Tag Archives: cannabis

280E and Recreational Cannabis: It Keeps Coming Back to This

As California nears a ballot vote on legalizing recreational cannabis, the Ninth Circuit has ruled on the very important issue of whether cannabis businesses may deduct their business expenses. While the case, Olive v. Comm’r, dealt specifically with a medical cannabis business, it has far-reaching implications for future cannabis businesses (regardless of whether they’re medical or recreational). Deductions allowed for business expenses are the keystone tax benefits and incentives for taxpayers to run their own businesses. Without these deductions, running and owning a business becomes an even more cumbersome and costly endeavor. This, in turn, diminishes incentive for current black-market participants to enter the legal sphere. (See my previous post for a discussion on why these consequences should matter to all Californians, proponents and opponents of legalization alike).

On July 9, 2015, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a previous Tax Court decision denying a medical cannabis dispensary the typical tax deductions afforded for ordinary and necessary business expenses. Petitioner, herein referred to as Taxpayer, owned a medical marijuana dispensary and was denied deductions for his business expenses because his particular business fell under one very consequential exception of the Federal Tax Code: section 280E. Despite months of speculation as to whether Section 280E applies to cannabis businesses, it is now clear that it does apply to medical cannabis businesses, and, based on the rationale of the Court, will apply to recreational cannabis businesses as well.

For those unfamiliar with section 280E, it specifically prohibits deductions for business expenses incurred where the  “trade or business” consists of trafficking controlled substances prohibited by federal law. The Controlled Substances Act classifies cannabis as such a substance and federally prohibits its use or sale. Marijuana businesses are required, like all other businesses, legal or illegal, to adhere to both state and federal tax laws. 280E changes liability substantially: cannabis businesses have to capitalize the cost of the business expenses and have to wait until the product is off the shelves to report the “Cost of Goods Sold” (COGS). The items that constitute COGS are much more limited than the plethora of expense types typically allowed under the business expense deduction. COGS, for example, include the cost of purchasing inventory (or product such as cannabis flower), and storage. In contrast, the business expense deduction includes rent, employee wages, and insurance, among others.

In Olive v. Comm’r, Taxpayer argued that 280E should not apply and he should be allowed to deduct his business expenses. His argument relied on recent federal directives (e.g., the Cole Memorandum, 2015 Appropriations Act (128 Stat. 2217), etc.), which cumulatively give states the latitude to implement legalized cannabis systems without federal interference. The Court disagreed and pointedly explained that the applicability of section 280E to cannabis businesses is wholly separate from recent federal directives regarding the enforceability of federal preemption of statewide legalized cannabis systems. The Court’s opinion rested on the statutory interpretation and authority within section 280E, and the meaning of “trade or business” as used in the tax code.

First, the Court opined that recent federal directives regarding cannabis do not preempt or reverse the current statutory law governing tax deductions for business expenses. The determination of whether section 280E applies to cannabis businesses is a matter of statutory interpretation of section 280E and the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). To date, Congress has not amended or repealed the CSA. Thus, the sale and use of cannabis remains prohibited by the CSA, i.e., federally prohibited. And, as mentioned above, section 280E specifically precludes deductions for businesses whose “trade or business” consists of activities that are federally prohibited. The language of both federal provisions is simple and easy to interpret. The Court found that the first prong, as to whether the “trade or business” was federally prohibited, applied, and therefore prohibited the taxpayer from deducting his business expenses.

Next, the Olive Court defined “trade or business,” saying an activity constitutes a “trade or business” where the activity was entered into with the dominant hope and intent of realizing a profit. 792 F.3d 1146 at 1149 (citing 477 U.S. 105) (emphasis added). The Court was clear that Taxpayer’s sale of medical cannabis was the only activity that met the “trade or business” standard as it was the only one that generated income. The Taxpayer’s business offered patrons other services including, but not limited to, yoga, counseling, and food and drink. However, all of those activities were offered free of charge to patrons. Thus, the Court concluded that the free services were clearly not offered with the dominant hope and intent of realizing a profit. In the Court’s view, Taxpayer’s only “trade or business” was the sale of medical cannabis.

The Court recognized that the taxpayer’s business was legal on the state level. However, federal law still controls where the issue being litigated deals with federal tax law. Despite federal directives that have eased or eliminated enforcement of the CSA, the law is still the law in this court’s eyes. And unlike other tax codes, section 280E uses clear and plain language. There is no other way for the Court to interpret such a statute. Unfortunately, recreational cannabis also clearly falls under the CSA prohibition and therefore to section 280E. Thus, the analysis used here will remain the same. Section 280E will continue to pose a costly problem for cannabis businesses.

Although the Ninth Circuit’s ruling is legally sound, it is a disappointing outcome for cannabis businesses held in the states comprising the circuit. It also sets a strong precedent for other circuits to follow. For California, however, this ruling comes at an opportune time as it and a number of its sister states prepare for the so-called inevitable legalization of recreational cannabis. Armed with the knowledge that 280E will apply to cannabis businesses, California can take a more proactive approach and establish a state tax model that considers the effects section 280E will have on its local businesses.

States embarking on legalizing recreational cannabis should recognize the 280E problem and realize that it will continue to cost cannabis businesses more than those in other industries. Implementing a new recreational cannabis system with high State taxes will win votes and may draw in high revenues initially, but such a system will only make it more challenging for small businesses and new business owners to remain profitable and open for business. High taxes also do not help educate users on safety or help diminish the social harms associated with cannabis use. (See “Cigarettes and Booze” for the full discussion on this topic). Lower taxes or incentive programs that include state tax credits for compliance, on the other hand, are great options to relieve recreational cannabis businesses from the cumbersome consequences of 280E. Incentive programs and State tax credits can also be especially useful for encouraging “best practices,” or compliance with regulations that are specifically designed to lower specific social harms. (See my earlier post for examples from the tobacco and alcohol industries). From a business and economic perspective, they could also lead to a more stable industry by allowing businesses to flourish and thereby remain in the legal market. Above all, such options incentivize market participants to enter the legal sphere, and will help small businesses grow within California.

So What Should California Do with On-Site Consumption?

In the 2016 election, California has important decisions to make regarding legal recreational marijuana beyond simply whether to allow it or not. Where and how consumers access the marijuana market is an equally important consideration that bill crafters and policymakers must give serious forethought to. Luckily, Colorado, Washington and the other legalized states have provided living laboratories for the different means of controlling and regulating a legalized recreational marijuana market.

My past have detailed the different legal and regulatory systems that Colorado, Washington, and other recreational marijuana states have implemented for their marijuana markets, specifically regarding on-site consumption businesses such as marijuana lounges, and how such businesses organize and operate themselves within the crisscrossing legal frameworks created by state anti-smoking laws, local ordinances and regulations, and the requirements of the marijuana bills themselves. From the patchwork of pros and cons observed from each regulatory system, patterns have emerged that can guide California policymakers and bill drafters to best craft sensible recreational marijuana laws that carefully balance the potential for state and business revenue against the perceived social costs and negative externalities of legalized recreational marijuana.

In this post, I will detail the recommendations for how California could craft sensible policy for the creation of on-site marijuana consumption businesses, including retail point of sale consumption (RPOSC) businesses, made throughout my previous blog posts. I will offer further guidance on how marijuana RPOSC businesses—distinct from the marijuana-lounge type enterprise which has been the predominant business form within the fledging marijuana hospitality market—can be used to redevelop areas within cities in a similar manner to the effect craft breweries, wine bars, and urban gastro-pubs have had in underdeveloped areas across the state. I will highlight the potential sales and business tax income that previously legalizing states have left on the table by not providing clear guidelines for the creation of businesses in the secondary marijuana hospitality market. Lastly, I will explain what can be done to best foster an environment where business, local government, and social health issues are all accommodated.

Increased tax revenue from new marijuana markets has been cited by advocates as an important reason to legalize recreational marijuana. Recent reports project the amount made in taxes for the last twelve months by the state of Washington at $44 million, while Colorado projects total revenue for the year since legalization at $69 million. Differences in the way marijuana is taxed in each state account for much of the differences in revenue, although experts still believe money is being left on the table by states who still allow relatively unfettered access to medical marijuana markets which aren’t subject to the same degree of taxation as recreational cannabis, and thus, sell at lower prices. The still substantial black market also still supplies a large share of the cannabis consumed in Colorado: a 2014 Colorado Department of Revenue report stated that of the roughly 130 metric tons of marijuana consumed in the state that year, only 77 tons of it was sold through medical and recreational dispensaries. As increasing data shines light on the potential state and local revenue lost to the black market, California can observe the patterns and better craft the laws governing its recreational marijuana market.

