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Bad dreamer, what’s your name?
Looks like we’re riding on the same train
Looks as though there’ll be more pain
There’s gonna be a showdown

I have always thought that the August 29, 2013 “Cole Memo” is an amazing legal document. In case you’ve never read it, or in case you haven’t read it in a while, here’s a link: https://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/3052013829132756857467.pdf

The Cole Memo was released by the U.S. Department of Justice (the “US DOJ”) in response to the fine people of Colorado and Washington passing ballot measures in November 2012 that legalized the commercial production and sale of marijuana for all persons 21 years of age and older. The Cole Memo summarizes the enforcement policies of the US DOJ concerning marijuana, and somehow concludes that federal US attorneys should just sit back and let commercial marijuana businesses sell marijuana to non-patient consumers right out in the open. On Main Street. In the middle of town. Smack dab in front of everyone driving down the road or walking down the sidewalk. When it’s clear as a crystal that every single person involved is violating federal law all day long.

How could this happen? Is the Cole Memo an enlightened piece of political pragmatism? A bold action by the Executive Branch in response to inaction by the Legislative Branch and a realization that the War on Drugs was a complete failure? A lazy cop-out by the Executive Branch because it didn’t have the stomach to either enforce or change the law? A nonsensical mish-mash of pretzel logic by the liberal elites in the Obama Administration? The Cole Memo is probably all of these things, and that’s what makes it so great. And without it, thousands of marijuana businesses and probably millions of marijuana consumers across the country would not be doing what they are doing today.

Under a different U.S. President and a different U.S. Attorney General, there might have been an entirely opposite version of the Cole Memo, which could have resulted in SWAT teams descending on medical marijuana businesses and in the federal government threatening state employees with imprisonment should they dare to implement the ballot measures. If that had happened back in 2013, I am quite certain that Oregon Ballot Measure 91 would not have passed in 2014, at least not in the form it took.

But I digress. What is President-elect Trump going to do once he affirms to the TV cameras that he will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States? I have read many articles discussing the possibilities, and most everyone’s conclusion, including mine, can be boiled down to: “Who the hell knows?” Things could get worse, for sure. On the other hand, maybe things get better and then it’s truly game over for federal prohibition in Oregon and other States that have legalized marijuana. Either way though, I suspect that the Cole Memo won’t survive the first six months of calendar year 2017.

From a business perspective, what is one to do with such uncertainty? Keep on keepin’ on seems like a logical choice at the moment. The industry was never for the faint-hearted, and there are enough other real day-to-day problems to deal with. So what’s the point of getting bogged down thinking about an unanswerable question when we’ll all know the answer soon enough. But what about those tip-toeing around the industry at the moment, like . . . uh . . . investors? If they’re not already in the game, they don’t need to do anything. They can sit on the sidelines and wait for more certainty. Or maybe they see an advantage in the uncertainty, and think they should move in now. Market inefficiencies lead to opportunities and all of that.

In any event, here’s why I’m writing this. If you are a client who engaged our firm to assist you in raising money at any time during the past few years, or if you are an investor who has invested in one of our clients, you have probably seen the following securities law risk factor in one of the investment documents:

Our business is illegal under federal law. Producing, manufacturing, processing, possessing, distributing, selling, and using marijuana is a federal crime. Under the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (the “Federal CSA”), marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which is defined as having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. Your investment in the Company may: (a) expose you personally to criminal liability under federal law, resulting in monetary fines and jail time; and (b) expose any real and personal property used in connection with our business to seizure and forfeiture to the federal government. We encourage you to carefully review the U.S. Department of Justice Memorandum for All United States Attorneys dated August 29, 2013 from James M. Cole (the “Cole Memo”), which summarizes the current enforcement policies of the U.S. Department of Justice (the “US DOJ”) concerning marijuana.

Now, I’ve been a securities law attorney for over 20 years and I can tell you that this is one of the craziest risk factors that’s ever been written in the history of securities laws. “Invest in our company and you can go to jail.”

