Lifetime drug felony; reiteration: 35 day rule

CRS 12-43.3-307(1) (h) states that a license shall not be issued to a “person who has discharged a sentence in the five years immediately preceeding the application date for a conviction of a felony or a person who at any time has been convicted of a felony pursuant to any state, federal law regarding the possession, distribution, manufacturing, cultivation or use of a controlled substance.” This change added “manufacturing” and “cultivation” to the license prohibiting offenses and did not limit the lifetime prohibition.

However, the state may grant a license to “an employee if the employee has a state felony (not federal) conviction based on possession or use of a controlled substance that would not be a felony if the person were convicted of the offense on the date he or she applied for licensure.” I anticipate this was amended to: (1) ensure that employees were specifically included in the prohibition portions of this section; and (2) to recognize the reclassification of marijuana charges from felonies to misdemeanors. I assume that the reclassification would have to be in the state where the conviction was entered. This means that if the conviction was in Florida and is still a felony in Florida, but not in Colorado, it is still a felony for purposes of licensure.

Finally, I want to take the opportunity to re-clarify the “35 day” rule based on ongoing confusion. Up to this point, the State prohibited selling to new patients who were not in possession of their card (see, MMED’s 9/27/10 Memorandum regarding its position on the 35 day rule, http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheader=application%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1251659488306&ssbinary=true).

CRS 12-43.3-402(5) was changed to state that “the employee of the medical marijuana center making the sale shall verify that the purchaser has a valid registration card… or a copy of a current and complete new application for the medical marijuana registry administered by the Department of Public Health and Environment that is documented by a certified mail return receipt withing the preceding 35 days and a valid identification card that matches the name on the registration card.” The “certified mail return receipt” is the green postcard that is signed by the Department mailed to the sender, not the USPS receipt for paying the certified mail postage fee. Also, in such a case, the employee must contact the Department of Public Health and Environment to determine whether the purchaser’s application has been denied. This section does not apply to license renewal applications and these patients must have their card.

New MMJ regulations, HB 1043

Despite partisan bickering regarding other issues facing Colorado, the legislature passed HB 1043 with virtually no opposition (what a change from last summer!). Please understand that HB 1043 amends CRS 12-43.3-101 et seq. (HB 1284) and the two documents should be read together to fully understand MMJ business and caregiving regulations.

In any event, the following is a summary of the new law applicable to MMJ businesses:

1. Pending licensees will be able to continue to operate while local and state licensing authorities are completing the pending application process;
2. There will be no new licenses issued until 7/1/12, i.e., another 1 year moratorium;
3. Businesses issued their licenses will be apply to apply for changes to the license, a new license or license type (i.e., size of center). It is not clear whether this means the licensed businesses can add OPCs or MMCs. I will speak with the state and let everyone know what “change” and “new” mean to MMED;
4. Pending licensees in “banned” municipalities can apply for a new license with a local licensing authority and transfer to the new location. Good news for all those folks who encountered fear, ignorance and local politics! It is unclear how this will actually work and whether the business can continue to operate post-transfer. I will speak with the state and let everyone know;
5. MMCs (not MIPs) can sell up to 6 clones to patients and up to 1/2 of the # of plants that exceed 6, based on a doctor’s recommendation. The definition of clone or “immature plant” is 8″ x 8″ in a 2″ x 2″ container and has nothing to do with rootedness;
6. The 2 year residency requirement only applies to owners and no longer applies to employees;
7. MMCs can sell to patients with an application, ID and recommendation while the state is processing the application (no more 35 day rule), However, the MMC is required to call CDPHE and confirm that the application has not been denied. Also, MMCs cannot sell to a patient with a renewal application, only a new application;
8. MMCs can use an automated dispensing machine. I am not sure why anyone would want to, since patient loyalty and customer service is what will distinguish success from failure;
9. Laboratories must obtain an occupational business license (according to MMED, the same applicant licensee requirements will apply) and CANNOT have any interest in a MMC or MIP;
10. No sales below cost or giving MMJ away unless it is to a patient who has been determined indigent by the State. This means no more “give aways” or “two for one” deals. Spread the word, so that this practice is ceased and everyone is on the same page;
11. An OPC can provide MMJ to more than 1 MMC, as long as the holder of the OPC is a common owner of all of the MMCs. What this really means is that multiple MMC locations, commonly owned, can use one OPC facility;
12. MIP products must be sealed and labeled. It is not yet clear what the label will say or whether the packaging must conceal the product inside;
13. The bill confirms that MIPs can never sell MMJ and are limited to growing up to 500 plants (there is a business need waiver process for more than 500 plants); and
14. No agricultural zoned cultivation. It is unclear whether the “no agricultural zone” issue applies to PCs or patients. I will look into this; and
15. MMCs can trade MMJ in equal amounts, but the MMJ cannot be “re-traded.”

