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Thinking of Starting a Cannabis Delivery or Transport Business? Here’s What You Need to Know

Ask any cannabis connoisseur, and theyll likely tell you that cannabis delivery services have been around for a long, long time. Given the distancing requirements of the COVID years, the increasing number of medical cannabis patients who need or would like cannabis delivered to their door and the surge in recreational adult use sales, cannabis delivery is coming out of the shadows and into the legal cannabis industry.

Proponents of cannabis delivery say that creating a legal structure and guidelines that allow cannabis home delivery encourages people to buy from legal sources rather than the legacy market. In some cases, its a way to entice legacy cannabis delivery operators to transition to the licensed and regulated market. While many states remain hesitant to allow adult use cannabis delivery, some do, and others have taken the first step, allowing delivery to registered medical cannabis patients and caregivers.

Where is Cannabis Delivery Legal?

According to Cannabis Business Times, states that permit medical cannabis delivery as part of another license type, retail, for example, or with a specific delivery license include: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. Complex reports that delivery service is legally available without any restrictions to anyone 21 years or older in California, Nevada and Oregon.

Medical or adult use, there are restrictions on where cannabis can be delivered, even within states that allow it. For instance, you cant legally deliver cannabis to college or university campuses. Although many people still discreetly deliver and receive cannabis products on campuses, its illegal to do so since cannabis is a federally controlled substance and higher education institutions that receive federal funding must prohibit its use and distribution.

It’s noteworthy that some states without legal cannabis delivery regulations have a loophole” through which some delivery businesses operate. Gifting, for example, is an established, though not entirely legal, delivery practice. According to NJ.com, New Jersey falls into the gifting loophole category:

Licenses to sell legal weed are still months away, but theres a handful of entrepreneurs coming into the scene through a possible legal loophole — “gifting” cannabis. Its a scheme popular in other states and particularly in Washington, D.C. A company lets you buy cookies, snacks or brownies that come with sticker shock of $50 or more. But when they make the delivery, it comes with a suggested gift: maybe a cannabis edible or an ounce of flower.

 Although many underground businesses thrive in the Garden States in-between” market, NJ.com also reports that gray market operators have faced legal penalties and even jail time.

Why Are Cannabis Delivery Services Popular? 

Cannabis delivery services have a rich cultural history in the underground market. Rather than making a transaction in public, home delivery provides a more intimate and secure way of selling cannabis to consumers. 

Cannabis delivery has skyrocketed in popularity due to the COVID-19 crisis. MJBizDaily reports that online cannabis orders boomed during the pandemic, increasing the need for cannabis delivery services. 

Historically, cannabis delivery services also help registered medical cannabis patients receive access to their medicine since their disability or chronic condition might prevent them from leaving the house and visiting a dispensary. This can be especially true for seniors, even if they arent a registered patient, but live in a state with adult use cannabis.

Whats the Difference Between Cannabis Delivery and Transport Licenses?

There is real confusion surrounding the differences between delivery and transport licenses.  Basically, delivery licenses are B2C (business to consumer), and transport licenses are B2B (business to business).

Cannabis delivery and courier licenses allow licensees to deliver cannabis products directly to patients, caregivers, and in some states, consumers. While the name of the license differs depending on the state in which you seek to operate, delivery licenses tend to allow operators to act as a retailer without a traditional bricks and mortar location. Delivery licensees purchase and store wholesale cannabis products and sell them via the delivery model. Couriers, however, are traditionally hired by retailers as their delivery arm. In this model, the retailer takes the order, and the courier delivers, like Door Dash or Uber Eats. One key difference between a delivery and courier license is the significantly lower cost of entry for couriers as they dont have facility, inventory, or storage costs, and generally have lower operational expenses.

But what about transport licensees? Rather than delivering to individuals, transport licensees typically deliver cannabis products between licensed cannabis facilities, such as a cultivator or manufacturer to a retail dispensary or testing facility.

In Massachusetts, there are three delivery and transport licenses (courier, delivery operator, and transporter) as well as a delivery endorsement that allows certain licensees to deliver directly from a licensed establishment to consumers.

The first step to operate a cannabis delivery or transport business is determining whether you want to deliver for retail establishments, buy product and deliver directly or transport cannabis between licensed cannabis businesses. Each model has its plusses and minuses, just depends on what you want. Its important to note that Massachusetts delivery operator licenses are currently reserved for social equity participants, as reported in the Milford Daily News:

The new “marijuana delivery operator” licenses…will be available exclusively to participants in the CCC’s social equity program and economic empowerment applicants for the first three years.”

Once you decide which type of license you want, the next steps are first to familiarize yourself with your states cannabis rules and regulations, and then to complete and submit a license application.

