempted on several occasions to raise this misclassification, but the issue was never fixed. And one at least one occasion, the drivers were told that changing the classification mid-year may raise red flags with the IRS. The Complaint further alleges that the defendants controlled the work schedule and provided the drivers company cars. The defendants put out an advertisement looking for replacement workers about a month before the plaintiffs were fired.

This is just another example of lawsuits that cannabis operators and those in the industry may face. As previously reported, products liability and class action suits resulting from alleged mislabeling were filed earlier this year. Additionally, RICO and consumer fraud claims have also been filed. In addition to plaintiffs seeking monetary compensation, cannabis businesses and operators are open to virtually any kind of litigation, such as landlord-tenant disputes and patent infringement claims. These lawsuits continue to highlight the importance of remaining vigilant in all aspects of business. As the industry continues to expand, it is likely that lawsuits will as well.

 

 

Minnesota Legislation Ushers In Sales of THC-Infused Beverages

Even absent a federal regulatory framework, the demand and market for cannabis-infused beverages continue to grow nationwide. As states legalize marijuana for medical and adult use, some have enacted specific provisions for the sale of food and beverages containing THC. Minnesota recently passed one such law, which became effective in early July. In Minnesota, medical marijuana is permitted for the treatment of certain medical conditions, but adult use legislation has not yet been passed. The state’s new law legalized the sale of food and drinks containing up to 5 mg of THC per serving, and 50 mg total per package – so long as the THC is derived from certified hemp plants. Under federal law, hemp plants – as opposed to marijuana plants – can contain no more than .3% THC by weight. These content limits apply to all strains of THC, including Delta 8, which is currently not federally regulated.

Minnesota’s new law prohibits THC-containing products from being sold to anyone under 21 or marketed to children. The products must be sold in tamper-proof packaging, and packages must contain a QR code that provides consumers with an ingredient list and testing information. The law is also different from other states’ legalization regimes in one major respect: while other states only permit sales of these products by licensed distributors, Minnesota places no restrictions on who can sell edibles or beverages containing THC. This also means that sellers are not subject to a lengthy application process. Businesses in Minnesota have wasted no time in benefitting from this legislation. Demand for THC-infused gummies has been high since their legalization, and beverage companies and breweries have already entered this new market. Minneapolis Cider Company introduced a non-alcoholic sparkling beverage called Trail Magic, which contains 3 mg of THC per serving, bringing the product to launch within a month of the law’s passage. Indeed Brewing, also in Minneapolis, introduced Two Good, a seltzer containing 5 mg of THC and 2 mg of CBD, in early August. While Minneapolis Cider Company sells Trail Magic for visitors to consume in its taproom, Indeed currently only offers Two Good for to-go sales. Both companies are selling their THC beverages as an alternative to alcoholic beer or cider, and both beverages have been popular with consumers since their introduction.

Market participants in Minnesota are still navigating the contours and nuances of the new law, as are those in many other states. But as states continue to legalize various forms of THC sales, it is likely that beverages like Trail Magic and Two Good will become more ubiquitous.

U.S. Senators May Introduce “SAFE Banking Plus” By End of Year

After finally introducing the comprehensive Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) in the U.S. Senate last month,  last week Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) softened his prior position on a separate, narrower cannabis banking bill when he said that he would now consider the banking bill with modifications. As we previously reported, the SAFE Banking Act would allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system and service providers to the cannabis industry such as attorneys, accountants, bankers and landlords would be permitted to accept payment from cannabis businesses without the risk of violating federal law. SAFE Banking has passed the House of Representatives seven times in recent years but so far has not been taken up in the Senate.

Since the introduction of the CAOA last month, which would not only permit cannabis companies to access the banking system but would legalize and decriminalize recreational cannabis with an eye toward supporting communities that have been most impacted by the war on drugs, Sens. Booker and Schumer (D-N.Y.) have said they would be willing to consider more incremental cannabis reform such as SAFE Banking with added equity provisions.  Many are referring to the as-yet proposed bill as “SAFE Banking Plus,” which would ensure equitable access to financial services for minority-owned cannabis businesses and require financial institutions to prove compliance with anti-discrimination laws, among other things.

Schumer and Booker have been meeting with other lawmakers to work on a compromise bill, and Booker said a proposal might come after the November elections and before the new Congress starts in January.

California Governor Proposes a Cannabis Tax Reduction in an Effort to Shore Up the Legal Market

On Friday, May 13, California Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced proposed revisions to his 2022-2023 budget proposal, which would eliminate the cannabis cultivation tax rate beginning July 1, 2022.

The 15% excise tax on cannabis sales would remain, and the collection and remittance of that tax would be limited to retail sales beginning January 1, 2023. Currently, the cultivation tax rates are $10.08 per ounce of flower, $3.00 per ounce of trim, and $1.41 per ounce of fresh cannabis plant, and these taxes are paid on all recreational and medicinal cultivation of cannabis. Continue reading “California Governor Proposes a Cannabis Tax Reduction in an Effort to Shore Up the Legal Market”

New York Conditional Cultivation License – Advanced Preparation (What You Can Do Now To Be Ready)

As we noted is our blog post earlier this week, New York recently adopted legislation to allow licensed hemp farmers to grow and process cannabis for the adult use market with the aim to have product available once retail sales are permitted.

While the New York Office of Cannabis Management has yet to release the form of application (and any implementing regulations), that doesn’t mean that potential applicants should sit idly by and wait.  In reviewing the legislation, its clear that there is plenty of work that can be done now. Continue reading “New York Conditional Cultivation License – Advanced Preparation (What You Can Do Now To Be Ready)”

Q&A: Duane Morris Cannabis Practice Leader Seth Goldberg

Duane Morris partner Seth Goldberg‘s interest in cannabis emerged in 2014 as part of his work as a litigator in the healthcare space. Seven years later, he’s the leader of the firm’s cannabis industry group, and he’s seen the explosive growth of both the regulated trade and the legal work that’s sprouted alongside it.

We recently talked about the developments he’s seen over those seven years as well as other hot topics in cannabis law right now. Here is some of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Higher Law: What are some of the big changes you’ve seen since 2014?

Seth Goldberg: Some of the major changes have been the sophistication of the clients, the development of stronger compliance protocols and the improvement of deal terms and deal structures.

To read the full text of this article originally published by Law.com’s Higher Law, please visit the firm website.

Cannabis Beverages are on Fire!

Want to know where the cannabis industry is going? How about the beverage industry? The answer is cannabis beverages! The hottest new product segment in both markets. Don’t believe me… just run an internet search for “cannabis beverages” and you’ll see cannabis-infused beverages tied to major beverage companies like Constellation Brands, such as Canopy Growth’s Quatreu water, and Molson Coors, with its Truss brand, and dozens of  smaller cannabis beverage brands, such as Forth, Kikoko, and Recess. 

A cannabis beverage generally contains either THC derived from marijuana grown pursuant to state adult-use marijuana and/or medical marijuana laws, or containing CBD derived from marijuana or derived from hemp grown pursuant to a state’s hemp laws.  Given the federal prohibition on marijuana, the federal legality of hemp, and the FDA’s current restriction of CBD in foods and beverages, the federal and state regulatory framework for producing, distributing, and consuming cannabis beverages is complex, to say the least.  In the coming weeks I will be covering in a series of short blogs some of these issues, including product labeling, THC and CBD percentages, serving size, and social consumption.

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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