New York Cannabis Control Board Meeting, July 14, 2022

On July 14, 2022 the New York Cannabis Control Board (the “Board”) met to consider a variety of topics.  Most importantly, the Board approved the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary Regulations and the online application for a retail dispensary license. 

The initial focus of the meeting was on the approval of proposed Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary Regulations.  (Generally referred to in the meeting as the “CAURD Regulations”.)  The Senior Policy Director of the New York Office of Cannabis Management noted that the CAURD Regulations were designed to provide retail dispensary licenses to applicants who met two eligibility requirements.  First, the applicant (or family member) must have had a cannabis related legal offense that occurred prior to the passage of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act on March 31, 2021.  Second, the applicant must have experience owning and operating a qualifying business.  The Board unanimously approved the CAURD Regulations.  The Senior Policy Director also provided a form of online application for a retail dispensary license.  This sample form fleshes out the CAURD Regulations.  The Board unanimously approved the sample form of application.  The Board also ordered that a new application period for adult-use retail dispensaries licenses open and close on dates established by the Office of Cannabis Management. The Board did not indicate when the actual application would be made available for filing but notice of the application window must be posted on the Office of Cannabis Management’s website no less than 14 days before the application window opens and the application window must last at least 30 days. Continue reading “New York Cannabis Control Board Meeting, July 14, 2022”

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.

Cannabis Beverages are On Fire! – Ingredients and Labeling

Here’s another installment in this blog series on Cannabis beverages, which are on fire!  As an example,  as reported in Cannabis Business Executive, just the other day, Curaleaf, a major hemp product manufacturer, announced that it signed an agreement with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits – the world’s largest distributor of beverage alcohol.  This blog entry provides a quick snapshot of cannabis beverage ingredients and labeling.

Although the most popular, THC and CBD are not the only cannabinoids the cannabis plant produces. Other cannabinoids are well-known for having potential therapeutic benefits, and cannabis consumers are also highly attuned to the different terpenes produced in cannabis that create different flavors and effects, such as bisabol, which some believe can be fruity and may provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits; linalol, which some believe can be floral and may provide sedation; and myrcene, which some believe can be fruity and may provide relaxation.  Whether and how to include different cannabinoids and terpenes in beverages is going to be important in expanding cannabis product lines.

Likewise, transparency in labeling those ingredients may be necessary to ensure consumers are enjoying cannabis beverages safely and to the greatest effect. Moreover, so that consumers can understand the experience intended with a particular beverage, “claims” about the intended effect, e.g., stimulating, euphoric, relaxing, may be necessary.

Ingredients and labeling are a hot button issue for cannabis products. Those familiar with the FDA’s discretionary enforcement of “claims” in hemp-derived CBD products know this is an area of particular interest for the FDA. State-specific regulation of ingredients in cannabis products is also getting a lot of attention right now.  For example, the Pennsylvania Office of Medical Marijuana recently instituted a state-wide “vaporization product review” purportedly to assess the safety of terpenes, like those above, in vape products.  Given that they occur naturally in cannabis, many in the industry believe terpenes should not be regulated in the same way, if at all, as other ingredients.

Lastly, on this topic, ingredients and labeling are the focal point of a growing number of products liability and consumer fraud class actions and mass actions, where plaintiffs are asserting physical or economic injuries because, they claim, ingredients did not perform as intended or were not consistent with the labeling. Cannabis beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers need to particularly mindful of the possibility of such claims, which can deplete resources.

 

Cannabis Beverages are on Fire! — THC Limits

In the second edition, and first substantive blog, in my series on Cannabis Beverages, entitled Cannabis Beverages are on Fire!, I am writing about THC limits, which is one of the hot-button issues for cannabis beverage producers and consumers.  Given its psychoactive effect, there is no denying that the amount of THC in a beverage should be measurable and limited so that consumers can safely ingest them and obtain the experience they are seeking. This means that a serving size of a beverage might have a THC limit, and so might there be a total container limit.

Cannabis beverage manufacturers are not starting from scratch in this area, however. Popular THC serving size limits in edibles and similar products include 5mg and 10mg could likely be applied to THC beverages, resulting in a total container limit based on the container size and number of servings. The current offerings of cannabis-infused drinks vary and the markets within states offer a wide variety of different THC levels. For example, Cann, a bestselling THC drink, contains 2mg THC and 4mg CBD per 12 ounce can. Cann is available in over 200 California dispensaries. Similarly, Tomato Jane drinks have 10mg THC per 12 ounce bottle. Comparatively, Matt’s High Soda offers an infused beverage called Uncle Arnie’s Iced Tea Lemonade with 100mg of THC per bottle—although each bottle is considered to be 10 servings.  As the market for cannabis beverages develops, THC limits are certain to be an issue that gets a lot of attention.  In the next installment of this series I’ll touch on cannabis beverage ingredients and labeling.

Cannabis Beverages are on Fire!

Want to know where the cannabis industry is going? How about the beverage industry? The answer is cannabis beverages! The hottest new product segment in both markets. Don’t believe me… just run an internet search for “cannabis beverages” and you’ll see cannabis-infused beverages tied to major beverage companies like Constellation Brands, such as Canopy Growth’s Quatreu water, and Molson Coors, with its Truss brand, and dozens of  smaller cannabis beverage brands, such as Forth, Kikoko, and Recess. 

