Client Spotlight: A Q&A with New England Cannabis Trailblazer, TaShonda Vincent-Lee

The CannaBusiness Advisory is pleased to spotlight some of the Burns & Levinson clients that are pushing the cannabis industry forward, in Massachusetts and beyond. First up is TaShonda Vincent-Lee, co-founder and director of community outreach at ELEVATE New England, a networking firm “created to support the New England cannabis industry’s need for workforce and community education.”

What made you decide to start ELEVATE New England? 

My co-founders and I couldn’t ignore the undeniable need for cannabis education in New England, both for the diverse people wanting to work in and own businesses in the newly legalized marijuana industry and, perhaps more importantly, for the communities in which cannabis businesses sought to operate. Despite passage of Question 4 by a significant margin in 2016, municipalities across the state are discussing and implementing bans and moratoria, and this is because of ignorance and fear about the plant. We created ELEVATE to connect the cannabis workforce with training and opportunity, and to provide proactive outreach to a variety of communities and demographics, so that more jobs can be created by thriving businesses. To that end, we provide professional networking opportunities, coordinate community education efforts, and generally promote a more diverse … Keep reading

Momentum Grows for Capital Raises in MJ Markets

The capital raised in the first five weeks of 2018, alone, matched deals for all of 2016. And the feeding frenzy has not decelerated, with the overall first quarter of 2018 seeing almost $3 billion in capital raises—more than four times the amount raised in the first quarter of 2017. This is attributable to increases in both the number and size of capital raises: The cannabis industry saw over 160 capital raises (vs. about 100 in 2017) at an average raise size of roughly $15 million (vs. roughly $5 million for 2017), with more than a dozen of these raises bringing in $50 million or more.

The landscape of the cannabis capital markets is also changing. During the early years, investments were often made in the form of high-interest-rate loans, due to investors’ skepticism of industry growth and aversion to risk related to all things cannabis. Now, over 80% of capital raises are equity raises, as a result of investors seeing real potential in an industry where regulatory and other risks are becoming fewer, and public acceptance and support are growing wider. Smaller “cannabis-focused” venture capital funds are popping up around the country at a rapid pace. Mainstream … Keep reading

Moskol in MJBizDaily: Massachusetts’ Recreational Marijuana Market Offers Opportunities, Pitfalls Aplenty

The following quotes have been excerpted from an article, written by Omar Sacirbey, that originally appeared on the website of Marijuana Business Daily on March 22, 2018. 

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“If you’re able to get open [in Massachusetts], you’re going to see a more protected environment,” said Scott Moskol. “We’re not going to see the downward pricing pressures as quickly,” he added.

Moskol [further] noted, there will be “plenty of room for brands in Massachusetts to establish themselves and gain a following.”

Read the full article here.

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Scott Moskol will present twice at this weekend’s 4th Annual New England Cannabis Conference (NECANN). Tickets are available at this link.Keep reading

Green Hands Aren't Unclean Hands: 9th Circuit BAP Retreats from Mandatory Dismissal in Marijuana Cases

A 92-year-old landlord who leased a storefront to a marijuana dispensary will receive a new hearing after a court dismissed her bankruptcy case on the grounds that acceptance of rent payments from the dispensary disqualified her from bankruptcy relief. Last month, a Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the 9th Circuit remanded the Chapter 13 case after finding that the Court did not adequately detail a bad faith finding and, therefore, did not support its conclusion that the debtor violated federal law (namely, the Controlled Substances Act).

The landlord, Patricia Olson, owned a shopping center in Lake Tahoe, California, and, in 2013, began leasing space to Tahoe Wellness Cooperative, a state-licensed dispensary. However, the CSA makes it illegal to knowingly lease a property for the purpose of distributing marijuana. At the initial hearing to authorize the sale of the shopping center, the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Nevada took issue with the fact that Ms. Olson had continued to accept rent payments from the dispensary during her bankruptcy proceedings. The Court went so far as to say that Ms. Olson committed a crime by leasing to a business operation deemed illegal under the CSA. Accordingly, the Court concluded that … Keep reading

Bank On It: States Taking a Proactive Approach to Cannabis Banking

When it comes to the cannabis industry, banks and other financial institutions can find themselves in particularly murky legal waters (see Banking & Cannabis: Where Do Things Stand?). Federal rules dictate that banks and financial institutions that accept deposits from cannabis-related businesses may be liable for penalties, which has led to cannabis-related business in many states being conducted almost entirely in cash. Not only does this result in operational hurdles, particularly when it comes to paying taxes and compensating employees, it can also result in large amounts of cash being stored onsite, which, in turn, can lead to increased crime and an unsafe work environment. As California Senator Robert Hertzberg pointed out, “these business handle significant economic activity, yet they are forced to operate under the table and with little government oversight, as if they’re a black-market operation.”

Historically, under the Cole Memo, the consensus seems to have been that financial institutions would not be penalized in states that have legalized cannabis, unless those financial institutions were willfully ignorant to customer activities that could lend themselves to criminal financial transactions (e.g., the concealment of funds derived from other illegal activity, or the use of marijuana proceeds to support … Keep reading

Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission landed firmly in the middle of the road when it voted on February 26, 2018, to postpone granting licenses to marijuana home-delivery services and “social consumption” operations. In justifying the delay, the CCC claimed that it needs additional time to craft rules that address public health and safety concerns, such as impaired driving and underage sales. Despite the postponement, it’s important to note that these limitations in no way impact retail marijuana dispensaries and their suppliers, which remain scheduled to open for business in July 2018.

