Last week, the DOJ sent a letter to trustees who handle consumer bankruptcy reminding them that marijuana is a federally illegal drug and warned them not to handle any money from the sale of marijuana-related property.  The letter goes on to state “Our goal is to ensure that trustees are not placed in the untenable position of violating federal law by liquidating, receiving proceeds from, or in any way administering marijuana assets.”

What does this mean?

Colorado courts have already dismissed numerous cases where the company was engaged in state-legal marijuana cultivation and sales, so this is nothing new.  However, this letter might be illustrative of Attorney General Sessions’ previous statements that the DOJ will increase legal scrutiny on marijuana.

While it is clear that marijuana business likely do not have federal bankruptcy protection based on the current law, there are state laws regarding the receivership and assignment for the benefit of creditors that can be utilized to assist a failing marijuana company deal with its debts.

Cannabis oil cartridgeToday, on 4/20, I was invited by the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys (AHIA) to present on Colorado marijuana issues at the Spring 2017 meeting in Colorado Springs, CO.  This presentation will take a look at the current marijuana market in Colorado as well as discuss national marijuana trends. For more details, please read here.

Cannabis snippetMy esteemed colleague and frequent medical marijuana commentator, Fred Miles, was quoted in the NY Times article “When Retirement Comes With a Daily Dose of Cannabis“.  Check this article out for a great read about the increasing number of older Americans living in assisted living communities and nursing homes using cannabis for relief from aches and pains as an alternative to prescription pain medicine.

Cannabis oil cartridgeMyself, Winn Halverhout and Fred Miles were interviewed by Advisory Board about the main challenges facing providers related to medical marijuana, how the new administration might change the legal landscape, and more.

Check out the article here.  Advisory Board is a best practices firm that uses a combination of research, technology, and consulting to improve the performance of health care organizations around the world.

 

 

Young cannabis plants, marijuanaAccording to a prominent cannabis advisory firm, the cannabis industry raised over a $1 Billion in investment dollars in 2016.  These investments included public companies on the TSXV (cultivation and extract company), NYSE (REIT) and NASDAQ (pharmaceutical company).

What does this mean?

Majority of large investments are going into real estate and pharmaceutical company – as these investments are not subject to the strict regulatory environment restricting ownership of companies that cultivate and sell cannabis.  Big money will continue to flow to “non-plant touching” business in 2017; however, I expect a fair amount of consolidation in the cultivation and retail sectors.

Young cannabis plants, marijuanaYesterday the DEA published a final rule providing for a new drug code for “Marihuana Extract” .  The DEA states that this will allow them to track quantities of “Marihuana Extract” separately from marijuana to aid in the compliance with relevant drug treaties.  This new rule is set to become effective on January 13, 2017.  The DEA’s new definition for “Marihuana Extract” includes: “an extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis, other than the separated resin (whether crude or purified) obtained from the plant.”

What does this mean?

Fundamentally this does not represent a change in federal law, as cannabinoids extracted from “marihuana” (as defined in the CSA) are federally illegal.  However, the plain language of the new definition does appear to expand the CSA’s reach to cover cannabinoids extracted from the genus Cannabis not just “marihuana”.  This means that cannabis businesses that have imported permissible parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., are now also likely prohibited from extracting cannabinoids from such plant material.

NOTE:  Given the varied implications, my firm is further analyzing the implications to the cannabis and pharmaceutical industries.  We will provide an update when appropriate.

There has been a lot of speculation about what a Trump administration, and particularly a DOJ lead by Jeff Sessions, will mean for our burgeoning Marijuana industry. The short answer is nobody knows, and given the fact that the Trump team seems intent on using obfuscation as a strategy, I don’t think we will have any clarity on this issue any time in the near future.

The better question then becomes, what does the industry need to be prepared for? I’m working from the assumption that state-regulated marijuana is not coming to an abrupt end, but that we should expect greater attention from the DOJ in the coming years. Sloppy and apathetic operators will be most at risk. Though larger brands will also want to be wary of becoming a political trophy. Leases and other agreements need to better contemplate enforcement actions. Inventory tracking, pro-active employee and sales policies, and strict compliance with your state regulatory regime will be of paramount importance.

Our industry has seen an incredible increase in sophistication and maturity over the last 6 years. As of now, it looks like that pace will need to quicken if we want to continue to thrive.

Young cannabis plants, marijuanaCalifornia, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine approved adult-use marijuana initiatives last night. Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas also approved medical marijuana initiatives. Unfortunately, Arizona failed to garner enough support to pass adult-use. Clearly, these votes are a watershed moment for cannabis reform in the United States. As I have stated before, California passing adult-use marijuana will likely signal the true beginning to the end of federal prohibition of marijuana. However, Donald Trump also pulled off a monumental victory for the GOP and won the White House which has created uncertainty for the industry.

What does this mean?

With the approval of adult-use marijuana in the states, the percentage of Americans living in states where marijuana use is legal for adults rose above 20 percent, from 5 percent. A recent Gallup Poll found nationwide support for legalization at 60%, the highest it likely has ever been. Florida passed its’ initiative by a 71% – Florida also voted for Trump.

As we all know, Trump is a wild card but he has not publicly taken any prohibitionist stance on cannabis. Trump recently was quoted as: “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” Trump told The Washington Post. “… Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.” Continue Reading Marijuana Wins! But so does Trump…

Cannabis snippetAccording to a report from the Marijuana Policy Project, the state-legal medical and adult use marijuana industry in Colorado had a $2.4bn economic impact on the Colorado economy in 2015.  Most importantly, the marijuana industry is credited with funding approximately 18,000 direct and ancillary full-time jobs in 2015.  While this only represents a small percentage of Colorado’s overall GDP (approx. $300 billion), the size of this industry is substantial and the world is taking notice.

What does this mean?

The obvious answer is new jobs are being created and operating businesses are generating substantial revenue.  However, this news is not all positive.  As the size of the marijuana industry in Colorado continues to expand, so will the problems that the industry will face.  While business owners in the space are not billionaires or even millionaires as everyone thinks, that fact will not stop aggressive plaintiffs attorneys from identifying potential claims against industry participants.  Expect an increase of product liability claims, customer slip and fall claims, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims, shareholder lawsuits, etc.  Owners need to be prepared to ensure they are in a position to defend these lawsuit by making sure they are adequately insured and hire professionals to provide adequate advice on how to best mitigate these issues now.  Waiting for the lawsuit to come will be too late.