Regarding primary caregivers:

1. The PC must register with the State the location of the cultivation and provide registration information for the PC’s patients;
2. The PC must comply with local regulations, including zoning. For instance, Boulder only permits care/cultivation for 1 patient in a residential zone. This provides the local governments some “teeth” for their widely different primary caregiver rules;
3. PCs may delegate duties to another PC, provided that the original PC maintains an ongoing relationship with the patients.

1st lawsuit against MMED successful

It has been awhile since my last blog. As you may have guessed, I am working hard on MMC/MIP compliance issues, including numerous meetings with the new director of the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division, Mr. Dan Hartman. Over the last several months working with Mr. Hartman and his predecessor, Mr. Matt Cook, I have developed an insight into how MMED may address each situation. This allows me to understand how MMED is “thinking” and help predict future rules and changes.

In any event, there are times when we must stand up for our rights and challenge the laws as written and as interpreted by MMED. Accordingly, in December, I filed the first lawsuit against MMED based its denial of a client’s MMC business application. The lawsuit was over whether an applicant must file an MMC business application by 8/1/10 or “within 30 days of receiving local approval.” The statute provided for both, alternative, filing deadlines. MMED determined that only the 8/1/10 filing deadline was applicable and issued a cease and desist order. However, “the law is the law” and MMED entered into a settlement which accepted the application filing and my client was permitted to open their business. While not every case will be successful, it is always important to try.

2011 MMJ Update

As most of you know, DOR has drafted various rules regarding regulation of MMJ businesses. Public comment is invited and there is hearing scheduled on 1/27 and 1/28. For those of you who do not have a copy, you can view the document at:

http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheader=application%2Fpdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1251678551504&ssbinary=true.

Next, further legislation is being proposed for MMJ businesses, caregivers, doctors and patients. The bill, HB 11-1043 is attached in PDF format. A summary of the proposed changes include:

1. Only owners of MMCs and/or MIPs will be subject to the 2 year residency requirement;
2. MIPs that cultivate their own medicine will be limited to 500 plants;
3. Primary Caregivers can work with more than 5 patients upon the granting of a waiver from the Department of Revenue. This class of Primary Caregiver will be licensed (there may be fees…) and would be able to transact with the patients of another Primary Caregiver of the same class (more than 5 patients). This section does not appear to be well thought out and is likely to be substantially revised;
4. Primary Caregivers licensed to serve more than 5 patients will be required to register the cultivation site with the Department of Revenue, disclose the patients they are working for and comply with zoning and building regulations. This appears to be limited to PCs who received a waiver to care for more than 5 patients, but could likely include all Primary Caregivers. This could result in elimination of home-based cultivation;
5. MMCs will be permitted to sell MMJ below cost or give MMJ to indigent patients. It is unclear whether this will impact the 2 oz. per patient inventory limits;
6. MMCs will be permitted to sell clones. According to the recent Dept. of Revenue rules (see above) clones are treated as plants and subject to inventory limits (6 plants per primary center assignment) and cannot be sold to patients;
7. MMCs will be able to “trade” medicine in equal amounts with another MMC, but not “re-traded.” It is unclear whether this will be included in the 30% allowable sales;
8. The prohibition for owners with a felony drug conviction in their lifetime will be reduced to a conviction within 5 years of the completion of the sentence;
9. The location of the Optional Cultivation Premises will no longer be confidential;
10. Multiple MIPs will be permitted to operate from a single facility by obtaining a “manufacturing facility license.” It is unclear how this will be enforced, fees, etc.;
11. Patients will be permitted to purchase medicine while their application is being processed (no more 35 day waiting period);
12. Labeling of medicine is going to be addressed; and
13. Doctor’s with “conditional” licenses will be permitted to request that they be able to recommend MMJ.

