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.”
Earlier today, February 22, 2021, NJ Governor Murphy signed legislation to create an adult use/recreational marijuana marketplace, decriminalize cannabis and loosen certain penalties for underage possession of the drug and alcohol. NJ joins 13 other states (and the District of Columbia) which have legalized adult use marijuana including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D. C.
The Assembly and Senate passed a compromise bill to address most of Governor’s concerns that had held up the signing of the Bills – these areas mostly focused on easing penalties on underage possession of both alcohol and marijuana.
Under the law, NJ adults may legally purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana; retail sales will be taxed with 70% of such revenue being dedicated to lower income communities; a Cannabis Regulatory Commission will be established and oversee licensing; NJ will allocate 37 new grower licenses over the next 2 years; and currently licensed medical cannabis retail operations will be eligible to sell adult use cannabis.
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In connection with a crackdown on CBD manufacturers pursuant to its “Operation CBDeceit,” the FTC announced today settlements with six CBD-infused product manufacturers who, according to the FTC, allegedly made a “wide range of scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat serious health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and others.” Under the settlements of the respective Complaints against them, each of the manufacturers will be required to pay a fine, and cease making “unsupported health claims” in connection with the marketing of their products.
In issuing its press release today the FTC attached the Consent Agreement and the FTC’s findings of violations of the FTC Act, which are set forth in a draft Complaint. These documents illustrate the FTC’s procedures in actions like these, and highlight the FTC’s concerns regarding allegedly misleading representations about CBD-containing products in violation of the FTC Act. Specifically, the FTC views health claims in connection with marketing such products to be misleading unless they “rely upon competent and reliable scientific evidence that is sufficient in quality and quantity based on standards generally accepted by experts in the relevant disease, condition, or function to which the representation relates, when considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence, to substantiate that the representation is true.”
Significantly, the FTC has not required the settling manufacturers to remove their products from the shelves and to cease selling them. They must, however, remove any unsupported health claims. Moreover, it would not be surprising if the announcement of these settlements spawns consumer fraud litigation against the manufacturers, which is often a much more serious concern to the business.
It is unclear how “Operation CBDeceit” will be implemented when the Biden administration takes over. For now, however, CBD manufacturers should continue to be mindful of their packaging, labeling and other marketing materials.
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.
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, Duane Morris partner and team lead of the Cannabis Industry Group, is quoted in the Philadelphia magazine article, “If Pennsylvania Is Going to Legalize Adult-Use Marijuana, This Is How It Should Be Done.”
Use the State’s Existing Supply Chain
“There is a supply chain that is already intact and could likely be expanded very quickly to allow for a recreational marijuana program to be implemented without too much challenge,” said Mr. Goldberg.
“You have growers and processors who can expand their production, labs who could expand their testing, dispensaries who could expand their sales, fairly quickly, to provide adult-use marijuana to Pennsylvanians. This is a very good framework to be utilized in a way that could get this done quickly and efficiently if people wanted to.” […]
Be Mindful of How Marijuana Is Taxed
Currently, marijuana growers and processors in Pennsylvania are taxed five percent on the gross receipts received from the sale of medical marijuana to a dispensary. But there is no sales tax on marijuana, so consumers who purchase it do not pay a tax. According to Mr. Goldberg, that could change with legalization, but it shouldn’t.
“Whether a marijuana sales tax is imposed on consumers or whether the five percent excise tax that’s imposed on growers and processors is increased, these are things that I certainly wouldn’t advocate for because I don’t know that it would be necessary to result in a boost in the tax revenue.” […]
Duane Morris partners Seth Goldberg and David Landau have been named to the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH) Task Force, which will focus on the harmonization of laws and regulations that contribute to the bifurcated treatment of hemp and marijuana, as well as the evolving regulatory landscape for cannabis industry participants. Mr. Goldberg, a team lead for the Duane Morris Cannabis Industry Group, joined ATACH president Michael Bronstein and Gary Kaminsky of Acreage Holdings in their meeting with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in August.
Seth Goldberg, partner and team lead of Duane Morris’ Cannabis Industry Group, and Justin M. L. Stern, Duane Morris associate, authored the Cannabis Industry Journal article, “Consumer Class Actions Against CBD Companies Are Hitting a Snag.”
Excerpt from the article:
Over the past year, more and more consumer class actions have been filed against manufacturers and distributors of CBD-infused products. These actions typically assert claims based on how the product is marketed, such as whether it (i) contained the advertised amount of CBD, (ii) contained more THC than it should have or (iii) has the ability to provide the therapeutic benefits touted. The marketing of these products is subject to regulation by FDA, which has yet to issue pertinent regulations that have been expected since passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp and CBD products derived therefrom. Thus, in recent months, a number of federal courts have stopped these class actions in their tracks pending further guidance from FDA as to how CBD-infused products should be regulated. This growing body of precedent should be welcome news for the CBD supply chain, as it may provide a disincentive to the plaintiffs’ bar to expend their resources on similar actions until the regulatory framework is clear.
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.
Seth Goldberg, partner and team lead of Duane Morris’ Cannabis Industry Group, discusses with Law360 how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the industry and shares how he and his family have been adapting.
Below are highlights from the article:
What challenges has the pandemic created in your specific area of work?
From a pure business standpoint, the pandemic has been bittersweet for the cannabis industry. Many of our clients have fared well because state-licensed medical marijuana businesses have been deemed “essential” in all states that have legalized medical marijuana. However, as in every industry, the pandemic has created workforce issues and has also impacted performance. […]
How are you and your family adapting at home?
It’s fun, especially if you like practicing law while teaching fourth-grade math, negotiating screen time for two 13-year-olds, and keeping a college-bound senior interested in completing high school remotely. A breakthrough was convincing the four kids that the internet on their laptops would be faster if they turned the wifi on their cellphones off!
What is the most creative or productive response to the crisis you’ve witnessed so far?
My daughters insisting that buying three “fancy mice” would be a good substitute for friends and classmates.
Duane Morris has developed a tremendously responsive and informative COVID-19 task force that is, on a daily basis, providing incredibly insightful information about all aspects of the legal issues and implications of the pandemic, including contractual, employment, insurance and health care issues. […]