Tag Archives: transfer

Cannabis Receiverships: A Viable Alternative to Bankruptcy

By Oren Bitan
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Doing business in California’s legal cannabis industry remains a risky endeavor. The majority of the industry is still unlicensed, tax rates at the state and local levels are high (notwithstanding a recent reprieve from California’s cultivation tax) and there are not enough licenses to meet geographic demand throughout the state. Outside financing remains difficult to secure for equipment, tenant improvements, account receivables and working capital because, under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), cannabis remains a Schedule I narcotic. Therefore, entrepreneurs, investors and lenders who have stakes in state-sanctioned cannabis enterprises expect to see returns that justify the higher level of risk, which places additional financial pressure on cannabis businesses. In addition to the industry specific challenges, the United States economy is on the verge of a recession that may further hamper the industry notwithstanding the industry’s resiliency during the pandemic when it was deemed to be an “essential” industry that benefited from consumer spending of stimulus monies.

These outside pressures increasingly lead to ownership disputes and creditor defaults that result in litigation and the need for restructuring. In some instances, business partners cannot agree about control and finances of the licensed businesses and in other instances unpaid creditors file suit to enforce their interest in a company’s assets. And sometimes a local municipality discovers wrongdoing by an operator and initiates a health and safety lawsuit to cease the illegal condition.

Bankruptcy reorganization is an option typically utilized by struggling businesses to shed or restructure debt. Cannabis businesses, however, cannot take advantage of bankruptcy remedies because bankruptcy is a product of federal law and federal law still prohibits the sale of cannabis.

As a result, stakeholders in legal California cannabis enterprises must consider alternatives to bankruptcy to collect what they can on their loans and investments in the event the enterprise becomes insolvent or requires restructuring. A well-established alternative to bankruptcy is a state court remedy – the appointment of a receiver over the assets of a business or over the entire business operations. Through the receivership process, stakeholders may obtain many of the same protections available to them through bankruptcy

A. Federal Illegality Bars Access to Bankruptcy Protection

Over the past ten years, bankruptcy courts have routinely prohibited licensed cannabis businesses from seeking bankruptcy protection because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Bankruptcy trustees are typically charged with managing and operating property in the same manner that the owner would be bound to do if in possession thereof. Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, trustees are not able to manage and operate licensed cannabis businesses.

B. Receivership as an Alternative to Bankruptcy

Under California law, a receiver is a neutral agent of the court appointed to preserve, control, manage and ultimately dispose of property that is subject to the litigation before the court.1 The receiver, therefore, holds property for the court, not the parties to the litigation.

Appointment of a receiver is a statutory provisional remedy. Other than corporate dissolutions under Code of Civil Procedure section 565, the law does not have a specific cause of action to appoint a receiver. Thus, the proponent of a receiver must have a valid cause of action in an underlying lawsuit.

1. The Appointment of a Receiver

The appointment of a receiver rests within the trial court’s discretion. Code of Civil Procedure section 564 contains the broadest statutory authority to appoint a receiver. Subdivision (b), details twelve possible situations in which a receiver may be appointed, most of which are beyond the scope of this article. The most common of these is a lender’s request to appoint a receiver when a borrower defaults on a loan and the lender seeks the appointment of a receiver over its collateral. The statute, however, clarifies that the situations listed in the statute are not exclusive: a court may appoint a receiver “[i]n all other cases where necessary to preserve the property or rights of any party.”

The receiver’s powers are limited by the statute under which the court appointed the receiver and those conferred by the court. The appointment order should, therefore, detail the duties the receiver owes to the court, and actions that the court authorizes the receiver to take to perform those tasks. The order should also specify the property that will be part of the receivership estate.

2. The Receiver’s Powers

The receiver has general statutory powers.2 The statutory powers include (i) commencing or defending litigation; (ii) taking and possessing property of the receivership estate, (iii) receiving rent, collecting debts, and making transfers, and (iv) acting in accordance with the court’s instruction with respect to the property.3 But the court’s authorization is necessary to sue the receiver and for the receiver to commence litigation.4 In the foregoing scenarios, the receiver is immunized personally from tort liability, but not in his or her official capacity as receiver.5

In addition to taking possession of property, the receiver may dispose of receivership property with the court’s approval.6 If the receiver is an equity receiver, the receiver may take possession and satisfy creditors from all the debtor’s assets.7

The court may further authorize the receiver to issue “certificates of indebtedness” to raise money to administer the receivership estate.8 This device permits the receiver to provide liquidity to the estate and gives the certificate holder an interest-bearing priority claim against the receivership estate.

