Could the NY conditional adult use retail dispensary program (CAURD) be in jeopardy?

A Maine law requiring all owners of medical marijuana businesses to be residents of the state was recently struck down by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which ruled that the statute is a violation of the “Dormant Commerce Clause” of the United States Constitution, which prohibits states from passing legislation that restricts interstate trade. In its opinion (Northeast Patients Group et al. v. United Cannabis Patients and Caregivers of Maine, the Appellate Court upheld a lower court ruling that the residency requirement is an unconstitutional restriction on interstate trade.
Under the Maine’s medical marijuana program, all directors or officers of a licensed medical cannabis dispensary are required to be residents of the state. Interestingly, Maine had already dropped its residency requirement for its adult-use market following an earlier legal challenge that was also based on the Dormant Commerce Clause but it sought to keep it in place for its medical cannabis program.
This could be a problem for NY’s new adult use cannabis program, as of the requirements is that the potential licensees must have been arrested (or are related to someone who was arrested) for a marijuana related crime in New York and must also have been a New York resident at the time of the arrest. This could like be deemed a residency requirement and thus lead to challenges not only to any individual licenses grants but the entire CAURD program.
Equally or possibly even more problematic is the fact that this ruling could also open the door to legal challenges to a variety of other State laws banning the exporting or importing of cannabis from other states, as the same rationale invalidating the residency requirements could come, as disallowing cannabis exports and imports between states could be construed as similarly placing unreasonable restrictions on interstate commerce.

 

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.

Bipartisan Subcommittee Promotes Inclusion of Hemp Regulations in 2023 Farm Bill

On July 28, the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research held a hearing to discuss ways in which the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill could improve the regulatory landscape for hemp and CBD producers.  Congress passes a Farm Bill every five years – the 2014 Farm Bill lifted federal restrictions on the cultivation and production of hemp, and the 2018 Farm Bill authorized commercial production of hemp, subject to oversight by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  However, as discussed at length during the July 28 hearing, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved CBD as a food or beverage additive or as a dietary supplement – though it has approved one CBD-derived prescription drug for treating seizures.  Despite a surge in hemp cultivation and production following the 2018 Farm Bill and a large market for CBD-based products, demand for hemp has not kept pace with production, as many companies are reluctant to enter the CBD market without clear regulatory guidance from the FDA.

Participants in the July 28 hearing discussed ways to address this regulatory uncertainty and other barriers to entry into the hemp and CBD marketplace.  Both the House and Senate have introduced bills to permit the sale and marketing of CBD as a food additive and dietary supplement.  Another bill introduced in February, the Hemp Advancement Act, was a key focus of the hearing.  This bill includes among its key provisions increasing the THC threshold for hemp from .3% to 1%; eliminating the federal requirement that hemp sold in the U.S. be tested for potency by labs registered with the FDA, which do not exist in all states; and eliminating a ten-year waiting period for people with drug-related felony convictions seeking hemp production licenses.  Other proposed inclusions in the 2023 Farm Bill discussed at the hearing are measures to lower fees for hemp sampling/testing and removing background check requirements for production licenses.  Rural areas – where many hemp producers seek to operate – often lack facilities that process fingerprints, posing another barrier to market entry.

The Subcommittee hearing was led by a bipartisan collection of representatives, mainly from hemp-producing states, who share the goals of achieving greater regulatory certainty and market stability for the growing hemp industry.  The proposals discussed could support rural agricultural economies and facilitate greater equity within the industry, and many lawmakers and market participants see the 2023 Farm Bill as a necessary next step in the development of the fast-growing hemp industry.

Long-Awaited Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in the U.S. Senate

More than a year after introducing a first draft, U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) finally introduced their proposed marijuana legislation, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) on Thursday, July 21.

