Marijuana Regulations Completed, a few points.

Since my last blog entry, there have been a few changes to HB-1317, the bill which regulates retail marijuana businesses. The bill has now passed both the House and Senate and is on the Governor’s desk for his signature. Once that is completed, the bill will become a law (those of you familiar with School House Rock already know that!). The changes include:

1. There will be a 9 month waiting period for new businesses, instead of 90 days. If you do not already own a MMJ business, you will be able to apply on 9/1/14. Prospective business owners can file a notice of intent to own a MJ business after 1/1/14 and must provide a deposit that will be applied to the application fee. The deposit amount is not specified.
2. The bill expressly outlaws the “collective model” and requires that any sale or other distribution of MJ be done only by a licensed MJ business.
3. The MED is required to implement a “seed to sale” tracking system for all MJ sold. This idea was previously shelved by MED.
4. No delivery of MJ.
5. There is a THC content limit for edible MIP products.

There are two other bills that were passed, HB-1318 and SB-283. Here 5 things you should know about each of them.

HB-1318, “the tax bill”:

1. There is a 15% excise tax that will be assessed for wholesale sales of MJ to Retail Marijuana Centers (RMC).
2. The excise tax will be based on an average market price established by the State. The tax must be collected by the wholesaler and a report for such sales filed once a month.
3. The excise tax will apply to the transfer of MJ from the grow to the retail center even if the business owns both the grow and retail center.
4. There is a 10% State sales tax for MJ sold by the RMC. This can be raised to 15% without voter approval.
5. The sales tax will be shared with local governments, but local governments are also permitted to impose additional local taxes.

SB-283, the miscellaneous bill:

1. Local governments may ban the use of butane and compressed gas for use in extraction.
2. The bill creates a responsible vendor program that will require training. There will be created a “certified trainer” and all vendors must be certified.
3. Marijuana business contracts shall not be void despite the federal argument that all such businesses and their contracts are illegal.
4. There will be no exception to the state smoking laws that will permit a private club or other such business to permit MJ use.
5. No open containers of MJ in vehicles. The MJ must be in an unopened, sealed container or be placed in the trunk of your car.

Colorado Amendment 64 and the Federal Government

As you know, Colorado voters passed Amendment 64, which permits limited adult possession of marijuana and the establishment of marijuana retail businesses.
However, the federal government responded with “saber rattling” and a stern warning that marijuana is still illegal federally. Is the federal government really ready for a state’s rights showdown? This seems unlikely.

The passage of Amendment 64 was a bi-partisan effort that united conservatives like Tom Tancredo, law enforcement and democrats. State’s rights is good politics and politicians would be wise to heed the call to end marijuana prohibition. The voters in Colorado grew tired of waiting for politicians to end the war against marijuana and took matters into their own hands. The complete legalization of marijuana is inevitable.

I encourage everyone interested in this issue to contact their federal representatives and let them know it is time to end the disparity between state’s rights and the federal prohibition against marijuana. I am working with the representatives for Colorado and am hopeful we can make Colorado voters’ dream a legal reality.

Medical Marijuana and Probation

Well, it finally came to pass. On February 2, 2012, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued a decision on the use of medical marijuana on probation. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals determined that probations CANNOT use medical marijuana while on probation. The case, People v. Watkins, 2012CA15, was decided on the basis that a probationer cannot violate any law during probation.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that the phrase “cannot violate any law during probation” includes violation of federal law. As you should all know by now, any use, possession, sale, or cultivation of marijuana, medical or otherwise, continues to be a violation of federal criminal law.

It is curious that the Court of Appeals fell back on federal criminal law to resolve this question. The Colorado state courts, including the Court of Appeals, do not have the authority to enforce federal criminal law. It would seem that, in order to rely on federal criminal law, it would be necessary to have a contemporaneous federal criminal case.

Additionally, it stands to reason that Colorado courts are limited to enforcing Colorado criminal laws. As you know, Amendment 18/20 creates an exception to criminal law where patients and/or their primary caregivers are acting within the parameters of the Amendment. Probation is a creature of Colorado criminal law. As such, it is arguable that the Colorado court cannot impose any restrictions on compliant medical marijuana activities as a condition of probation – again, a creature of Colorado criminal law.

