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“U.S.-listed shares of Canada-based Canopy Growth Corp. soared almost 30% Wednesday, after liquor seller Constellation Brands Inc. said it will invest another CAD $5 billion, or about $4 billion, in the diversified cannabis company.”

What does this mean?

Investment continues to be poured into Canadian marijuana companies listed on US stock exchanges (See Tilray listing on NASDAQ).  This most recent investment is likely do to the already $700 million return that Constellation has earned from its previous investment into Canopy of $100 million.  Obviously the alcohol industry views the marijuana industry as a threat and Constellation is taking big steps to ensure it is diversifying in an effort to create further shareholder value.  This investment further emphasizes the missed opportunities for many cannabis companies operating here in the US due to the fact that cannabis is still federally illegal.

On Friday, August 10, Husch Blackwell Partner Chris Ottele will speak on the topic of Coats v DISH at the Marijuana and Banking Conference held at the Grand Hyatt Denver in downtown Denver, CO. This program is designed to provide critical information to bankers interested in serving the burgeoning marijuana industry and those who want to avoid banking it – as well as to public officials and others who want to understand the issue. The full conference brochure can be found here.

Husch Blackwell is a lead sponsor of the Northern California Quarterly Cannabis Caucuses – next of which is to be held on Tuesday, July 10 in San Francisco, CA at the Hilton Financial District. The 3rd Quarter Cannabis Caucus will bring together executive level industry professionals, policymakers, regulators, and movement leaders to network, learn about emerging topics in the industry, and plug into NCIA’s efforts to advance the industry nationally. A registration link can be found here. Please use promo code HUSCH75 for 75% off tickets to this event.

 

 Yesterday, details of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget were released.  Congress has once again elected to prohibit the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) from spending money on actions that prevent medical marijuana states giving practical effect to their state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.  Congress also continued existing provisions shielding state industrial hemp research programs from federal interference.  Adult-use was left off.

What does this mean?

It’s a nice reassurance for industrial hemp/medical marijuana businesses, their employees and patients acting in compliance with state rules.  Note, this does not prevent the DOJ from using funds to prevent adult-use marijuana programs.  However, just last week, a bipartisan group of 59 lawmakers wrote a letter that the DOJ should be blocked from enforcing federal marijuana prohibition in states that have enacted legalization, medical AND adult-use.  It is still unclear when there will be enough appetite in Congress to get adult-use marijuana shielded from the DOJ, but I remain hopeful.

Attorney General Sessions rescinded, effective January 4, 2018, previous enforcement priorities of the DOJ related to marijuana – including the Cole Memo. The Sessions Memo dictates that federal prosecutors should follow the “Principles of Federal Prosecution” originally set forth in 1980 and subsequently refined over time in chapter 9-27.000 of the U.S. Attorney’s Manual. Sessions goes on to state in his memo that “These principles require federal prosecutors deciding which cases to prosecute to weigh all relevant considerations, including federal law enforcement priorities set by the Attorney General, the seriousness of the crime, the deterrent effect of criminal prosecution, and the cumulative impact of particular crimes on the community.” It is important to note that Sessions has not previously set any specific enforcement priorities with respect to marijuana, nor has this memo created any new enforcement priorities of the DOJ. Rather Sessions has removed the foundational guidance that states have relied on to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana pursuant to state law and the will of each states’ citizens. The Cole Memo actually set 8 enforcement priorities for the DOJ with respect to marijuana, which Sessions has now unilaterally rescinded.

Continue Reading The Sessions Memo

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado wants to attach an amendment to the GOP-led tax reform bill that would allow state-legal marijuana growers, processors and sellers to deduct normal businesses expenses from their taxes.”  Section 280E of the tax code, forbids businesses from deducting otherwise ordinary business expenses (advertising expenses, insurance, employee wages, etc.) from gross income associated with the “trafficking” of Schedule I or II substances. The IRS has subsequently applied Section 280E to state-legal cannabis businesses, since cannabis is still a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.  Gardner’s amendment will include a 280E fix so that the provision no longer applies to marijuana businesses that operate in accordance with state or local laws.

