Cannabis Law

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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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

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

A Conversation with Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commissioner, Steven Hoffman – Part II

Below is the conclusion of the conversation that Burns partner and Cannabis Business Advisory Group co-chair Frank A. Segall had recently with Steven Hoffman, Chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, regarding the state of the industry in the Commonwealth.
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FRANK SEGALL: Let’s talk about [the 3% sales tax incentive]. Host-community agreements have received some attention – for those in the audience, the regulations are pretty clear: Towns can charge up to 3% of gross revenue, with respect to costs that are associated – we’ll say directly, but it’s not clear – with operating an establishment. What we’re seeing is, it’s pretty much 3% flat, with no analysis as to the costs. And there are additional requests that towns have been making – we’d like that new fire truck, we’d like that new park – that have created some consternation and raised questions about whether the rules are being followed and the playing field is level. What are your thoughts on that?

COMMISSIONER HOFFMAN: This is a complicated issue – there’s been a lot of comment and feedback on this. We’ve looked at 15+ host-community agreements that we’ve signed thus far, and there are three things that we … Keep reading

A Conversation with Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commissioner, Steven Hoffman – Part I

At last week’s State of the Cannabis Industry Conference, Frank A. Segall, Co-Chairman of Burns & Levinson’s Cannabis Business Advisory group and Chairman of the firm’s Business Law and Finance practices, sat down with Steven Hoffman, Chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, for a wide-ranging interview that touched upon a number of hot-button issues regarding cannabis in the Commonwealth. Below is a transcript of the first half of their conversation. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

COMMISSIONER HOFFMAN: From day one, we’ve said that we’re going do this right—we’re not going to adhere to an arbitrary deadline. There are some deadlines in legislation: We had to have final regulations populated by March 15th, which we did; we had to start accepting license applications by April 1st, which we did. We’ve always said that we’re going to try to hit the deadline [for recreational sales], but we’re going to do it right, and that’s more important to us. I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made—we’re doing it right, we’re doing it carefully, and I hope the citizens of this state care more about what this business looks like in July of 2019 or 2020, than arbitrary deadlines.… Keep reading

The Path to Greenlighting CBD

Last week, the industry was energized by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s order placing certain drugs containing cannabidiol, or CBD, in Schedule V of the Controlled Substances Act. This marks the first time in history that the DEA has removed any type of cannabis from Schedule I, and clears the way for the sale of the first non-synthetic, cannabis-derived medicine to win federal approval.

Under the CSA, CBD remains a Schedule I substance, which means that it is not considered to have any currently accepted medical use. On June 25, 2018, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it approved the drug Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures in connection with epilepsy. Epidiolex is an oral solution that contains CBD, and is also the first FDA-approved drug derived directly from the cannabis plant. According to the DEA order, because the drug was recently approved by the FDA, it is now considered to have an accepted medical use. Therefore, it no longer meets the criteria for placement in Schedule I. The shift in policy means that Epidiolex may now be prescribed by doctors and accessed by patients through traditional pharmaceutical channels, rather than through a marijuana dispensary or compassion center.

While … Keep reading

2018 Farm Bill to Grow CBD Industry

After nearly 50 years as a Schedule I federally controlled substance, hemp is set to become a legal crop. If passed, the 2018 omnibus farm bill (which includes the Hemp Farming Act of 2018) will allow cannabidiol (CBD) to be legally sold in all 50 states. While related as members of the Cannabis sativa family, hemp and marijuana have different biological characteristics. Most importantly for federal legislators, hemp contains negligible amounts of the psychoactive constituent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The federal government’s decision to the legalized hemp is part of a longer, more comprehensive process that stretches back four years, when President Obama signed the 2014 farm bill. At Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s urging, the 2014 farm bill created a pilot research program that authorized state departments of agriculture and universities to grow and research hemp under limited circumstances. However, due to continued federal prohibition on the crop, there were many restrictions on its cultivation during the pilot period. For example, farmers seeking to participate in the program needed to obtain a waiver from the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the bill also limited the number of acres that farmers could legally plant. The pilot program was a success, … Keep reading

Making Sense of Internal Revenue Code Section 280E – Part I

It’s been a busy summer for cannabis business Section 280E controversy, with three published cases (Alterman v. Commissioner; Loughman v. Commissioner; and Alpenglow Botanicals, LLC v. U.S.) construing the statute, and generally not in favor of the taxpayer-cannabis business. The limitations of Section 280E and their effects on after tax profits should be fairly familiar to cannabis entrepreneurs, but to keep things fresh in your minds, the statute provides:

[n]o deduction or credit shall be allowed for any amount paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business if such trade or business (or the activities which comprise such trade or business) consists of trafficking in controlled substances (within the meaning of Schedule I and II of the Controlled Substances Act) which is prohibited by Federal law or the law of any State in which such trade or business is conducted.

What does that single, parens-laden sentence really mean? When it comes to the Internal Revenue Code, one sentence can leave much to unpack. Take Section 482, for example—not a very relevant Code section, unless you’re taking your cannabis business cross-border (maybe into Canada?), but, nevertheless, illustrative. One … Keep reading

High Hopes and Torched Dreams

This week’s cannabis news was filled with high hopes for some and torched dreams for others. On the one hand, the Food and Drug Administration made history by approving Epidiolex, a cannabis-derived medication used in the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy. On the other hand, Massachusetts’ Attorney General, Maura Healey, issued a ruling that permits cities and towns in the Commonwealth to extend the temporary moratorium on retail and other marijuana businesses through June 2019—almost a full year past the date approved by Massachusetts voters when recreational sales were to commence. This marked a reversal by Healey, who previously indicated that local freezes could not extend beyond December 31, 2018, due to constitutional concerns.

The Epidiolex announcement cuts at the very argument used by many anti-cannabis activists that all too often focus on the lack of research into cannabis as a reason to uphold its prohibition. In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said:

This approval serves as a reminder that advancing sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies … We’ll continue to support rigorous scientific research on the potential medical uses of marijuana-derived products and

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Not all cannabis-related companies are created equal. In fact, in the eyes of state and federal regulators, they differ significantly, depending on whether they “touch” the cannabis plant—and they’re treated accordingly.

The most common types of companies that do touch the plant are the “operators” that are cultivating, processing, or dispensing cannabis or cannabis products. “No-touch” companies generally provide a product or service pertaining to the industry, but avoid direct involvement with the plant itself. Examples include suppliers of cultivation-related products (e.g., fertilizer) and packaging, as well as providers of real estate, consulting, and legal services (like Burns).

The complexity of the regulations that apply to “touch” companies, as well as the rigor with which those regulations are enforced, also serves as a point of differentiation. Each state that has legalized cannabis, whether medicinal or adult-use, has enacted an enormous set of rules that govern its cultivation, processing, and sale. While there is no federal standard, cannabis operators generally need to ensure compliance with stringent guidelines regarding security, waste removal, advertising and branding, and packaging, as examples.

Generally, and unsurprisingly, “touch” companies are viewed by both observers of and players in the space as inherently riskier than their … Keep reading