The CAOA is a comprehensive bill that 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. The CAOA also provides for cannabis industry workers’ rights, a federal responsibility to set an impaired driving standard, expungements of criminal records and penalties for possessing or distributing large quantities of marijuana without a federal permit. It would also create a new federal definition for hemp that would increase the permissible THC by dry weight to 0.7 percent from the current 0.3 percent, and the definition would include all THC isomers, not just delta-9 THC. Other features of the bill include grant programs for small business owners hoping to enter the industry who come from communities that were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, increased funding for law enforcement for illegal cultivation, and cannabis marketing restrictions.

Under the proposal, the Drug Enforcement Administration would no longer have jurisdiction over cannabis and would be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) within the Treasury Department. The bill proposes a 5% to 12.5% excise tax for small and mid-sized cannabis producers. It would charge an initial tax of 10% on larger cannabis businesses and gradually increase it to 25%.

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism chaired by Booker scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, July 26 titled, “Decriminalizing Cannabis at the Federal Level: Necessary Steps to Address Past Harms.”

While the bill is unlikely to garner the required 60 votes to pass in the Senate, many see it as a first step toward opening the cannabis debate on Capitol Hill and passing incremental reform that could finally end the federal prohibition on cannabis.

As we have previously reported, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation multiple times in the past few years that would decriminalize cannabis and allow cannabis businesses to access the federal banking system. However, none of those measures have yet made it to the Senate floor.

 

Cannabis-Related Reimbursement Claims Hit Healthcare Insurers

Healthcare insurers are used to dealing with claims for reimbursement by hospitals, providers, and patients. Medical marijuana treatment provides another vehicle for such claims.

New Mexico passed the Behavioral Health Services Equity Act (BHSEA) last April, effective January of 2022, which mandates that health insurance must cover in full the cost of services or medication used to treat behavioral health services. In February, New Mexico Top Organics – Ultra Health sent a letter to several insurers and the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance seeking affirmation that the insurers will provide coverage as prescribed by the act for the 74,000+ patients currently enrolled in the medical marijuana program as a result of PTSD. The request was denied. Now, several New Mexico health insurance companies are defending against a class action lawsuit filed by New Mexico Top Organics – Ultra Health, and six medical marijuana patients, seeking “recovery for themselves, and for every other similarly situated behavioral or mental health patient unlawfully subjected to paying for the entire cost of medically necessary cannabis in violation of state law” for failing to pay for the cost of medical marijuana as provided under the act.

Other legislatures are discussing similar laws that provide for insurance coverage of medical marijuana programs. For example, New York has pending legislation that if passed, would define medical marijuana as a “prescription drug,” “covered drug,” or “health care service” that would qualify for coverage under public programs. The United States Supreme Court recently denied certiorari for a pair of cases concerning workers’ compensation for medical marijuana, an issue that has not been decided uniformly amongst the states. For example, Minnesota and Maine have determined that the Federal Controlled Substance Act preempts the state law requiring reimbursement for medical marijuana due to a work-related injury, while New Hampshire and New Jersey have ruled in favor of reimbursement regardless of federal preemption.

The passage of New Mexico’s Act mandating behavioral health coverage in full and subsequent lawsuit brings a new wrinkle into cannabis litigation, with broad implications across the healthcare industry. Indeed, early clinical reports and case studies have shown positive results from the use of medical marijuana to treat PTSD, a disorder that effects an estimated 12 million Americans, and with medical marijuana available in 37 states, the class action lawsuit seeking reimbursement under the BHSEA may serve as a preview of a type of cannabis-related litigation that may be brought against healthcare insurers.

New York State Cannabis Advisory Board’s Inaugural Meeting

On June 30, 2022, the New York State Cannabis Advisory Board (the “Advisory Board”) held its inaugural meeting. Axel Bernabe, the Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Officer at the New York State Office of Cannabis Management, provided some opening remarks noting that the Advisory Board has been in the making for nearly four (4) years. The Advisory Board is comprised of twenty members from the entire State of New York. Advisory Board members were each introduced and include a wide variety of background and experience, including careers such as farmers, public servants, doctors, attorneys and community leaders.