Indeed, in order to avoid many of the problems posed by the black market’s continued existence in recreational marijuana states, California must find a way to convince many of the growers and sellers in its black market to fold their historically illegal or quasi-legal (via the states barely regulated medical system) enterprises into the legal marketplace. This is represented most visibly by the Emerald Triangle in Northern California (Humboldt, Medicino, and Trinity counties), which has a long history with black market marijuana production. Allowing regions and cities to create tourist and entertainment destinations could be one way to convince otherwise reticent regions to join the legal market, especially if federal trademark law eventually allows marijuana entrepreneurs and regions to trademark particular “terroirs” or “appellations” as used in wine to differentiate growing regions, as well as marketing marijuana as specifically from the Emerald Triangle or grown through organic methods or by a particular grower. In fact, organizing the various growers in Humboldt County into a market resembling the wineries in Napa Valley is a goal of the Emerald Growers Association and the California Cannabis Voice-Humboldt, two industry advocacy groups for Northern California and the Emerald Triangle.

Experts such as Mark Kleiman from the University of California, Los Angeles, have also noted that if the increasing supply due to the newfound ease and legality of growing cannabis causes the retail price of cannabis to drop below the roughly $10-$20 a gram in current recreational markets, tax percentages tied to the value of sold marijuana would cause revenues to drop further. He offers two answers: a specific excise tax based on the quantity sold rather than the price, or a tax on the potency of the marijuana gauged via the THC content of the product, similar to the different taxation levels for beer and hard liquor. Taxes such as these could serve to simultaneously squeeze out the black market while reducing societal harms from increases in substance use disorder, similar to other “sin taxes” on cigarettes and alcohol.

While the question of how to correctly tax marijuana to balance the social costs and revenue for the state while maintaining a healthy market is a complicated one (see this series of blog posts by fellow classmate/blogger Alexa Quinn for an in-depth analysis of the tax issues related to marijuana), policymakers should also look for complementary means to generate revenue from the recreational marijuana market. This could be done by allowing the creation of entertainment/hospitality industries serving the marijuana market like the aforementioned RPOSC businesses from my other blog posts. These could be bud-pubs in the style of craft brewpubs, or cannabars attached to marijuana greenhouses like wine bars attached to vineyards in the Napa Valley which were mentioned above as potential industry models.

RPOSC businesses can also provide opportunities for the generation of state and local tax revenues beyond what is traditionally been generated by the cultivator-processor-seller cycle of the marijuana market. For instance, lawmakers could add another level of taxation by requiring taxes to be charged when the grower/processor sells to the RPOSC business like a budpub, and again when the budpub sells to the customer to be consumed on premises. This style of taxation would be similar to the way Washington state taxes its marijuana market, i.e. a sales tax for growers to processors, processors to retailers, and retailers to customers. This tax would be likely be passed onto the final price of the marijuana for the consumer, although if wholesale prices continue to fall as expected in recreational markets, the final price tag would only be slightly higher relative to the price when buying at a retail cannabis dispensary, analogous to the difference paid by purchasing a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine at a grocery store versus a pint of beer or glass of wine ordered from within a social bar setting. Whether the tax is based on a percentage of total sale price, quantity of product, or more sophisticated method like THC percentage would be up to policymakers and as noted above is its own complicated issue.

Fortunately, the organizations who are jockeying to craft the resolution that will be on the California ballot in 2016 have so far understood that the on-site consumption issue is a missing link to a complete and healthy marijuana market. The first submitted version of the proposed recreational marijuana bill for California’s 2016 election, titled “The California Craft Cannabis Initiative,” creates a new agency called the California Cannabis Commission which may develop a licensing system for retail locations where marijuana products “may be purchased, sold, served, consumed, and otherwise disposed of in a licensed premises in a manner similar to licensed premises serving alcoholic beverages,” i.e. RPOSC businesses. The bill also contains various zoning requirements banning craft and commercial marijuana grows from residentially zoned areas, while permitting municipalities to draft additional zoning laws for cultivation, processing, and on-site consumption businesses. This language shows the support and understanding from industry advocates not just for the development of a viable recreational marijuana market, but also for actual RPOSC businesses where cannabis is sold and consumed on premises. Future lawmakers should focus their efforts on the above mentioned form of RPOSC business, as opposed to on-site consumption business-types where customers are only allowed to bring and consume their personally acquired cannabis, rather than cannabis products sold from the cannabar, due to proprietors having to shoehorn their business model within conflicting marijuana laws not designed with on-site consumption enterprises in mind. Hopefully, other future recreational marijuana initiative proposals being written for California will also allow RPOSC businesses.

For municipalities and lawmakers, future RPOSC business forms have a number of advantages over the currently existing smoking lounge format seen in Colorado Springs and Nederland, Colorado. First, allowing the sale and consumption of marijuana on the premises allows for safe and easy monitoring of customer intoxication and age levels via carding and employee monitoring. This is augmented by providing opportunities for the business and consumer to be informed about the particular strains and form of the marijuana product (flower vs. concentrate vs. edible) through labeling and “menus”, and also how it will be consumed (vaporizing vs. concentrate/dab “rigs” vs. traditional smoking vs. eating) in a safe manner.

Second, by allowing these businesses to operate kitchens and/or other forms of entertainment like the pool tables, televised sporting events, parlor games, live music or DJs seen within currently existing lounge or pub-type establishments, the businesses could become profitable and desirable entertainment locations for 21 and up crowds outside of their attraction as cannabis consumption locations. This could reap additional taxes through food and drink sales and the corresponding corporate/income tax increase from a successful business. In addition, if considering the long term development of the area around a RPOSC business standing alone or as part of a larger marijuana tourism district, popular RPOSC businesses could increase property values and the economic activity of secondary businesses in the area (like other entertainment venues and restaurants/eateries) in a manner similar to the revitalization seen caused by new craft breweries in under-developed urban areas within California cities like San Diego, San Francisco and Oakland.

Third, legalizing recreational marijuana into a system similar to how California regulates alcohol and providing social settings for marijuana consumption via RPOSC businesses­ that only allow certified-legally grown marijuana—similar to the manner alcohol is sourced, purchased, and consumed at bars and entertainment venues—would create larger demand for marijuana grown and produced within the legal system. In this system, it is likely that user preference between different marijuana products in the marijuana market would necessitate patented, trademarked or otherwise certified strains, varietals, terroirs, appellations and marijuana business copyrights to handle the vast proliferation of products within the new marketplace.

For various reasons, the current smoking lounges existing in Colorado have not spurred this described proliferation of commercialized marijuana strains and brands. One reason could be because the marijuana smoking lounges in Colorado generally operate by requiring customers to bring their own marijuana products in order to maintain their anti-smoking exemption as “social clubs” under a state’s Clean Air Act (explained in greater depth in Additionally, some businesses that allow on-site cannabis consumption decline to personally sell recreational cannabis products due to local ordinances banning recreational marijuana sales. Although important for black market concerns, business owners have no easy way to determine whether the cannabis products their customers are consuming originate from legal growers, and likely don’t want to know. Thus, cannabis lounges that don’t sell marijuana products would seem to be less effective at stimulating overall tax growth and compliance with the legal scheme for recreational marijuana than RPOSC businesses because the marijuana consumed within is not guaranteed to come from the legal market. The equivalent access to social marijuana lounges, along with the lower prices, provides an continuing disincentive for consumers to purchase marijuana from the legal recreational market; conversely, RPOSC business in California that only sell legally grown and sourced bud, and do not allow in outside products similar to bars, could be a constructive tool for communities to reduce their black market grower and seller populations.

