While 46 states have instituted laws permitting or decriminalizing cannabis or cannabis-based products in some way, prior events this year created an environment of legal uncertainty.

Since 2013, cannabis companies have relied on guidance contained within a trio of memos from former deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, which detailed the federal government’s concerns with preventing marijuana distribution to minors, gangs, or into states where the drug’s sale remains illegal, as well as preventing the use of the drug as a pretext to traffic other illegal drugs, in use with violent firearms, driving under the influence, and growing marijuana on public lands or on federal property.

Those companies who were compliant with state cannabis laws and did not run afoul of any of these concerns basically considered themselves as being safe from federal prosecution.

But that security diminished earlier this year when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the guidance in the Cole memos. Continue Reading What You Need to Know About the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act

Recently, U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz introduced the Medical Cannabis Research Act (the “Act”), which would facilitate and encourage federally-approved clinical trials testing the medicinal effects of chemicals found in the marijuana plant. The bill is notable because, if passed, it would bypass the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as it relates to marijuana research licenses and would put the task in the hands of Congress.

Currently, the House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for the drug enforcement efforts of the federal government, approved the measure. If this bill passes, it would provide an opening for more medical marijuana research, which has been virtually non-existent at the federal level over the last five decades.

Notably, the Act increases the number of federally-approved manufacturers of research-grade marijuana from one to three and sets strict criteria for those manufacturers to obtain and renew their registrations. Currently, only the University of Mississippi is permitted to grow research-grade marijuana.

Continue Reading Expanded Medical Marijuana Research Bill Approved by Congress

On September 5, 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that the NJ Department of Health (DOH) had received 146 applications from 106 different organizations to operate vertically integrated medical marijuana dispensary operations in the state. The application window closed on August 31, 2018 and the winners of the six for-profit licenses will be announced on November 1, 2018.

Each applicant had to identify in which of the three regions of New Jersey – North, Central, and South – the applicant was interested in operating an Alternative Treatment Center (ATC). Fifty applicants identified the northern region, 45 selected the central region, and 51 the southern region.

Continue Reading High Times in New Jersey: The Search for New Operators and Expansion of the Medical Marijuana Program

As of September 2018, nine states, including the District of Columbia, allow adult-use (recreational) marijuana and thirty-one states have adopted laws legalizing the sale and use of medical marijuana. The possession and sale of marijuana, however, remains illegal at the federal level due to the Controlled Substances Act’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic alongside heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

For a cannabis business operating within the bounds of state law seeking to enter the marijuana industry, the juxtaposition of marijuana’s quasi-legality raises important legal and practical concerns, one of the most pressing being access to banking. The Federal Bank Secrecy Act (the “BSA”), 31 U.S.C 5311 et seq, prohibits national financial and banking institutions from accepting money generated from the sale of cannabis, often forcing marijuana companies to operate on a cash-only basis and putting them at risk of criminal activity. The cannabis industry’s bout with banking has somewhat of a rocky history.

Continue Reading Don’t Bank on it Just Yet: Financial Services Uncertainty in the Cannabis Industry

With medical marijuana legal in more than half of the United States and nearly 70% of the country having access to medical marijuana, the clinical research on the health benefits and healing properties of cannabinoids is contributing to the growing empirical studies and evidence supporting the use of marijuana as an effective medicine.

Frustratingly, however, many medical cannabis patients suffering from debilitating conditions and diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, muscular dystrophy, seizure disorders, anxiety, migraines, and chronic pain, must solely bear the cost of medicine in the form of cannabis because it is not covered by healthcare insurance. Although a physician’s recommendation of cannabis for a patient’s qualifying ailments is no different than a script for opioids, anticonvulsants, or antidepressants, the patient’s health insurance provider will cover the cost of the latter but not the former.

Why? Several reasons.

Continue Reading Availability of Medical Insurance Coverage for Medical Cannabis Patients

Recently, on June 25, 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Epidiolex, which is a prescription drug containing cannabidiol (CBD) isolate. Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved medicine that contains plant-derived, non-synthetic cannabinoids. The drug is used for treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe types of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. CBD is a chemical component of the cannabis sativa plant, also known commonly as marijuana. Another form of the cannabis sativa plant is hemp. Marijuana and hemp contain both CBD and tetrahydrocannibol (THC) components. The difference between marijuana and hemp is the amount of THC that each plant produces. While marijuana can produce up to 30% of THC, hemp can produce no more than 0.3%. Hence, the critical difference is that hemp has no psychoactive effect. Moreover, the Ninth Circuit also recently ruled that CBD derived from hemp is not a controlled substance.

Though the recent approvals do not change the state of the law with respect to marijuana, the tides are slowly changing. Epidiolex is now the first FDA-approved drug that contains substance derived from marijuana. It is therefore possible that the approval of Epidiolex may lead the Drug Enforcement Administration to review and reschedule the status of cannabinoids under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA).

Continue Reading How to Protect Cannabis Related Intellectual Property: Recent Developments & Tips for Cannabis Businesses

Trademarks are a popular and effective way of building and protecting a business’s brand. A trademark can be any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof that identifies and distinguishes a maker’s goods from those manufactured or sold by others.

Trademark owners enjoy certain intellectual property rights and protections against infringement. These rights are earned through the actual use of the mark in the marketplace or through registering the mark with either the state or federal government. Trademarks are source identifiers that distinguish competing products and give businesses brand recognition among discerning consumers. They are also powerful tools for growing businesses and start-ups.

Not all marks, however, are eligible for federal registration as a number of cannabis-touching businesses have learned the hard way.

Continue Reading How to Protect Cannabis Related Intellectual Property: Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents

Since 1970, the federal government has maintained a strict prohibition on cannabis, but in recent years, that prohibition has been bypassed by a growing number of states that have legalized medical and adult use marijuana. New Jersey is now poised to join the green revolution sweeping the nation. Learning from the successes and follies of California, Colorado, Washington State, Nevada, Oregon and others, New Jersey is aptly positioned to create, regulate, and tax a robust cannabis market.

As of June 2018, two New Jersey state Senate bills have been introduced by Senator Nicholas Scutari, S2702 and S2703. If passed, the legislation would allow consumers over the age of 21 to obtain and personally use up to one ounce of marijuana.

Continue Reading Beyond the Horizon: Proposed New Jersey Bills Paves Way for Legalizing Cannabis

On May 25, 2018, a Florida circuit court judge held that a legislatively-enacted medical marijuana smoking ban was unconstitutional. Floridians previously voted in favor of Section 29 of Article X of the Florida Constitution, which gave citizens the right to access, possess, and use marijuana for their recommended medical treatment so long as they did not smoke in public places. Legislators were only permitted to enact related laws if they were “consistent with” the Amendment.

Continue Reading Florida Court Upholds Right to Smokable Medical Marijuana