Blumenauer Introduces the "Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act"

As described in last week’s post, 2018 proved to be an exceptionally exciting year for the cannabis industry: five states approved legalization initiatives, Canada ended its nearly century-long prohibition, and legalization was a key issue in a number of gubernatorial races. Moreover, Congress helped cap off a robust year by legalizing hemp, and therefore hemp-derived products, through the 2018 Farm Bill. And notwithstanding the current gridlock in Washington, it appears that last year’s pro-cannabis momentum has carried over into 2019.

On January 9, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced H.R. 420, also called the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.” Many readers will remember Blumenauer from the eponymous Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment, the appropriations provision that prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. (Last fall, he also circulated a legalization agenda for a 2019 Democratic House.) Blumenauer’s proposed legislation provides for a complete overhaul of the federal government’s treatment of marijuana. Among other things, the bill:

  • Decriminalizes marijuana by removing it from all schedules of the Controlled Substances Act;
  • Amends the Federal Alcohol Administration Act to empower the Secretary of the Treasury to issue permits to those wishing to manufacture,
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A Year in Review: Looking Back on the Forward Movement of the Cannabis Industry in 2018

As we begin this New Year, we’re taking some time to reflect on all that’s transpired in the cannabis arena over the past 12 months. It’s clear that 2018 was one of the most pivotal and exciting years for the burgeoning marijuana industry. In addition to seeing successful state legalization efforts across the country, we saw signs of support from both political parties (including the President), and witnessed the first legalization of recreational marijuana in an industrialized country with the passage of the Cannabis Act in Canada.

Despite a shaky start to the year, triggered by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ revocation the Cole Memorandum, five states approved legalization initiatives (including Vermont’s vote to approve marijuana in the same week Sessions revoked the Memo). With Vermont and Michigan approving recreational marijuana in 2018, and Oklahoma, Utah and Missouri approving use of medical marijuana, there are now 32 states with some form of legalized marijuana, including 10 which have legalized adult-use marijuana.

This year also saw bi-partisan support for cannabis legalization and its potential social and economic impact. There were a handful gubernatorial races in which candidates made cannabis legalization a key campaign issue. Democrats J.B. Pritzker (IL), Tim … Keep reading

Last week, a House-Senate panel approved the 2018 Farm Bill, thereby ending a months-long stalemate over a piece of legislation that provides critical subsidies to farmers. While much of the bill mirrors current law, the legislation, if passed, will bring an end to five decades of hemp prohibition. Hemp was afforded limited legal protections in 2014, when Congress passed a farm bill that authorized states to develop pilot programs for its research. The 2014 Farm Bill eventually gave rise to a patchwork of state regulations regarding hemp and hemp-derived CBD.

While the hemp industry experienced substantial growth under the 2014 Farm Bill, the new bill is undoubtedly a watershed moment for the entire cannabis industry, as its changes to current law are more far-reaching than its predecessor. If passed, the bill would remove hemp’s low amounts of THC from the Controlled Substances Act, allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate the crop like any other agricultural commodity, and permit hemp products – like CBD – to be introduced into interstate commerce. Further, it would lift restrictions on advertising, banking, and other financial services.

The bill would also:

  • Allow hemp production in all 50 states for any use, including
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On December 23, 2018, the Department of Public Health will transfer oversight of the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Program to the Cannabis Control Commission, the agencies recently announced, giving the CCC oversight of both recreational and medical marijuana programs. (The Adult-Use Act mandated that the transition occur by the end of the year.)

The DPH has run the Medical Use of Marijuana Program since its inception in 2014. To date, there are 47 registered marijuana dispensaries that have been approved for sales across Massachusetts; those RMDs serve more than 57,000 patients and over 7,000 personal caregivers. DPH and CCC officials have assured the public that patients in the medical program will not see any substantial changes as a result of the transfer.

In a statement issued last week, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel stated:

We want to assure medical marijuana patients in the Commonwealth that we have worked closely with the CCC and our constituents over the past several months to support a smooth transition of the program and to ensure that patient access is not impacted by this change.

Echoing Commissioner Bharel’s assurance, CCC Chairman Steven J. Hoffman publicly noted “the considerable collaboration between DPH and the CCC.” … Keep reading

Utah Medical Marijuana Compromise Passes and Is Signed into Law

On Monday, the day after Utah’s medical cannabis initiative became law, state legislators supplanted it with a more tightly controlled plan for providing marijuana-based treatment. That plan is called the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, and it is designed as a replacement for voter-approved Proposition 2. The compromise bill is more restrictive than the law established by Proposition 2, which was supported by the Marijuana Policy Project and Utah advocates.

In early October, supporters and opponents of Proposition 2 reached an agreement whereby both sides de-escalated their campaign operations and agreed on a medical-marijuana-law compromise that would be enacted regardless of the outcome of the ballot initiative vote. The legislation has acted as a bridge between Prop 2 opponents, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Utah Patients Coalition, the group that spearheaded the initiative effort.

The compromise bill makes a number of changes to Proposition 2, including no home cultivation for patients, a smaller number of dispensaries, and a requirement that dispensaries employ pharmacists who recommend dosages. The replacement legislation crafted by lawmakers and both sides in the Prop 2 debate overhauls the medical cannabis distribution system proposed by the ballot initiative, and … Keep reading

CCBJ: High Times Ahead for Cannabis-Related Business

The following interview appears in the November–December 2018 issue of the Corporate Counsel Business Journal.
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Corporate Counsel Business Journal: Burns & Levinson has had a cannabis law practice since 2013 and has already handled hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate transactions in this emerging industry. How has your cannabis practice evolved and changed since you first started?

