Justice Department has options to crack down, but may galvanize the push for even wider legalization
In statements that were perhaps inevitable but nonetheless surprising to the cannabis industry, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on February 23, 2017, provided the first official comments on how the Trump administration may address recreational marijuana.
Responding to a question from an Arkansas reporter regarding medical marijuana, Spicer indicated that the Trump administration sees “a big difference” between medical and recreational marijuana, stating that federal law needs to be followed “when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”
Spicer also indicated that enforcement decisions will primarily be a Department of Justice (“DOJ”) matter, stating that enforcement is “a question for the Department of Justice,” but that he believed there would be “greater enforcement of [federal law], because again, there’s a big difference between medical use, which Congress has, through an appropriations rider in 2014, made very clear what their intent was on how the Department of Justice would handle that issue,” which, Spicer stated, is “very different from the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”
Although Spicer’s statements should probably not be considered as the Trump administration’s definitive policy statement on recreational marijuana use, they do raise a variety of concerns for cannabis businesses.
In a long-awaited decision released this morning, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it has denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (the “CSA”). The DEA concluded that marijuana should remain a Schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; there is a lack of accepted safety for use of marijuana under medical supervision and it has a high potential for abuse. The DEA’s decision relies on a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), based on studies conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration and National Institute on Drug Abuse (“NIDA”).
Ada Danelo is a Summer Associate at GSB's Seattle office.
The University of Washington School of Law’s Cannabis Law and Policy Project hosted its first annual conference on Washington state marijuana policy on June 14, 2016.
Rick Garza, Director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes kicked off the Conference by discussing the following current policies and industry trends:
- Use of pesticides on cannabis products. Garza described the regulatory issues that the LCB faces, and noted that one of the LCB’s new challenges is to ensure that cannabis products are safe and properly tested for pesticides. To address this, the LCB plans to work with the EPA and the Department of Agriculture.
- Increasing market limits. By the LCB’s estimate, the market is sufficiently served by the 48 cannabis stores currently in Seattle, but Garza noted that the LCB plans to increase the market ban if they see demand. Holmes, on the other hand, commented that of the 48 stores allocated, only 31 are open, and that “we need substantially more,” adding that legal delivery services may be another way to meet that demand. The City Attorney also wants to ensure that applicants who are “sitting on” a license either use or lose it, which Holmes wants to work with the LCB to enforce.
- Increase in tourism benefits hospitality and tourism industry. Holmes noted the significant increase in tourism to Seattle since legalization and how much it benefits hotels, restaurants, and the tourism industry generally. According to the City Attorney, the increase in tourism has created a need for marijuana lounges, since state law prohibits public consumption of cannabis.
The afternoon sessions featured cannabis producers, processors and retailers explaining the intricacies of their compliance with both state and federal law. Ian Eisenberg, owner of Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop, made a pitch for legalization, which he and the other retailers on the panel agreed limits underage access to cannabis – since legal stores turn away customers under 21.
Attorneys from various law firms also spoke about issues ranging from pesticide regulation and tax compliance to diversity in the marijuana industry. Andy Aley, Owner at GSB and Co-Chair of its Cannabis Industry Group, discussed the impediments to sales and marketing for marijuana producers and processors, noting that “it takes about six weeks to get a bud tender to even sample product,” and that “we need smart policy changes that allow the industry to mature and become more akin to the craft beer industry.”
With reports of significant non-approved pesticide use by some in the industry, the LCB has increased its focus upon pesticides.
In addition to emergency regulations addressing product recalls and pesticide action levels, the LCB (via the Washington State Department of Agriculture) recently amended the list of approved pesticides. Specifically, the WSDA added 29 pesticides to the list of allowable products and removed 27 products.
Bottom line: Make sure that your house is in order. Confirm that your current stock of pesticides only includes those on the WSDA’s approved list. Note that you may “use up” any existing inventory of the 27 pesticides removed from the list, but cannot purchase additional amounts of these products. Also, we are seeing increasing volumes of pesticide-related disputes and lawsuits, and will address how to best protect your business from pesticide litigation in a future post.
Foster Garvey’s Cannabis practice group comprises a premier legal counsel team who provides a full range of legal services such as regulatory compliance, marijuana licensing, business finance, contracts, labor and employment, health care, real estate, intellectual property, litigation and dispute resolution, technology and tax. Our team possesses deep and diverse industry experience and has counseled clients across virtually all industry sectors. We understand the inherent challenges that licensed marijuana and ancillary businesses in Washington state, Oregon and Alaska are burdened with in this highly regulated industry as they deal with onerous state and local regulations as well as uncertainty resulting from federal law.
We are committed to helping our clients achieve their business goals while navigating the intricacies in this rapidly changing area of law. We prize innovation and entrepreneurship, and closely monitoring industry trends.