One of the primary purposes of the Advisory Board is to oversee the disbursement of the New York State Community Grants Reinvestment Fund (“Reinvestment Fund”). The Reinvestment Fund will be comprised of thirteen (13) voting members, and also ex-officio members to represent other state agencies. All Reinvestment Fund members will serve three (3) year terms. The Reinvestment Fund is meant to stimulate and rejuvenate small businesses in communities that were negatively affected by cannabis prohibition.

The Advisory Board will also be actively involved with the Cannabis Control Board, and strives to become actively engaged with drafting regulations and advising the Cannabis Control Board’s decisions. Further, with the Advisory Board members’ wide breadth of experience and background in the cannabis industry, the Advisory Board hopes to provide a distinct opinions and insight for the regulations that the Cannabis Control Board considers.

Nearly all Advisory Board members expressed excitement about the opportunity to create an equitable and inclusive cannabis industry. Advisory Board Member, Peter Schaffer, owner at Nanticoke Gardens, expressed his excitement at bolstering New York’s cannabis industry and potential collaboration with cannabis and beverages. Further, Junella Chin, an Integrative Medical Cannabis Physician, spoke of the healing properties of cannabis and making cannabis treatment more available to patients who could benefit from such treatment. Advisory Board member, Gary Johnson is Chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People New York State Economic Development, and expressed interest in the Advisory Board’s future in imparting equity to groups that have been traditionally treated negatively by past cannabis based legislation.

Boston Beer Company Joins the Growing Cannabis Beverage Market

As interest in cannabis beverages continues to increase, Boston Beer Company (the maker of Sam Adams) recently announced plans to introduce a line of non-alcoholic, THC-infused teas, joining a number of other beverage companies in this growing market. The new product line, called TeaPot, will not be available in the United States – yet. Boston Beer is beginning its launch of TeaPot in Canada, in July, and plans to expand into the US and globally as the regulatory landscape develops. Boston Beer’s entrance into the cannabis beverage space is tailored strategically, through its creation of a subsidiary to operate in partnership with entities based in Canada that will provide the cannabis for TeaPot and manufacture and distribute the product. This approach leads to a more nimble operation than would Boston Beer’s attempting to control the entire supply chain. Continue reading “Boston Beer Company Joins the Growing Cannabis Beverage Market”

U.S. Mayors Call on Congress to Pass Cannabis Reform

This week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors – which represents the 1,400 U.S. cities with populations of 30,000 or more – passed a resolution urging Congress to pass the SAFE Banking Act of 2021, the MORE Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which has yet to be formally introduced.

The House of Representatives has passed both the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act and the MORE Act at least six times in recent years but the Senate has yet to take these bills to a vote. Per the resolution, the SAFE Banking Act would “provide financial security for cannabis dispensaries and related companies and enhance public safety” while the MORE Act and/or the CAOA would “legaliz[e] the medicinal use of cannabis and the adult use of recreational cannabis.” Continue reading “U.S. Mayors Call on Congress to Pass Cannabis Reform”

Cannabis Product Safety Is Paramount

Last week, my colleague Seth Goldberg and I published a client alert highlighting a series of cases filed in Oregon federal court against Curaleaf for allegedly mislabeling THC products as containing only CBD, which allegedly caused consumers of those products to experience and unwanted “high” resulting from ingestion of the products. A consumer class action lawsuit seeking $200 for each consumer who purchased the products was filed by the same Plaintiffs’ counsel. This class action lawsuit further highlights the fact that cannabis manufacturers need to ensure that proper SOPS, protocols, and measures of compliance are in place to ensure the safety of their products, and it demonstrates the types of claims that can be asserted when cannabis product safety issues, such as labeling discrepancies, arise. Class action claims, given the number of potential class members who may potentially recover, raise the stakes of litigation resulting from product safety issues. In addition, there also may be regulatory action taken and statutory fines imposed.

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”

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

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