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Posts Tagged ‘#marijuana’

When Laws Conflict: What Ethics Rule Applies to a California Lawyer Advising On Cannabis?

Posted on: June 30th, 2020

By: Greg Fayard

It goes without saying that a lawyer—from California or elsewhere—shall not counsel a client to do something illegal.

But what about a state law that conflicts with a federal law? For example, federal laws that criminalize the use of marijuana and state laws that don’t criminalize marijuana–how should the lawyer advise a client when laws conflict regarding a subject matter?

Under California’s Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to lawyers, a lawyer can assist a client in complying with California law, but must inform the client when California law conflicts with federal (or Tribal law). The lawyer then needs to discuss the consequences of complying with a California law that runs afoul with another law.

For those lawyers that work in the area of Cannabis law, Rule 1.2.1 is the Rule to follow in California.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Greg Fayard at [email protected], or any other member of our Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Group, a list of which can be found at www.fmglaw.com.

The Cannabis Industry Takes Another Step Towards Mainstream

Posted on: November 12th, 2018

By: David Molinari

In 1996, the People of the State of California first passed an initiative to legalize medicinal cannabis. The legislature toyed with drafting the statutory framework regulating the medical cannabis industry. Finally, in 2014 the first “legal” medicinal dispensaries began to open throughout the state. The economic impact of medicinal cannabis was so significant that four years later recreational cannabis was overwhelmingly voted into existence. The cannabis industry has elbowed its way to the table claiming a seat alongside tech industry, manufacturing industry and agricultural industry. One tell-tale sign that the cannabis industry has taken steps toward mainstream, its “inventory” is an insurable commodity under a commercial property and general liability insurance policy.

Green Earth Wellness Center operated a retail medical marijuana business and an adjacent growing facility. Atain Specialty Insurance Company issued Green Earth a commercial property and general liability insurance policy. A wildfire broke out and advanced toward Green Earth’s business. Although the fire did not destroy the business, smoke and ash from the fire overwhelmed Green Earth’s ventilation system; causing damage to Green Earth’s marijuana plants. Green Earth made a claim under the policy for loss of its inventory due to the smoke and ash which Atain denied.

Separately, thieves entered Green Earth’s growing facility and stole some of the marijuana plants. Again, Green Earth made a claim under its policy and again Atain denied the claim. Green Earth eventually commenced an action for breach of contract and bad faith. Atain filed a Motion for Summary Judgment raising, among other issues, that in light of federal law and federal public policy, it was illegal for Atain to pay damages to marijuana plants and products. Atain argued that the application of an exclusionary provision in the policy for contraband or property in the course of an illegal transportation or trade requires that coverage be denied; even if the policy would otherwise have provided coverage.

The Court noted that the policy itself did not define the term “contraband.” The Court acknowledged application of federal law, particularly 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1) that makes possession of marijuana for distribution a federal crime. However, the Court took note that such a federal prohibition has become more “nuanced” as an increasing number of states have enacted regulations for medicinal and recreational cannabis. Enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act in states that have enacted statutes regulating use and distribution is at times ambivalent and erratic. Other than pointing to the federal criminal statutes, Atain offered no evidence that the application of existing federal public policy would result in criminal enforcement against Green Earth. Atain also failed to assert Green Earth’s operations were in violation of state law.

In rejecting Atain’s public policy and illegality defense to coverage for inventory damage, the Court turned to the parties’ intention regarding coverage of Green Earth’s marijuana. The evidence suggested that the parties mutually intended to include coverage for the marijuana plants constituting Green Earth’s inventory. Atain drafted the medicinal marijuana dispensary supplemental application form that asked several questions about inventory: Such as, how much inventory is displayed to customers, how much inventory is kept on the premise during non-business hours and whether the inventory is stored in a locked safe. Before entering the policy, Atain knew Green Earth was operating a cannabis business. Atain knew or should have known at the time of the policy inception that federal law (at least nominally) prohibited such a business; but Atain nevertheless elected to issue the policy and collect premiums.  Atain never sought to disclaim coverage for Green Earth’s inventory before the claims were made. By issuing the policy and taking premiums, it was clear that the carrier would not raise the contraband exclusion to marijuana inventory.