Despite that doomsday scenario, I’ve had the feeling for some time now that nobody’s given it two seconds’ worth of thought. “Yeah yeah yeah, it’s against federal law. Thanks for the news flash. Now where do I sign?” Why did everyone just start blowing through this risk factor like they couldn’t care less? The answer I’m guessing is a mixture of: (i) the Cole Memo, and the fact that federal US attorneys have actually adhered to it for years; and (ii) the fact that so many people are involved in the industry now that there’s a feeling of safety in sheer numbers. “What are they going to do? Arrest everyone?”

Probably not. But a big chill could set in for a while if Trump’s Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions says or does one thing rather than another. And so for now, I am unveiling a new securities law risk factor, which will appear, along with the original, in our documents for clients who are seeking to raise money from investors. To be sure, this one won’t last as long as the original Cole Memo risk factor. And as mentioned, I am guessing that both of these risk factors will be relegated to the dustbin in the near future, almost certainly to be replaced by a new one (hopefully better, but perhaps worse). For now however, behold the following, and keep on keepin’ on:

The federal government’s enforcement policies with respect to marijuana may change. Since the release of the Cole Memo, federal United States Attorneys having jurisdiction over Oregon have not attempted to prosecute any person whose commercial marijuana operation is in compliance with Oregon law. As a result of the United States presidential election held on November 8, 2016, Donald Trump is expected to become the next United States president on January 20, 2017. Mr. Trump has announced that he intends to nominate Jeff Sessions for Attorney General of the United States. If confirmed by the United States Senate, Mr. Sessions will head the US DOJ and dictate the US DOJ’s enforcement policies concerning marijuana. Mr. Sessions has previously stated his opposition to the legalization of marijuana, and may adopt US DOJ enforcement policies consistent with his position, including but not limited to a revocation of the Cole Memo. Any change in the US DOJ’s enforcement policies likely will have a material adverse effect on us.

Tonight, the longest night

Take it away Mr. Lynne: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0cuCLTnkMM

Showdown lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Major changes to the minimum salary requirements for exempt employees originally scheduled to take effect on December 1, 2016, are now on hold as the result of a ruling by a U.S. District Court judge in Texas.

As discussed in our November 7, 2016 blog post, the new rules would significantly increase the minimum salary requirements for the executive, professional and administrative employee exemptions (from $455/week to $913/week) and the minimum compensation for the highly compensated employee exemption (from $100,000/year to $134,004/year).

Twenty states joined together to challenge the new rules. On November 22, 2016, Judge Amos L. Mazzant III of the Eastern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the new rules from taking effect. Since it is only a preliminary injunction, the judge can change his ruling after further proceedings, but that is seen as unlikely. The Obama Administration can appeal the ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, if it chooses to do so, but no decision has been announced.

The ruling means employers do not have to make any changes to current salary levels, at least until the courts make a final decision. Most employers already planned for the new rules, so it will be interesting to see how employees react when employers rescind their announced changes. We also don’t know the Trump Administration’s position on the proposed changes, so stay tuned.

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Yesterday’s election was historic in many ways.  The imminent change in federal administration may have repercussions for state-run legal marijuana regimes.  Until now, states with legal marijuana regimes have been functioning under the protection of what’s called the “Cole Memo” – a document issued by the US Department of Justice, which directs federal prosecutors to use discretion in prosecuting marijuana-related crimes per eight enforcement priorities.  While many believe that Hillary Clinton would have most likely maintained the status quo regarding the Cole Memo, President-Elect Donald Trump’s position is less clear.  Look for future blog posts for more comprehensive analyses on this issue.

Yesterday’s election was a watershed moment for marijuana legalization among the states.  Please see our summary of the results of marijuana initiatives.