Finally, I trust that all of you are prospering in the New Year and that you are currently in compliance with the rules governing your business. Be reminded that compliance will be measured from 7/1/10 and you should not expect any leniency if you are not compliant at all times.

35 day rule, selling to new patients

As some of you may know, Mr. Matt Cook, on the advice of the attorney general, pronounced that MMCs cannot sell MMJ to new patients until the expiration of 35 days after the application is sent to the Department of Health. Please review http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/Rev-Enforcement/RE/1251575119584.

The apparent basis is Amendment 20 which states, in part, that the state must issue the MMJ registry cards within 35 days after the application is received. Accordingly, Mr. Cook believes that 35 days must pass before the patient is “legal.” I disagree. Participation in the MMJ registry program is not required. A patient is entitled to the affirmative defense to criminal prosecution upon the recommendation for use of MMJ by a licensed physician. The Amendment requires that the card must then be issued no later than 35 days after submission of the application. As we all know, this hasn’t occurred for over a year.

However, Mr. Cook requires that the MMC not sell MMJ to any new patients until 35 days after submission of the application have passed. I anticipate that the state will be verifying this information at some point in the future and will look back to 7/1/10 for compliance. Accordingly, please comply with this rule immediately.

Finally, the state is still woefully behind in issuing MMJ patient registry cards. The Amendment states that when the card is not issued within 35 days, the patient “shall provide a copy of the application” and “written documentation and proof of the date of mailing.” I understand that this is not included in the application or the state’s application instructions. Nonetheless, it is the law and must be followed by the MMJ businesses…

amending applications

In view of the rapid, changing circumstances for MMJ businesses, the Department of Revenue is permitting applicants to amend their applications in the following situations:

Replacing a cultivation location with a new cultivation location (filing an amended appendix A) to the original application. I suspect that another OPC fee must be tendered along with the new Appendix A;
Adding/deleting managers, members, shareholders. New keyperson applications must also be tendered;
Transferring or selling the business assets (internal changes to an LLC or corporation, including transferring all stock/ownership of that entity); or
Increasing or decreasing the size of the proposed premises.

This list is not exhaustive and amendment may (or may not) be permitted in other situations.

Next, you must first seek local approval for any of the above-changes to your business. Also, you may only amend the application if:

1) You were operating an established, locally approved business on July 1, 2010, (or you had an application on file by July 1, 2010, which was subsequently approved), and;

2) You filed the required applications and fees with the Department of Revenue on or before August 1, 2010; and

3) On or before September 1, 2010, you certified that you were growing at least 70% of the medical marijuana necessary for your operation.

Mr. Cook advises that continued operation of a medical marijuana business or without meeting all three of these conditions is in violation of 12-43.3-901(1)(c) and 12-43.3-901(1)(d) C.R.S. This means that if you were late with your 9/1/10 certification, you are no longer permitted to continue to operate while your application is pending and must submit an entirely new application.

MMC and the “grow your own” requirement

Although I have previously discussed this issue, I need to address the concept of a MMC growing its own medicine. Here are the basic rules:

1. The MMC must grow up to 70% of its own MMJ.
2. The MMC can only purchase up to 30% of the MMJ from another, licensed MMC.
3. The MMC cannot buy MMJ from a caregiver or patient. Simply put, there is nothing legal a caregiver or patient can do with “excess” MMJ.
4. The effective date for the MMC to grow its own MMJ is 7/1/10. The 9/1/10 certification date is merely the date you tell the state that you are and have been growing your own MMJ.
5. You cannot contract with a grower to produce MMJ – you must grow your own.

