Welcome back to Higher Law, our weekly briefing on all things cannabis. I'm Cheryl Miller, reporting for Law.com from Sacramento. Hope you enjoyed your 4/20 activities.
This week, we look at the first quarter federal lobbying reports and find everyone is jumping into the marijuana advocacy game. Also, MedMen is in the uncomfortable glare of the spotlight again after its general counsel and another top executive bailed out. And scroll down to see who got the work.
Thanks for taking the time to read Higher Law. I appreciate your feedback, tips and just hearing what's on your plate these days. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can call 916-448-2935. Follow me on Twitter at @capitalaccounts.
The Latest on Pot Lobbying
The first quarter federal lobbying reports are coming in and, as you might expect, the marijuana industry and the firms representing them have been busy pursuing changes in a seemingly friendlier Congress.
Of note in the filings:
>> TheCannabis Trade Federation, formerly known as the New Federalism Fund, spent $180,000 lobbying on more than two dozen marijuana-related bills in the first quarter, according to a disclosure. The federation, whose founding members include Dixie Elixirs, Native Roots and Privateer Holdings, retained Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for lobbying work in 2017 The organization also contracts with Jochum Shore & Trossevin and the Raben Group.
>> Curaleaf Inc., the multi-state grower, processor and retailer, was a leading industry spender on lobbying with a $200,000 bill for the first quarter. Curaleaf, which announced a CBD distribution deal with drugstore chain CVS last month, reported just one in-house lobbyist, senior vice president for government relations Edward Conklin, in addition to advocacy work from Navigators Global and TheGROUP DC.
>> It's not just marijuana companies doing the lobbying. Companies including Mastercard, PayPal Inc., beer and wine producer Constellation Brands, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. are all talking cannabis-related issues on Capitol Hill, according to first-quarter filings. And firms such as Holland & Knight, McGuireWoods Consulting and Squire Patton Boggs have signed on to do the lobbying work.
A Politico story this week noted that beer and tobacco interests, plus big-name K Street firms, are jumping into what was a very limited marijuana lobbying field. (If you missed it—check out my colleague C. Ryan Barber's report from February: Inside the Alcohol Industry's Lobbying Blitz on Cannabis.)
"And while there’s a long way to go before Congress goes the way of 30-plus states and legalizes medical or recreational sales, it’s clear that special interests think there’s money to be made trying to change federal drug policies," Paul Demko wrote.
But is all this lobbying money changing anything? Chris Roberts at Vice argues that it's not.
"Cannabis is still illegal nationwide, businesses still can’t bank or deduct expenses on their taxes like other merchants, and legitimate interstate cannabis commerce remains a distant dream. With few exceptions, bipartisan bills that would de-schedule the drug or give businesses tax relief are still withering in committee without hearings, let alone votes."
MedMen Parts Ways With Its General Counsel
Already facing two workplace-related lawsuits, marijuana retailer MedMen was hit with fresh turmoil last week when two company executives quit.
MedMen announced in a press release Friday that general counsel Lisa “LD” Sergi Trager and chief operating officer Ben Cook had resigned. No reason was given, my colleague Dan Clark reported. MedMen's senior vice president of legal affairs, Dan Edwards, will lead the legal team, the company reported.
The retailing giant is already under scrutiny after former chief financial officer James Parker sued in January. Parker says he was forced out after questioning top executives' spending on personal items and an alleged scheme to prop up stock prices. MedMen co-founder Adam Bierman called the lawsuit meritless.
Two former employees have also filed a proposed class action over alleged wage-and-hour and rest break violations.
Rolling Stone published a timely profile last week of MedMen and its founders, asking whether the company's troubles are simply growing pains or the signs of a company that's growing faster than it can handle.
Who Got the Work
• The Liaison Group, one of Washington's biggest cannabis-focused advocacy firms, has been hired by Pura Vida Investments to lobby on the SAFE Banking Act and "other legislation related to financial services for the cannabis industry." New York-based Pura Vida is a healthcare-centered investment fund.
• The state of Maine will pay Los Angeles-based BOTEC Analysis $10,000 to review the proposed recreational marijuana regulations drafted by another firm, Freedman & Koski. As part of the contract, the Portland Press Herald reports, BOTEC agrees to drop its administrative appeal of the state's decision to hire Freedman & Koski. Colorado-headquartered Freedman & Koski signed a $189,300 contract to write Maine's medical and adult-use rules.
•Laurent Crenshaw, senior director of policy for Eaze Technologies Inc, registered as a lobbyist for the marijuana-deliver platform this month, according to a disclosure filed this month. The filings says Crenshaw will be working on "cannabis banking, federal research for cannabis, hemp and hemp-derived products and IRC 280 reforms." Eaze already works with Holland & Knight, retained last summer, on Capitol Hill issues.
• Canopy Growth Corp., fresh off its recently announced $3.4 billion deal to buy Acreage Holdings, has retained its first lobbying firm in California. Platinum Advisors, which already lobbies for Cannacraft Inc. will represent the Ontario, Canada-based cannabis company.
In the Weeds...
>> Want to work in-house at a cannabis company? Broad legal experience in the corporate world is more valuable than a background in the marijuana industry, says recruiter Mike Evers of Evers Legal Search. “The right person to run these new legal departments are going to be generalists with corporate backgrounds,” Evers said. Corporate Counsel
>> Is it lumber or weed?Boise Cascade Co. says New England Treatment Access's logo is "confusingly similar" to the "tree-in-a-circle" trademark used for decades by the Idaho-based building materials company. Boise Cascade has askedthe U.S. District Court in Massachusetts to force New England Treatment Access, a Massachusetts medical marijuana dispensary, to permanently chop down its logo. "Boise Cascade is concerned that NETA’s logo will dilute, weaken, or tarnish the reputation and distinctiveness of Boise Cascade’s Tree-in-a-Circle trademarks," Morrison Mahoney partner David Viens told the Daily Hampshire Gazette. A dispensary spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit. Daily Hampshire Gazette
>> Feds say marijuana work can block citizenship. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigraition Services last week issued guidance saying that citizenship-seekers who work in the industry or use marijuana "may lack good moral character if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity has been decriminalized under applicable state laws." Washington Post
>> Maine has released draft regulations for its recreational marijuana market.And at 74 pages they're a relatively breezy read for those of us who have slogged through other states' rules (I'm looking at you, California). Among the provisions in the proposed rules: business licenses would only go to residents who have lived and filed income taxes in Maine for at least four years. Maine Public
>> Canada has made pot boring. That's the premise of author Stephen Marche, who says legalization and corporatization has made the local dispensary look like a Pottery Barn and turned kids' swim lessons into a place where parents talk CBD marketing. "When you used to pass around a joint, you were sharing a little naughtiness, a tiny collective experience of rebellion," Marche writes. "Now, at a party, when you pass around a joint, you’re basically saying let’s go stare at things for a while." The New Yorker
Clear Your Schedule: The Calendar Things
April 30 - BDS Analytics hosts the webinar, "The CBD Effect: Implications for Consumer Products and the Legal Cannabis Industry." Jessica Lukas, vice president of consumer insights, leads the discussion.
April 30 - The National Cannabis Bar Association presents the webinar "Private Cannabis Clubs, Social Use, and Cannabis Consumption Events." Speakers include San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman; Clark County, Nevada, Commissioner Tick Segerblom and Omar Figueroa of the Law Offices of Omar Figueroa.
May 1 - Kahner Global hosts the fourth annual Cannabis Private Investment Summit West. Scheduled speakers include Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Alex Freedman; Nelson Hardiman managing partner Harry Nelson and Dorsey & Whitney partner Michael Weiner.