As noted above, future RPOSC businesses should be required to stock marijuana products grown from sellers operating within the legal market as certified by an agency responsible for monitoring that market.  As examples, the previously legalized states have often tasked their agencies controlling alcohol or revenue with the additional marijuana responsibilities. Colorado created the Marijuana Enforcement Division out of its Department of Revenue, while Washington expanded the mandate of its Liquor Control Board to also handle marijuana licensing and enforcement. Oregon vested its Oregon Liquor Control Commission with the authority to implement and enforce its new recreational market. What agency will take the lead in California is unknown, though the concept is clearly in play as evidenced by the California Craft Cannabis Initiative’s aptly named California Cannabis Commission. Whatever agency ends up with lead enforcement should be capable of monitoring simultaneously the production, processing, and retail sale aspect of the recreational marijuana market, and will likely need funding from the state’s budget in addition to a specific percentage of funds allocated from marijuana tax revenues.

Additionally, California’s federal lawmakers should make every possible effort in lobbying the IRS and major banks for changes to the way the financial system treats cannabis businesses. Currently, most business done by marijuana businesses in Washington and Colorado is conducted in cash due to reticence by banks to accept deposits from an industry that is still federally illegal. The IRS does its part in Section 280E of the federal tax code by denying tax deductions from marijuana businesses other than for costs of goods sold even for dispensaries operating within the law in legalized states. As Forbes notes, this means deductions can be taken on “wages, rents, and repair expenses attributable to production activities,” but not for wages, rents or repair expenses related to general business or marketing activities such as the actual maintenance of a storefront for the direct sale and consumption of cannabis products. If RPOSC businesses eventually settle into business and revenue cycles similar to bars and restaurants, they will need access to deductions from their state and federal taxes to remain viable investment and business opportunities.

Lastly, the interaction between RPOSC businesses and California’s Clean Indoor Air Act must be legislatively clarified to provide clear guidelines to future businesspeople who seek to invest in the cannabis entertainment and hospitality industry. The California Craft Cannabis Initiative’s language makes no mention of how the Clean Air act affects the potential business forms taken by RPOSC businesses, just that the Commission “may” create licenses for a business where cannabis is consumed onsite.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, current guidelines (PDF) issued by the California Attorney General at the end of 2011 indicated that serving food or drink relegates the “primary purpose” of smoking-related business away from “smoking,” which previously qualified them for the workplace exemption to the Clean Indoor Air Act. This provision could be an issue for RPOSC businesses seeking to allow marijuana smoking inside their business, as they could not qualify for the same exemption that hookah bars and cigar lounges receive. This could be solved via a simple legislative amendment, though holding the California legislature to the same level of political cooperation and proactivity displayed by the Colorado and Washington legislatures in legislating fixes to their respective recreational marijuana markets seems an unsafe bet at best. It would be easier to write the amendment into the final initiative’s language, although this would make future efforts to amend it difficult due to the vagaries of the California initiative system.

All in all, California has a number of options about how to create a viable marijuana market in 2016 that addresses issues raised by the states that have previously fully legalized marijuana. However, it will require political will and cooperation between the various interested factions within the California marijuana market, from southern California storefront retailers to Bay Area intellectual property entrepreneurs on up to Emerald Triangle growers and cultivators to properly create a uniquely Californian market that best serves California’s varied regions and constituents, while simultaneously providing a successful example for recreational legalization efforts across the country. Along with many other important decisions in the 2016 election, California’s voters will get an opportunity to collectively choose their state’s future and relationship with legal recreational marijuana: hopefully, this blog has educated you, the reader, be you citizen, policy maker and/or entrepreneur with a stake in the market, about the efforts being undertaken now and in the past to shape the form and nature of the nascent marijuana market by California and her sister states, and what relationship we, as citizens, want our state to have with recreational marijuana.

Licensing High Technology; Cannabis and Corporations

In a recent and excellent blog post, Jeff Madrak, a colleague of mine, addressed the current growth of “Big Marijuana.” The trick is lots of water and sunlight, but mostly it is careful adherence to the law. Cannabis’s legal status is a figurative hydra; ask a question about protecting children and you find yourself having to answer what harms current prohibition has and the long term effects of that regime; ask about taxing cannabis, and then you’re raising questions about specific tax types and similar industry approaches; and so on. Similarly, for every clever business strategy and solution, for every big picture analysis raised by that post, I found myself wondering about the policies served – if such solutions are “good” in more than a business sense, if society should punish or reward these “ganjapreneurs.”

Tackling that hydra is a task that is literally Herculean. This is cold comfort for business people, because business thrives best when the legal framework is well developed: such a framework reduces uncertainty, which reduces risk, and lower risk means greater long term return on investment. I want to address what I found to be a surprising result and a happy coincidence of law: namely the interaction of licensing intellectual property and the legal fiction of the corporate form.

An industry built on cannabis cannot operate on an interstate market without violating federal law and policy. Note the Cole Memo priority of “[p]reventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states” is facially violated even if marijuana is legal in those other states. Interstate commerce is the prerogative of the federal government, so Big Marijuana is restricted to operating on a state by state basis. However, the intangible nature of intellectual property and the economic convenience of the corporate form can provide an avenue between states that is already being explored by some.

The corporate form. It already sounds like a flimsy pretense, a phrase someone might casually drop as a parenthetical at a cocktail party and be met by a collective eye rolling of all within earshot. These days, the idea of the corporate identity is not only much more prevalent in the social dialogue but it is also more akin to an incantation. It is some sort of legal witchcraft, seeming to afford businesses protections traditionally reserved for actual people. I certainly have a degree of initial discomfort with corporate personhood.

Which isn’t to say there are not benefits to allocating personhood to a corporation. Probably the best justification for identifying a corporation as a legal individual is the allocation of liability. For one thing, investors are protected from personal liability, which promotes risk taking and innovation. Additionally, anyone harmed by the activities of a corporation can name this identity as a defendant in a court of law. In fact, a “person” can sue another “person” so long as they have standing. Standing is basically when one person has an injury that another person caused and the courts can give a remedy to, like Apple v. Samsung.

Legal personhood could also be applied to resolving unusual problems, such as an endangered animal being granted personhood via statute, allowing others to sue “someone” on behalf of that animal if that “someone” poses a threat to them or their habitat. While it has been indicated as possible for congress to grant such standing (an extraordinary step, indeed), courts have rejected standing for cetaceans, and declined to address the standing of sea turtles and birds. Not to digress too far into the realm of the Lorax, what is pertinent here is that our legal system defines “person” in a precise and artificial way to enforce certain rights and responsibilities.

Corporate persons generally have residency where they are incorporated. This is another convenience because courts are able to discern what laws apply to that corporation, and corporations are able to determine which state gets their taxes. Cannabis’ current legal hodgepodge makes this particular simplification incredibly useful. A business can very specifically choose a single state and act within those borders in both a literal and transparently legal sense. This distinction not only allows businesses to choose their laws, it also allows businesses to limit the federal illegality of their endeavors.

The California Artisan Cannabis initiative provides that “[a] person who is not a California resident, or not incorporated in California, shall not be qualified for a [cannabis] license.” (emphasis added). So the legal form, in this specific case, allows the legal cannabis market to thrive while limiting the breaking of federal laws, and promotes state self-governance. Finally, it keeps all of the profits and commerce contained within state limits, thus minimizing the effect of state legalization on neighboring states.

This raises the issue of licensing agreements between corporations in different states. Do such agreements subvert the policies and priorities of the individual states and the federal government, or do they, like the corporate form, actually work to preserve what few clear lines exist in the current legal schema? It is most likely that licensing agreements do neither of those things, but they do allow businesses to continue to flourish and to set up strategically for any potential federal-level changes in the legality of cannabis.

Intellectual property comes in various flavors, but is generally understood to refer to the protection of a particular expression of an idea. Intellectual property law is also often under the jurisdiction of the federal government, which, given the apparent contradictions between federal and state law, can lead to some interesting legal dilemmas. Licensing, however, affords private parties simple and interesting solutions to these problems.

Intellectual property is intangible. When you license someone to use it, you transfer legal rights, not an actual object. Normally a sale between a business in one state and a business in another state would be interstate commerce. Does a license to use a particular expression of an idea qualify as a transfer between state lines? Generally, no.

Without getting too silly, intangible properties, like debt, have no real location and so they are not physically transferred from one place to another. This legal technicality is important because the federal government only has jurisdiction over interstate commerce. In U.S. v. Lopez a federal statute barring guns from public schools was deemed unconstitutional and later had to be rewritten to include only those guns that have “moved in or that otherwise affect[] interstate or foreign commerce.”