How to Apply for a Cannabis Delivery or Transport License

While the delivery and transport license application process looks different in each state that allows them, all states require applicants to be 21 years of age or older and most require operators to be current residents of the state where they intend to operate. There are also required, non-refundable application and licensing fees. While these fees are not insignificant, the good news is that they tend to be lower than the fees required for other cannabis business license applications.

Since compliance with state rules and regulations is a condition of licensure, licenses are awarded to some or all applicants that meet the application and regulatory requirements. Once awarded, cannabis delivery and transport licensees must maintain compliance or risk hefty fines and/or face a temporary or permanent shut down. One regulatory example is that delivery operators must digitally verify any and every customers photo ID before and when a cannabis product is delivered to a recipient; missing this critical step can put your businesses at serious risk of legal and financial consequences.

How to Maintain Compliance Once Youre Licensed

Maintaining compliance for any cannabis business can be challenging. There are strict guidelines on marketing and advertising, security, employee training, inventory management and more. Additionally, there are restrictions specific to cannabis delivery services, particularly limits on how much product can be delivered per order/transaction.

What does cannabis compliance specifically look like for cannabis delivery licensees? For one, all merchants must verify ID before an order is fulfilled. In states with medical cannabis, this would require medical card ID verification. Otherwise, for adult use markets, a drivers license or other state-issued photo ID with a valid birthdate is acceptable. Some states require recipients to sign a manifest or receipt acknowledging that they accepted the cannabis order and for the licensee to maintain a record of that acknowledgement for a specified number of years.

There are many other regulations that delivery operators must adhere to and many ways to stay up to date and compliant. Tasking a staff member to handle all things compliance is one option. Another is hiring a compliance professional to set up and oversee a compliance operating system and/or partnering with a compliance software solution provider.

Cannabis delivery services can be very profitable. In comparison to other cannabis licenses, they dont require as much finance capital to get started. Once a license is obtained, your priority will turn to maintaining compliance. Too many delivery services exist in a precariously legal gray area; dont let yours be one of them.

How Half-Baked Labels Can Destroy a Cannabis Business

By Greg Boulos
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Cannabis manufacturers and consumers are currently in a honeymoon phase. Consumers love their CBD gummies and believe wholeheartedly in the benefits of cannabis-related products. But it is only a matter of time before industrious plaintiffs’ lawyers take a close look at ways to attack manufacturers. We know from other industries that product labels tend to be the entry point for plaintiff lawyers eyeing manufacturers and looking for easy targets. Any company in the business of manufacturing cannabis-related products needs to devote significant time and resources to developing labels that minimize the risk of bet-the-company litigation down the road. Most notably, manufacturers need to think through whether there are any adverse effects associated with their products of which consumers should be aware. Also, manufacturers must scrutinize any “all natural” or “organic” claims on their labels to ensure that they are not misleading consumers.

Failure to Warn of Potential Detrimental Effects

Most manufacturers are well aware of state mandated labels for cannabis products. And, based on the recent FDA public hearing on cannabis, the industry will likely see FDA labeling requirements in the near future. However, simply complying with these requirements does not insulate a manufacturer from litigation, particularly failure to warn claims. One example, dating back to the 1970s, relates to OSHA’s regulation of asbestos-containing products as it became more and more clear that certain types of asbestos could cause a rare form of cancer, mesothelioma. Among other things, OSHA required manufacturers of asbestos-containing products to add a warning to all packaging. The mandated warning included very specific language. Manufacturers largely complied and added the OSHA-mandated label to their product packaging.

FDAFast-forward 40 years and today, several of those manufacturers are now bankrupt due to litigation based on their alleged failure to warn consumers that asbestos can cause cancer. Plaintiffs have been successful in bringing these claims because the OSHA label only warned that asbestos could cause harm, but it did not mention the word cancer. Some juries have found that the language in the warning was not sufficient to caution end users of the increased risk of developing cancer. While there have also been numerous defense verdicts in asbestos litigation and many asbestos-related cases lack merit – especially against certain defendants – the plaintiffs’ verdicts and legal fees to defend these cases are staggering. Recent plaintiffs’ verdicts have ranged from $20 to $70 million.

Of course, asbestos is an extreme example since CBD has not been associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. But there are other health concerns that manufacturers should consider. For instance, one group of doctors claim to have linked consuming cannabis before the age of twenty-five to development delaysAnother study purports to link cannabis consumption to increased risk of premature birth. If there are legitimate studies underpinning these concerns, manufacturers can become the target of potential lawsuits. Beware that when plaintiff law firms find a manufacturer to target, they often file thousands of cases around the country – not just one. Even if the claims are entirely bogus, the legal fees to merely defend these cases are crippling and can lead to a swift bankruptcy.

