General Cannabis Law News & Updates

On September 26 in Fox Rothschild’s New York City office, the American Foreign Law Association will host a special program, “The Legalization of Marijuana in Canada and the Future of Cannabis Law in the United States.”

The program, featuring Fox partner Matthew Kittay and Gordon Cameron from Stikeman Elliott LLP, will explore the Canadian framework for legalized marijuana and the burgeoning domestic and international market for Canadian cannabis as well the patchwork of laws and regulations in the United States, including an understanding of the U.S. federal government’s ever-evolving approach to marijuana regulation.

Find out more about the program, including registration options, on the AFLA website.

A federal district court in the District of Connecticut recently granted summary judgment to a plaintiff who brought a claim against an employer that withdrew a job offer due to the plaintiff’s positive drug test for marijuana.  This case offers lessons for businesses wading into this new and developing area of employment law.

Cannabis and the law
Copyright: jirkaejc / 123RF Stock Photo

In Noffsinger, the plaintiff was registered under Connecticut’s medical marijuana program and used marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. Noffsinger initially received a job offer, but it was withdrawn after she informed the employer that she was a medical marijuana user, and later tested positive for THC on a pre-employment drug test. She filed suit, and last year, the district court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss. After discovery, both sides moved for summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim under the Connecticut Palliative Use of Marijuana Act (PUMA).

The court first held there was an implied private right of action under the PUMA, and ultimately that plaintiff established her claim as a matter of law. The Court rejected several of the employer’s arguments in favor of its decision to withdraw the job offer, including that hiring Noffsinger would place the employer in violation of the Drug Free Workplace Act and the Federal False Claims Act due to its status as a federal contractor. Finally, the Court rejected the employer’s argument that while the PUMA protects Plaintiff’s status as a medical marijuana user, it does not specifically protect her use of medical marijuana.

The case is Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating, No. 3:16-cv-01983 (D. Conn.). If you are interested in reviewing a copy of the Opinion, please contact me.

Lessons from the Decision

When dealing with employees who are qualified users under a state-sanctioned medical marijuana program, employers should first and foremost engage the employee in the interactive process to determine if an accommodation for the off-site use of medical marijuana is feasible. This decision must be deliberative and well-documented. Any such decision should not be based on the employee’s “status” as a marijuana user, but rather on the hardship in accommodating the use of marijuana, due to legal, safety, or employee performance concerns.

Fox Rothschild recently published a comprehensive guide for employers entitled Employment Compliance in the Age of Legalized Marijuana where we discuss this topic in more detail and provide employers with more takeaways and best practices.


Joseph McNelis works in Fox Rothschild’s Blue Bell, PA office and focuses his practice on labor and employment matters. Joe also tracks legal developments in the cannabis industry in Pennsylvania and nationwide. Joe can be contacted at 610-397-2332 or jmcnelis@foxrothschild.com.

Entrepreneurs looking to enter Massachusetts’ newly minted recreational marijuana market can sleep a bit easier tonight after a statement from U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling (the top federal prosecutor for the state) regarding his enforcement priorities surrounding marijuana sales.

Cannabis and the law
Copyright: jirkaejc / 123RF Stock Photo

As many in the industry are aware, federal prosecutors for years were guided by the “Cole Memo,” which endorsed a hands-off approach to enforcement against businesses operating where marijuana had been legalized under a state-sanctioned program. But this January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo and issued his own Memorandum instructing federal prosecutors to “follow well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions” in actions involving cannabis-related businesses.

While this announcement initially sent shockwaves through the industry, we counseled companies to cautiously continue business as usual and keep a lookout for statements from individual U.S. Attorneys regarding their enforcement priorities. Massachusetts got such a statement last week. In his Statement, U.S. Attorney Lelling noted that while he cannot, “immunize the residents of the Commonwealth from federal marijuana enforcement,” his office’s resources will be focused on the following:

(1) unauthorized out-of-state marijuana sales

(2) targeted sales to minors

(3) organized criminal groups which use illicit drug sales to fund their activities

According to MassLive, the Chairman of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, Steven Hoffman, said the statement from the U.S. Attorney was “good news” for the industry and provided “clarity” for businesses entering the market. You can review the full Statement from U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling here.


Joseph McNelis works in Fox Rothschild’s Blue Bell, PA office and focuses his practice on labor and employment matters. Joe also tracks legal developments in the cannabis industry in Pennsylvania and nationwide. Joe can be contacted at 610-397-2332 or jmcnelis@foxrothschild.com.

Few things are as bi-partisan as constructing a snazzy acronym for federal legislation, and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) did not disappoint with the “Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act”  (“STATES Act”). As its name suggest, the goal of the STATES Act is to protect regulated cannabis businesses and users in states where cannabis has been legalized by amending the Controlled Substances Act.

U.S. Capitol Building
Copyright: mesutdogan / 123RF

The Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 801, et seq. (“CSA”) is the federal law that makes the manufacture, distribution, and use of marijuana illegal, and is the main source for the dichotomy between state and federal law concerning cannabis. The proposed legislation seeks to amend the CSA by adding several sections which would essentially exempt state-sanctioned marijuana from the CSA. While the STATES Act would not legalize cannabis on a nationwide level, it would and give states the freedom to legalize cannabis or keep it illegal.