Often, licensing will have territorial restrictions. With the current legal classification of cannabis, this is not only desirable and probably legally necessary for business, it also serves the voters’ preferences in determining the legality of cannabis for their state. Common intellectual property licensing practices come with various pros and cons.

What is interesting to this discussion is the availability of arbitration and non-assertion clauses, and the antitrust considerations raised by the latter. Arbitration agreements are a way to provide legally binding resolutions to any disputes that arise. They are wonderful because they avoid the public costs of a court, the individual costs of an attorney, and because they are not part of the court system they can be much more efficient, quick, and accessible to the poor. Of course, the flipside is that there are no fairness guarantees, appealing a decision is difficult, one party often has much more bargaining power and influence in the choice of arbiter (you’re probably bound to one with your credit card, your cell phone, your car, and so on), among other concerns. The primary focus of these concerns relates to labor agreements, or the protection of unsuspecting consumers.

I assume these business licenses are conducted by corporations that are legally savvy and cooperative, so many of those concerns are not present. Which is to say, arbitration agreements would largely function to save taxpayer money by keeping inter-business disputes out of the courts. An additional benefit of keeping disputes out of the courts is that courts would not have to weigh in on the divisive political debate over the legality of cannabis, arguably outside the purview of the court since strategy on how to enforce federal law is up to the executive branch.

Similarly a non-assertion agreement is a contract to not sue over certain property right infringements (often as part of a settlement in an infringement claim). This serves much of the previously mentioned arbitration benefits by keeping such controversies out of court but raises different concerns. Patents, specifically, grant a temporary monopoly on an invention and the dangers of monopolies have long been recognized. A non-assertion agreement can lead to a small group of businesses acting as an oligarchy by contract. Further, such an agreement potentially protects invalid patents from being challenged by competitors – certainly not a win for society since we prefer the full use of ideas in the public domain.

In conclusion, it appears that the legal technicalities of how corporations exist as entities and the intangible nature of intellectual property actually serves to avoid many of the legal problems surrounding cannabis.   While my initial impression was that corporations could use legal maneuvers to essentially be an interstate cannabis operation, the actuality is that these legal hoops need to be jumped through and actually function as further restrictions on interstate commerce for Big Cannabis.

Additionally it would be wrong to condemn a business for working within the existing legal framework. Furthermore, if they were trying to abuse that framework, courts are equipped to see through manipulations of the corporate form. Through these legal fictions, society is served by confining cannabis commerce to those states that wish to allow it without violating federal law and also potentially without placing unreasonable burdens on the judicial system.

Current Regulation of On-Site Marijuana Consumption in Other States: What can California learn?

With the legalization of marijuana in four states and the District of Columbia, policymakers and citizens have had to address the important question of where we should allow adults to consume legal marijuana. Within a legalized state, where marijuana possession and consumption is a commercial act rather than a criminal one, it is important that potential marijuana smokers have clear rules delineating where they may and may not consume marijuana. How policymakers have and will address this question says a lot about how a state’s relationship with marijuana will develop, what forms its legal marijuana market will take, and if retail point of sale consumption businesses (RPOSC) will be allowed within the new marketplace.

Current municipal medical marijuana regulations in California, and the vast majority of Colorado and Washington municipalities, expressly ban on-site marijuana consumption at dispensaries and cannabis clubs. As I’m highlighting with this article, this has created issues both for adults who come from out of state and are staying at hotels or other multi-unit buildings, and citizens of the state who do not own single-family dwellings that are exempt from state anti-smoking ordinances (see, e.g., Colorado’s Clean Indoor Air Act and its medical marijuana amendment, and Washington’s Inititative 901 which extended the state’s smoking ban to indoor locations like bars and restaurants).

Such state and municipal smoking bans, originally aimed at tobacco smokers, have largely been interpreted to also cover medical and legal marijuana smoke, although a few municipalities in California, like San Francisco, have passed resolutions strengthening the smoking bans while clarifying that valid medical cannabis dispensaries are exempt. Indicating further progress, Anchorage, Alaska recently became the first U.S. municipality to expressly allow “hash cafes” by regulation, alongside the group of “cannabis lounge/bars” that have popped up in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

However, placing limits on where to consume cannabis is an ongoing issue for the vast majority of the municipalities in Washington and Colorado since their marijuana laws went into effect. While Colorado allows anyone 21 and older to purchase marijuana at licensed retail stores, they simultaneously ban the on-site consumption of marijuana or marijuana byproducts on dispensary grounds, while also providing authority via the Colorado Constitution Article 18 Section 16-6(d) for landlords and other property owners to ban/regulate marijuana usage and possession on their private property.

Colorado’s legislation also left room for cities and municipalities to craft specific regulations for their area. For example, both the city of Denver, in section 24-408 of its municipal Health and Sanitation code, and Boulder,  in section 6-16-8(a) of its Health, Safety, and Sanitation code, promptly took the opportunity to clarify Colorado’s ban of public consumption to extend to specific on-site consumption bans for retail locations. Washington also bans on-site consumption at licensed marijuana retail locations (section 14(5) of the enacting legislation).

The result of the already existing smoking bans, plus the ongoing battles around official definitions of “public consumption” written into regulations drafted by local municipalities, have led to cannabis consumption being largely restricted to private single dwelling homes, even in states that have legalized marijuana’s possession and consumption. The lack of places to consume cannabis has even been reported to lead to an increase in negative outcomes for marijuana users: without a place to smoke or vaporize cannabis, they instead eat an edible, which for inexperienced users can be problematic.  (An article on the difference between smoking marijuana and eating marijuana edibles notes that onset of effects can take anywhere from a half to two hours versus the near instant impact of smoking or vaporizing). But should consumption be limited to the privacy of a specific type of home, to the exclusion of people who don’t have similar access? For the marijuana market, what does that mean for adults who wish to travel into the state for potential “marijuana tourism” and for individuals who don’t live in or have access to places where they can consume cannabis products legally?

In Colorado, tourists travelling into the state to engage in cannabis tourism are limited as to where they may consume their newly purchased marijuana. A secondary market has sprung up offering “marijuana tours,” where a tour van or limo drives paying customers from dispensary to dispensary in a manner similar to a wine tour, thereby allowing the passengers to enjoy their purchases in between destinations within the “privacy” of the vehicle.

For a marijuana tourist, the question of where to sleep after such a tour is important. As noted above, the Colorado Constitution allows private property owners to ban marijuana use and possession on their properties. This includes hotel owners who may wish to prohibit individuals who are merely in possession of marijuana from staying on their premises, not just those who wish to consume it there. The Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act limits smoking in hotels to 25% of the available rooms, so even if entrepreneurial business owners wanted to establish a marijuana-friendly hotel, they would still be limited in their ability to do so. Washington has a similar 75% for rooms in a hotel under their smoke-free requirement in its Clean Air Act, although the Washington Lodgers Association, a trade association for the states hoteliers, has made no additional recommendations besides suggesting that hotels promulgate a clear marijuana policy for their guests. Despite the lack of clear rules, online searches for hotel rooms in legal marijuana states have soared close to 50% as more and more people see marijuana-friendly states as viable vacation sites, providing willing and entrepreneurial hoteliers a growing market to cater to.

In addition to the current businesses mentioned above, it seems there are opportunities to alleviate these consumption issues through the responsible development of businesses allowing on-site consumption. RPOSC businesses such as “budpubs”, “cannabars”, and “vape lounges” that I mentioned earlier in the article and in my first post could simultaneously alleviate public-use issues, generate additional tax revenue for the state, and serve as lynchpins for economic redevelopment.

