On 1-9-19, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced H.R. 420, the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.” Blumenauer, the co-sponsor of the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment, better known as the on-going appropriations provision that prohibits the Justice Department from spending federal funds to enforce federal law that is in conflict with state medical cannabis laws.
Proposed Bill 420 is a total overhaul of the federal government’s treatment of marijuana. Among other things, the bill:
1. Decriminalizes marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act;
2. Amends the Federal Alcohol Administration Act to enable the Secretary of the Treasury to issue permits to those who want to to manufacture, distribute, or sell marijuana;
3. Transfers jurisdiction from the DEA to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives;
4. Prohibits widespread advertising for marijuana; and
5. Grants to the FDA the same authority for marijuana as it has for alcohol.
Rep. Blumenauer noted: “Congress cannot continue to be out of touch with a movement that a growing majority of Americans support. It’s time to end this senseless prohibition.” In this vein, per a Pew Research Center study released last fall, nearly 66% of Americans support legalization at the federal level.
The new co-chairs of the 2019 bipartisan Congressional Cannabis Conference are Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Don Young (R-AK).
On Tuesday, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo released draft adult use cannabis legislation. Called the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, it is just a few hundred pages long. The bill would set up a new “Office of Cannabis Management” (OCM) to oversee regulation. The office would operate under the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, taking control from the Department of Health, where it currently sits for the existing NY medical cannabis program.
The OCM’s Executive Director would get to decide how many licenses for growing, processing and selling cannabis it will grant. It would also decide the “standards of cultivation and processing” of cannabis and be permitted to conduct inspections and exact civil penalties on rule breakers. In a nod to those historically disadvantaged by the war on drugs, the OCM would be authorized to offer low or zero interest loans to “qualified social equity applicants.” The OCM would also take into account whether a license applicant is minority or woman-owned or owned by a service-disabled veteran or a disadvantaged farmer, and must implement a plan to “actively promote racial, ethnic, and gender diversity when issuing licenses.” Businesses would be prohibited from taking “adverse employment action” against an employee just for conduct which the bill permits unless their job performance is impaired. Three different taxes would be imposed on cultivation and sale, including a 22% combined state and county tax on a sale from a wholesaler to a retailer. The state estimates this could yield as much as $300 million in annual tax revenues. Taxes would be used for traffic safety, small business and substance abuse services.
Medical cannabis availability would be expanded to include, among other things, autism, and the OCM can add to the list in their discretion. Hospitals would be able to dispense medical cannabis. The current “registered organization” model for medical cannabis companies would continue, with the bill requiring at least 10 such ROs (there currently are 10 licensees). Non-NY licensed medical cannabis operators could receive licenses here without going through the rigorous application process if the OCM is satisfied with the regulations in the state of the original license. In fact the proposal requires giving a preference to these companies that are licensed elsewhere. This would likely favor the larger multi-state operators. Medical patients would be permitted to grow up to four plants at home.
Current ROs would be permitted to apply for adult use licenses, and the OCM would be able to conduct an auction of those licenses among the current ROs, with money used to make those low or no interest loans. Qualifying for medical cannabis would be deemed a disability under NY law. Retail pricing of medical cannabis would be approved by the OCM. CBD growers and extractors would also be able to obtain licenses, but food from hemp and hemp that is not intended for consumption generally would be subject to normal agriculture laws. Cannabis testing labs, cannabis brokers, truckers, delivery services, CBD retailers, caterers serving cannabis and warehouses also would be licensed by the OCM.
Regarding adult use, companies would not be required to be “vertically integrated” – a business can be growing, processing, distributing, selling or transporting cannabis or operating an “on-site consumption” location, which would be permitted. Cultivators would only be permitted one license each. Processors would be able to receive up to three licenses. Growers, processors and distributors (other than existing ROs) would not be permitted to own an adult use dispensary, and no one would be allowed more than three adult use dispensaries. Public smoking and outdoor growing of cannabis would not be permitted, but growing in greenhouses would be. Adult use would be permitted for those aged 21 and older.
Municipalities where adult use dispensaries would be located would have the right to express their opinion on the matter, which the OCM can take into account. Larger counties and cities would have the right to opt out of adult use cannabis. One controversial provision requires companies with more than 25 employees to sign union agreements. Advertising would be permitted but regulated. No importing or exporting of cannabis would be permitted unless federal law changes. Licenses would not be transferable. There’s an interesting provision prohibiting state law enforcement agencies from cooperating with the Federal Government in enforcing the Controlled Substances Act against people complying with the proposed law. Licensees’ principal officers and directors do not have to be NY residents, but must be US citizens or permanent residents.
Remember this is just a proposed bill. It still has to go through the NYS legislature, though both of those houses are currently controlled by Cuomo’s Democrats. The Governor has stated he would like to pass legislation by mid-April.
