By Griffen Thorne on January 24, 2019
On Wednesday, January 16, 2019, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (“BCC”)—the agency that licenses distributors, retailers, testing labs, and event organizers—dropped its final regulations. Until then, BCC licensed commercial cannabis operators or applicants for BCC licenses had been in no man’s land, complying with emergency regulations while trying to divine what the final regulations would look like, what they would need to change, and when they would need to change it. While the final regulations are by no means perfect, they are at least here (alongside the CDPH permanent regulations, which we covered on Monday). While these final regulations from BCC appear to mirror the proposed regulations submitted back in early December, they depart from the emergency regulations in some pretty significant ways. Below are a few of the more key areas.
Owner Changes. One of the more significant final regulatory expansions comes in the disclosures that must be made to the BCC when a licensed entity is owned by another entity. The BCC previously required that some of the people who own or run entity owners of licensees be disclosed in BCC applications, but the new regulation greatly expands those requirements. For example, in the readopted emergency regulations, entity owners needed to disclose their CEOs and/or board members if those entities were considered owners based on 20 percent or more equity in the licensee.
Now, entity ownership requirements kick in in any situation in which a company owns a licensee—not only where the ownership is based in equity (remember that ownership can also be based on direction, management, or control of a licensee or other grounds). If an entity is considered an owner, then anyone with a financial interest in that entity must be disclosed to the BCC and may be considered an owner.
This is a tremendously significant requirement and means that virtually everyone in the corporate chain must be disclosed (and probably must provide all of the many significant and burdensome disclosures). For example, if John Smith directly owns 1% of the BCC licensee ABC Retailer and does not exercise any control over ABC Retailer, he will be considered a financial interest holder as opposed to an owner. But if he owns 1% of XYX Holdings, which has a 20% stake in ABC Retailer, he will need to be disclosed to the BCC and may be considered an owner.
What is less clear is how the BCC will evaluate whether persons like John Smith in the above example are owners. The rule isn’t very clear on this point, but does give examples such as “all entities in a multilayer business structure, as well as the chief executive officer, members of the board of directors, partners, trustees and all persons who have control of a trust, and managing members or nonmember managers of the entity.” Persons like John Smith, who really have no say over the company and have just a small monetary interest, probably won’t be considered owners even under these new rules. But again, they probably will need to make full ownership disclosures before the BCC makes that determination.
One other significant point in the final regulations is that the BCC now expressly considers persons who expect 20% or more of the profits of a licensee to be owners. This means that various kinds of contracts (subject to the discussion below) between a licensee and third party could turn the third party into an owner depending on the compensation—even if that third party otherwise would not be an owner.
Interest Holder Changes: Similar to the owner regulations, the financial interest holder rules (regulation 5004) were also enlarged. Unlike in the readopted emergency regulations, the interest holder regulations provide a non-exhaustive list of persons or entities who must be disclosed as interest holders:
- An employee who has entered into a profit share plan with the commercial cannabis business.
- A landlord who has entered into a lease agreement with the commercial cannabis business for a share of the profits.
- A consultant who is providing services to the commercial cannabis business for a share of the profits.
- A person acting as an agent, such as an accountant or attorney, for the commercial cannabis business for a share of the profits.
- A broker who is engaging in activities for the commercial cannabis business for a share of the profits.
- A salesperson who earns a commission.
The ownership changes discussed above may seem at first glance to be one of the more onerous changes in the regulations. And to some extent—especially for licensees in corporate families or which are owned by other companies—this is true. But these interest holder disclosure requirements are equally, if not more complex because they require disclosure of virtually anyone with any sort of stake in a cannabis company—small or large. This will require companies to take stock of all third-party agreements to which they are a party and spend serious effort analyzing whether the disclosure obligations apply.
Not only are there likely to be larger disclosures of financial interest holders than of owners, but licensees are also now obligated to make similar disclosures where their financial interest holders are entities. Now, anyone who is an “owner” of a financial interest holder will need to be disclosed to the BCC. This rule is admittedly narrower than the ownership disclosure requirement in that it is limited to just owners of the financial interest holder and that the categories of information that must be submitted are much narrower, but it is significant nonetheless and will require a lot of work and evaluation.
IP Licenses and Other Third-Party Agreements: Back in October, we wrote about how changes to BCC regulation 5032(b) could prohibit IP licenses and other transactions with non-licensed entities. This is obviously significant as there are many such transactions in this industry (and any). The October version of rule 5032(b) was subsequently scaled back to remove examples of unlawful third-party agreements, but now we are left with a regulation which is ambiguous as to its scope: “Licensees shall not conduct commercial cannabis activities on behalf of, at the request of, or pursuant to a contract with any person who is not licensed under the Act.” In the final statement of rules that accompanied the December 2018 proposed final regulations (which have been removed from the BCC’s website), the BCC suggested in response to comments that third-party license agreements could be permissible if an unlicensed entity were disclosed as an owner or interest holder. But whether the BCC maintains this position remains to be seen.
Packaging and Labeling: A few weeks ago, I wrote about the packaging and labeling mess that was likely to ensue if the December proposed regulations became the final regulations. It looks like that’s happened, so I won’t repeat that article verbatim. But what bears repeating is that, except for child-resistant packaging, there doesn’t appear to be any sort of grace period for compliance with the new labeling regulations. To compound matters, while distributors can re-label cannabis and pre-rolls, they apparently can no longer re-label manufactured goods—and retailers can’t do any sort of labeling. We therefore expect that there will be a good deal of chaos over packaging that was compliant but now suddenly is not, and confusion over what to do about it.
Delivery Expansion (or Not?): As I highlighted back in the October when the BCC’s modified proposed regulations were issued, one of the bigger changes to the regulations was to section 5416(d), which allows deliveries into any jurisdiction in the state so long as they comply with the BCC regulations. This change stuck in the final regulations. While it would seem that licensed cannabis retailers can deliver anywhere in the state, there are a number of jurisdictions that still forbid it. This thus creates a conflict between local laws and statewide regulations that is not so clear as one may think.
For example, Malibu recently passed a measure that permits adult use cannabis sales and deliveries, but forbids deliveries into Malibu for entities that don’t have Malibu permits. Pasadena, which is currently undergoing a massive licensing competition, prohibits its permittees from delivering into cities or counties that prohibit deliveries. And of course there are numerous other California cities which are even more restrictive and prohibit all commercial cannabis sales or deliveries.
While not very clear, the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA”) provides: “A local jurisdiction shall not prevent delivery of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads by a licensee acting in compliance with [MAUCRSA] . . . .” Arguments could therefore be made on either side of the spectrum about whether MAUCRSA permits cities to preclude deliveries: cities could argue that MAUCRSA permits them to ban deliveries off of public roads (i.e., on private property); others could argue that deliveries made using public roads and to residences or other private properties adjacent to public roads cannot be prohibited. We expect that there may be future litigation here.
These are just some of the significant changes in the regulations. Compliance with the regulations is critical, and it’s always recommended to consult with experienced regulatory cannabis counsel in doing so.