The Court assumed Atain had legal counsel and obtained opinions and assurances from its own legal counsel before embarking on the business of insuring marijuana operations. The Court viewed the case as a breach of contract action. Atain, through its policy, made contractual promises and then breached them refusing to entertain Atain’s argument that the Court must declare the policy unenforceable as against public policy. It was irrelevant under the Court’s analysis that possession and sale of marijuana was a federal crime or that marijuana should under a public policy argument be determined an uninsurable commodity.

The lesson for insurers: the cannabis industry is an expanding multi-billion-dollar industry where entrepreneurs will spend money on insurance premiums to protect its investment and inventory. A carrier entering a policy knowing the insured’s business is cannabis very well may be obligated to cover claims or face the risk of damages for breaching the policy.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact David Molinari at [email protected].

Pass That Dutch: California Insurers Respond to Budding Cannabis Industry

Posted on: July 2nd, 2018

By: Kristin Ingulsrud

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones announced on June 4, 2018 his approval of the Cannabis Business Owners Policy (CannaBOP) in California.  The new CannaBOP program was designed for cannabis dispensaries, storage facilities, processors, manufacturers, distributors, and other related businesses.  The CannaBOP program includes property and liability coverage for qualifying businesses.

Other recent offerings by insurers to the California cannabis industry include the first commercial insurance from an admitted carrier in November 2017, the first surety bond program in February 2018, and the first coverage for commercial landlords and a product liability and product recall program in May.

In April, President Donald Trump seemingly called off Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s war on marijuana and promised to support legislation that would protect states that have legalized marijuana from a federal crackdown.  The unpredictability of the current administration in regards to federal enforcement is just one of the unique issues the legalized cannabis industry faces.

Commissioner Jones hosted a webinar in May, Weeding through the Unique Insurance needs of the Cannabis Industry with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Center for Insurance Policy and Research.   “Cannabis businesses face various insurance gaps—which means cannabis customers, workers and business owners may not have access to insurance to help them recover if there are accidents, injuries, property damage, or any of the things commercial insurance typically covers,” said Jones.

Topics included the effects of conflicting state and federal law on insurance claims, policy exclusions and gaps in coverage.  The webinar also covered the future of the cannabis industry and new trends such as on-site consumption, cryptocurrency, and blockchain.

Commissioner Jones  held the nation’s first public hearing in October 2017 to identify insurance gaps faced by the cannabis industry as part of his ongoing initiative to encourage commercial insurers to offer tailored coverage.  Since that time, insurers in California continue to expand their offerings to the cannabis industry.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Kristin Ingulsrud at [email protected].

A Millennial Gig

Posted on: February 21st, 2018

By: David M. Daniels

With Contribution By: Jason C. Dineros

The Obama Administration’s federal enforcement relaxations for marijuana use in 2013, brought with it the development of a viable market industry from what was previously looked upon as taboo—akin to “that stoner stage you went through in high school, but grew out of.” As start-ups were popping up wanting to be frontrunners in an industry that had as much anticipation as whiskey distilleries in the years that followed prohibition, so did the need for legal consultation and representation.  No longer was the idea of marijuana dispensaries becoming as common as liquor stores a far too funny dream or overly paranoid nightmare—depending on the effect—concepts including edible bakeries, “weed lounges,” and cannabis-friendly restaurants and pop-ups also materialized.

A gig economy is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.