Cannabis patent proceedings are no longer something reserved for a hypothetical future when cannabis becomes legal at the federal level. On January 3, 2019, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board at the United States Patent Office (USPTO) issued its decision in the Inter Partes review, Insys Development Company, Inc. v. GW Pharma Limited and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., (IPR 2017-00503). This is the first time that a patent covering a cannabis-related technology has been the subject of an inter partes proceeding at the USPTO. Even though cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance under U.S. federal law, the USPTO, a federal agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, routinely grants patents covering cannabis-related technologies. Because enforcement of patent rights is governed by federal law, the Schedule I status of cannabis has cast uncertainty over whether cannabis patent rights can actually be challenged or enforced. The recent PTAB proceeding shows that they can be challenged.
A long standing legal prohibition on federal enforcement against state legal medical cannabis operators expired on December 21, 2018 when the U.S. Government partially shut down. The amendment had been renewed and extended multiple times through that date.
First adopted in 2014, the amendment to annual appropriations bills known as the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment is expected to be reimplemented when the Government is reopened and the current budget stalemate resolved. In the meantime, however, technically, federal enforcement against state legal medical cannabis companies is possible. That said, most of the government agencies who could pursue such enforcement remain unfunded and shut down.
Most commentators also do not expect to see any change in federal enforcement activity as public sentiment, Congressional activity and state legalization efforts are all moving in the direction of ultimately eliminating prohibition on the medical and adult use of cannabis.
On December 27, 2018, the Northern District of California dismissed a civil RICO claim brought against the owners and operators of a Sonoma County cannabis growing operation and the operation’s landlord. See Bokaie v. Green Earth Coffee LLC, 3:18-cv-05244-JST, 2018 WL 6813212 (N.D. Calif. Dec. 27, 2018). The lawsuit was filed by neighbors who alleged that the operation’s “skunk-like stench” interfered with the enjoyment of their property and drove down their property values. The Bokaie court found that such alleged harms did not constitute a “RICO injury,” and thus dismissed plaintiffs’ claim (albeit without prejudice, allowing 30 days to amend).
The Bokaie case is part of a growing trend of RICO lawsuits filed in legalized states—to date, roughly a dozen have been filed in California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Oregon—that seek to exploit the tension between state law and the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). RICO defines “racketeering activity” to include CSA violations, and a civil lawsuit can proceed upon allegations that an enterprise’s pattern of racketeering activity caused damage to the plaintiffs’ business or property. 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961(1), 1962(c), 1964(c). RICO’s civil remedy provision awards prevailing plaintiffs triple damages and attorneys’ fees, id. § 1964(c), thus giving “not in my backyard” plaintiffs and their attorneys a powerful tool against their neighbors. By alleging that the smell of cannabis interferes with the enjoyment of their property and drives down their property value, plaintiffs in these cases are effectively elevating common law nuisance claims into federal RICO lawsuits.
With the rapid spread of marijuana legalization in the US, lawyers are discovering that the tangled web of regulations guiding the rapidly growing industry is a boon for business. …
There are several key reasons lawyers are attracted to the marijuana industry. For one, as cannabis companies grow, merge, and start getting the attention of Fortune 500 corporations as acquisition targets, they need more sophisticated advice on financing, tax planning, corporate structure, and M&A. …
That’s an opportunity to a select group of lawyers who have cut a trailblazing path into the industry. Once reluctant, some of the biggest law firms, like Duane Morris, Baker Botts and Dentons, are building out specialized cannabis practice groups as the industry continues to grow in profitability and complexity. …
Business Insider has pulled together a list of the top lawyers who’ve worked on the largest deals in the past year in the growing marijuana industry.
Location: Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco
Duane Morris has staked out big territory: It’s one of the few AmLaw 100 firms marketing its cannabis practice group, said Neeraj Kumar, an associate at the firm who works on cannabis issues.
“This is a very good opportunity for our firm,” said Seth Goldberg, the chair of the firm’s practice in Philadelphia. Cannabis is one of the “few emerging markets that has multibillion-dollar potential.”
Goldberg, a seasoned trial lawyer with decades of experience, said he spearheaded the firm’s involvement in the industry in 2014 after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational pot shops.
And for Kumar, the opportunity to become an expert in a field where there’s “a new development every week” was something he couldn’t turn down.
Duane Morris represented iAnthus, a US cannabis company, in its $640 million merger with MPX Bioceutical, also the first public-to-public transaction in the US cannabis industry. Further, the firm has advised investors on real-estate acquisitions.
Update: The Senate passed this bill on December 11, 2018; the House of Representatives passed it on December 12, 2018. It was signed into law on December 20, 2018.
Duane Morris will be following further developments and issuing updates.
