Cannabis Law

New Massachusetts Cannabis Regulations Up for Public Comment and Final Vote

The Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) assembled on July 20, 2020, to approve draft changes to the cannabis adult-use, medical-use, and colocated operator regulations. A Virtual Public Hearing on the draft regulations was held on August 3rd and public comments will be accepted until August 14th.

The new draft regulations encompass various changes across the board – from new CCC approval procedures, operational requirements, licensing updates, and receivership processes. Given the expansiveness of the proposed changes, it is critical for current and future operators as well as investors, lenders, and financial institutions engaging with industry participants to review and understand the additions and modifications.

Colocated Marijuana Operators (CMOs). In regard to the promulgated regulations concerning Colocated Marijuana Operators, the CCC has proposed to combine the regulations previously set forth in 935 CRM 502.000 with the existing  935 CMR 500.000 (Adult-Use Regulations) and 935 CMR 501.000 (Medical-Use Regulations) due to redundancy in the currently effective colocated operator regulations.

Licensure/Certifications. Some key developments in the new regulations regarding licensure include:

  • Expansive processes pertaining to patient certification/registration such as:
    • permitting patients with certain identified hardships to renew on a 2-year basis instead of annually
    • expressly adding telehealth visitation
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Increasing Lawsuits Against Cannabis-Related Businesses Places Spotlight on Adequacy of Disclosures

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Class action lawsuits against publicly traded cannabis-related companies more than doubled from 2018 to 2019, with 13 class action cases filed in 2019 compared to 6 class action cases filed in 2018 – a staggering 116% increase. Lawsuits against cannabis-related businesses continue to grow concurrently with the expanding industry growth and mostly focus on disclosure issues. Such lawsuits are ordinarily filed by shareholders in an attempt to recover investment losses, often after a company’s stock price decreases, and are asserted, in the event that the company allegedly made false and misleading statements or omissions in connection with a securities offering, under the Securities Act of 1933 or the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 for public company disclosures.

For example, on January 16, 2020, Aurora Cannabis Inc. (TSX: ACB), in Warren v. Aurora Cannabis Inc., et al., No. 20-cv-00555, received claims for allegedly making false and misleading statements and/or failing to disclose adverse information regarding Aurora’s business and prospects. Claims against Aurora were brought under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 after the company announced disappointing results for Q1 2020 (reporting a 25% sales decline) and that the company was halting construction on its operating facilities in various regions – … Keep reading

Suit Filed Against Governor Baker to Re-Open Recreational Marijuana Businesses

On Tuesday, April 7, 2020, five recreational (adult-use) marijuana companies and one individual, a veteran of the U.S. armed forces, filed suit against Massachusetts Governor Charles Baker, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief that would, if successful, nullify the Governor’s executive orders to classify recreational marijuana establishments as “non-essential”, which has forced them to close shop. On March 23, 2020, in light of the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Baker issued an executive order that all “non-essential” businesses close their physical (brick-and-mortar) facilities until April 7, 2020 (extended to May 4, 2020 by a subsequent executive order). While medical marijuana establishments were deemed “essential” and therefore able to remain open, recreational marijuana facilities were not. The following are some of the key takeaways from the complaint filed in connection with the suit and related issues impacting the recreational marijuana industry as a result of their forced cessation of operations.

  • Harm to Recreational Marijuana Businesses. The Governor’s executive orders were a gut punch to Massachusetts’ fledgling marijuana industry and likely killed a number of the commonwealth’s recreational marijuana companies in the cradle. Many of these businesses have only just gotten up of the ground and running, as a result of the lengthy
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See Hemp & CBD Panel here.

With the cannabis space continuing its significant pace of growth, the industry has witnessed new players enter the arena: hemp and cannabidiol (“CBD”). The demand for hemp and CBD has skyrocketed in recreational, industrial, and retail spaces, however, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has not kept up with this influx despite its prohibition of the sale of CBD. Attendees of the Third Annual State of the Cannabis Industry Conference had the opportunity to learn from the experts during our Hemp and CBD panel. Among other things, our panelists discussed future FDA enforcement actions and what possibility there is, if any, of regulations loosening.

Moderated by Scott Moskol, co-chair of Burns & Levinson’s Cannabis Business Advisory Practice, the panel opened with a brief discussion of the lack of standardization in the CBD industry despite the ubiquity of CBD products. Kevin Pilarski, the Chief Commercial Officer of Revolution Enterprises, underscored the need for independent third-party testing of CBD. With respect to compliance, Mr. Pilarski explained that until the industry standardizes a testing requirement it is difficult for hemp purchasers to know what they are getting. Such uncertainty threatens the overall stability of the … Keep reading

See Hot Smoking Topics in Operations Panel here.

The growth and legitimacy of the cannabis industry is at an all-time high with nearly two-thirds of the country in support of the federal legalization of cannabis. With such legitimacy and potential for further growth, it’s no surprise ancillary businesses are coming to the forefront to provide services to the cannabis industry. However, with so many new and ever-changing developments in the rapidly growing cannabis industry, ancillary businesses need to be positioned to understand and adapt to the complex landscape of the cannabis industry in order to provide sound advice and guidance to cannabis operators.

The Hot Smoking Topics in Operations Panel, presented by Burns & Levinson, examined the landscape of ancillary services provided to the cannabis industry and the Governor’s ban on vaping products.

