Tag Archives: cannabis

Jennifer Fisher and Justin Santarosa

California’s Governor Proposes Changes to Cannabis Regulation and Taxation

By:  Justin A. Santarosa and Jennifer Briggs Fisher

Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, released his proposal for the State’s budget today, outlining a number of items of importance for the California cannabis industry.

The most noteworthy proposal is regulatory consolidation.  In an effort to improve and simplify regulatory oversight of commercial cannabis activity, the Governor’s office is proposing to consolidate the three licensing entities that are currently within the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the Department of Food and Agriculture, and the Department of Public Health, into a single “Department of Cannabis Control” by July 2021.

Such a change would be welcomed by many operators in the State, especially vertically integrated operators who must now contend with multiple state agencies that have different regulatory requirements and interpretations.  This may also boost M&A activity in the state, given that it could lead to more consistent regulations regarding ownership changes and a more efficient regulatory approval process.  A single regulatory agency would also streamline fee collections and enforcement.  More details on this proposal are expected in the Spring of 2020 and we will be watching closely for those updates.

Additionally, the budget looks to “fix” what many consider to be a broken cannabis taxation regime. The Governor states that the goal of the proposal is to reduce the tax collection burden on the cannabis industry and simplify the tax collection process. The proposed changes move the responsibility for the cultivation excise tax from the final distributor to the first, and for the retail excise tax from the distributor to the retailer.

While no changes to the tax rates are specified, the proposed budget does state that the Governor will consider other changes to the existing cannabis tax structure, including the number of taxes and tax rates.  The California tax burden is viewed as one of the major inhibitors of the growth and success of the cannabis market in the state.

We will continue to monitor these developments as they unfold, so please check back for further updates and analysis.

Duane Morris Partner Tracy Gallegos Named a Top Woman of Influence by MyVegas Magazine

Duane Morris partner Tracy Gallegos is featured in MyVegas magazine as one of the Top 100 Women of Influence. The list recognizes women who have made a “huge positive impact … and continue to change the shape of Las Vegas on a daily basis[.]”

Ms. Gallegos has a multifaceted practice that touches upon corporate, real estate, cannabis, sports and entertainment law for clients ranging from startup companies to established businesses. Her clients include cannabis companies involved in retail, manufacturing and cultivation, as well as companies providing ancillary services to the cannabis industry in both California and Nevada.

Read Ms. Gallegos’ profile in the publication. For more information, visit the MyVegas magazine website.

Canadian Securities Regulators Signal Increased Scrutiny for Cannabis M&A Disclosures

On November 12, 2019, the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA), the organization that oversees securities regulations in the 10 Canadian provinces, released Multilateral Staff Notice 51-359 Corporate Governance Related Disclosure Expectations for Reporting Issuers in the Cannabis Industry (the “Guidance”). The Guidance specifically relates to the disclosures required in merger and acquisition transactions. The CSA expressed concern over the perceived inadequate transparency relating to the cross-ownership of financial interests involved in such transactions.

The rapid growth of the cannabis industry and the heightened pace of mergers and acquisitions has resulted in many cannabis companies and their directors and executive officers having a higher than usual crossover of financial interests. Often times these interests are intertwined within various management companies, leasing companies, real estate companies and across numerous license holders, as well as interests in investment advisory services entities and other transaction service providers that are receiving compensatory transaction fees.

The Guidance reiterates that in the disclosure document filed in connection with the transaction, the acquiror and/or the acquiree should disclose all relevant and material the cross-ownership of financial interests held by either by the acquirer, the acquiree, or either of their directors or executive officers.

“Investors need to understand the conflicts of interest that could arise when issuers have crossover of financial interests, because those conflicts could have implications for the possible M&A transaction,” said Louis Morisset, CSA Chair and President and CEO of the Autorité des marchés financiers.  We would advise, to avoid potential shareholder litigation, that the disclosure should go beyond the Canadian disclosure requirements and adhere to the more stringent related party transaction disclosure required under U.S. securities laws as many of the cannabis companies have US shareholders or dual listings in the US.

The second issued raised by the Guidance is the determination of director independence as a result of such cross-ownership of financial interests. The CSA stated that they have, “observed instances where cannabis issuers have identified board members as being independent, without giving adequate consideration to potential conflicts of interest or other factors that may compromise their independence.”  Again, the cross-over relationships should be reviewed to make a full independent determination.

It is important for reporting issuers to review closely all disclosures made in connection with a merger and acquisition. As a result of the release of the Guidance, the review conducted by the reporting issuer and its counsel is more critical than ever.  The board of the reporting issuer should review closely all potential conflicts among its members and should consult with its code of business conduct and ethics to ensure that all procedures have been followed relating to conflicts of interest, as well as considering the jurisdiction rules of its shareholder base.