While the decision is a setback for those in favor of an immediate roll-out, the CCC did agree to initially grant delivery and social consumption licenses to individuals affected by the War on Drugs, meaning that they will not be boxed out of the market when those licenses become available in 2019. This policy is meant to preserve a place in the market for lower-cost marijuana businesses, like delivery services.

While Governor Baker applauded the CCC’s action as part of establishing a “safe and responsible retail” market, others may view it as an opportunity that will appeal to entrepreneurs lacking investment capital, as the types of businesses affected will … Keep reading

Cannabis in the Commonwealth: What Are People Saying?

I recently attended the New England Real Estate Journal’s “Cannabis: The Next Phase in Commercial Real Estate” summit, which brought together a number of local players for networking and a high-level discussion of where the industry stands in Massachusetts. In addition to being fantastic networking opportunities, events such as this allow attendees to get a sense of where the conversation on cannabis is heading, and for us, can be invaluable in terms of helping to anticipate concerns that clients will have and issues they’ll face.

Some of my takeaways:

  • Despite the Attorney General’s stance on marijuana, nothing has really changed. For now, the federal government seems content leaving it to state and local authorities to ensure that cannabis industry players adhere to state laws when establishing and operating their businesses.
  • When it comes to launching a cannabis business of any kind, it’s critically important to educate people about what your operation will entail, and what it won’t. You need to meet with municipal boards, with community groups, with public safety officials, to really drive home the message that: “Yes, we’re in the cannabis business, but we’re not the big, bad wolf. We’re just a dispensary, or a
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Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission Releases Draft of Regulations for Implementation of Adult-Use Marijuana

On December 21, 2017, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission filed a first draft of regulations for the purpose of implementing the legality of adult-use marijuana. The draft—935 CMR 500.000—reflects more than 80 policies discussed and voted upon the prior week.

It details, among other things, the approval of products and requirements for labeling, packaging, advertising, and serving sizes, as well as the enforcement of regulations, security, and municipal protections.

Following is a summary of some of the regulations pertaining to business establishments.

Marijuana Establishments

General Requirements

  • No licensee shall be granted more than three licenses in a particular class, except as otherwise specified. An independent testing laboratory or standards laboratory may not have a license in any other class. No individual or entity shall be a controlling person over more than three licenses in a particular class of license.

License classes are as follows:

  1. Marijuana Cultivator:

               Tier 1: Up to 1,000 square feet of canopy

               Tier 2: 1,001 to 5,000 square feet of canopy

               Tier 3: 5,001 to 10,000 square feet of canopy

               Tier 4: 10,001+ square feet of canopy

  1. Craft Marijuana Cooperative
  2. Marijuana Product Manufacturer
  3. Marijuana Retailer (Storefront, Delivery-Only, Marijuana Social Consumption Establishment, Primary Use, Mixed Use)
  4. Marijuana
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As we’ve blogged before, we don’t believe that Attorney General Sessions’ revocation of the Cole Memorandum will have much impact on the regulated, licensed marijuana industry. As of this post, we’ve neither heard nor read of any U.S. Attorney seeking to prosecute a licensed, compliant marijuana operation. Beyond statements by key political players, certain data points can give the industry comfort. Below are some that we believe illustrate that the attorney general’s actions and statements will not meaningfully reverse the progress that the industry has realized over the past few years.

  • Per an October 2017 Gallup poll, 64% of Americans support marijuana legalization, including 51% of polled Republicans. Per a July 2017 Quinnipiac University poll, 75% of Americans, including 59% of Republicans, oppose the enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized cannabis.
  • The legal cannabis industry (not including cannabis-adjacent businesses) employs an estimated 165,000 to 230,000 workers. This is two to three times more workers employed by the coal-mining industry.
  • Although estimates of actual revenues from legal cannabis enterprises vary, The Arcview Group states that, in 2016, the industry generated at least $6.7 billion—that figure is projected to increase to $21 billion by 2021.
  • The cannabis
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Congratulations to Vermont

Last week, the Vermont House and Senate passed H.511, which seeks to permit recreational- and adult-use marijuana in the state. The law would remove civil penalties by allowing individuals to possess one ounce or less of marijuana, as well as up to two mature and four immature marijuana plants to grow at home. Expected to be signed into law by Governor Phil Scott, the bill would go into effect on July 1, 2018.

Although H.511 does not provide or allow for licensure of adult-use cannabis cultivation, processing, or dispensary operations, supporters nonetheless see it as an important first step to full implementation of an adult-use marijuana program in Vermont.

As other commentators have noted, the passage of H.511 is important for two other reasons:

  • This is the first time a state legislature has legalized recreational marijuana. The eight states that presently permit adult use got there via citizen ballot initiatives.
  • The legislation was passed (and the governor has pledged to sign the bill into law) after Attorney General Sessions’ revocation of the Cole Memorandum, giving hope to many in the industry that Sessions’ actions will not chill the industry.

Here at the Blog, we congratulate Vermont’s legislature … Keep reading