Tina Sbrega, President and CEO of GFA Federal Credit Union, a well-capitalized, $540 million member-focused credit union, is at the forefront of providing services to the cannabis industry. Under Ms. Sbrega’s leadership, GFA Federal Credit Union created a subsidiary company in 2018 to provide banking services to cannabis operators, employees of cannabis operators and other companies willing to service the cannabis industry.

According to Ms. … Keep reading

Hemp Insurance is Cropping Up as the Industry Awaits USDA Regulations

In early August, hemp farmers in central Oregon confronted a dilemma that every crop farmer fears. Severe thunderstorms – showering golf ball-sized hail – rolled through nearly five hundred acres of farmland, severely damaging the hemp crops in its path. Early estimates tallied the storm’s damage at nearly $25 million (~ $50,000 an acre), though losses now appear to be less than initially believed. Nonetheless, the destruction witnessed in central Oregon, one of the United States’ most densely planted hemp regions, elucidates a key challenge to the industry’s continued growth and profitability; namely, a lack of access to affordable crop insurance.

Put simply, the status quo for many hemp farmers, especially small-scale operations, is simply too burdensome. Most farmers engaging in hemp production do so at their own risk since the private insurance that is on the market is often too expensive. And even if hemp farmers too are willing to purchase an expensive policy, many cannot overcome the private insurance industry’s self-imposed barriers to coverage. For example, many private insurers require that operations have at least 25 acres of hemp crop.

Fortunately, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is beginning to take steps to protect some hemp Keep reading

In Case You Missed It: Recent Federal Developments Signal Forthcoming Hemp-Industry Guidance

On Thursday, July 25, 2019, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing before federal regulatory agencies in the agriculture, public health and pesticides space concerning efforts to implement the legalization of hemp. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among others, were invited to attend. The hearing was an effort to provide “certainty and predictability for farmers,” stated Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

Why was this hearing needed?

The passage of the Federal Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the “2018 Farm Bill”), which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 22, 2018, took monumental steps to remove several federal prohibitions on the U.S. hemp industry. For instance, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the cultivation and distribution of hemp, defined as any part or derivate of the cannabis plant with 0.3 percent or less of tetrahydrocannbinol (THC).

However, while the Farm Bill provided some regulatory framework at the federal level for the cultivation of hemp, it did not resolve all uncertainty as to the FDA’s regulatory authority. In addition, there is still unrest as a result of ongoing concerns and … Keep reading

Supplementing the Pink Slip for a Green Stamp of Approval – Rising Trends of New Employment Protections for Registered Cannabis Users

 

 

Early this month, New Jersey enacted new workplace protections for authorized medical cannabis users

Under the new regulations, employers are prohibited from taking an adverse employment action against an existing or prospective employee on the basis of the person’s status as a registered qualified user of medical cannabis.  Under the recent amendment to the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (“CUMMA”), “adverse employment action” is defined as “refusing to hire or employ an individual, barring or discharging an individual from employment, requiring an individual to retire from employment, or discriminating against an individual in compensation or in any terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.” Any employee or applicant, who is registered and qualified under New Jersey’s medical marijuana program and tests positive for cannabis, is required to receive a written notice by its employer offering the employee or applicant the right to (i) state a “legitimate medical explanation” for the positive test result, which may include authorized use issued by a health care practitioner, or (ii) request a retest of the sample within three days of receiving such notice. Further, the amendment’s notable silence on an employer’s obligation to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana … Keep reading

When Alcohol Leads, Cannabis Follows

The nascent cannabis industry is much like a younger sibling, riding the wake of its forerunner, alcohol.  In joining the vice industry’s consumer products market segment, the cannabis industry has had the benefit of being able to follow in the footsteps of the alcohol industry and anticipate potential upcoming obstacles.  This use of the alcohol industry as a guinea pig can be readily observed in connection with the evolving legal and regulatory frameworks currently being formulated for cannabis.  It is in this light that the June 26, 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Thomas, a case concerning certain Tennessee alcohol regulations, can offer some guidance and foreshadow the future of cannabis laws and regulations.

In Thomas, the Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association (a trade association of in-state Tennessee liquor stores), sought relief from the Supreme Court in their endeavor to have certain Tennessee state regulations -which required state residency for holders of alcohol licenses- upheld.  Justice Alito and the Court ruled against the Association in their holding that such regulations were unconstitutional.

Although a number of other regulations requiring that alcohol license holders and applicants in Tennessee be residents … Keep reading

Looking Beyond the Green – Garden Remedies’ Commitment to Mentoring New Cannabis Entrants

Retail sales of medical and recreational marijuana in the U.S. have been projected to reach $12 billion by the end of 2019. In Massachusetts, the total sale of recreational marijuana have topped $100 million last month according to data released by the Cannabis Control Commission (“CCC”). This is a significant rise from the CCC’s January report of nearly $24 million in recreational sales. However, statistics also show that at the beginning of this year only 4 marijuana licenses were held by Economic Empowerment Applicants (“EEA”) out of a total of 247 license applications – amounting to a mere 3 percent of all recreational license applicants qualifying as minority-owned.

At the foundation of Massachusetts’ cannabis legislation is a commitment to ameliorating the disproportionate harm done to minority communities as a result of the War on Drugs, specifically in the context of the prohibition on marijuana. Pursuant to St. 2017, c. 55, the CCC is required to ensure that members from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the enforcement of marijuana laws are not excluded from the cannabis industry. As a result, the CCC established a system of priority review for EEAs who meet three out of the six criteria, … Keep reading