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recreational marijuana

On May 24, 2017 Vermont Governor Phil Scott vetoed legislation that would have begun the process of Vermont becoming the 9th state to legalize recreational marijuana. However, the legislation is not dead. Governor Phil Scott, referencing his libertarian streak, reiterated in a letter to the Senate he is not “philosophically opposed to ending the prohibition on marijuana”. He continued he believes if the Governor and the legislature work together they can “move forward on this issue”. The Governor offered his recommendations on the legislation which included removing confusion around what penalties apply to the sale and dispensing of marijuana to minors; more aggressive penalties for consumption while driving and use in the presence of minors (smoking marijuana in the car with a child present is only a small civil fine); ensure public safety officials can continue to enforce remaining drug laws; and expand the key stakeholders on the Marijuana Regulatory Commission to include Departments of Public Safety, Health, and Taxes.

The Governor reiterated his concern for public health and safety and his desire to “get this right”. He wants the Commission to have at least one year to create recommendations. He wants to ensure Vermont knows how to measure and detect impairment on roadways (the Governor confirmed he reached out to the Coalition of Northeastern Governors to engage in a discussion about creating a regional highway safety standard), fund additional substance abuse prevention education, and keep children safe while penalizing those who don’t.

The Governor opened the opportunity to discuss and work with the Legislature during the summer session on these revisions to move this legislation forward.

Like much of the industry, we will have to stay tuned.

See the full letter to the senate here and blog post here.

Over the last few weeks, we have tried to glean what the direction of state and federal policy on marijuana may be. On May 5, Trump used a signing statement to signal his disagreement with provision 537, which prohibits federal funds from being used to prevent states from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana. This provision lists 44 states that have some form of medical marijuana legalization at the state level. (Indiana and North Dakota were not on the list but have enacted medical marijuana programs).

As these statements spur discussions, it seems people are relatively unaware of the current landscape of state marijuana policies. Numbers can fluctuate depending on how you classify marijuana and legalization, (some states only allow cannabidiol or CBD oil, others have laws allowing medical marijuana but it is inaccessible because the states lack infrastructure for the purchase, sale, and manufacturing). The below summary is done as a waterfall, so once it is in one category it will not appear in a subsequent category. (For instance, a state that allows recreational marijuana also allows medical or a state allowing medical marijuana may also decriminalize the possession of recreational marijuana). Below is a summary of state policies as of May 12, 2017.

Federal Policy

Cannabis is illegal at the Federal level. Under the Controlled Substances Act, Marihuana is classified as a level 1 drug, the same schedule as heroin. The DEA confirmed as recently as December, the level 1 classification covers all cannabiniods from marihuana and cannabis. This is vastly inconsistent with the majority of Americans’ views and state law definitions of marijuana. In fact, there is not a single state that penalizes an individual in the same manor for marijuana and heroin possession.

Some key points on the analysis – the analysis covers all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The population numbers used are from the U.S. Census bureau estimates on July 1, 2016, where the total U.S. population was 323,127,513.

Recreational

There are currently eight states and the District of Columbia that have passed legislation for legal adult-use (recreational/retail) marijuana. The states that currently offer licenses and have established legal frameworks are Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In November 2017, four more states approved adult-use marijuana and are developing a legal framework for licensing – California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. The District of Columbia allows you to possess and home grow marijuana but has not developed any legal structure for purchase, sale or manufacturing. That is 68.7 million people, or 21% of Americans live in a state (or district) that allows recreational marijuana. Continue Reading The States of Marijuana

Today, May 19, Steve Levine presented at the 5th Annual Recreational CLE Conference. The CLE program covers Weed & the Government: Post Election Outlook. Steve’s presentation specifically covered Mergers and Public Offerings. This event is being held at the Embassy Suites in downtown Denver and brings industry professionals up-to-speed on issues including real estate, employment, intellectual property, mergers and public offerings and ethics. For more details, please read here.

Vermont may become the 9th state to allow recreational marijuana and the 1st state to do so via legislation. Last Wednesday, the Vermont house approved a bill 79-66 which would create a regulatory structure for the cultivation, processing, sale and use of recreational marijuana by July, 2018. The Vermont Senate previously passed the bill with a 20-9 vote. The bill will now be sent to the Governor for a veto, signature, or no decision, only a veto would prevent it from becoming law. The other 8 states that allow recreational marijuana have done so through voter referendums.

July 2018 is not a random date, the bill references two neighboring states, Maine and Massachusetts, which will allow retail stores to sell marijuana in July 2018. Another border neighbor-Canada is looking at Summer 2018 for when licensed retail stores will begin selling marijuana as well.