3. Liquidating Cannabis Assets Through a Court Appointed Receiver

After the court appoints the receiver, the receiver should have sufficient powers to, among other things: (i) take over the management of the company; (ii) open bank accounts; (iii) borrow money by issuing receivership certificates; (iv) manage all of the company’s property; (v) hire counsel and other professionals; and (vi) sell the receivership estate’s assets for the benefit of the creditors. To maximize repayment to the creditors, the receiver may hold an auction to sell the assets and assist in facilitating the cancellation of company’s state license while the buyer of the assets secures its state license after the local license is transferred.

State cannabis licenses may not be sold or transferred.9 Yet, to maximize recovery for the creditors, the receiver may need to participate in the regulatory process to maintain a license during the pendency of the receivership and to assist in the amendment of a license while a prospective buyer seeks to obtain its own license. To do so, the receiver will first need to qualify as a licensee under state law to join as a licensee on the license and further the licensee as a going concern. Next, the principals of the prospective buyer will themselves need to qualify as licensees under the license. Then, once the sale of the company’s assets (including any interest in the license) to the buyer closes, the receiver and the company’s original owners will terminate their capacities as licensees of the license, leaving only the new owners as licensees. Thus, the proposed order should be written with attention to ensure the receiver has powers to further the foregoing and not diminish the value of the receivership estate.

After the conclusion of the sale of all assets, the receiver will need to obtain a discharge from the court of his or her duties as receiver. The receiver may do so by the parties’ stipulation or by motion. Together with the request for a discharge, the receiver should seek approval to pay: (i) any lenders to the receivership estate; (ii) professionals that the receiver hired; and (iii) him or herself for his or her services. Upon the court’s approval, the receivership will be terminated.

The conflict between federal and California law regarding cannabis continues to be an impediment for stakeholders in California’s cannabis market. Because of this conflict, stakeholders in California’s legal cannabis market lack access to vital traditional institutions, such as bankruptcy remedies. As a result, stakeholders must be prepared to consider alternatives such as a court appointed receiver, which can be a useful alternative to both secured creditors and unsecured creditors. Stakeholders who pursue a court appointed receiver will benefit from a long-established body of law and experienced professionals.


References

  1. Cal. Rules of Ct., r. 3.1179(a).
  2. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 568-570.
  3. Free Gold Mining Co. v. Spiers, 136 Cal. 484, 486 (1902); Steinberg v. Goldstein, 129 Cal. App. 2d 682, 685 (1954).
  4. Vitug v. Griffin, 214 Cal. App. 3d 488, 493 (1989).
  5. Chiesur v. Superior Court, 76 Cal. App. 2d 198, 201 (1946).
  6. Helvey v. U.S. Bldg. & Loan Ass’n, 81 Cal. App. 2d 647, 650 (1947).
  7. Turner v. Superior Court, 72 Cal. App. 3d 804, 812 (1977).
  8. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 568.
  9. See e.g., Cal. Code Regs. tit. 16, § 5023(c).
Soapbox

User-Generated Data Brings Revenue: It’s Time for the Users to Get Some

By Dr. Markus Roggen, Amanda Assen, Dr. Tom Dupree
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You generate the product, you should benefit from it too.

If you are not paying for the service, you are the product. This pithy phrase is often heard in discussions about social media’s use of personal information and user-generated content. The idea can be traced back to a 1973 short film that critiques television’s impact on culture and politics. Although about television, the quote, “you are the end product delivered en masse to the advertiser,” still rings true when talking about major online corporations.

We have all seen it with big corporations. In the first three months of 2021, of Facebook’s $26.2B revenue, a whopping $25.4B was from advertising sales. However, the space for an advertisement to be delivered en masse to the public is not the only thing purchased from Facebook. Access to personal information such as your search history, likes and posts are also purchased by companies to determine which advertisements they should target you with.Access to user-generated data by advertisers has sparked privacy and ownership concerns regarding large internet platforms. The idea of being surveilled all the time is uncomfortable, and many large corporations like Facebook have royalty-free and transferable licenses to your posts.

Similarly, many websites in the cannabis industry gain value from information submitted by consumers. As an example, the website Leafly provides over 1.3 million consumer product reviews that are often used for purchasing decisions. These reviews play a role in attracting more people to websites that operate with a similar system to Leafly, and in turn advertising space to reach those people is sold. According to their About page, more than 4.5 million orders for advertising space are placed with businesses on Leafly each year, generating annually about $460 million in gross merchandise value. So, the users work for free to attract an audience to these websites for the advertisers, and the websites make money from advertisers.