While there are risks involved with failing to warn consumers of possible adverse effects of a product, manufacturers should not try to mention every alleged adverse effect on its labels. Rather, manufacturers must do their due diligence and investigate whether claimed adverse effects are legitimate, then warn of those that appear to be based on valid scientific studies. Each manufacturer’s research department should assess the credibility of any study linking cannabis use to an adverse health effect and have a candid discussion with their attorneys on whether a warning is warranted. Do not fear lawsuits, they are unavoidable. Rather, work toward ensuring that the company and product(s) have a strong, defensible warning in the event litigation arises.

Questionable “All Natural” and “Organic” Claims

It seems like every CBD product on the market has an “all natural” or “organic” claim on the label. If the product is truly organic, fantastic. Flaunt that organic label. But several food companies have landed in hot water with these labels when there is a hidden ingredient that is not natural. What’s more, manufacturers have been sued when their product contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. These lawsuits come in the form of class actions at the state and federal level. Class action litigation is very expensive to defend. And they typically result in settlements for beaucoup bucks – typically multi-million-dollar settlements. Plaintiffs lawyers love these claims because their fees typically also end up in the millions. One example of this kind of class action is a case involving the well-known Kashi brand. Kashi was accused of misleading consumers by including the words “All Natural” on some of its products. Plaintiffs asserted that the products contained bio-engineered, artificial and synthetic ingredients. The class action was settled for $3.9 million.

Just some of the many CBD products on the market today.

How can all natural or organic claims lead to millions of dollars in damages? Here is an example of how these cases usually work: A group of consumers determine that an “all natural” product is not “all natural.”  Let’s call this Product A and assume it sells for $5 per unit. The consumers then find a similar product that is not labeled “all natural.” That product is $2 per unit. The consumers argue that they overpaid for Product A by $3 per unit because they thought the product was all natural. Three dollars may not sound too bad, but if the class consists of two-million consumers, each entitled to $3, that’s a $6 million damages claim against a company. That does not count the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will be spent on legal fees defending the class action.

Cannabis manufacturers should not use all natural labels loosely and should consult with an attorney experienced in product labeling class actions to determine whether they should forgo these labels. The same is true for any labels that claim a product provides unique health benefits. 

Key Takeaway

When manufacturers are excited about introducing a product to the market, trying to compete with other manufacturers and already dealing with miles of regulatory red tape, it may be tempting to avoid self-imposed labeling requirements. But to ensure their businesses are sustainable over the long-term, manufacturers need to take necessary steps now that will limit future litigation risk.  The cost of taking preventative measures to develop a meaningful label is considerably less than the types of product labeling verdicts and settlements affecting other industries. Focus on warnings and the use of all natural labels as a starting point. Then speak with an attorney about the unique aspects of your product, potential adverse effects and the adequacy of your warning. We are here to help.

Pennsylvania Temporary Rules for Growers & Processors Released

By Aaron G. Biros
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Last week, Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy announced the formation of temporary regulations for cannabis growers and processors in the state, according to a press release. Those temporary rules were published on Saturday, October 29. Secretary Murphy asked for public comment on developing regulations for dispensaries as well.padeptofhealthlogo-768x186

The PA Department of Health published the new set of temporary regulations this past Saturday, outlining “the financial, legal and operational requirements needed by an individual to be considered for a grower/processor permit, as well as where the facilities can be located.” The regulations also discuss tracking systems, equipment maintenance, safety issues, disposal of cannabis, tax reporting, pesticides, recalls and insurance requirements. “One of our biggest accomplishments to date is the development of temporary regulations for marijuana growers and processors,” says Secretary Murphy. “We received nearly 1,000 comments from members of the community, the industry and our legislative partners.”

The general provisions published on Saturday outline the details of the application process, fees, inspections, reporting, advertising and issues surrounding locations and zoning. The temporary regulations for growers and processors delve into the minutia of regulatory compliance for a variety of issues: including security, storage, maintenance, transportation, tracking, disposal, recall, pesticides and packaging and safety requirements. A list of pesticides permitted for use can also be found at the bottom of the rules.

PA Department of Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy
PA Department of Health Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy

The document discusses the regulations for performing voluntary and mandatory recalls in great detail. It requires thorough documentation and standard operating procedures for the disposal of contaminated products, cooperation with the Department of Health and appropriate communications with those affected by the recall.

The department has yet to release temporary regulations for laboratories and dispensaries, but hopes to do so before the end of the year. “I am encouraging the public – and specifically the dispensary community – to review the temporary regulations and provide us with their feedback,” says Secretary Murphy. “The final temporary regulations for dispensaries will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin by the end of the year.”

Since Governor Tom Wolf signed the medical cannabis program bill into law in April 2016, the state has made considerable progress to develop the program, including setting up a physician workgroup, public surveys for developing temporary rules and a request for information for electronic tracking IT solutions. The PA Department of Health expects to implement the program fully in the next 18 to 24 months.