Currently, in legalized states and for California’s medical system, municipalities may lawfully restrict the locations where dispensaries exist. For Colorado, the combination of local zoning restrictions prohibiting dispensaries within residential and main street zoning areas, plus a required 1000 feet separation from schools, childcare and rehab facilities, has resulted in dispensaries usually being located in the outskirts of urban areas generally zoned for commercial and industrial uses. Some observers, like Professor Jeremy Németh from the University of Colorado Denver, have pointed out this often means dispensaries are located in socio-economically disadvantaged areas, whose residents are unable to mount the “not in my backyard” campaigns to local civic and economic leaders in order to have the dispensary located elsewhere (Read the full paper . While retail point of sale consumption businesses will no doubt face similar outcries, being able to elucidate the beneficial elements of redevelopment through “green” entertainment districts with RPOSC locations to these areas will certainly help create a positive response. Already, elected officials have realized the value of retail medical marijuana facilities in their localities: Professor Németh’s paper mentions Oakland Councilwomen Rebecca Kaplan, who cites medical marijuana businesses as a key driver of revitalization of the Uptown neighborhood in Oakland that had previously been vacant and underdeveloped. This same value, if properly regulated, can be derived from RPOSC businesses as well.

For the creation of RPOSC businesses to be beneficial to the quality of life and economic health of a community, there must be a comprehensive system for zoning and regulating where these businesses can exist. This must include plans in advance for limiting the potential negative side effects such as public over-consumption, smell, and increased loitering and foot/vehicle traffic, and maximizing the positive benefits they can bring to a community through increased land values, increased economic activity continuing into secondary markets like entertainment venues and restaurants, and  more  jobs.

If California legislators and city government officials look to the already prosperous examples of craft breweries, wineries, wine bars and brew pubs, they may realize a successful model already exists, currently overseen by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, to regulate future on-site consumption businesses. However, future RPOSC establishments in California must confront another regulatory hurdle besides zoning: our state and local indoor smoking bans.

As mentioned above, Colorado and Washington both ban the indoor smoking of tobacco through their state clean indoor air acts. Additional amendments later extended these provisions to also cover marijuana. However, within both acts are a few exceptions. For instance, Colorado has exemptions for “cigar-tobacco bars” and workplaces not open to the public with 3 or fewer employees in section 25-14-205 of their Clean Indoor Air Act, while Washington provides almost no exemptions beyond that for private residences and certain private workplaces under section 70.160.060 of their Clean Indoor Air Act.

In Colorado, this exemption for workplaces not open to the public has been used by at least one private marijuana lounge, Club Ned in Nederland, Colorado. According to Club Ned’s attorney Jeff Gard in an article published about the club, the major hurdle to opening a cannabis café was the state’s Clean Air Act. But he found inspiration from the way Veterans of Foreign Wars posts allowed members to smoke indoors: if they could structure their business as a private, members –only club, with restrictions such as membership dues, having a certain percentage of their revenue coming from those dues, few employees, and members bringing their own cannabis, they could operate within the Clean Indoor Air Act. After working out additional zoning issues with the town of Nederland, the club opened in April 2014 and has operated successfully ever since.

Because similar restrictions on indoor smoking exist within California’s Clean Air Act, along with similar exemptions for tobacco shops and smokers’ lounges, any RPOSC businesses in California would have to fall under existing regulations or seek to have additional exemptions created for them. In order to qualify as a smoker’s lounge or tobacco shop under the California Indoor Clean Air Act, the business’s “primary purpose” must be the smoking or sale of tobacco products. The California Attorney General in 2011 issued an opinion on this meaning by clarifying that food or alcohol cannot be served at a smoker’s lounge or tobacco shop, or it alters the primary purpose of the establishment away from tobacco sales or consumption, thus losing its exemption under the Clean Air Act. Similarly, the California Attorney General also found that bars and taverns with 5 or fewer employees were not exempt from the Act and thus could not allow smoking within the building. Unless new exemptions are created for any potential marijuana RPOSC businesses, the above restrictions provide tough but not insurmountable restrictions on creating and running a potential marijuana lounge.

Another potential avenue for a marijuana RPOSC business comes from the idea of a “vaporizer lounge,” which could potentially avoid the restrictions on smoking inside businesses. However, with the rising popularity of e-cigarettes, California has been wrestling with the idea of banning their use entirely. A recent bill in the California Senate by Senator Mark Leno of Sacramento would seek to broaden the definition of “tobacco product” in the current anti-smoking laws to include electronic cigarettes in order to ban them in bars, restaurants, hospitals and other workplaces. However, there appears to be an exemption for medical marijuana, as the bill states that its “provisions do not affect any law or regulation regarding medical marijuana.” What effect this would have on the potential for legal marijuana on-site consumption businesses is unknown, but either way, requiring that RPOSC businesses only allow vaporizing of marijuana would be a possible compromise clarified by the legislature and/or a loophole in the law for businesses to exploit.

In my next article, I will focus in-depth on the growing handful of RPOSC businesses in legalized states that are currently dealing with similar zoning and regulatory issues, and what lessons can be learned by future similar businesses and municipalities in California as to where and how to zone where such RPOSC businesses can exist for the betterment of both the business and municipality.

Cannabis IP Remedies: Erie-ly Familiar, Patently Different

If you’re familiar with my writing, you probably expect (or dread) an anecdotal segue to basic policy concerns of intellectual property law. Perhaps fortunately, I don’t have an anecdote for patent infringement. Apparently it’s not the sort of thing that pops up for most people. Put simply, a patent can be described as a contract with the government where the inventor exchanges information for certain temporary, but exclusive, rights. Infringement is when someone uses those rights without your permission. Now, assume you have a patent on a cannabis-related invention. If someone else begins to exercise your exclusive rights (“practice” your patent), what are your options?

First of all, you’d expect the court would make the infringer stop practicing your invention. Second, and probably more important, you would seek out some recompense for the ways in which their infringement has cost you. The reimbursement you seek can be in the form of compensation for lost sales profits, price erosion from the added market supply, increased expenses you experienced, or the profits that an infringer made as a result of taking advantage of your invention. Although the award cannot be more than what the presumed infringer would have paid in a “reasonable royalty” to legally practice your patent, there is the possible availability of treble damages. But what if the defense is that those profits were neither possible, nor could be related to the patent infringement because the practice of that patent was federally illegal?

This is going to get complicated. How the individual branches of government interact, much less federal and state laws, and where any of that authority begins or ends is something even our top officials often disagree on. I’m assuming that in order to practice this hypothetical patent, the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) would be violated either through the production or possession of cannabis. Furthermore, I am assuming that in the given state, that very same production or possession is legal under state law.

Now, every law student has drilled into them the rule that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. In short, if the power to adjudicate a dispute is not explicitly granted to federal courts, those courts have no power to rule over the case. A flipside to this is that certain issues are exclusively under the jurisdiction of federal courts. Because of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution, patents are issued by the federal government and the jurisdiction to decide patent cases is held solely by federal courts. However, state courts can have jurisdiction over non-patent claims, such as a licensing contract, that raise patent “issues” and decide those issues.

For the next bit we need to be clear on common law. Common law emerges when the application of a law is unclear and a court must interpret how it would or should apply. Judges must suspend personal beliefs and follow statutes as the legislation intended, even if those judges disagree with the legislative policies or goals. In fact, if a judge has the rare opportunity to clarify a legal rule, she is on extremely dangerous ground because she is likely an unelected public official who now needs to write a bit into the rule herself. Of course, we can always pass legislation to correct for any egregious interpretations. Common law can become confusing because terms of art in one state may have different meanings in a sister state, perhaps most familiar is the availability of common law marriage in some – but not all – states.

In Erie Railroad co. v. Tompkins Justice Brandeis wrote the Supreme Court holding that clarified the role of common law in our split federal and state systems. Basically, it would be pretty strange for federal courts to develop their own guideline definitions of terms of art and then apply them to states whose courts could have conflicting definitions. Arguably, litigants could then “shop” between federal and state systems for more favorable common law. Also, a federal court explaining to a state how that state’s own laws are applied is not reasonable. Essentially, after the decision in Erie, when a federal court applies state law it follows the common law of that state.

There remains federal common law in a few specific areas, such as when the rights or duties of the United States are in question. Federal common law can also be found where a statute explicitly calls for it, or even implies it – such as when a court has exclusive jurisdiction and there is a need for common law in that field. (Exclusively federal legislation exists in the areas of maritime law, bankruptcy law, and, of course, patent law, among others).

A state court deciding cannabis patent “issues” faces a small dilemma if the practice of that patent is legal under state law but not under federal law. The court could apply state law to the practice of the patent, federal law to the infringement, and avoid any conflict. Alternatively, a state court could look to the CSA. A state court applying federal law has been described as reverse- and scholars argue that supremacy usually dictates that federal law applies.