Can we empower users with ownership of their content, data and participation in profits?

Frustrated social media users exclaiming “We are the product!” does nothing to change our reality. It is unlikely we will change how big corporations like Facebook work, but can we ensure users receive some of the benefits in our own cannabis industry? Many of these websites, especially those for medicinal cannabis, are designed to genuinely help users. Can we further increase this feeling of having a transaction with the websites rather than feel like we are being sold to advertisers? The world of NFTs may offer some guidance.

An NFT (or non-fungible token) acts as a digital certificate of authenticity. Unlike cryptocurrencies (like Bitcoin), each NFT is unique, so it cannot be exchanged or multiplied. They are kept on a blockchain system, which is a growing list of computationally secure ledgers. The blockchain allows proof of ownership to be established for the person with the NFT, and prevents others from being able to tamper with or claim ownership of the artwork, game, tweet or cat picture it is assigned to. Although non-exchangeable, NFTs can be traded on a digital marketplace, like how a physical piece of art can be auctioned.

While NFTs and cryptocurrencies are certainly not without controversy and flaws, an NFT-like system that provides users with proof of ownership for their data and grants them control over what is done with it may be the way of the future for websites in the cannabis industry. Just like Facebook, when it comes to sales, online display advertisements are some of the top revenue generators for websites in the cannabis industry that utilize user-generated content. With an NFT-like system, users could be granted a royalty for their content, which would obligate websites to give a portion of their profits to the users when their content is sold to an advertiser. Users may be able to have a portfolio of their generated content, have some control over who can access their content and who their personal data can be sold to.

Websites that are more focused on cannabis for medicinal use often pride themselves on being more patient-focused and professional – no pothead puns or crass logos. An NFT-like system might be especially beneficial for these companies, as it would further increase the emphasis of trust and respect for users. In this case, an NFT-like system could be used to assign ownership of reviews to individual website users. Since these reviews attract new people to these websites, when access to a user’s data is sold to advertisement companies, then a portion of that revenue is given to the people who created the reviews. The estimated amount of revenue that reviewers help to bring into the company can be calculated and distributed accordingly. While this may seem like it would cause a significant loss of revenue for the websites, the increased trust that would come with this system would likely promote more users, generating an overall increase in revenue and credibility. Users could become more engaged and spend more time writing reviews, increasing web traffic considerably. Advertisers would be more attracted to the larger audience and the prestige of having their advertisement on a well-respected site.

An NFT-like system could hold large internet corporations accountable.

The new normal is corporations on the internet making money from the content created by users. In return, users receive none of the monetary benefits and have their personal information shared with hundreds of businesses. An NFT-like system, although theoretical, may be able to empower users to hold large corporations accountable for what is done with user-generated data. It is unlikely we can change big companies like Facebook, but if adopted early, this may be plausible in our cannabis industry. This in turn may not only give more ownership to the website users, but could also benefit the websites, and the advertisers. Overall, the product should be the website and the services it provides. An NFT-like system might help promote this and could make users who generate value for the website partners in business.

Challenges with Process Scale Up in Cannabis/Hemp Extraction

By Darwin Millard
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What makes scaling up your process so difficult?

There are many factors that can lead to the challenges people face when scaling up their processes. These challenges are not unique to the cannabis/hemp industry, but they are exacerbated by the consequences generated from decades of Reefer Madness. In my time operating in the cannabis/hemp space, 15+ years, I have seen established equipment vendors and sellers of laboratory supplies, like Sigma-Aldrich (now Millipore-Sigma), Fisher-Scientific, Cerilliant, Agilent, and others, go from reporting individuals inquiring about certified reference materials to setting up entire divisions of their companies to service the needs of the industry. Progress. But we are still a fledgling marketplace facing many challenges. Let’s look at a few specific to process scale up.

Darwin Millard will deliver a presentation on this topic during the Cannabis Extraction Virtual Conference on June 29. Click here to learn more.Equipment Availability: Lack of available equipment at larger and larger process scales can severely impact project timelines. Making not only equipment acquisition difficult, but also limiting the number of reputable equipment manufacturers you can work with.

Non-Linear Expansion: NEVER assume your process scales linearly. Perhaps one of the most avoidable mistakes during process scale up. You will quickly find that for many processes you cannot just put in a larger unit and expect a proportional increase in output. This is because as process equipment increases so to must utilities and other supporting infrastructure, but not only that, process vessel geometry, proportions, and design are contributing factors to process efficiency as your scale of operations increases.

