Duane Morris partner Seth Goldberg is quoted in the New York Law Journal article, “Medical Marijuana Business Banking Remains Difficult.” Mr. Goldberg discusses how banking is a major hurdle for the legal medical marijuana business.
Although, in making the above comments, Sessions was clear that marijuana was still illegal in the U.S., he appears to have drawn a box around those types of marijuana-related criminal activities on which federal prosecutors are focused. The above comments are not inconsistent with the Sessions memo of January 4, 2018, and may help clarify what prosecutorial discretion looks like under that memo. Based on the above comments, it would seem that activities conducted pursuant to state marijuana programs are not the types of activities on which federal prosecutors are focused.
Another breakthrough for the cannabis space occurred on Tuesday, February 27, 2018, when Toronto-based Cronos Group Inc. began trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. (MJN:CN). This marks the first listing of a company focused purely on cannabis on a major U.S. stock exchange. The listing of Cronos comes within two months of the memorandum issued by Attorney General Sessions that rescinded the federal government’s previous guidance regarding enforcement of state-lawful cannabis activities under the Cole Memorandum. That earlier guidance is credited with providing the cannabis space with a window of opportunity for the warp-speed growth the space has seen in recent years. The Sessions memo was intended to slow the growth of the cannabis space, especially with respect to the capital markets. The Nasdaq listing of Cronos suggests that 2018 could be another strong year for cannabis-related investments; 2017 was believed to have resulted in approximately $2 billion in cannabis-related investments in the U.S.
Duane Morris partner Seth Goldberg will be one of the presenters at a National Association of Surety Bond Producers Virtual Seminar, “Seeing Green? A look at Marijuana Law and Surety Bonds,” to be held on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. ET. For more information or to register, please visit the event website.
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→
Just a week in office, Governor Phil Murphy has taken the first step in process of bringing much needed reform to New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. He signed an Executive Order today calling for his Commissioner of Health and the Board of Medical Examiners to report back in 60 days concerning expansion of the currently limited medical marijuana program consisting of five operating centers.
New Jersey’s existing medical marijuana program is problematic and ineffective for a number of reasons. The current program allows for a very limited number of qualifying patient conditions, has an overly burdensome regulatory process and associated administrative fees that discourage both doctor and patient participation, has an arbitrary and unnecessary limit on the amount of dispensaries permitted to operate in the state. It also places illogical limits on the types of medical cannabis strains permitted to be sold in each dispensary.
On January 22, 2018, Congress came to an agreement on a resolution that continues funding the government, including the Department of Justice, through February 8, 2018. The funding resolution leaves in place protections for state medical marijuana programs from prosecutions by the Department of Justice by restricting its funding. The protections are found in legislation now sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Earl Blumenauer (formerly by Sam Farr instead of Blumenauer) that became law as part of the omnibus spending bill (and are known as the Rohrabacher- Farr Amendment, or the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment).
The Amendment provides that none of the funds made available to the Department of Justice in the Appropriations Act may be used to prevent states from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. In light of recent steps taken by the administration to rescind the Cole Memo and review the FinCEN guidelines that have put the cannabis industry on alert, cannabis businesses can find some comfort, albeit temporary, in Congress’ continuing limitation on the funding extended for the Department of Justice.
Duane Morris’ Seth Goldberg will be presenting at the 24th Annual Health Law Institute in Philadelphia on March 13-14, 2018.
Seth’s presentation, “The Regulation of Medical Marijuana Under Federal and Pennsylvania Law,” will take place on Wednesday, March 14 after 3:35 p.m.
The Health Law Institute delivers important new content over the course of various presentations. The Institute provides a place for you to learn more about the developments and practice challenges within health law-ranging from over 48 different topics. This is a great way to explore what is happening in terms of health law issues and network with over 400 health law professionals.
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.
The Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act uniquely provides for a special class of licenses for growers and dispensaries to partner with medical schools to undertake real clinical research on medical marijuana.
On January 3, 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) published for comment the final clinical registrant regulations. The process of issuing these licenses will be underway shortly. While other states are focused on increasing the availability of nonmedical adult-use marijuana, Pennsylvania seeks to become the leader in clinical research on the medical benefits of cannabis.