The language of the CSA can be read to address this situation, clarifying in section 708 that there is no “intent on the part of the Congress to occupy the field . . . including criminal penalties, to the exclusion of any State law . . . which would otherwise be within the authority of the State, unless there is a positive conflict between that provision of this subchapter and that State law so that the two cannot consistently stand together.” (emphasis added). “Occupying the field” is when a federal law either explicitly or presumptively (by being exhaustive) leaves no room on the legal “field” for state law. Since the CSA explicitly does not occupy the field, a state court would have to resolve whether or not state cannabis laws is able to consistently stand with the CSA.

The Supreme Court has held that “[d]isplacement [of state law] will occur only where . . . a ‘significant conflict’ exists between an identifiable ‘federal policy or interest and the operation of state law,’ [Wallis], or the application of state law would “frustrate specific objectives” of federal legislation, [Kimbell Foods].” (citations shortened). In rare cases, such as where federal law (in this case, the CSA) conflicts with various state approaches to cannabis but the goals of the federal law (as outlined by the Cole memo) do not conflict with state goals, a court might be able to choose. A state court could hold that so long as the legislative goals and policies of the state’s cannabis statutes align with the Cole memo there is no conflict at all.

A state court looking to federal law that their own legislation has specifically chosen not to enforce would be working against the public policy of their own state. One reason a state court might take that course is to avoid validating a state law that is invalid under the federal scheme (we have seen the legal inverse of this strategy). I think a state court both would not and should not tackle such an issue from the perspective of federal interests when explicitly stated federal policy and goals do not conflict with that state’s interests and goals. Ultimately, the judicial branch can take the executive branch at its word and, failing to see a conflict, resolve any patent issues.

On the other hand, a federal court can simply look to the CSA, note the illegality of practicing the patent, and end the suit there.   A federal court might also try a few other approaches. Can—and, more importantly, should–a federal court grant validity to a patent claim and give full enforcement of that patent when doing so would at least tangentially condone a violation of a separate federal law?

As I theorized about trademarks, a weighing of policy interests of the federal government and state governments can bring resolution to apparently contradictory stances with regard to the legality of a Schedule I substance. However, this is difficult to apply to a case where the federal courts not only have exclusive jurisdiction but where they must apply federal law because federal patent law is the only patent law in the United States. For a federal court to apply state law with regard to CSA issues raised by parties would arguably be an arbitrary refusal to apply federal law and, unlike a state court, allow a precedent that could give inconsistent judgments in states with differing cannabis laws.

I think the best resolution to this is the Federal Circuit developing a little nuance to the Erie doctrine. When a federal statute facially conflicts with state law, the court should look at the underlying goals and policies of the conflicting legislation. If there is no conflict in the goals and policies then a federal court should give deference to the state law. It makes a lot of sense to regulate activity within a state the way that state does. To quote Justice Brandeis’ dissent in another Supreme Court case: “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” While Nebraska and Oklahoma disagree with that last point, it has yet to be resolved.

With this approach, a court could have conflicting results in cases, but in those cases the court could point to conflicting state laws. There is no need to resolve what one state allows and another does not – that is a state’s prerogative. This is simple and arguably adheres to Erie, but it appears to ignore supremacy. But just as the Cole memo was a shift from the “original” Cole memo, which in turn was a clarification on the Ogden memo, goals and policies change. Everything changes. Any analysis by a court that relies on current goals and policies set forth by the government would be overturned by an explicit change in those goals and policies. This functions exactly as a legislative response to a “wrong” interpretation, mentioned above, and is exactly how a government built on checks and balances is supposed to function.

Finally, there is one other approach a state or federal court might employ to this conflict: ignore it. Common law systems function by precedent. In other legal systems, precedent does not have the same level of authority to influence or dictate the same interpretation to other courts. Our courts are cautious because of the danger of a precedent having unknown, perhaps negative, effects. It may not always seem like it, but the legislative process is exhaustive, with analysis, discussion, and debate by elected officials trying to do what is best for the general populace and their constituents – not a decision by a single person in response to a very specific dispute. Because of this difference, Courts have developed a long tradition of answering questions in the narrowest possible way to avoid the creation of common law that is not necessary to answer the specific question that court is faced with, so it is entirely believable that the Federal Circuit will rule on an infringement of a patent without addressing the legality of the practice of that patent.

If you remember the litigation over Proposition 8 in California, you may recall the Supreme Court holding on “standing” and nothing else. Essentially, if California itself did not want to defend the constitutionality of its laws then some other party cannot step in and defend the laws for that state’s government. This was a convenient way to avoid holding on the extremely divisive debate over gay marriage, but also an interesting precedent in its own right. No party other than a prosecutor has the standing to charge someone with a violation of federal law. The enforcement of federal laws, just as the defense of the constitutionality of those laws, is the role of the executive branch. Any argument that infringement damages are unobtainable because the practice of a patent violates the CSA is an argument that a federal prosecutor should raise, not a defendant in a patent suit.

The beauty of this approach is that it affords courts with an avenue to avoid answering the (unraised) question of the conflict between state cannabis law and the CSA, and thus avoid setting any precedent in that area. Additionally, as Lord Mansfield famously wrote, certain defenses sound “at all times very ill in the mouth of the defendant.” While a defendant can sometimes use illegality of behavior as a defense, it is not that the defendant is being protected, but that the plaintiff has no legitimate, or legal, cause of action in the first place. As Mansfield eloquently continues: “No court will lend its aid to a man who founds his cause of action upon an immoral or an illegal act.” Courts of all stripes may very well consider a CSA violation defense in a patent case a flimsy attempt at getting away with blatantly profiting from another’s intellectual property and happily address the sole issue of theft.

What We Don’t Know About the Black Market Workforce and Why it Matters for Successful Regulation of Recreational Cannabis

The danger of making assumptions about who makes up the black market labor force is illuminated by Keith Humphreys’s recent article – “The stereotype of the college-educated pot smoker is wrong.” In the article, Humphreys cites Professor Jonathan Caulkins, who is quoted as saying “Most of the marijuana market is more Wal-Mart than Whole Foods.” Yes, we all know that stereotypes are not often truly representative of the people they are trying to describe. But what was most interesting about the article (aside from the irony that Caulkins used a stereotype about where the poor shop in order to explain a stereotype we have) was the explanation for the college grad-stoner stereotype – that human beings “have a tendency to overestimate the representativeness of their own experience.” Meaning that the people who feed the discussion in our media and political culture (journalists, policy analysts, politicians, etc.) “portray and discuss the world they know, which in fact is a small slice of the U.S. marijuana scene.” Why shouldn’t we make assumptions about who makes up the black market workforce? Because successful regulation of the recreational marijuana market depends on turning the black market green, which requires transitioning the people within the black market to the legitimate market. Admitting there is a lot we don’t know about the black market workforce and their ability to transition to the state-regulated market is the first step in the process of determining what regulations best serve our purported state interests.

First off, it is important to establish that I am defining successful regulation as promoting public safety and preventing diversion of profits to illicit enterprises. Not only are these high priorities for California, these are the priorities of enforcement of the CSA outlined by the Cole Memo. Addressing these priorities serves the interest of the state and is the best option for avoiding the scrutiny of the federal government. From preventing distribution to minors to preventing growing marijuana on public lands, all of these goals are served by transitioning the black market workforce to the state-regulated market. While street level dealers don’t check identification, regulated marijuana storefronts will be required to. Legitimate business will pay taxes and keep financial records, preventing money from marijuana sales from going to criminal enterprises. Passing state regulations that present significant economic barriers and barriers related to criminal records will bar more individuals from participating in the legal market. Will those barred from operating in the legal market continue to operate their businesses illegally?

It is more likely we will have better information on this issue in California after state regulation. There is no good information on the black market workforce because it is not something that people discuss openly. The black market is characterized as such because it takes place in the shadows. It is meant to be a mystery to those on the outside looking in. Recreational marijuana is still illegal in much of the United States, and those on the supply side are unlikely to self-incriminate. If marijuana is legalized in California it is possible there will be more information about the black market because individuals won’t be silent for fear of prosecution. The information that we currently don’t know that would be valuable to this discussion is who it is that makes up the black market workforce and what their skills are, both within and outside of the marijuana industry.

