For the first time ever, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote this month on legislation that if enacted would legalize marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate some cannabis criminal records.
The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the list of scheduled substances under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and would further eliminate criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana. While the bill represents a first step toward legalizing cannabis, states would need to adopt similar measures to fully decriminalize its use – currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use, and 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.
The bill also makes other changes, including:
Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
Makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.
The bill, which is expected to be brought to the floor for a vote and pass sometime this month, was originally introduced last year by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. and approved by the House Judiciary Committee in November. While a counterpart bill (S.2227) has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) – the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee – its passage in the chamber is unlikely as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to endorse the bill, making its chances of successfully moving through committee and to the Senate floor for a vote virtually impossible. Without action in the Senate, the bill will die this Congress. However, proponents of cannabis legalization – as well as civil rights and civil liberties organizations, and criminal justice reform advocates – are still hailing the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration.
Prospects for the successful consideration and approval of the measure by the next Congress will likely hinge on the outcome of the November election.
Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts. Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes – but wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states. If elected, Biden and Harris would likely seek to decriminalize cannabis but stop short of advocating for federal adult use legalization, allowing the individual states to decide.
Just days after the NJ Senate and Assembly close in on expansion of medical use Cannabis, the New Jersey Department of Health (“Department”) published notice of a Request of Applications (“RFA”) for an additional 108 alternative treatment center (“ATC”) permits which authorize holders to cultivate, manufacture, and/or dispense medicinal marijuana. The Public Notice is available here, while the RFA is summarized below and available in full here.
According to late night reporting from NJ Biz – Dan Munoz, who has been all over this topic, committees in both the NJ Assembly & Senate approved a measure that would legalize adult-use recreational marijuana, setting the proposals for a showdown full-floor vote in 7 days from now on March 25.
Senate Bill 2703 passed by a 6-4 vote with one abstention in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday evening while its counterpart, Assembly Bill 4497, passed by a 6-1 vote with two abstentions at the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Both measures would allow for anyone over 21 years of age to possess up to an ounce of marijuana.
The product would be taxed at $42 an ounce and the industry would be regulated by a five-person Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which will function similarly to how the Casino Control Commission operated following the legalization of gambling in the 1970s.
The approval of both measures followed hours of closed-door meetings as lawmakers hammered out last-minute changes to the legislation, including a dramatically increased expungement process for people with marijuana-related convictions.
Stay tuned for a detailed analysis as the final bill is published. – Brad
As the values of transactions in the cannabis industry grow, commercial litigation is certain to follow. One reason for this is that lawyers may be more inclined to represent clients on a contingency fee basis. Where the value of a cannabis transaction is small, the expense of litigation may not be worthwhile for an individual or business feeling cheated, and any settlement or judgment would likely not cover the costs of an attorneys’ contingency fee. However, where the value of a cannabis transaction is sufficiently high, say the upper six-figures or more, a lawyer may be more inclined to take the case for a contingency fee because the lawyer’s percentage of any recovery is likely to be greater than the costs the lawyer will incur in litigating the matter. A contingency fee arrangement may also be utilized to the advantage of a party that believes threatened or actual litigation might shift the leverage in negotiations and result in more attractive commercial terms.
A recently filed action captioned Silver v. High Street Capital et al., 2:18-cv-00020 (E.D. PA. 1/3/18), appears to result from the type of high value transaction that might warrant a contingency fee in a commercial litigation. The plaintiff, industry consultant Harris Silver alleges that, in connection with their bid to obtain a license to grow and process cannabis pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program, defendant High Street Capital and other defendants associated with High Street promised Silver a lucrative compensation package, including (a) $180,000 to prepare the license application; (b) a $150,000 cash bonus upon the granting of a license and a 4% non-dilutable equity stake in any licensee; and (c) a salaried position with the licensee. Silver claims that notwithstanding his work on the High Street application, for which a permit was granted, the High Street defendants never paid Silver the valuable consideration that was contingent on the permit being granted. Thus, based on a host of factual allegations detailing various communications he had with the High Street defendants, and other allegations detailing his efforts on their behalf, Harris asserted claims against the High Street defendants for breach of contract, common law fraud, promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, securities fraud and civil conspiracy. Continue reading Contingency Fees and Commercial Litigation Hit the Cannabis Space→
With the election of Phil Murphy as New Jersey Governor in 2017, the possibility of New Jersey becoming one of the next states to pass recreational marijuana legislation became very real, as this was among the issues key to Murphy’s campaign.
On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, less than one week after AG Sessions issued guidance to all US Attorneys rescinding Obama-era policies deprioritizing the federal prosecution of state-lawful cannabis-related activities, that possibility became more of a likelihood, as New Jersey Sen. Nicholas Scutari introduced Senate Bill 830, which would allow for the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes in New Jersey by those 21 and older.
The legislation proposes adults would be permitted to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solids, 72 ounces in liquid form, 7 grams of concentrate and up to six immature plants, and establishes a sales tax on marijuana that would rise incrementally from 7 percent to 25 percent over five years.
With New Jersey’s large population, and proximity to Manhattan and Philadelphia, the recreational cannabis market in New Jersey will likely dwarf most other states that have legalized adult-use.
Articles appearing this week in the LA Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, among other recent articles, highlight the horrors of the opioid crisis and the need for research into cannabis as a possible solution. While the federal government warns about the spiraling toll of the opioid epidemic, it refuses to grant the applications of world-renowned scientists at major universities and research centers seeking to explore the ways in which the well-documented therapeutic properties of cannabis can alleviate the pain and suffering – physical, emotional and financial – being caused by opioid abuse. There is no shortage of deep pockets willing to fund the research, and US-based scientists are ready, willing and able to get to work, yet the federal government refuses to depart from its antiquated “reefer madness” established in the early 20th Century. 2018 should be the year the federal government stops blocking cannabis research so that scientists can determine if and how cannabis can stem the opioid crisis. Fingers crossed!
As I note in the linked article, insurers only stand to gain, and in big ways, from underwriting cannabis businesses. Growers, processors, dispensaries and ancillary businesses need a full range of coverage, and are ready to obtain it! Just as in any industry, insurance is a critical component to success in the cannabis space and will hasten the growth of markets already expanding at warp-speed. There are ways for insurers to cover the medical and recreational marijuana markets notwithstanding the regulatory uncertainty. It may require some creativity, but given the financial upsides, it should be well-worth the time and effort it takes to find the optimal pathway.
Duane Morris’ Patricia Heer will be presenting at the 4th Annual Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in Boston on October 4-6, 2017.
Patricia’s presentation, “Cannabis and Social Media with Some Practical and Legal Implications,” will take place on Friday, October 6 at 11:00 a.m.
The Annual Cannabis World Congress and Business Expos are the leading forums for doing business in one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. If you’re employed in the cannabis industry, a current business owner, interested in starting a cannabis business, provide private equity and investment resources, or provide professional or business services, these events provide numerous informative presentations and networking opportunities.
Over the past few years the number of states that have legalized marijuana in some form has grown substantially to the point where, as of this writing, 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. This recent acceptance of marijuana by a significant number of states has created a brand new industry, which is estimated to generate approximately $7.0 billion in 2017 and $24.5 billion by 2025. This industry is clamoring for acceptance into a financial system that allows participants to bring the cash generated into the secure environment afforded by our banking system. This will not only provide security to the marijuana related businesses (“MRBs”), but will also permit better accounting, monitoring, and taxing of funds generated by those businesses.