The 2018 Farm Bill removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act;
The 2018 Farm Bill confers on the Department of Agriculture (“DOA”) authority over hemp, including CBD derived from hemp;
States desiring to have primary regulatory authority over hemp must submit a plan to DOA pursuant to which the state will establish hemp regulations to provide for the growth and use of hemp, including CBD derived from hemp;
No laws will be erected to prohibit the interstate transportation of hemp, or CBD derived from hemp;
The Food and Drug Administration may intensify its involvement with CBD as more products for human consumption hit the market;
Banking and insurance for hemp derived CBD products should become increasingly available as those products are no longer “unlawful”; and
CBD derived from unlawful marijuana is still unlawful.
Enter the 2018 Farm Bill, known as the “Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018,” set forth in final form in a Conference Report yesterday, and which will be voted on as early as this week and could be signed into law next week. The 2018 Farm Bill defines hemp as follows: The term ‘hemp’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. It goes on to explicitly remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, as follows:
SEC. 12619. CONFORMING CHANGES TO CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES ACT. (a) IN GENERAL.—Section 102(16) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802(16)) is amended— (1) by striking ‘‘(16) The’’ and inserting ‘‘(16)(A) Subject to subparagraph (B), the’’; and (2) by striking ‘‘Such term does not include the’’ and inserting the following: ‘‘(B) The term ‘marihuana’ does not include— ‘‘(i) hemp, as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946; or ‘‘(ii) the’’. (b) TETRAHYDROCANNABINOL.—Schedule I, as set forth in section 202(c) of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 812(c)), is amended in subsection (c)(17) by inserting after ‘‘Tetrahydrocannabinols’’ the following: ‘‘, except for tetrahydrocannabinols in hemp (as defined under section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946)’’.
The 2018 Farm Bill confers on the DOA the regulation of hemp, and contemplates federal regulations that would allow for states to become the “primary regulator” of hemp. Importantly, the 2018 Farm Bill explicitly provides for the interstate transportation of hemp and prohibits states from restricting the interstate transportation of hemp, stating “nothing in this title or an amendment made by this title prohibits the interstate commerce of hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (as added by section 10113)) or hemp products…No State or Indian Tribe shall prohibit the transportation or shipment of hemp or hemp products produced in accordance with subtitle G of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (as added by section 10113) through the State or the territory of the Indian Tribe, as applicable.”
Significantly, the 2018 Farm Bill does not remove CBD derived from THC-containing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. Consequently, the DEA’s pronouncement as described above is still in effect, CBD derived from unlawful marijuana is still unlawful. However, there is now clarity. CBD derived from “hemp,” as defined in the 2018 Farm Bill, and grown pursuant to state regulations established pursuant to the 2018 Farm Bill, is lawful and may not be the subject of federal prosecution.
Banking: It should be underscored that banks and other financial institutions, such as investment firms and insurance companies, that have been cautious or reluctant about CBD products because of their connection to unlawful marijuana may view the 2018 Farm Bill as a green light for banking, investing and insuring hemp derived CBD products as hemp and CBD derived from hemp are no longer “unlawful.”
Most importantly, the 2018 Farm Bill does not eliminate the regulation of hemp or CBD derived from hemp. Rather, it envisions the promulgation of additional federal regulations and state regulations intended to promote its growth and use, and federal agencies like the FDA may increase their involvement with CBD. Those interested in participating in the hemp and hemp derived CBD markets should retain counsel well-versed in the pertinent state and federal regulations to provide guidance that will allow for the achievement of business objectives.
These investments demonstrate the strengthening gravitational pull of the cannabis space on non-cannabis companies. The significant involvement of major companies like Altria and Constellation likely comes as no surprise to those following the burgeoning cannabis space, and should have their competitors considering similar moves. There are innumerable legal hurdles to clear in entering the space, but there are few markets today that offer new ground to plow.
On October 31, 2018, the Supreme Court of Justice of Mexico (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación) ruled in favor of two constitutional challenges (amparos) against the prohibition of the recreational consumption of marijuana. This now marks the fifth ruling on this subject and establishes jurisprudence. As a result, this precedent will now have to be followed by Mexican courts.
Although the consumption of marijuana remains illegal, the rulings under amparos 547/2018 and 548/2018 have effectively made laws prohibiting recreational use of marijuana unenforceable by Mexican courts.
The decision is based on the protection of the constitutional right to personal development. This right, held the court, permits adults to freely decide what recreational activities they wish to undertake and extends to protect any action that is necessary for the exercise of said freedom, without interference by the state. While the court recognized that there are necessary limits to this freedom, it nonetheless held that the effect of consumption of marijuana did not rise to the level of a justifiable interference with a constitutional right. Furthermore, this right does not extend to the commercialization of the drug, nor to the right to consume any other type of drug. …
The Controlled Substances Act defines “marijuana” as: all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin. Such term does not include the mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of such plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the sterilized seed of such plant which is incapable of germination.
Just like THC-containing products that are lawful under a state’s marijuana laws, CBD that may be lawful under a state’s marijuana laws, is still federally unlawful if sourced from the parts of the plant included in the definition of marijuana.