For the purposes of this blog series, I am concerned with individuals currently working with illegal marijuana as their primary vocation, meaning people who do this as their main source of income (which does not necessarily equate to full-time). I am not focusing on the individuals who sell, trim, or grow as supplemental income for two reasons. First, they are less likely to have as large an impact on black market supply, therefore there are less worries about diversion if they continue to operate in the black market. Second, they already have an additional source of income. If they continue to work in the black market because they are barred from working in the state-regulated market, it is not because they are dependent on illegal work as their sole source of income. People who are willing to break the law for additional income should not be the focus of incorporation into the legal market because successful regulation will only work with individuals who follow the rules. There is something inherently different about those who break the law because it is the only way they can make a living or because they are politically or morally opposed to cannabis prohibition and those who break the law for some extra cash.

Now, within the group of people working in the marijuana industry as their primary source of income, there are different specializations, skillsets, and levels of skill. There are those on the production side, ranging from growers with years of experience to those who trim for a season, and then there are those on the distribution side. Within these groups it’s possible to discuss likelihoods and possibilities for transition to a state-regulated market in general terms. But the odds of an individual continuing to work in the black market if barred from entering the legal market depends on their skillset and reasons for working in the black market to begin with.

For those who are doing less-skilled work full-time, whether seasonally or steadily, any barriers may make a legitimate marijuana job not worth pursuing. Maybe even an application process would not be worth the trouble. The full-time grower and cannabis activist is more likely to jump through the hoops of the application process than someone just trying to make a dollar because they are personally invested in the concept of state regulation. This distinction is important when considering how barriers to entry into the recreational market will affect differently situated people in distinct ways. What will skilled growers with criminal records do if they can’t get a job in the newly legal recreational market? What if there are insufficient incentives to transition to the legal market? Odds are, like in Colorado, some growers will continue to operate in the black market.

While there is a lot of discussion about those growing marijuana, what about those selling it? This is the most important group when considering successful regulation as qualified above; dealers are making a lot of the money and are the access point to marijuana for users. It would seem that this group would be the most important to consider incorporating into the legitimate market. But unlike growing marijuana, where the necessary skills don’t change drastically moving from the illicit to legitimate markets, operating a storefront requires additional skillsets that the average dealer probably does not possess, i.e. managing employees and bookkeeping. Will there be a place for dealers or will we be leaving out those who may be the most important to include? If excluded, will they continue to operate in the black market?

The job market outside of recreational marijuana could affect an individual’s propensity to continue operating in the black market. Barriers to non-marijuana-related employment might leave some stranded. Work experience, education, and criminal records all affect an individual’s ability to find a job. When a person has been selling or growing marijuana illegally for a living, connections outside that industry might be hard to come by. Additionally, filling out the work experience section of a job application could be tough. Individuals with criminal records are the most likely to be barred from entering any state-regulated market in California, and they are also less likely to find gainful employment elsewhere. We know that communities of color are more likely to shut out by barriers based on criminal records because of disparate enforcement, creating a heightened inability to transition from the black market. We already know criminal records limit job opportunities outside of the marijuana business. It appears as though the one thing we can know for certain is that the communities most injured by the failed war on drugs could continue to be left behind in the new paradigm of state regulation.

Ultimately, every individual in the black market has a unique circumstance. Considering there is so much that is unknown about the makeup of the black market, it is best to operate under the assumption that there are certain ripples and effects of legalization that we can’t plan for. We don’t know if someone is going to continue growing and selling marijuana illegally, turn to selling harder drugs, or go into a different industry, and we don’t know what their motivations will be. If we want successful regulation, we need to turn the black market to the legal market, and frankly we don’t know enough about the existing black market to make sweeping statements about what people will do if they can’t work within the state-regulated system. This is why it is important to build a market that will be as inclusive as possible, without compromising the integrity of state regulation.

While the market needs to be inclusive enough to bring the black market workforce into the fold, there also needs to be the financial incentive for people to want to work in the state-regulated market. In my next post, I will explore the economic barriers to entry to existing marijuana markets with a focus on capital requirements and finding the balance between supply and demand. Specifically, I will be comparing the recreational markets in Colorado and Washington and notable medical marijuana structures in other states, looking ahead at what would be best for California.

Gambling with Tribal Marijuana

For this post I will look at the application of state criminal jurisdiction to non-tribal members while on tribal lands; first at the jurisdictional framework in general, and then at a brief history of federal Indian gaming regulations to better understand the legal limitations of tribal marijuana cultivation. In my last post I discussed Federal Public Law 280 (PL-280) and the delegation of criminal jurisdiction over tribes and their members to state agencies and courts. State criminal jurisdiction does not apply to tribal lands where the alleged crime is regulated—and not strictly prohibited—by states. This raises the question: Does state criminal jurisdiction under PL-280 extend to the activities of non-members of the tribe while on tribal lands? For example, if a tribe opens a “cannabar” for non-tribe members to purchase and imbibe marijuana while on tribal lands, would the actions of those non-members be within the criminal jurisdiction of California, the U.S., or the tribe? The answer to this question depends on whom we ask. The current U.S. Supreme Court case law and lower court statutory interpretations find that federal criminal jurisdiction (or state criminal jurisdiction in PL-280 states) over non-members extends to their activities on tribal lands. Which, continuing from the earlier example, non-members would be subject to federal or state criminal jurisdiction for acts committed on tribal land, and could be prosecuted for violating the state or federal law by purchasing marijuana for recreational use at a cannabar located on tribal lands. But a group of constitutional theorists argues that these activities are beyond the reach of state, and perhaps even federal, criminal jurisdiction in PL-280 states. What does this jurisdictional quagmire mean for tribes seeking to sell marijuana to non-tribal members for use on tribal lands? Is “casino”-style marijuana consumption and sale possible?

Does PL-280 extend state criminal jurisdiction to activities of non-members while on tribal lands? In Oliphant the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tribal criminal jurisdiction does not apply to non-members, noting that “[n]on-Indians are not subject to the jurisdiction of Indian courts and cannot be tried in Indian courts on trespass charges. Further, there are no Federal laws which can be invoked against trespassers.”  Mark Oliphant was a non-tribe member residing on the Suquamish reservation in Port Madison, Washington. During the tribe’s annual Chief Seattle Days celebration, Oliphant was arrested by tribal police and charged with assaulting a tribal officer and resisting arrest. He was arraigned before a tribal court, and after bailing out; he filed for a writ of habeas corpus in Ninth Circuit relying on the claim that the Suquamish court did not have criminal jurisdiction over non-members. The Ninth Circuit found in favor of the Suquamish, and Oliphant appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court found that tribal sovereignty is not strictly geographical, and thus the tribal court’s criminal jurisdiction does not automatically extend over non-members while they are present on tribal lands. Rather, non-members are subject to the federal (or in PL-280 states, the state) statute that would apply if the crime had been committed outside of tribal boundaries. The Court did not question the tribe’s power to arrest, and in fact found that the tribal agencies must turn over and “not to shelter or conceal offenders against the laws of the United States, but to deliver them up to the authorities for trial.” It also noted that the basis for this policy was to provide protection for tribal members “from the violences [sic] of the lawless part of our frontier inhabitants,” or to put it another way, to protect the American Indians from non-members entering tribal territory and committing what would be considered crimes by the federal government had it occurred on non-tribal soil. Oliphant further elucidated that tribes have sovereignty over their members, and the right to assert jurisdiction where no Congressional jurisdiction has been asserted (or asserted and then delegated to states via PL-280).

Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law, the preeminent source for understanding the intricacies of U.S. tribal law, also lends clarity to the convoluted point of tribal jurisdiction over non-members while on tribal lands. Citing Oliphant as authoritative precedent, Cohen’s Handbook notes that even a regulatory PL-280 state law, which would normally not be enforceable in Indian territories, may be enforceable on tribal lands where it “affects non-Indians and survives the Court’s infringement/preemption test.” The test, as explained by the Court in Mescalero Apache Tribe is that “if [the state regulation] interferes or is incompatible with federal and tribal interests reflected in federal law [it is preempted], unless the state interests at stake are sufficient to justify the assertion of state authority.”

There are some critics that question whether the federal government acts within the scope of its constitutional powers by delegating inherently federal jurisdiction to states; an issue which has never been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in regards to the application of state law to tribal lands.

