House Passes Bill To Legalize Marijuana at the Federal Level

Deanna Lucci

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Today, the House of Representatives passed the groundbreaking MORE Act – legalizing marijuana at the federal level.  The bill passed by a vote of 228 to 164. 

As we previously discussed in our November 10th and September 4th blog posts, the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) legalizes marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates some cannabis criminal records.

While the bill represents a first step toward legalizing cannabis, states would need to adopt similar measures to fully decriminalize its use – currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized (or recently voted to legalize) cannabis for adult recreational use, and 35 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.

While Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), the Vice President-Elect, introduced a counterpart bill (S.2227) in the U.S. Senate, its passage in the chamber is unlikely this Congress as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to endorse the bill.

While this legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate this Congress, proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed 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.  And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5, 2021.  If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate, with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances.  While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes – he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states.  Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe this symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration that this is a Democratic priority.

Even though federal legalization may not be on the immediate horizon, the passage of the MORE Act in the House, and the legalization of adult-use and/or medical marijuana in five more states on November 3, 2020, could influence a Biden-appointed attorney general’s views on enforcement of marijuana related activities. While AG Sessions attempted to reverse the liberal Obama administration marijuana policies set forth in the Cole Memorandum, and AG Barr has reluctantly acknowledged that the Cole priorities have been relied on and should thus be followed, an AG appointed by Biden, given the current pro-legalization wave, Biden’s favoring of state’s rights on this issue, and Kamala Harris’s favoring of decriminalization, might endorse an approach consistent with, if not even more liberal than, the Cole priorities.   Thus, while the appointment of AG Sessions sent shockwaves through the cannabis industry, market participants and those who have been standing on the sidelines eager to get on the field seem to have a lot to look forward to.

 

 

 

Update: House to Vote on Historic MORE Act in December

As an update to our September 4th blog post, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the historic MORE Act on September 21.  However, days before that vote House Democrats postponed the vote indefinitely.  It was reported that moderate Democrats expressed concern about voting on the MORE Act before voting on a second Coronavirus relief package.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the bill’s sponsor, suggested the vote could be delayed until after the November elections. However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in an emailed statement that Democratic leaders were “committed” to scheduling a vote on the bill before the end of the year.

On Monday, November 9, Hoyer wrote in a letter to colleagues that the House would vote on the MORE Act in December.  Hoyer’s letter did not specify which week the vote will take place, but the House is scheduled to be in session Dec. 1-4 and Dec. 7-10.

As discussed previously on this blog, if enacted The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) would legalize marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate some cannabis criminal records.  As Hoyer wrote in his letter this week, the MORE would “decriminalize cannabis and expunge convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses that have prevented many Americans from getting jobs, applying for credit and loans, and accessing opportunities that make it possible to get ahead in our economy.”

While it is unlikely that this legislation would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate – ensuring it will die this Congress – proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed 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. And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections set to take place on January 5, 2021.  If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate.

However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances.  While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes, he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states.  Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe even a symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration.

 

 

 

 

 

State-Legal Marijuana a Clear Winner in 2020 Voting

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Voters in the five states where the legalization of marijuana was on the ballot voted in favor.

In the populous states of New Jersey and Arizona, voters legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults over the age of 21. Given New Jersey’s proximity to New York and Pennsylvania, where medical marijuana programs have been popular, legalization in New Jersey could have a domino effect in the northeast, especially considering the tax revenue that will be gained by New Jersey from New York and Pennsylvania residents who travel there every day for work, the Jersey shore and casinos, and other reasons.

Voters in South Dakota and Montana also voted to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, South Dakota voters also approved medical marijuana, and voters in Mississippi voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes to treat 22 qualifying health conditions.

Seth Goldberg is a Team Lead of the Cannabis Industry Practice at Duane Morris

Is this a Trend? A Third Court Stays Class Action Given FDA’s Primary Jurisdiction Over CBD

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California stayed the matter styled Glass v. Global Widget d/b/a Hemp Bombs, a consumer class action alleging that Hemp Bombs, which manufactures CBD-infused edibles, tinctures and capsules, falsely advertised the amount of CBD in its gummies, and thereby sold products that were misbranded and adulterated under the Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act (FDCA), on the basis that the regulation of CBD is withing the primary jurisdiction of the FDA, which is in the process of developing regulations and guidance over CBD. We have previously written about two other consumer class actions arising out of similar clams of misbranded CBD products that have also been stayed recently under the “primary jurisdiction” doctrine.