The importance of proper disclosures has been highlighted by a recent proposed class action lawsuits filed against Canopy Growth and Aurora Cannabis, each lawsuit alleging that the companies made false and misleading statements or withheld material information in their securities filings. While the lawsuit is not related to statements in connection with an M&A transaction, these lawsuits do highlight the importance of reviewing closely all disclosures made in US and Canadian securities filings.

By: Nanette C. Heide and Justin A. Santarosa

Regulatory Uncertainty Hangs Over Production of Industrial Hemp

Duane Morris Partner Frederick Ball is quoted in the Agri-Pulse article “Regulatory Uncertainty Hangs Over Production of Industrial Hemp.”

Nearly a year after the 2018 farm bill legalized industrial hemp production, the business community continues to seek answers to questions about testing and marketing of products derived from the crop, the commercial potential of which has sparked interest throughout the country. […]

Rick Ball, a lawyer with Duane Morris in Boston, said on the sidelines of the FDLI meeting that he has “no clue” when FDA might take action.

Ball said regulatory confusion is stoked in some cases by different rules in different states. In Massachusetts, for example, farmers were left holding their hemp after the state followed FDA and said CBD cannot be used in foods or dietary supplements or marketed with health claims.

“They lost a huge market for their product,” Ball said. […]

To read the full article,  visit the Agri-Pulse website (subscription required).

 

NJ Legislators Opt to allow Voters to Decide on Cannabis Legalization in NJ instead of Legislating such a Change – Brad A. Molotsky, Esq. – Duane Morris LLP

New Jersey’s top lawmakers have decided to let voters decide on legalization of cannabis during the 2020 presidential elections.

The constitutional amendment introduced today, November 18, 2019, by Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Senator Nicholas Scutari would legalize the use of recreational marijuana for anyone at least 21 years of age, and establish a Cannabis Regulatory Commission to oversee the new market.

The amendment does NOT detail the taxation rate, which was $42 an ounce in the original bill. It is also not clear if the commission will have 5 members, like the original bill.

According to NJBiz., Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leadership long-resisted pursuing legalization via a ballot question because any, inevitable, changes to the program would have to go before voters in yet another ballot referendum.

“We made further attempts to generate additional support in the Senate to get this done legislatively, but we recognize that the votes just aren’t there,” reads the joint statement from Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Scutari, D-21st District.

To appear on the 2020 ballot as a constitutional amendment, both houses would need to pass the measure by a super-majority by the summer, or they would need to pass it 2x in both houses by a simple majority for 2 years in a row.

Just hours earlier, several progressive and social justice groups made a plea to legislative leadership to push through a legalization bill, pointing to a growing increase in low-level cannabis offenses which have disproportionately affected people of color.

USDA Issues Regulatory Framework for Hemp Production Under 2018 Farm Bill

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

The long awaited regulations establishing a regulatory framework under the 2018 Farm Bill passed last December were issued today (10/29/19).  An Interim Final Rule will be published in the Federal Register later this week, which will make the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program effective.   As explained in the Interim Final Rule: “The program includes provisions for maintaining information on the land where hemp is produced, testing the levels of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, disposing of plants not meeting necessary requirements, licensing requirements, and ensuring compliance with the requirements of the new part.”  USDA has published the Interim Final Rule and Guidelines for Sampling and Guidelines for Testing pursuant to the Interim Final Rule on its website.

Among other key provisions, the new regulatory framework provides for USDA’s approval of State and Tribal Land hemp programs established under the 2018 Farm Bill, which will end debate as to whether hemp activities in a State or Tribal Land receiving such approval are federally lawful.  To be approved, those plans will have to contain stringent requirements for testing the THC content of hemp to ensure it does not meet the definition of marijuana, and contain procedures for the enforcement of violations of the State or Tribe’s hemp program.  Importantly, the regulatory framework provides for USDA’s granting of hemp production permits in states and territories that do not establish hemp programs for approval by USDA.

Duane Morris attorneys will be publishing a more fulsome review of the Interim Final Rule.  Please visit our Alerts and Updates webpage, or our cannabis industry webpage for that information.

 

Oregon Court Stays Ban of Flavored E-Vaping Products

On September 26, 2019, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) issued a public health warning to Oregon citizens “urging people to immediately stop using all vaping products.”  Shortly thereafter, on October 3, 2019, Gov. Kate Brown issued Executive Order 19-09.  EO 19-09 directed the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to adopt emergency rules banning the sale of all flavored vaping products for 180 days.

In response, on October 11, 2019, the OHA and OLCC issued temporary rules that banned all flavored vaping product sales in the state.  In a statement announcing the emergency rules, the agencies explained that “[t]he ban covers all tobacco and cannabis (marijuana and hemp) vaping products that contain natural or artificial flavors . . . [t]obacco-flavored tobacco or nicotine products, as well as marijuana-flavored marijuana or THC products that use only marijuana-derived flavorings, including terpenes, are not included in the ban.”  The ban was set to take effect on October 15, 2019, and last for six months.