Hazardous Material Quantities: Just as important to the process as the equipment are the solvents and reagents used. As your scale of operations increases so does your demand and production of hazardous materials; solvents including carbon dioxide (CO2), ethanol, and liquid petroleum gases (LPG) like Butane and Propane are obvious hazards, but so too are the refrigerants used in the chillers, fuels used to power generators, steam created to heat critical systems, and effluents and wastewater discharged from the process and supporting systems. Not every municipality wants thousands of gallons of flammable substances and hazardous waste being generated in their backyard…

Contractor/Vendor Misrepresentation: Finding out in the middle of you project that your contractor or equipment vendor has never set up a system at this scale before is never a good feeling. Unfortunately, contractor and vendor misrepresentation of qualifications is a common occurrence in the cannabis/hemp space.

If all this was not bad enough, all too often the consequences of improper planning and execution are not felt until your project is delayed or jeopardized due to misallocation of funds or undercapitalization. This is especially true when scaling up your production capacity. Now let’s look at some ways to avoid these mistakes.

The Rule of 10

Construction drawings for a piece of process equipment.

When scaling up your process, NEVER assume that a simple linear expansion of your process train will be sufficient. It is often the case that process scale up is non-linear. Using the Rule of 10 is one way of scaling up your process through a stepwise iterative approach. The Rule of 10 is best explained through an example: Say you are performing a bench-top extraction of a few grams and want to scale that up to a few thousand kilograms. Before jumping all the way to your final process scale, start by taking a smaller jump and only increase your bench-top process by a factor of 10 at a time. So, if you were happy and confident with your results at the tens of grams scale, perform the same process at the hundreds of grams scale, then the thousands of grams scale, tens of kilograms scale, and so forth until you have validated your process at the scale of operations you want to achieve. By using the Rule of 10 you can be assured that your process will achieve the same yields/results at larger and larger scales of operation.

Scaling up your process through an iterative approach allows you to identify process issues that otherwise would not have been identified. These can include (but by no means should be considered an exhaustive list) improper heat transfer as process vessels increase in size, the inability to maintain process parameters due to inadequately sized utilities and/or supporting infrastructure, and lower yields than expected even though previous iterations were successful. However, this type of approach can be expensive, especially when considering custom process equipment, and not every processor in the cannabis/hemp space is going to be in the position to use tools like the Rule of 10 and instead must rely on claims made by the equipment vendor or manufacture when scaling up their process.

The Cannabis/Hemp Specific Process Equipment Trap

How many times have you heard this one before: “We have a piece of process equipment tailor-made to perform X,Y,Z task.”? If you have been around as long as I have in the cannabis/hemp space, probably quite a few times. A huge red flag when considering equipment for your expansion project!

Unless the equipment manufacturer is directly working with cannabis/hemp raw materials, or with partners who process these items, during product development, there is no way they could have verified the equipment will work for its purported use.

GMP compliant phytocannabinoid processing facility underconstruction.

A good example of this are ethanol evaporation systems. Most manufacturers of evaporators do not work with the volumes of ethanol they claim their systems can recover. So how did they come up with the evaporation rate? Short answer – Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer, and Fluid Mechanics. They modeled it. This much surface area, plus this much heat/energy, with this much pressure (or lack thereof), using this type of fluid, moving through this type of material, at this rate of speed, gets you a 1000-gal/hr evaporator or some other theoretical value. But what is the real rate once an ethanol and cannabis/hemp solution is running through the system?

For a straight ethanol system, the theoretical models and experimental models are pretty similar – namely because humans like alcohol – extensive real-world data for ethanol systems exist for reference in designing ethanol evaporators (more accurately described as distillation systems, i.e. stills). The same cannot be said for ethanol and cannabis/hemp extract systems. While it is true that many botanical and ethanol systems have been modeled, both theoretically and experimentally, due to prohibition, data for cannabis/hemp and ethanol systems are lacking and the data that do exist are primarily limited to bench-top and laboratory scale scenarios.

So, will that 1000-gal/hr evaporator hit 1000-gal/hr once it is running under load? That’s the real question and why utilizing equipment with established performance qualifications is critical to a successful process scale up when having to rely on the claims of a vendor or equipment manufacturer. Except this is yet another “catch 22”, since the installation, operational, and performance qualification process is an expensive endeavor only a few equipment manufacturers servicing the cannabis/hemp market have done. I am not saying there aren’t any reputable equipment vendors out there; there are, but always ask for data validating their claims and perform a vendor qualification before you drop seven figures on a piece of process equipment on the word of a salesperson.

Important Takeaways

Improper design and insufficient data regarding process efficiencies on larger and larger scales of manufacturing can lead to costly mistakes which can prevent projects from ever getting off the ground.