Adult-Use Marijuana

Four states have legalized marijuana for adult-use, joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

  • Arizona (Failed) – The state electorate defeated Proposition 205 with a 52.1 percent “no” vote.  It would have allowed adults to carry up to one ounce, grow up to six plants (12 total per household), and consume marijuana in private spaces.  Retail marijuana sales were set to have a 15 percent tax imposed.  Some Arizona residents expressed concern that decriminalization would not keep up with the new law.  They pointed out that any possession of plants in excess of the limit could still have been charged as a felony.
  • California (Passed) – Proposition 64 makes recreational marijuana legal all along the West Coast and many people argue will mark a path to federal legalization.  Also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the law allows for adults to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and purchase dried flower and cannabis products from licensed retailers as well as grow six plants for personal use.  Initial taxes imposed include a 15 percent excise tax on retail sales plus a cultivation tax per volume.  Proponents estimate that the Act could result in $1 billion annually in state tax revenue.  One major concern, however, is that large, well-funded investors will swallow up smaller family farmers formerly engaged in the state’s medical marijuana program.  One LA-based private equity fund plans to deploy $75 -$100 million over the next few years to acquire property and build out cultivation centers and dispensaries in Southern California.
  • Massachusetts (Passed) – Question 4 provides for adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, keep up to 10 ounces at home, and grow up to six plants.  Marijuana sold by licensed retailers is subject to an excise tax of 3.75 percent in addition to the state’s 6.25 percent state sales tax.  Some concern exists regarding the timetable to get the legal regime up and running.  It took about 3 years for the first medical marijuana dispensary to open after passage of Massachusetts’ medical marijuana law.  Some have also expressed worries that the 3.75 percent tax will fall short of the funds necessary to launch the state’s regulatory scheme which includes the creation of a cannabis control commission.
  • Maine (Passed) –  Question 1 allows people 21 years of age and older to use marijuana recreationally.  The measure would permit each adult to grow up to six plants for personal use and would levy a 10 percent sales tax on retail marijuana and marijuana products while restricting use to private residences.  Under the measure, municipalities could regulate the number of retail stores or ban them entirely.  One concern voiced by legalization proponents is the state-wide cap on canopy space and language which designates 60 percent of licenses for large growers and only 40 percent for small growers.
  • Nevada (Passed) – Question 2, also known as The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act, expands moves already made by some Nevada counties to adopt medical marijuana regulations.  The Act makes it legal for adults age 21 and over to purchase marijuana for recreational use, possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and grow up to six plants at home (if that residence is more than 25 miles from a licensed dispensary).  Wholesale marijuana is subject to a 15 percent excise tax.  Unlike Oregon, the Act limits the number of retail licenses by each county’s population.  Counties with fewer than 55,000 residents could only have 2 retail establishments.

Medical Marijuana

Four states have joined the ranks of 25 states and the District of Columbia in passing or expanding some form of medical marijuana law (not including CBD-only laws):

  • Arkansas  (Passed)  – Issue 6, also known as the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, is a constitutional amendment that allows an independent commission to grant licenses for up to eight grow facilities and 40 for-profit dispensaries statewide.  It does not provide for home growing.  A second measure, Issue 7, was disqualified by the Arkansas Supreme Court due to lack of compliance with registration and reporting laws for paid canvassers.  This measure would have allowed for some home growing for patients who live more than 20 miles from a cannabis care center.
  • Florida  (Passed) – Amendment 2 provides for the state Department of Health to register and regulate dispensaries and issue ID cards to marijuana patients and caregivers.  Individuals with medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and Crohn’s disease would be eligible for a card with approval from a licensed Florida physician.  Because Florida’s demographics include 20 million residents, many of whom are seniors, baby boomers, and veterans, many see the passage of Amendment 2 as a lucrative business opportunity.  One newly-formed venture capital firm is currently raising $15 million to fund various medical marijuana-related ventures.
  •  Montana  (Passed) – Ballot Issue 14, also known as I-182, expands legal access to medical marijuana.  It repeals the three-patient limit and other requirements like unannounced inspections and review for physicians who provide certifications.  Newly added qualifying conditions include chronic pain and PTSD.  The implementation of the law could be delayed for months because of an error written into the measure.  The initiative aims to immediately repeal the three-patient limit, but the measure’s language indicates that the limit would not be lifted until June 30, 2017.
  • North Dakota  (Passed) – Initiated Statutory Measure No. 5 or The North Dakota Compassionate Care Act allows for the possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana for conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, epilepsy, and glaucoma.  It also provides for patients who live more than 40 miles from a licensed dispensary to grow up to eight plants.  The most vocal opponent to this measure was the North Dakota Medical Association.  It claimed that the petition “would be very difficult to implement in a safe and cost-effective manner.”