It appears that things are going to get worse before they get better for medical marijuana patients. Colorado courts are now relying on federal law to justify their limitations on medical marijuana activities, rather than enforcing Colorado laws using Colorado statutes and constitutional amendments. I suggest you contact your U.S. congress person and U.S. senator to let them know that a federal change is needed if Colorado medical marijuana laws are to have any meaning or protection.

City of Boulder Moratorium/Federal Threat

At last night’s Boulder City Council meeting, the Boulder City Attorney requested a six month moratorium for medical marijuana businesses. On the surface, this sounded like a good idea – keep new businesses from coming in for six months. However, the reality was that the proposed moratorium was intended to prevent existing businesses from bringing on investment, transfer the business to a new owner, expand the existing business or transfer to a new location. With the very real threat of Federal prosecution looming over the industry, the moratorium would prevent medical marijuana businesses from being able to move out of harm’s way.

In response, I drafted a letter to the City Council and, in particular, Councilperson K.C. Becker. I proposed that the moratorium not include existing businesses. Councilperson Becker took the letter and crafted a new ordinance that excluded existing businesses. After several hours of wrangling and heartfelt testimony from myself and several medical marijuana business owners, employees and patients, the City Council adopted the Becker Ordinance, City of Boulder Ordinance Number 7834. The ordinance permits existing businesses to proceed as usual.

In the waning moment of the public hearing, the moratorium was amended, as follows:

1. The moratorium for new businesses was extended until 11/9/12;
2. Existing businesses will be able to move forward with expansion, investment, sale and relocation after 3/8/12; and
3. New fees we added for change of business entity ($2,000), addition of financiers ($2,000), modification of premises ($3,000) and change of business manager ($150).

Finally, approximately 21 medical marijuana centers were identified as being in harm’s way of Federal prosecution. Those centers located within 1000 ft. of licensed day cares, schools (including the University of Colorado) and public housing units are a risk. Accordingly, I suggest that if you, or anyone you know, is within this danger zone the business should immediately obtain a new location before Federal prosecution visits the City of Boulder. I know this is a tough situation, but the prospect of federal prison should be incentive enough.

Update on Colorado Medical Marijuana, final meeting with Dan Hartman

Dear Friends,

As you know, Mr. Dan Hartman was removed from his position as Director of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division due primarily to the efforts of our Attorney General, John Suthers. On the last day as Director, I met with Mr. Hartman to answer many of the questions posed by our clients and colleagues:

1. Q: If a MMB that was locally banned (i.e., Fort Collins, Longmont, etc.) withdraws its application and then moves to a favorable jurisdiction, when can they begin operation?

A: The local authority must approve the business, then MMED will move forward with state approval. The MMB will receive preference in the processing of the application.

2. Q: Can a MMC sell to a primary caregiver?

A: Only if the primary caregiver’s patient is homebound and the appropriate home delivery request has been approved by MMED.

3. Q: Can a MMC sell to a patient who has valid paperwork on file with the MMC?

A: No. A valid MMJ registry card must be presented every time, including patients that have assigned the MMC as their primary center.

4. Q: Can MMCs trade an equal amount of MMJ with another MMC without implicating the 70/30 rule?

A: No. There are no “trades” permitted. Payment from one MMC to the other MMC is required and there must be paperwork evidencing the transaction.

5. Q: Can a MMC sell kief hash and/or bubble hash wholesale to other MMCs without implicating 70/30?

A: The answer was not clear. Mr. Hartman acknowledged that hash does not count against allowable inventory and is treated like other infused products. However, he stated that it counts against 70/30. At this point, Mr. Hartman advised that hash is a problematic issue and will be addressed in future rule making. Stay tuned.

6. Q: Does a homebound patient have to assign the MMC as their primary center in order to receive a home delivery?

A: No. See #2 above. The sale is to the patients primary caregiver, who will deliver the medicine pursuant to authorization by MMED. This means that any homebound patient must assign a primary caregiver.

7. Q: Does hash count against allowable inventory?

A: No. See #5 above.