Frank A. Segall: Our goal in entering the cannabis space was to bring our sophisticated corporate expertise to this industry. While we certainly started and remain committed to representing operators looking for licensure, we are heavily focused on working with entities raising capital through the public and private markets, forming venture capital funds and acquiring and selling operations on a nationwide basis. We have also been retained to assist groups in cannabis-related workouts and restructures. In addition, we are highly focused on addressing the banking issues confronting this industry, and we are structuring solutions by working with banks and credit unions that are willing to enter this space.

Understanding the depth of the industry, we endeavored from day one to predict the legal needs of the many cannabis-related businesses that are essential to this industry. We are fortunate to … Keep reading

Healthy Pharms Litigation Dismissed on Eve of Massachusetts Cannabis Sales

The closely watched Massachusetts cannabusiness case, Crimson Galeria Limited Partnership, et al. v. Healthy Pharms, Inc., et al., has been dismissed. On November 9, 2018, Judge Allison D. Burroughs of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued an order closing the action upon stipulation by the parties to dismiss the action with prejudice. Plaintiffs, whose property is located within 200 feet of Health Pharms’ registered marijuana dispensary, alleged that the operation of the RMD diminished the market value of their properties and restricted future development opportunities. They contended that the RMD made the surrounding area less desirable for prospective buyers or renters, who would “reasonably worry” about “increased crime” and “pungent odors.”

The Healthy Pharms case was followed closed by those in the cannabis industry due to several important issues raised in the complaint. The Plaintiffs asserted claims against the “Government Defendants” for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that federal law (i.e., the Controlled Substances Act) preempts Massachusetts’ legalization of medical marijuana dispensaries. They also asserted claims against Healthy Pharms and the other Dispensary Defendants, alleging civil violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, for acting and conspiring to distribute marijuana in violation … Keep reading

Riding the Legalization Wave: The After-Effects of the Midterm Elections

It’s no surprise that marijuana reform resulting from the recent midterm elections made headlines last week, as three states voted in favor of legalization. As discussed in last week’s blog post, voters in Missouri and Utah green-lit measures to legalize state medical marijuana programs, while voters in Michigan moved to adopt a measure legalizing adult-use (medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008). With these major ballot initiatives being passed, almost two-thirds of states have now legalized cannabis in some capacity, and 20% of states allow recreational consumption. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the growing wave of momentum in favor of federal cannabis reform.

In addition to the legalization efforts in Missouri, Utah and Michigan, Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives last week, including the House Rules Committee, which over the last few years has acted as a gatekeeper blocking votes on cannabis amendment and reform. Republican Pete Sessions (TX), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, lost to Democratic opponent Colin Allred, who has previously been critical of Sessions. As recently as September, Congress blocked an amendment that would have permitted doctors affiliated with the Department … Keep reading

In the News: 3 States Adopt New Cannabis Laws; AG Sessions Resigns

Following Tuesday’s midterm elections, three states—Michigan, Missouri, and Utah—adopted new cannabis laws: Michigan voters approved a measure that legalizes marijuana for recreational use, Missouri approved the creation of a comprehensive medical marijuana program, and Utah passed a measure legalizing medical marijuana for patients with certain qualifying illnesses.

Michigan

Proposal 1 makes Michigan the first Midwestern state to pass adult-use marijuana legalization. It establishes several classes of licenses and gives the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) up to one year to promulgate regulations. For at least 24 months, LARA will only accept adult-use applications from existing medical marijuana businesses. Marijuana Business Daily has projected Michigan’s recreational cannabis market will generate between $1.4 billion and $1.7 billion in annual sales within several years of launching, making it one of the largest in the nation.

Missouri

Missouri voters approved Amendment 2 (Medical Marijuana and Veteran Healthcare Services Initiative), making the Show-Me State one of the 33 in the Union that have embraced medical marijuana. The measure creates regulations and licensing procedures for medical marijuana and medical marijuana facilities—dispensaries, cultivators, and testing and marijuana-infused-product manufacturing facilities. Moreover, Amendment 2 tasks the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to regulate the … Keep reading

In My Opinion: Alpenglow Botanicals v. United States

If you read my most recent post on Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, you might have picked up on my disappointment with the Alpenglow opinion. Whether the conclusion is right or wrong, in my estimation, it could have been much more thoroughly reasoned.

In Alpenglow, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals was asked, among other less interesting questions, whether the IRS has authority to apply Section 280E if the taxpayer has not been convicted of drug trafficking. The court summarily concluded that the IRS’s authority was not limited to instances involving a conviction. The opinion’s main themes are as follows:

  • The IRS has authority to determine whether and when to deny deductions under Section 280E.
  • Section 280E has no requirement that there be a criminal investigation or conviction in order for it to apply, and if that was Congress’ intent, they could have easily placed that language in the statute.
  • Other courts have upheld tax deficiencies against state-sanctioned cannabis businesses based on application of Section 280E without questioning the IRS’s authority.

If you consider the legislative intent, this historical application, and what is currently taking place in the cannabis industry, it feels like this was … Keep reading