However, a group of vaping-related businesses filed suit in Oregon state court, seeking judicial review of the emergency rule.  On October 17, 2019, the Oregon Court of Appeals issued an Order that temporarily stayed the enforcement of these rules, pending the court’s ultimate decision on the matter.  Vapor Technology Association, et al. v. Oregon Health Authority, No. A172417 (Or. Ct. App., Oct. 17, 2019).

This stay comes just days after a Michigan court issued a preliminary injunction to prohibit a similar emergency ban from taking effect.  Over the past several weeks states throughout the country, including Rhode Island, Washington, and Montana have issued similar bans on flavored vaping products. New York’s contemplated ban on menthol-flavored nicotine vaping products was put on hold following a temporary stay on the ban issued by a court. These recent court decisions staying and enjoining such bans indicate that additional challenges may be forthcoming in those jurisdictions and any others that institute similar bans.

FDA Warns Florida Company: CBD Oil is Not a Dietary Supplement

Despite recent bipartisan calls on the FDA to regulate hemp-derived CBD products, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration appears to be adhering to the status quo, at least with respect to issuing warning letters to companies deemed noncompliant with existing regulations. Case in point: on September 18, 2019, the FDA issued a warning letter (posted to the FDA’s website last week) to Alternative Laboratories, a dietary supplement manufacturer based in Naples, Florida.

According to the letter, the FDA conducted an inspection of Alternative’s dietary supplement manufacturing facility over five days in May and June; the inspection focused on the adequacy of labels for certain products manufactured and distributed by the company.

The letter focuses on Alternative’s allegedly impermissible representation of 2-amino-5 methylheptane and Octodrine (DMHA) as a dietary ingredient in certain products. It also calls attention to the fact that Alternative’s product label for CBD oil distributed under the “Green Roads” brand name runs afoul of the Food, Drug & Cosmetic (FD&C) Act in that the product “cannot be a dietary supplement because … [the] FDA has concluded based on available evidence that CBD products are excluded from the dietary supplement definition under” the FD&C Act.

To support its contention that CBD products cannot be dietary supplements as defined by federal law, the FDA notes in its warning letter to Alternative that “CBD is the active ingredient in the approved drug product Epidiolex,” designed to treat certain rare, severe forms of epilepsy. Further, the FDA stresses that significant clinical research investigations concerning the use of CBD have been made public, including investigations related to Epidiolex and Sativex, a drug for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis (MS) that has been approved for use in 25 countries (outside the U.S.) and for which the drug manufacturer,  GW Pharmaceuticals, plans to seek FDA approval.

The fact that warning letters keep coming–from both the FDA and the FTC–signifies that although there may be a groundswell of public demand for regulatory reform and clarity on the issue of CBD products, the federal regulatory agencies appear to be staying the course. As such, companies operating in the space should remain vigilant and adhere to a compliance policy that reflects–for now–the reality of current regulations and restrictions.

Duane Morris Named One of America’s Top Trusted Corporate Law Firms

Duane Morris has been named one of America’s Top Trusted Corporate Law Firms by Forbes.

The publication writes:

More than 13 million attorneys practice at more than 400,000 law firms in the U.S., according to the American Bar Association, and those firms are becoming increasingly specialized. … Many firms have been expanding into new areas of law necessitated by the emergence of technologies such as blockchain and of state laws legalizing cannabis use. …

[Duane Morris] has a growing and strong focus on the legal cannabis industry, partnering with the American Trade Association of Cannabis and Hemp and representing cannabis companies in one of the first public cannabis industry mergers, a $640 million deal.

For more information, visit the Forbes website.

Duane Morris Partner Jennifer Briggs Fisher Quoted in CNBC Article, “Underbanked Cannabis Industry Struggles to Finance Double-digit Growth, Leaving Business Owners Empty-handed”

Harmony Dispensary, a medical marijuana cultivator and dispensary in Secaucus, New Jersey, has a Zen-looking shopfront with light green walls, clean glass shelves showcasing various offerings, and a line of modern-looking cannabis-related products — a pipe, herb grinder and stash jar — all emblazoned with the Harmony logo.

Since its opening in 2018, the dispensary has serviced thousands of customers, but it has struggled to hold on to a bank account. “We approached six institutions to support our banking needs and were eventually dumped from all three that agreed to work with us,” Shaya Brodchandel, chief executive of Harmony Dispensary, said. In each case, Harmony received no warning from the banks, just a check in the mail, forcing them to scramble for solutions to pay suppliers, bills, staff and conduct general business.

[…]

“Cannabis is already a risky environment, and you face additional risk when engaging in new solutions that are brought into the market and not necessarily backed by solid financial institutions,” said Jennifer Briggs Fisher, partner at Duane Morris in San Francisco, who leads the firm’s cannabis industry group.

[…]

To read the full article, visit the CNBC website.