Three decisions staying CBD class actions in two months may signal a trend, especially considering that the Courts in these cases refer to the other’s decisions. Such a trend may keep the plaintiffs’ bar at bay, as it would cast doubt on the viability of consumer class actions asserting CBD violations, or at least it could make the cases less appealing to the plaintiffs’ bar because a stay makes the timing of a settlement or resolution even more uncertain.  

Commercial Litigation in the Cannabis Space: Resolving Disputes Like Every Other Industry Does

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

As a commercial litigator who has handled a broad range of claims in highly regulated industries over the past 20 years — particularly in complex matters such as class actions involving claims brought by consumers and shareholders — and given my experience spearheading the development of Duane Morris’ cannabis industry group, which has included providing regulatory and business advice to a number of businesses and individuals with cannabis-related interests, I have been expecting the maturing cannabis industry to eventually mirror other industries when it comes to using commercial litigation to resolve disputes between businesses and to address claims of injury allegedly experienced by aggreived consumers and shareholders. It appears the time has come. Now, as opposed to even just a few months ago, not a day goes by when the daily legal news outlets that report on litigation matters filed in federal and state courts around the country do not include matters pertaining to adult use marijuana, medical marijuana, and/or hemp.

Today alone, legal news outlets are reporting about a shareholder deriviative action being filed against the manufacturer of cannabinoid-containing transdermal patches, a maker of mobile hemp dryers suing a distributor for alledgedly stealing trade secrets, a publicly-traded company that owns cannabis brands being sued for breach of contract by an MSO arising out of a failed merger agreement. Claims like these are among the many product liability, stock-drop and securities fraud, tradmark infringement, FLSA, and employment litigation matters to be filed in 2020 relating to cannabis; not to mention the federal and state regulatory cannabis-related enforcement actions also commenced. Just as in other industries, COVID-19 is likely to spur litigation in the space because of strains on resources and performance caused by business disruptions and the slower economy.  To be sure, the plaintiffs’ bar has cannabis on its radar.

Thus, now more than ever, it is critically important for cannabis businesses to implement the necessary compliance measures, including making sure appropriate insurance coverage, e.g. premises, products, and D&O, has been obtained, that could protect their businesses from the cost and disruption of commercial litigation. Likewise, cannabis-specific nuances, such as the enforceability of contracts and jurisdictional questions, require careful evaluation by experienced counsel advising plaintiffs and defendants who are considering filing, or who have been brought into, a commercial litigation.

 

 

FDA’s CBD Enforcement Continues

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

On April 20, the FDA issued warning letters to two CBD companies – BIOTA Biosciences and Homero Corp., dba Natures CBD Oil Distribution – directing them to remove statements from their labeling and advertising on websites and social media claiming that CBD can cure opioid addiction among other illnesses.   I am attaching the FDA’s warning letter, as it provides very useful information to the market as to the FDA’s current views of CBD products.  As set forth in the warning letter, the FDA continues to view CBD as (1) an unsafe food additive; (2) not satisfying the definition of a “dietary supplement,” and (3) as unapproved new drugs if marketed as “intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease and/or intended to affect the structure or any function of the body.”  In the case of Homero, the CBD products were advertised with the following claims, among others:

  • “Natures Pure CBD Oil has been effective in the treatment and eradication of opiate use.”
  • “CBD Oil Inhibits the reward-facilitating effect of morphine”
  • “Vaping CBD Oil to Treat Asthma . . . Your best best [sic] to combat Asthma is by vaping CBD Oil.”
  • “Natures Pure CBD is a strong anti-oxidant that can alleviate lower epileptic seizures, psychotic disorders, and has neuroprotective qualities.”

 

Essential Yet Illegal: COVID-19 Shows Fed Cannabis Policy is Unsustainable

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Although the cannabis reform movement has made incredible strides over the past 25 years, our industry and the medicinal potential of the plant are still not recognized at the federal level. The COVID-19 pandemic is drastically altering our lives but difficult times are able to expose many truths, including the understanding that legalization and safe access to cannabis is critical, especially during a crisis.

Thankfully, many states already have come to the realization that cannabis, especially medicinal use, is not a luxury but a necessity. Although states are restricting access to public places and prohibiting gatherings, many governors have designated cannabis dispensaries as an “essential service.” […]

“Opponents of federal legalization are likely to argue the categorization was merely a natural extension of the law in states that have already legalized medical marijuana to treat certain conditions, and that the uniqueness of the COVID-19 situation limits the ‘essential’ designation to that very urgent and unprecedented fact pattern,” Seth Goldberg, attorney and partner at Duane Morris LLP told mg.

To read the full text of this article, please visit the mg website.

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.