While these results undeniably illustrate a broad movement by states across the nation to legalize marijuana use in some form, our experience in watching what it takes for an initiative to go from “passed” to fully-implemented suggests that there is a lot that can happen, and there may be more uncertainty regarding what will be required of the industry in each of the states (at least in the short term).  We look forward to assisting our existing clients (as well as new ones) as they navigate the waters in these new markets.

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payday

On December 1, 2016, big changes are coming to the minimum salary requirements for exempt employees.  The U.S. Department of Labor is significantly raising the minimum salary that an employee must receive to qualify as exempt from overtime.

Employees who qualify for the professional, executive or administrative exemption will see their minimum salary rise from its current level of $455/week ($23,660/year) to $913/week ($47,476/year).  Employees who qualify for the highly compensated exemption will see their minimum compensation rise from its current level of $100,000/year to $134,004/year.

There is no phase in or grace period for the increased salary requirements.  The changes take effect immediately on December 1, so employers must be certain their salaries comply with the new rules on that date.  The consequences for not complying can be severe.  Not only will the employee be entitled to overtime for all hours worked beyond forty hours in a workweek, but the exemption may be permanently lost.

Keep in mind that in addition to the salary test, an employee must also satisfy the “duties test” to qualify as exempt from overtime.  In general terms, the employee must spend the majority of his or her time performing nonmanual, higher level duties of a professional, executive or administrative nature.  The Department is not changing the requirements of the duties test, but it makes sense for employers to take this opportunity to review the duties of employees who might qualify, to assure they satisfy the duties test.

Determining whether an employee qualifies as exempt can be very challenging.  You cannot rely on job titles or job descriptions, but must analyze the circumstances of each employee’s work.  It is not unusual to have two employees with the same job title and job description, but only one who qualifies as exempt because of differences in what they actually do on the job every day.

The penalties for misclassifying an employee as exempt and failing to pay overtime are harsh.  Of course, the employee will be entitled to back pay for the unpaid overtime.  In addition, under federal law the employee is entitled to penalty wages of double the amount of unpaid overtime and up to 30 days’ additional wages under Oregon law, plus interest in both cases.  State and federal regulators may also impose stiff civil fines for each violation.

Give us a call if you have any questions or concerns and we will work with you to assure you are in compliance.

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On September 30, we blogged about the OLCC and OHA’s emergency rulemaking in the face of the October 1 labeling, packaging, and testing deadline. One of the rule changes reduced the OLCC’s requirement for pesticide testing for usable marijuana.  The new rule calls for OLCC staff to assess pesticide testing capacity for the limited number of licensed labs approved for such testing.  After making the assessment, the rule requires the OLCC to issue an order dictating the percentage of usable marijuana a producer must test for pesticides.  Last week, the OLCC issued its first order.  The order states that each producer must submit 33% of its harvest lot batches to pesticide testing.  The entire text of the order can be found here.

The OLCC will most likely issue future orders which increase the percentage of pesticide testing required. We will post future blog entries as each order is published.

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Welcome Jon Norling

Emerge Law Group welcomes attorney Jon Norling to the firm’s Business/Corporate Law Practice Group!

Jon is a corporate lawyer with a practice focused on the development and financing of business ventures.  He represents emerging growth companies on business and commercial matters including project development and finance. He has significant experience advising clients with respect to corporate governance, regulatory compliance, securities matters, entity formation, structured finance, and renewable energy and real estate project development matters.