We will update this blog either when the Governor acts on this bill or Ben & Jerry’s commemorates the passage with a new ice cream flavor. We are anxiously awaiting both.

Yesterday, Sean Spicer attempted to call out a difference between medical and recreational marijuana at the federal level.  He clearly does not understand that ALL marijuana is federally illegal.  Further, he made a poor and factually incorrect analogy by comparing the current opioid abuse crisis to marijuana use.  Spicer ended his comments on recreational marijuana by stating that the DOJ will step up enforcement actions.

What does this mean?

As we all know, Trump is a wild card, and Spicer’s comments do little to clarify the administration’s position.  Previous statements on the issue indicate some degree of support for the cannabis industry, or at a minimum, support for states to determine their own regulations.  “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.”

Further, the recent FY2016 omnibus appropriations bill contains the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment which prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws was also widely supported by a GOP controlled Congress (passed in the House by a vote of 242-186, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it 21-9).  A recent Gallup Poll found nationwide support for legalization at 60%, the highest it likely has ever been.  Florida also passed its medical-cannabis initiative with 71% approval – Florida also voted for President Trump.  It is clear from Trump’s statements and Spicer’s comments that medical marijuana should remain a non-enforcement priority.

So based on Spicer’s comments regarding recreational marijuana – does Attorney General Sessions unwind years of hands-off federal policy towards state-legal recreational marijuana?  We’ll just have to wait and see.  I am hopeful that Spicer’s comments are just that, off-the-cuff comments with little substance or thought.  However, the recreational marijuana industry is now on notice.  I think we are in for a bumpy 2017.

 

Cannabis oil cartridgeThe United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) is at odds with the ever-growing marijuana industry. While marijuana legalization was a big winner in November’s elections, with seven states legalizing either medical or adult recreational use of the drug, the burgeoning industry may run into some problems obtaining trademarks for marijuana products and related devices. The lack of trademark protection could slow down or inhibit the growth of the industry as the lack of trademark protection limits entrepreneurs’ ability to stop infringement and protect their rights. Continue Reading No Federal Trademark Protection for the Growing Marijuana Industry

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…

Young cannabis plants, marijuanaWhile I am sure we are all fed up with the current presidential election cycle, the upcoming vote in California to approve recreational marijuana has the potential to be a watershed moment for the national marijuana industry and warrants discussion.  In addition to California, Massachusetts and Maine both have legalization initiatives on the ballot next month that seem likely to pass. Arizona and Nevada are also voting on recreational marijuana, with polls showing Nevada voters evenly split.

What does this mean?

Market participants are flocking to California in the anticipation of a medical and adult-use marijuana market of $22 Billion in just a few years.  The vested interest of these businesses and the state of California will likely demonstrate to our federal legislators that federal laws need to be changed to accommodate the will of the people.

A successful vote in California, along with Massachusetts, Maine and possibly Nevada, will likely signal the true beginning to the end of federal prohibition of marijuana.  Ending federal prohibition will still take a herculean effort from industry participants to help craft an appropriate solution that not only addresses industry concerns but the public, health and safety of our communities in a thoughtful manner.

From my perspective, first on the list should be modifying 280E of the IRS tax code to allow for state-legal marijuana business to take business expenses as a deduction.  This will free up capital for the industry and allow the industry to be on equal footing with all other legit business in America.

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.

President Obama approved the 2016 federal budget and it contained a prohibition that none of the funds made available to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to any of the States that have state-legal medical marijuana programs, to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

In addition, the 2016 federal budget also prohibits the use of any funds made available to any agency that might be used in contravention of the Agricultural Act of 2014 or prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of industrial hemp that is grown or cultivated in accordance with the Agricultural Act of 2014, within or outside the state in which industrial hemp is grown or cultivated.

What does this mean to you?

Medical Marijuana – Similar to the 2015 Federal Budget, this prohibition only covers “medical marijuana” and not “recreational marijuana.”  As I have stated before, this does not prevent the Department of Justice from using funds to prevent recreational marijuana programs from implementing laws.  While this is a continued step in the right direction, the prohibition does not extend to state-legal recreational marijuana.

Industrial Hemp – This is also a positive step for the industrial hemp industry for those operating under the Agricultural Act of 2014.  This will allow the continued cultivation of industrial hemp for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research.  However, this does not allow industrial hemp to be sold for commercial purposes.  For a State like Colorado, that allows the commercialization of industrial hemp.  You should contact your legal counsel to discuss the implications prior to selling any products.