Legislation

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

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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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

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

Midterm Elections and Cannabis Reform

The 2018 midterm elections could hold significant consequences when it comes to the immediate future of the cannabis policy throughout the U.S. Not only will a number of states be deciding their local policy, some experts suggest that if the U.S. House flips in favor of the Democrats, federal cannabis reform could shortly follow.

At the state level, California, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin will vote on a variety of different cannabis-related proposals. Michigan will decide on Proposal 1, which has the support of 62 percent of registered voters, permits people over the age of 21 to possess and grow personal-use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates, and also offers licensing activities related to commercial marijuana production and retail marijuana sales. North Dakota will vote on Measure 3, which would legalize the possession and use of marijuana by adults and automatically expunge most prior cannabis convictions. Missouri will decide on ballot questions specific to providing medical cannabis access. Utah will vote on Proposition 2, which regulates the licensed production and distribution of medical cannabis products to qualified patients. In Wisconsin, 16 counties and two cities face referendum questions concerning cannabis decriminalization; however, all are “advisory … 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

Picking up from an earlier post this month post, this week, we’re drilling down into the arguments raised by Century Bank and Trust Company[1]—one of the non-government defendants—as to why the Plaintiffs’ RICO claim against it should be dismissed. Century Bank provides banking services to Healthy Pharms and, according to the Plaintiffs, does so “knowing that [Healthy Pharms] intends to operate a marijuana business.” Plaintiffs bring one count against Century Bank for alleged violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), which makes it “unlawful for any person to conspire to violate any of the [substantive RICO provisions].” As explained in the prior post, the court left ultimate resolution of the pending motions to dismiss open-ended, granting 30 days’ leave to allow the Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, based on the fact that Healthy Pharms opened and began operating after Plaintiffs’ original complaint was filed. However, the court also seemed to cast significant doubt as to whether an action could be maintained against Century Bank, as evaluated below.

Century Bank presented multiple arguments as to why Plaintiffs’ complaint should be dismissed, including abstention and failure to allege that Century Bank was involved in a RICO enterprise beyond … 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

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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