Recreational cannabis became legal across Canada in 2018, and 33 U.S. states have legalized it at least for medical purposes (10 for recreational). Yet, there are numerous reports of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detaining Canadian citizens at the border—then permanently banning them from entry—when they admit to having even tenuous connections to the legal cannabis industry. This enforcement policy stifles cross-border business relationships, and raises ominous concerns about the freedoms of speech and association for U.S. citizens as well.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Proposed Legislation on Legalization of Cannabis
Under the leadership of New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (whose party also controls the State legislature), the Empire State appears poised to become one of the next states to legalize the cultivation, processing, distribution, sale, and adult use of cannabis for recreational purposes.
Indeed, on the heels of a series of public hearings and a report from the New York Department of Health, advocating for decriminalization of cannabis (not to mention similar legislation under consideration in New Jersey), Gov. Cuomo unveiled the proposed legislation, the Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act (CRTA), to do just that—while also expanding the state’s nascent medical marijuana program and differentiating between industrial hemp and hemp cannabis markets.
Monitoring and participating in administrative notice-and-comment periods may pave the road to faster access to market for CBD (cannabidiol) and hemp purveyors. While we are all familiar with lawsuits and litigation, not everyone is as familiar with the government’s regulatory administrative procedures, and in particular, the notice-and-comments period that commonly accompanies proposed rules. In order to bring suit to challenge a proposed rule in a court of law, a group must first “exhaust all administrative remedies.” In other words, if you don’t submit questions and arguments to the government during the notice-and-comment period, then a court likely won’t help you change the rule at a later date.
The shredding of the Cole memo last month leaves the cannabis industry in an uncertain regulatory environment.
Industry-wide anxiety of this sort can sometimes breed business disputes that wind up in litigation. Besides being expensive, defending a lawsuit from a business partner, investor, supplier, or employee can be a major distraction from your business goals.
If tensions are simmering in your company, maybe it’s time to address any legal loose ends governing your business relationships. Virtually every lawsuit ever filed could have been avoided had the parties identified sources of conflict early and attempted to resolve their differences.
Here are some key questions to help identify whether legal issues may be bubbling beneath the surface of your cannabis business.
Two recent District Court cases, High Desert Relief, Inc. v. United States of America and Alpenglow Botanicals, LLC et. al. v. United States of America have raised a novel issue in the IRS’s audits of cannabis businesses. Both of these suits were petitions to quash IRS summonses. A taxpayer who is under a civil audit from the IRS can petition a District Court to “quash”, or cancel, a summons issued to a third party for information relating to the IRS’s audit of that taxpayer. This type of suit is notoriously difficult for taxpayers.
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.
New cannabis businesses face a myriad of challenges. The state of Washington’s fragmented and expanding approach to minimum wage and paid leave is only becoming more difficult. Law and legislation in this area already impacts cannabis businesses in Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane, and may soon affect all cannabis businesses statewide.
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.