8. Q: Does the sale of trim count against 70/30?

A: This is complicated. If the trim is provided to a MIP and the MIP uses the trim to create an infused product, which product is then provided back the MMC only and not sold to any other MMCs, then it does not count against 70/30. However, if the trim is used by the MIP and the MIP sells the infused products to any MMC other than the MMC that provided to trim, it counts against the selling MMC’s 70/30.

9. Q: Can employees of a MMJ Vendor (i.e., has a MMED Vendor license) be under 21?

A: Not if the employee will be in a restricted access area for any reason.

10. Q: Will the 7/1/12 moratorium be extended?

A: Not in Mr. Hartman’s opinion. Mr. Hartman stated that MMED will not request it and the legislature “is in no mood to hear anything else about MMJ” at this point.

City of Boulder Medical Marijuana Business Moratorium

The Boulder City Attorney, Mr. Thomas Carr, recently requested and was granted a moratorium regarding medical marijuana businesses in the City of Boulder. The moratorium is expected to be extended for 6 months. I suspect this is a prelude to a request from Mr. Carr that the City Council enact a “cap” on the number of medical marijuana businesses in the City.

This is highly problematic. The moratorium affects existing businesses, not just new businesses. Under the current ordinance, the City requires a new license in the event the business wants to, or needs to, change locations. A new license is also required in order to transfer the business to a new owner. By contrast, the State of Colorado amends the existing license for both scenerios and does not require a new license.

In view of the recent Federal threat of criminal prosecution and civil forfeiture for landlords and medical marijuana businesses located within 1000 feet of a school, this is quite terrifying. For instance, if a medical marijuana business is within 1000 feet of a school (CU?, a day care?), the Feds require the business to move within 45 days. The City of Boulder moratorium makes this impossible.

Finally, the City’s actions demonstrate veiled hostility and fear toward the medical marijuana industry. The moratorium is likely only a first step. It is incumbent on all City of Boulder medical marijuana businesses to band together and oppose any further interference with medical marijuana businesses, which are the most regulated businesses in the history of the State of Colorado. City officials need to be reminded that they are representatives of the citizens of Boulder and personal political agendas have no place in representative government. If they are unwilling to support the industry, they need to be replaced with people who support local and state law regarding medical marijuana. Please attend the 2/7/12, 7:00 p.m., public hearing and let the Council know that further regulation, including the proposed moratorium, will not be tolerated.

Federal crackdown on Colorado Medical Marijuana

As you may know, the Federal Government is now attempting to crack down on Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries and other medical marijuana businesses. Last week, the Feds sent letters to several medical marijuana businesses that were located within 1000 feet of a school. The letters instructed the businesses to close within 45 days or face federal prosecution and civil forfeiture. The Feds are also targeting the landlords.

By way of review, the Feds purported authority over state medical marijuana programs stems from a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court Case, Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, which can be viewed at:

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-1454.ZS.html

A close reading of this case reveals that Colorado medical marijuana business regulations are very different from California. Recall that medical marijuana businesses in Colorado must be owned by two year state residents, there is no reciprocity for out-of-state medical patients and the state requires that the businesses grow their own medicine under strict state supervision. This scheme could possibly carve out an exception to federal authority over Colorado medical marijuana. Now if we only had an attorney general who was interested in supporting Colorado citizens and Colorado laws instead of taking pot shots at Obamacare…. Stay tuned.

DEA on the warpath

Last week, the DEA raided a medical marijuana caregiver’s home in Highlands Ranch. This is one of several recent raids on medical marijuana businesses, including Full Spectrum Labs in Denver and another lab in Colorado Springs. It is clear that the DEA is not going to go away quietly. As we tell our clients, you should continue to remember that the federal government does not recognize medical marijuana and considers all medical marijuana activities illegal. It is possible that the DEA will continue to investigate medical marijuana sales and cultivation. Accordingly, it is necessary to stay under 100 plants when cultivating medical marijuana. Any plant over 100 requires a mandatory five-year federal prison sentence if convicted. Forfieture of any property used in the cultivation or sale of medical marijuana is also a real possibility. Until the federal government ceases any further prosecution of medical marijuana you should be as careful and quiet as possible in your medical marijuana endeavors. Stay legal and stay safe!