What does this mean?

A 280E fix would be monumental for the cannabis industry.  The inability for state-legal cannabis businesses to take deductions for normal business expenses has the potential to cripple the industry if not addressed in the near future.  While I believe that getting this amendment in on the tax bill is a moon shot, I hold out hope that it is still a possibility.  At a minimum, the GOP is finally listening to the plights of our industry and is attempting to be part of the solution.

 

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.

On August 12, 2016, the DEA published a policy in the federal register (81 Fed. Reg. 53846) designed to increase the number of entities registered under the CSA to grow marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States.  The DEA has concluded that the best way to satisfy the current researcher demand for a variety of strains of marijuana and cannabinoid extracts is to increase the number of federally authorized marijuana growers.  While the new policy does not entirely make clear what entities may apply to become federally authorized marijuana growers, it seems that “commercial enterprises” may apply.  Specifically, the policy states that “under the historical system, there was no clear legal pathway for commercial enterprises to produce marijuana for product development.  In contrast, under the new approach… persons may become registered with DEA to grow marijuana not only to supply federally funded or other academic researchers, but also for strictly commercial endeavors funded by the private sector and aimed at drug product development.”

The DEA will evaluate each application to determine:  (1) whether adding such applicant to the list of registered growers is necessary to provide an adequate and uninterrupted supply of marijuana to researchers in the United States; and (2) whether the proposed registration would be consistent with the public interest.  Among the factors to be considered are whether the applicant has previous experience handling controlled substances in a lawful manner and whether the applicant has engaged in illegal activity involving controlled substances.

What does this mean?

Importantly, the DEA has concluded that in lieu of requiring the growers to operate under a contract with NIDA, a registered grower will be permitted to operate independently, provided the grower agrees (through a written memorandum of agreement with DEA) that it will only distribute marijuana with prior, written approval from DEA.  This is still unproven and there is no certainty that the private sector will be able to take advantage of this.

A favorable ruling from the Ninth Circuit in United States v. McIntosh is a reassuring win for the medical marijuana industry.  This federal case concluded that § 542 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act prohibits DOJ from spending money on actions that prevent medical marijuana states giving practical effect to their state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

What does this mean?

It’s a nice reassurance for medical marijuana businesses, their employees and patients acting in compliance with state rules. It is also likely to dissuade the DOJ from taking similar actions in the near future and provides a valuable precedent to certain defendants so long as the current prohibition on DOJ enforcement spending remains in effect. However, Congress can change the spending prohibition at any time.

The footnote of the case reaffirms that marijuana is still federally illegal and does not provide immunity from prosecution for federal marijuana offenses.   The footnote is below:

[Footnote 5: The prior observation should also serve as a warning. To be clear, § 542 does not provide immunity from prosecution for federal marijuana offenses. The CSA prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession of marijuana. Anyone in any state who possesses, distributes, or manufactures marijuana for medical or recreational purposes (or attempts or conspires to do so) is committing a federal crime. The federal government can prosecute such offenses for up to five years after they occur.

Congress currently restricts the government from spending certain funds to prosecute certain individuals. But Congress could restore funding tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding. Moreover, a new president will be elected soon, and a new administration could shift enforcement priorities to place greater emphasis on prosecuting marijuana offenses.

Nor does does any state law “legalize” possession, distribution, or manufacture of marijuana. Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, state laws cannot permit what federal law prohibits. Thus, while the CSA remains in effect, states cannot actually authorize the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana. Such activity remains prohibited by federal law.]

Finally, this ruling also only covers “medical marijuana” and not “recreational marijuana.”  As I have stated before, this does not prevent the DOJ from using funds for enforcement actions against recreational marijuana businesses.