California Large Licensing Gets Really Small

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California law required the state Department of Cannabis Control to begin accepting large license applications on January 1, 2023. Earlier this year, DCC published proposed large licensing regulations (which I described here). As usually happens, on December 5, 2022, DCC dropped its second set of modifications to the proposed regulations. When DCC’s rules take effect, they will make it very difficult for people to get large licenses.

The new DCC rules and large licensing

To summarize my earlier post, the state will allow cultivators to apply for larger licenses than were previously available. Up until now, larger farms had to aggregate small licenses, which they can now convert into large ones. One of the key issues here though – which state law mandated years ago – was that large license holders couldn’t own testing labs, microbusinesses, and distributors. More on that below.

The big change though concerns prohibitions on license ownership. When I wrote my original post, the original proposed regulations said that “holders” of large licenses were ineligible to hold the other license types referred to above. This was an incredibly vague term. Did it mean that a business that holds a large license couldn’t hold the other types? Did it extend to owners of a business that had a license? It wasn’t clear at all.

On August 30, 2022, DCC did its first set of modifications to the proposed regulations. It expanded the definitions here by saying that any person that holds an ownership or financial interest in a large license cannot hold a prohibited license type. While this definition is also a bit vague, it is now incredibly expansive due to the inclusion of financial interest holders.

For reference, DCC defines financial interest holders as:

(1) A person with an aggregate ownership interest of less than 20 percent.

(2) A person providing a loan to the commercial cannabis business.

(3) A person entitled to receive 10 percent or more of the profits of the commercial cannabis business . . . .

The final category is too long to copy but can include things like employees with profit-share plans, lenders, brokers, etc. These changes are not exactly consistent with state law, which says only “A Type 5, Type 5A, or Type 5B licensee shall not be eligible to apply for or hold a Type 8, Type 11, or Type 12 license.” The expansion to beyond the licensee will be a huge issue for large and small businesses alike.

Since the DCC’s rules will forbid financial interest holding in both large licenses and distribution licenses, they will likely make life difficult for large cannabis companies rolling up small licenses into cultivation licenses. This is because large companies tend to have distribution licenses within their chain. Even if they don’t, they tend to have larger lists of stockholders or members, and if even one of those members holds a small financial interest in a distribution licensee, that will prevent a large license for cultivation.

The new DCC rules affect players large and small

These changes won’t just affect large cannabis businesses and MSOs. Smaller cannabis companies that need loans, want to enter into IP license agreements, want to engage with independent contractor brokers or salespeople, etc., will need to be very careful before applying for large licenses.

As a result of these rules, cannabis companies that don’t have financial interest barriers when they apply for large licensing will need to vet new stockholders/members as well as third-party contract relationships to determine whether they hold financial interests in prohibited license types. This can be an incredibly difficult process, which is likely to impose a greater burden on smaller businesses without robust compliance programs.

Get your comments in

DCC noted in its email announcing these new modifications that:

The DCC is currently accepting comments on the further modifications to the proposed text of regulations. Any interested person, or the interested person’s authorized representative, may submit written comments relevant to the proposed regulatory action to the DCC. Please limit your comments to the modifications to the text.

All comments must be received by 5:00 p.m. on December 21, 2022.

In all likelihood, this will be DCC’s final round of modifications and it won’t change them again. Unfortunately, the broadening of state law here will make life more challenging for large and small cultivators alike. Stay tuned for more updates on California cannabis licensing.

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