Prior to joining Emerge Law Group, Jon was a partner at Cleantech Law Partners and was formerly chair of the energy practice group at Lane Powell P.C. He also previously served as general counsel for several solar and wind energy development companies.

You can reach Jon through any Emerge Law Group attorney or directly by phone at 503-227-4525 or by e-mail at jon@emergelawgroup.com.

Welcome Jon!

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sadness

Unfortunately the hope that the October 1, 2016 deadlines would be pushed back did not occur.  The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) both adopted emergency temporary rules today.  However, the changes appear to provide very limited relief for Oregon cannabis businesses.

Labeling and Packaging

Inventory taken in prior to October 1, 2016 must be sold with labels and packaging that meet the new standards, but are not required to have gone through the OLCC pre-approval process.  Inventory taken in by a dispensary on and after October 1, 2016 must have pre-approved labels and packaging.

The text of OHA’s temporary rules can be found here.

Testing

There is a reduced requirement for testing of pesticides on usable marijuana only.  Prior to September 30, 2016 changes, the rule was that every batch of usable marijuana in a harvest lot had to be tested for pesticides.  Under the temporary rule, only a percentage of batches in a harvest lot will need to be tested for pesticides.  The OLCC will issue an order periodically dictating the percentages of batches requiring testing.  At the special Commission meeting today, Steve Marks indicated that 33% of batches in each harvest lot would be the initial testing percentage.  These percentages will likely be increased.  This reduced testing would only be permitted until March 1, 2017.

We will post a follow-up blog with more details.  Please feel free to contact us to discuss how this may impact your particular situation.

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October1

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has announced that it will engage in temporary emergency rulemaking this week to address two key issues which may affect current medical marijuana businesses preparing for October 1, 2016.

1. Pending OHA Processor Registrations

The OHA has confirmed that it intends to adopt a temporary emergency rule that would allow applicants who have applied for a medical marijuana processor registration to continue operating without interruption under a pending registration status.  The expectation is that OHA dispensaries will be able to accept products from processors that are included on the list of Pending Processor Applications.  Under current rules, processors are required to complete their registration on or before October 1, which involves an OHA readiness inspection.  However, with less than a month until October 1, no processors have yet completed a full registration.

In order to get on the list of Pending Processor Applications, a processor must submit a “complete” application to the OHA.  If the OHA has deemed a processor application “complete,” it will place the applicant on the list. Beginning October 1, OHA dispensaries must only accept edibles, concentrates, and extracts from processors on the list.

In a previous blog post we summarized the processor registration requirements.  The OHA reviews applications for completeness once per week, in the order they are received. To avoid any business interruption, processors should still submit their applications as soon as possible.

2. Extended Deadline for Dispensary ODA Certification

OHA also announced that it intends to push back the date by which registered dispensaries must have a food establishment license from the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), from October 1, 2016 to January 1, 2017.  Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on working with ODA.  Also, in case you missed it, we posted our Top 5 tips for Oregon dispensaries gearing up for October 1.

We will also continue to publish blog posts to update you on key issues and changes affecting Oregon’s marijuana industry.

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Emerge Law Group is excited to offer the free Employment Law Compliance for Cannabis Employers class on September 28, 2016 in Portland from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with free lunch provided.

Our experts will guide you through the fundamentals that every employer must follow to fully comply with the mountains of Oregon and federal employment laws, including:

  • Employees vs. independent contractors
  • Exempt vs. nonexempt employees
  • Marijuana worker’s permits
  • Forms I-9, W-2, W-4, W-9, 1099, etc.
  • Salary, hourly and piece rate compensation
  • Workweeks, paydays, final paychecks and other payroll fundamentals
  • Workers’ compensation and OHSA compliance
  • Must-have employment policies
  • And much, much more!

You will also have an opportunity to ask the questions that matter most to you. Register online today.

More details can be found here.

Space is limited, so early registration is recommended. We look forward to seeing you!

REGISTER ONLINE at http://emergeclassregistration.eventbrite.com.