A cannabis beverage generally contains either THC derived from marijuana grown pursuant to state adult-use marijuana and/or medical marijuana laws, or containing CBD derived from marijuana or derived from hemp grown pursuant to a state’s hemp laws.  Given the federal prohibition on marijuana, the federal legality of hemp, and the FDA’s current restriction of CBD in foods and beverages, the federal and state regulatory framework for producing, distributing, and consuming cannabis beverages is complex, to say the least.  In the coming weeks I will be covering in a series of short blogs some of these issues, including product labeling, THC and CBD percentages, serving size, and social consumption.

Notes from New York Cannabis Control Board Meeting, October 2021

By Michael D. Schwamm and Joy Karugu

There were several outcomes of the inaugural New York Cannabis Control Board (CCB) Meeting held on October 5, 2021. The Meeting revealed that the CCB and the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) will be increasing their staff and taking steps to extend the medical cannabis program and cannabinoid hemp licensing. Also during the Meeting, Jason Starr was announced and voted in as the Chief Equity Officer of the OCM. He will work with Executive Director Chris Alexander in building New York’s social equity program. Continue reading “Notes from New York Cannabis Control Board Meeting, October 2021”

SAFE Banking Act Reintroduced in the House with Broad Support

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

With the explicit support of the American Banking Association, and after passing in the House during the last congress, the SAFE Banking Act was reintroduced in the House on March 18, and a companion Act is expected to be introduced in the Senate next week. The proposed legislation would allow financial institutions to provide their services to cannabis – marijuana and hemp – clients without fear of federal sanctions. The proposed legislation enjoys bi-partisan support, and is in “position A” for passing in 2021.  

Given the billions of dollars of revenues, including tax dollars, generated by the industry, which are generated by cannabis companies and companies that provide services to the industry, cannabis banking is truly a public concern. The very laws that seek to create transparency as to the public fisc, such as the Bank Secrecy Act, have forced cannabis to be a cash business, which means not all of the cannabis dollars may be accounted for as in other industries, thereby undermining the objectives of those laws.  The SAFE Banking Act would resolve those concerns by allowing core and ancillary companies to utilize all of the electronic banking, checking, payroll, and accounting functionality that businesses in all other industries enjoy. There is no question the passage of this legislation would provide a game-changing boost to the cannabis space.

Bipartisan Adult-Use Bill To Be Introduced in Pennsylvania

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Senators Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) are introducing legislation that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in Pennsylvania. This is the first time a republican senator has backed such a bill. The proposed legislation will attempt to generate revenue for the commonwealth and to promote social equity by way of increasing the number of licenses to operate, imposing a 6% sales tax, and imposing a 10% excise tax that would go toward a Cannabis Business Development Fund to provide aid, grants, and technical assistance to businesses and individuals in areas that have been disproportionately impacted by criminal prosecution for cannabis violations. Expungement of cannabis crimes would also be available.

Laughlin’s pragmatic views may encourage his republican colleagues in PA’s legislature to join him. As Laughlin stated during a press conference: “Our proposal prioritizes safety and social equity. And furthermore, it will let Pennsylvania’s robust agricultural industry participate in marijuana cultivation.” And both Laughlin and Street encouraged PA legislators to keep pace with lawmakers in New Jersey and New York, stating in their co-sponsorship memo: “This year our neighbors in New Jersey have signed adult use marijuana into law and our neighbors in New York are likely to legalize. It is our duty to taxpayers to seize the initiative and legalize marijuana concurrently with bordering states. Failure to do so risks permanently ceding hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue as well as thousands of jobs at a time when taxpayers can least afford it.”

 

Merrick Garland’s Comments Suggest Return to Cole-like Prioritization

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

During his confirmation hearing on February 22, 2021, Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland’s comments hearkened back to the Obama-era de-prioritization of enforcement against marijuana-related crimes under the Cole memorandum, stating: “This is a question of the prioritization of our resources and prosecutorial discretion… It does not seem to me a useful use of limited resources that we have, to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and that are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise. I don’t think that’s a useful use.”

In addition, Garland explained that social justice warranted such deprioritizing, acknowledging that people of color are arrested for non-violent marijuana-related crimes at far greater rates than white people.  According to Garland, the federal government should not be expending resources criminalizing non-violent marijuana related crimes, as doing so in the past “has disproportionately affected communities of color and damaged them after the original arrest because of the inability to get jobs.”

While proposed legislation such as the MORE Act and the SAFE Banking Act could provide greater certainty for the cannabis industry, until such time as laws like those are passed, the establishment of priorities regarding federal enforcement of state-legal cannabis would encourage greater participation in the cannabis industry, as the risks of federal enforcement would become more clear and thus easier to weigh against the rewards of entering the still emerging market.  The DOJ has been largely hands off of the state-legal cannabis market since the Cole memorandum, even though it was rescinded by AG Session, but clarity from Merrick Garland would nonetheless be very well-received by industry participants.

 

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

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

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