The lower courts that have addressed this issue have set aside the issue with minimal or circular analysis. In Anderson, James Anderson, a member of the Klamath tribe residing on the Klamath reservation, appealed his conviction of second-degree murder in Oregon state court to the Ninth Circuit. He appealed to the Court on the basis that Oregon state courts did possess criminal jurisdiction in this case as the homicide had occurred on Klamath land, and the defendant is a member of that tribe. The Ninth Circuit did not agree, and found that, “[t]he [Congressional] power over Indians was deemed not so inherently or exclusively federal as to apply beyond the extent to which the federal government has preempted the field, and the federal government could thus withdraw from the field and turn the subject matter back to the states when it chose to do so.” However, the presumption that the states possessed original jurisdiction over tribes, and that the federal government had preempted the state powers on those lands, is unsupported by statute, treaty, or constitutional amendment. Tribes, recognized in the U.S. Constitution as falling under the same umbrella of federalist powers as states and foreign countries, never entered into treaties with state governments to cede jurisdiction, but rather made treaties with the federal government to cede their jurisdiction in a limited manner. As Cohen’s Handbook notes, “[U.S.-Indian t]reaties must be understood as grants of rights from Indian people who reserve all rights not granted.”

The false presumption first promulgated in Anderson was relied on in other cases reviewing the PL-280 for its constitutionality. In Agua Caliente the District Court noted that, “Public Law 280, like other similar laws in recent years, is a withdrawal by Congress from its preemption in this field. It has done so in this case by express grant to the state of authority…to the extent that any further withdrawal by the Federal Government occurs, the sovereignty of the state becomes enlarged to that extent.” Again, there is no existing evidence or support of this presumption, except that this is the relationship between federal powers and state jurisdiction outside of tribal lands. The express purpose of federalism is for federal jurisdiction to extend to “certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.” But this only exists where original state jurisdiction would otherwise exist. Keeping in mind that this issue has never been argued before the Supreme Court, it is possible that the Court would find in favor of the federalist principles, and rule that where the federal government has withdrawn from a jurisdiction, the sovereignty of tribes would become enlarged to that extent.

How does this relate to marijuana sales on tribal lands? Which criminal jurisdiction applies on tribal lands matters to non-members seeking to imbibe or purchase marijuana from tribe-operated dispensaries? Under the majority view, it appears that non-members cannot commit acts on tribal lands that are considered crimes in state or federal court. This is due in part to existing statutes and Supreme Court decisions, and seems to be the most largely accepted interpretation of the law. However, a splinter group of theorists among the minority view argues that the federal government cannot delegate its criminal jurisdiction to states. Under one interpretation of the principles of federalism this could mean that where the federal government has withdrawn from the field of criminal jurisdiction (i.e. via attempting to delegate this power to states) that jurisdiction is restored to the tribes. The tribes would have the criminal jurisdiction that would otherwise be granted to the states under PL-280, and could determine whether non-members could purchase or imbibe marijuana on their land. Of course, this is not a view supported by the existing case law, but since the Supreme Court has not addressed the question, it remains an argument to be made.

When first hearing of the interaction between PL-280 and the CSA for tribes, it may seem natural to conclude that the state criminal jurisdictional exception extends to non-members in such a way that “casino”-style marijuana sales (i.e. tribal dispensaries providing marijuana for on-site consumption by non-members) seem inevitable. To better understand why this not the case, an examination of the history of American Indian gaming is necessary. From the outside, it may seem a rather straightforward matter; tribal sovereignty in conjunction with PL-280 allows for casino and gaming in states that do not completely prohibit gaming (i.e. operating a state lottery). However, the power to organize casinos and gaming on reservations is still within the jurisdiction of the federal government. This is because the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) re-asserted federal jurisdiction to regulate the conduct of gaming on Indian Lands, established the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), as well as a regulatory structure for Indian gaming in the United States, essentially closing the jurisdictional loophole left open under PL-280 by the Cabazon decision.

Based on Cabazon, which held that in PL-280 states where gaming is a regulated activity and not a prohibited activity (e.g., states with a state-operated lottery), tribal gaming was determined not to fall within the state’s jurisdiction to regulate. The Court further elucidated that only Congress “could effectively place limits on the Indian Gaming industry.” For precedential support, the Court relied on the Mescalero Apache Tribe preemption test mentioned earlier in this post. Within a year of the Cabazon decision, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA). The stated purpose of the IGRA includes the establishment of Federal Regulatory powers over Indian gaming and a Federal commission to oversee and apply such powers (NIGC). Cohen’s Handbook notes that although the IGRA does not mention PL-280, it operates to supersede state jurisdiction because it is a more recent statute asserting exclusive federal control over violations of Indian gaming. Under the IGRA, tribes are required to enter into compacts with the states in order to participate in Class III gaming, which includes all gaming not covered in Class I and II, specifically anything not closely resembling bingo or “social games solely for prizes of minimal value or traditional forms of Indian gaming engaged in by individuals as a part of, or in connection with, tribal ceremonies.” Tribes retain jurisdiction over Class I and Class II gaming; subject to any “prohibitive” limitations placed by states (very similar to the tribal jurisdiction limitations mandated by PL-280).

In those states where tribes have sought Class III compacting agreements, the state has not granted criminal jurisdiction as a result of the IGRA legislation, rather states have a per se veto power over Indian proposed regulation of such activities, as iterated in
§ 2710(d)(3) of the IGRA:

“Any Indian tribe having jurisdiction over the Indian lands upon which a class III gaming activity is being conducted, or is to be conducted, shall request the State in which such lands are located to enter into negotiations for the purpose of entering into a Tribal-State compact governing the conduct of gaming activities.”

The IGRA included a provision for tribes to file suit in U.S. District Court against states failing to enter into negotiations or that negotiate in bad faith these compacts with tribes. However, in Seminole Tribe the Supreme Court ruled that this provision was not within the constitutional power of the federal government, and that states were immune to suit by tribes under the Eleventh Amendment. Despite the fact that the language of the IGRA seems to be a broad grant of jurisdiction to the District Courts over suits brought by Indian tribes against States that had not consented, the language was held as “insufficient to constitute a clear statement of an intent to abrogate state sovereign immunity.”  Thus, tribal sovereignty was limited by the passage of the IGRA, but state sovereignty (under the Eleventh Amendment) was not.

This is important because there has been some recent discussion of state legislation in Washington essentially re-asserting state jurisdiction over marijuana cultivation or sale on tribal lands. However, any resulting legislation would be open to legal challenge. This is because while the federal government can re-assert federal jurisdiction via federal statute in states where PL-280 applies, such as it did with the IGRA, the principles of federalism do not allow for states to assert their criminal jurisdiction without direct delegation by the federal government. Those states either have criminal jurisdiction over drugs (where that drug has been strictly prohibited) or they don’t (where there is existing regulatory state legislation). In PL-280 optional states, or states that were offered the opportunity to claim state criminal jurisdiction under PL-280, but were not mandated to accept that jurisdiction, such as Washington, Arizona, and Montana, further analysis is necessary to determine whether PL-280 is applicable. Several of these optional states have state constitutional disclaimers that prevent PL-280 from applying (according to the McClanahan decision), and cannot claim criminal jurisdiction until these constitutional disclaimers were nullified. Cohen’s Handbook notes, “[i]f a state has not assumed jurisdiction under Public Law 280, it may not acquire jurisdiction over Indians independent of that Act.”  This is especially true in Washington, which is blocked from fully asserting criminal jurisdiction over tribes by its own constitutional disclaimer, and so would lack PL-280 jurisdiction on two counts; first it would lack jurisdiction under PL-280 because it has not fully assumed that jurisdiction, and secondly, because if PL-280 were to fully apply, the state regulates but does not prohibit marijuana sales and cultivation, and so would not have jurisdiction over the tribes that chose to engage in those activities.

As recently as March of this year, tribes were granted the ability to prosecute non-Indians for certain crimes under Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction, including criminal violations of protective orders. While this federal action may partly overturn Oliphant, it is not clear whether this opens the door for greater tribal jurisdiction over crimes committed on reservations. If it did and tribes were able to determine for themselves what recreational drug use was allowed on their lands by non-members, the risk of investing in the marijuana industry would be largely alleviated.