The STATES Act has received so much attention not only because of the sweeping changes it proposes, but also because it has received tacit approval from President Trump, who was previously seen as a roadblock to cannabis legislation. That is due in part to a deal struck between Senator Gardner and the President, which ended with the following pronouncement from Gardner: “President Trump has assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all.”

The folks at Leafly have a great breakdown and explanation of the STATES Act, including the following bullet points on what the legislation proposes:

  • The act amends the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) so that as long as states and tribes comply with a few basic protections, its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with state or tribal laws relating to marijuana activities.
  • The act states that compliant transactions are not trafficking and do not result in proceeds of an unlawful transaction. This would go a long way towards ending the difficulties cannabis companies have in obtaining banking services.
  • The measure removes industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances under the CSA.
  • The following federal criminal provisions under the CSA continue to apply:
    • Prohibits endangering human life while manufacturing marijuana
    • Prohibits employment of persons under age 18 in drug operations
  • The act prohibits the distribution of marijuana at transportation safety facilities such as rest areas and truck stops.
  • The measure prohibits the distribution or sale of marijuana to persons under the age of 21 other than for medical purposes.

We will continue to monitor and provide updates on this important legislation, which has great implications for cannabis businesses throughout the country.


Joseph McNelis works in Fox Rothschild’s Blue Bell, PA office and focuses his practice on labor and employment matters. Joe also tracks legal developments in the cannabis industry in Pennsylvania and nationwide. Joe can be contacted at 610-397-2332 or jmcnelis@foxrothschild.com.

As Florida’s 2018 legislative session comes to a close, its time to review legislative changes to Florida’s medical marijuana laws.

First, Florida’s Senate passed HB 6049,  This bill removes the requirement that the Florida medical marijuana license (Florida has a vertical licensing system) reserved for a Black farmer must go to a Black farmer who is a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

As I explained in my earlier posts (here and here), Columbus Smith, a Black farmer from Panama City, filed a lawsuit challenging the law implementing Amendment Two (medical marijuana) alleging that the law was unconstitutional.

Second, the Florida legislature has withheld funds for the Florida Department of Health (putting the funds in reserve) in an effort to spur the Department of Health to move more quickly on regulations implementing Amendment Two (medical marijuana) which passed in 2016.


Dori K. Stibolt is a West Palm Beach, Florida based partner with Fox Rothschild LLP.  She focuses her practice on litigation and labor and employment issues and has taken a special interest in the cannabis business.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

As I’ve posted before, Florida’s implementation of Amendment Two (medical marijuana) does not permit patients to smoke medical marijuana.

Not surprisingly, the ban on smoking of medical marijuana triggered litigation.  Now, that case has been set for a bench trial in May 2018.

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban is contrary to the amendment’s language, which itself does not expressly say medicinal cannabis can be smoked. The suit is against the Department of Health, which regulates medical marijuana.

 


Dori K. Stibolt is a West Palm Beach, Florida based partner with Fox Rothschild LLP.  She focuses her practice on litigation and labor and employment issues and has taken a special interest in the cannabis business.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

Citrus greening, a disease that has been slowly spreading throughout Florida since 2004, has been putting the squeeze on Florida’s key agricultural crop (the citrus industry in Florida is worth $10.7 billion).  Citrus greening impairs the citrus trees ability to produce fruit and eventually kills the trees.  Many Florida citrus farmers are turning to other crops to replace their orange juice and citrus fruit business including olives, hops (for beer), pomegranates, and even pongamia (a type of legume).

Another crop that has been proposed for the Florida agriculture industry as a replacement for oranges is hemp.  Hemp can be used in the industrial market for fibers, rope, construction, paper, insulation materials and clothing.

Hemp was a key crop in the early years of America providing rope, clothing and sail material among other materials.  Hemp was a favored crop because it grew quickly with little cultivation and, even today, can be found growing wild in many parts of the mid-west.  President Thomas Jefferson invented the hemp brake which was used to separate fibers from the stalk of the hemp plant.  It has also been reported that Thomas Jefferson said this about hemp:

Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.

In 1937, the cultivation of hemp was made virtually impossible with the passage of the The Marijuana Tax Act.   And, hemp was banned for good in 1957 mostly because it looked too similar to marijuana despite the fact that it produces little to no THC.

With medical marijuana and recreational marijuana being legalized on the state level across the country, hemp has also slowly started to make a come back.

In 2017, the Florida Legislature took the baby step of passing Florida Statute s. 1004.4473 which has created an industrial hemp pilot program in Florida.  The pilot program permits the two Florida land grant universities — University of Florida and Florida A&M University — to develop public-private partnerships to produce hemp, analyze results and report back to the Legislature.


Dori K. Stibolt is a West Palm Beach, Florida based partner with Fox Rothschild LLP.  She focuses her practice on litigation and labor and employment issues and has taken a special interest in the cannabis business.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.