Each aspect of the manufacturing process must be considered individually when scaling your process train because each element will contribute to the system’s output, either in a limiting or expansive capacity.

I go further into this topic in my presentation: Challenges with Process Scale Up in the Cannabis/Hemp Industry, later this month during Cannabis Industry Journal’s Extraction Virtual Conference on June 29th, 2021. Here I will provide real-world examples of the consequences of improper process scale up and the significance of equipment specifications, certifications, and inspections, and the importance of vendor qualifications and the true cost of improper design specifications. I hope to see you all there.

Until then. Live long and process.

Richard Naiberg
Quality From Canada

Protecting Intellectual Property in Canada: A Practical Guide, Part 5

By Richard Naiberg
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Richard Naiberg

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article in a series by Richard Naiberg where he discusses how cannabis businesses can protect their intellectual property in Canada. Part 1 introduced the topic and examined the use of trade secrets in business and Part 2 went into how business owners can protect new technologies and inventions through applying for patents. Part 3 raised the issue of plant breeders’ rights and Part 4 discussed trademarks and protecting brand identity. Part 5, below, will detail copyright laws for cannabis companies and how they can protect works of creative expression.

Copyright: Protection for Works of Creative Expression

In the course of describing and marketing its products, the cannabis producer will prepare or have prepared any number of articles, instructions, write-ups, photographs, videos, drawings, web site designs, packaging, labeling and the like. Copyright protects all such literary and artistic works from being copied by another.

Copyright arises upon the creation of the work, although one can register the copyright under the Copyright Act for a minimal cost.Canada’s Copyright Act provides that the owner of copyright has the exclusive right to make copies of copyrighted work for the lifetime of its author, and for fifty years thereafter. The Court will enforce this copyright, stopping infringements and ordering infringers to compensate the owner in damages, accountings of profits and delivery up of infringing material for destruction. Intentional copying or renting out of a copyrighted work is also an offence that can attract imprisonment. The owner of a copyright can also request the seizure of infringing articles being imported or exported in Canada.

Copyright arises upon the creation of the work, although one can register the copyright under the Copyright Act for a minimal cost. Registration creates a presumption that copyright subsists in the work and that the registrant is the owner, presumptions that can simplify copyright proceedings. In litigation, the fact of registration also removes the ability of a defendant to argue that it did not have notice of the copyright, a factor relevant to the Court in awarding a remedy.Copyright protects all such literary and artistic works from being copied by another. 

There are two aspects of copyright law that tend to cause confusion. The first involves the distinction between the right to use a copyrighted article and the copyright itself. To illustrate, consider the sale of a literary work, such as a book. The purchaser acquires the physical book but not the copyright. The purchaser can use the physical book and can sell that book to another.  What the purchaser may not do is make and sell another copy of the book. Making copies is the exclusive right of the copyright holder.

The second involves the ownership of a commissioned work. The first owner of a copyright is either the author of the work or the employer of the author if the author creates the work in the course of his or her employment. Ownership of copyright can only be transferred by written assignment. Further, the author of a work is granted moral rights in the work, meaning the right to be associated with the work and the right to its integrity. These rights can be waived by the author but not assigned.

Ownership of copyright can only be transferred by written assignment.Therefore, if a company hires a third party supplier to prepare copyrightable work, such as brochures, artwork or web sites, and does not secure an assignment of the copyright and wavier of the author’s moral rights as part of the transaction, that supplier will own the copyright in the resulting work and the author of that work will have the right to insist on his or her moral rights. The hiring company will not have the right to make or authorize others to make copies of the work, to amend the work, to derive new works from what was delivered, or to use the work without reference to the name of the author or in a way so as to offend the author’s integrity. The supplier will also be free to sell the same brochures, artwork or web sites to other companies, or to derive other works from it. All of this is so even though the hiring company paid for the work to be done. This result is often surprising and disappointing to hiring companies.

Accordingly, cannabis producers contracting with the third parties for literature, photographs, web sites and the like will need to think about how they want to use the work in the future. It is simplest if the producer contracts to have the owner assign the copyright in the work to the producer upon creation, and deliver the author’s waiver of moral rights. While the third party will likely charge more for an assignment of the copyright and the waiver of moral rights, it may be worth avoiding negotiations over specific uses and how the author is to be credited, as well as avoiding the uncertainty inherent in trying to imagine how the producer will use the material in the future.


In the 6th and final part, Naiberg will summarize the key takeaways from his series that cannabis companies can use to protect their intellectual property in Canada.