Next, what is 70%? This is one of the more cryptic answers in this area of law. First, you must look to CRS 12-43.3-901, the unlawful acts section. At Sec. (e), it states that it is unlawful (i.e., illegal) for the MMC to possess more than 2 ounces and grow more than 6 plants for each patient that assigns the MMC as their “primary center.” Accordingly, the total amount of MMJ a MMC can possess is 2 ounces multiplied by the number of patients who have designated the MMC as their primary center. Using simple math, a MMC with 50 patients who have assigned the MMC as the primary center can possess no more than 100 ounces of MMJ. A MMC with 100 patients can possess 200 ounces and so on. Accordingly, a MMC with 50 patients must produce 70% of 100 ounces, which is 70 ounces. Again, the MMC can possess up to 100 ounces and no more. The practical result is that, in most cases, the production of the grow far outstrips the legal possession of MMJ by the MMC. Also, since you can only sell 30% of the total inventory to another MMC, in the 50 patient example, you can only sell 30 ounces to another MMC. Understand that the MMC is likely to produce “excess” MMJ, but cannot legally sell it. The key is to acquire more patients who assign the MMC as their primary center until your retail and cultivation capacity are equal. Otherwise, unlawful and illegal activities will have dire consequences.

Employees: felons, under 21, and out of state residents

As most of you know, the state prohibits people under 21, drug sale related felons and out of state residents from owning MMCs. The state also requires employees to “pass a criminal background check.” The question arises – does the drug felon, under 21 and out of state resident standards for owners apply equally to non-owner employees? At this point, the answer is yes. First, CRS 12-43.3.-101 et seq. prohibits employees under the age of 21 working in any capacity. Second, in speaking with Mr. Matt Cook, he advised that the “no drug sale felony” rule will be applied equally to non-owner employees. While the standard “pass a criminal background check” is vague, Mr. Cook believes (at least for the moment) that the felony issues are the same for owners and employees. Finally, Mr. Cook also states that the out-of-state resident, i.e., two years, applies equally to non-owner employees. Again, CRS 12-43.3-101 et seq. only states that employees must be state residents, Mr. Cook believes the two year standard applies. Perhaps several dozen letters might change his mind?

City of Boulder requires license for grow and retail

The City of Boulder elected to require seperate licenses for both the OPC (grow operation) and retail operations of a MMC. Be warned that is is not enough to submit a MMC business license application for the retail side of the business. Also, if you added the grow after June 18, you are required to submit the application for the grow by 8/31/10. Of course, if you had both the grow and retail in operation before June 18, you may submit both applications on or before 10/31/10. Please be advised that it appears that priority for location (i.e., within 500 ft. of three other MMCs) will be allotted based on date of submission of the application, not date of operation. This is not final, but you should get your application in a.s.a.p.

7/1/10 or 7/1/11? Which is it?

Confusion continues to guide the MMJ industry. Many of you have attended presentations by Mr. Matt Cook, the head of the state’s MMJ business regulation division. At these presentations, Mr. Cook repeatedly states that the bill goes into effect on 7/1/11 and that local regulations apply until then. I have spoken with many MMJ business people who take this information as the gospel truth and intend to continue with their businesses in their current form until 7/1/11. Many such businesses are “grow only” or “retail only” operations that have been locally approved (or not). Many are owned by people who have not resided in the state for two years, have a felony drug conviction or a felony conviction less than five years old or all three. In my discussions and correspondence with Mr. Cook (see prior blogs), it appears that continued operation of a MMJ business without strict compliance with HB1284 until 7/1/11 could be a serious problem.

Let’s examine the idea that you have until 7/1/11 to comply with HB1284. If the bill does not take effect until 7/1/11, is there any requirement to apply to the state by 8/1/10? Can you refuse to pay the $7500-$18,000 application fee until July 2011? When you list your optional grow premises, can you tell the state that you plan to get around to it before July 2011? When you list a drug felon or out-of-state resident as an owner or employee on your application, will you be able to address this issue sometime before 7/1/11. Finally, when you certify, under penalty of perjury, on 9/1/10 that you are growing 70% of your own MMJ, can you tell the state that you are planning on doing this, but currently are buying all of the MMJ from various growers?

The point of this exercise is to point out that compliance with HB1284 appears to be immediate. If it were otherwise, none of the provision of HB1284 would apply, including the 8/1/10 application, the license/application fee, the 9/1/10 certification, etc.

Based on the information we received from Mr. Cook and our reading of HB1284, we suggest immediate compliance with HB1284. If you follow this advice, the worst that can happen is that you ran an HB1284 compliant business for one year longer than necessary. However, if you defer your compliance until July1, 2011, you may find that your application is denied or, worse, that you may face criminal prosecution for operating a business without the benefit of HB1284 protection. In our view, it is better to be safe than sorry.