The trend toward a gig economy has begun. A study by Intuit predicted that by 2020, 40 percent of American workers would be independent contractors. Findings from Adobe revealed that as many as one-third of the 1,000 U.S. office workers they polled had a second job and more than half (56%) predicted we would all have multiple jobs in the future. The annual report from Upwork and freelancers Union found that more people than ever are choosing to freelance, up to 55 million this year, or 35% of the total U.S. workforce. As many as 81% of traditional workers they surveyed said they would “be willing to do additional work outside of [their] primary job if it was available and enabled [them] to make more money.

There are a number of forces behind the rise in short-term jobs. For one thing, in this digital age, the workforce is increasingly mobile and work can increasingly be done from anywhere, so that job and location are decoupled. That means that freelancers can select among temporary jobs and projects around the world, while employers can select the best individuals for specific projects from a larger pool than that available in any given area.

Digitization has also contributed directly to a decrease in jobs as software replaces some types of work and means that others take much less time. Other influences include financial pressures on businesses leading to further staff reductions and the entrance of the millennial generation into the workforce. The current reality is that people tend to change jobs several times throughout their working lives; the gig economy can be seen as an evolution of that trend.

In a gig economy, businesses save resources in terms of benefits, office space and training. They also have the ability to contract with experts for specific projects who might be too high-priced to maintain on staff. From the perspective of the freelancer, a gig economy can improve work-life balance over what is possible in most jobs. Ideally, the model is powered by independent workers selecting jobs that they’re interested in, rather than one in which people are forced into a position where, unable to attain employment, they pick up whatever temporary gigs they can land.

The gig economy is part of a shifting cultural and business environment that also includes the sharing economy, the gift economy and the barter economy.

For further information or for further inquiries involving labor and employment law, commercial liability, or hospitality law, you may contact David M. Daniels, the Co-Chair of the Commercial and Complex Litigation Practice Section of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP, at [email protected].

 

Puff, Puff, Veto!

Posted on: January 10th, 2018

By: Jason C. Dineros

This past Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era’s relaxations for federal prosecutors of marijuana enforcement. This comes only four days into California’s open recreational use market, and potentially halts what has grown into a niche legal practice as well as a concerted training effort among hospitality operators over the almost five years the federal enforcement relaxations have been in place.

The Obama Administration’s federal enforcement relaxations for marijuana use in 2013, brought with it the development of a viable market industry from what was previously looked upon as taboo—akin to “that stoner stage you went through in high school, but grew out of.” As start-ups were popping up wanting to be frontrunners in an industry that had as much anticipation as whiskey distilleries in the years that followed prohibition, so did the need for legal consultation and representation.  No longer was the idea of marijuana dispensaries becoming as common as corner liquor stores still a far too laughable dream (or overly paranoid nightmare, depending on your take); and concepts such as edible bakeries, “weed lounges,” and cannabis-friendly restaurants were likewise materializing into reality.

But how does an attorney provide advice regarding the sale and distribution of a product that is illegal under federal law, but for all intents and purposes, permitted in 29 different states? Well the fallback rule that developed under the Obama Administration’s relaxations, at least from an ethical perspective, was that providing legal services to the cannabis industry was permissible so long as it did not violate state law.  And with this came an influx in the practice of cannabis law in 29 of the 50 states.

Further expanding to the social aspect of recreational marijuana, while any experienced bartender has likely taught or learned how and when to cut off an overly-imbibed guest, what protocols are in place for training “budtenders”? And even more importantly, for hospitality operators engaged in operations across different states, how can there be any uniform standard operating procedures when what is a legally viable source of potential revenue in one state, can expose the business to significant fines and potential closure in another?  Simply put, until the states begin to react one way or another to Attorney General Sessions’ heightened federal enforcement regulations, the cannabis industry remains one of the most potentially lucrative, risky, and unnavigated industries still in its infancy among the entrepreneurs, attorneys, and hospitality operators involved.

For further information or for further inquiries involving professional liability, commercial liability, or hospitality law, you may contact Jason C. Dineros, the Chair of the Hospitality Law Practice Team of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP, at [email protected].