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Number-5

There are significant changes to the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program that will take effect on October 1, 2016.  In recent blogs we have covered:  (1) labeling; (2) packaging; and (3) processor registration. What do these changes mean for Oregon dispensaries?  Below are a few tips for dispensaries preparing for the upcoming rule changes.

1. Identify your top-selling products.                      

If you own or run a dispensary, evaluate your sales history and identify your top-selling products. By focusing on your main sources of revenue, you can hopefully prevent significant disruption to your inventory supply and cash flow.

2. Evaluate whether your top-selling products currently comply with October 1 labeling and packaging requirements.

Once you identify your top-selling products, evaluate whether those products meet the new packaging and labeling requirements. The sale of marijuana flowers and other items in exit packaging may not be affected.  However, the sale of concentrates, extracts, edibles, and other infused products that are generally delivered to dispensaries pre-packaged and labeled will most likely be impacted.

Current Inventory

On and after October 1, if a dispensary has a product in inventory that does not meet the new labeling  requirements, under OAR 333-007-0010(5) the dispensary will be required to:

  • transfer/return the non-compliant item; or
  • if the item cannot be returned – for example, if the vendor cannot be located – dispose of the item in a manner specified by the OHA.

Future Inventory

On and after October 1, a dispensary may not accept any products that do not meet the new labeling and packaging requirements. Ask your vendors that supply pre-packaged and labeled products whether their products comply with the new labeling and packaging requirements. The OLCC has told us that relatively few labels have been submitted for pre-approval. With only one exception (which is explained below), all labels must be pre-approved by the OLCC. If you anticipate a potential disruption in inventory supply, try locating vendors who will likely be compliant by October 1.

Generic Labels

A label that provides only the necessary information required by the rules – and no graphics, photographs, or logos – is considered a “generic” label and requires no pre-approval by the OLCC. You are not required to provide notice to OLCC that you will use a generic label. Consider whether use of generic labels could be a temporary solution.

3. Talk to your extract, concentrate, and edible suppliers about the status of their OHA registration.

On and after October 1, a registered dispensary may accept only a transfer of edibles, concentrates, or extracts from an OHA-registered medical marijuana processing site. Ask your processor vendors about the status of their OHA registration. You can also continue to check the OHA Pending Processor list.

The rules do not prohibit sales of edibles and concentrates that were taken into inventory from a non-registered processor prior to October 1, or extracts that were taken into inventory from a non-registered processor prior to March 1, 2016. Dispensaries may consider purchasing edibles and concentrates from non-registered processors prior to October 1. In contrast, at this time all extracts must come from processors on the OHA Pending Processor list. Regardless of how this rule affects you, if a product in your inventory does not meet the new labeling and packaging requirements, you may not sell it to a consumer (see above).

4. Testing

Beginning October 1, a dispensary may not accept or sell a marijuana product that has not been tested by a laboratory accredited by ORELAP and licensed by OLCC (with one exception explained below). A list of accredited and licensed laboratories will be made available on the OMMP laboratories web page. Currently, no such labs are listed but the OLCC announced today that the first two labs have been certified and licensed.

With respect to inventory accepted by a dispensary prior to October 1, a dispensary may transfer such marijuana items to a patient or caregiver until January 1, 2017 if the item is labeled with the words “DOES NOT MEET NEW TESTING REQUIREMENTS.” These words must be bold, in all capital letters, and at least 12 point font, and the label must be easily seen by the patient or caregiver. We also read this mean that recreational customers may only be sold items tested under the new rules, but we to confirm this with OHA.

Given the current number of accredited and licensed labs, dispensaries should plan their inventory purchases accordingly.  In addition, we recommend affixing the necessary disclaimer labels well before October 1.

5. Do You Need an ODA License?

On and after October 1, a dispensary that sells or handles edibles must be licensed by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). Check our blog later this week for more information on the ODA’s licensing process.

If you have any questions or concerns about what to do with marijuana items that do not comply with packaging or labeling requirements or about our tips, please do not hesitate to contact a compliance attorney. We are here to help.

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