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Not that many years ago, cannabis law was part of criminal law, an area familiar mostly to criminal-defense lawyers and prosecutors. But with the state-by-state legalization of marijuana since 2012, a full-blown cannabis industry has emerged with distinct characteristics setting it apart as a unique area of business. It's even got its own nicknames now: cannabusiness, or cannabiz.
Although marijuana was legal and widely used for pharmaceutical and recreational use during the 1800s, states began to regulate it early in the 20th Century. Then, in 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act effectively made possession or transfer of cannabis illegal in the U.S. With the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which reduced simple possession of the drug from a felony to a misdemeanor, the regulatory climate slowly began to change. States first began to decriminalize cannabis; then, in 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize it. By September 2019, 11 states plus the District of Columbia had adopted laws legalizing its use for recreational purposes, while most of the remaining states allow varying degrees of medical use.
The first legal commercial transactions in recent history occurred in medical and pharmacological settings. Cannabis medical dispensaries began to open in several states in the 1990s following voter initiatives. Since then, as more and more states have relaxed restrictions on marijuana, a growing industry has emerged. In large part, the industry can be divided into two spheres: 'plant-touching' and 'ancillary.' As its name implies, plant-touching enterprises include growers, processors, distributors and dealers. Ancillary businesses take many forms: equipment and device manufacturers, law firms, marketers, financial consultants and social media platforms. The industry also includes businesses that sell edibles and beverages containing cannabis, and a broad range of products containing CBD, a compound in cannabis that does not produce a high but is believed to provide health benefits.
One of the most unusual aspects of the cannabis industry is governmental disagreement on regulation. While most states now say that marijuana is legal – at least to some extent – the federal government still considers it a Schedule 1 controlled substance. What that means for anyone thinking of entering the cannabis industry is that they must be aware of this mixed regulatory landscape and how it may affect them.
The first step is identifying a niche that will set you apart. But you must also be aware of several preliminary considerations. How much capital is required to launch your business? How much risk is involved in your planned venture? Then, if you are convinced that you want to take the step, you'll need to find a location for your business, write up a business plan, form an appropriate business structure, obtain any required licenses and implement regulatory requirements into your operation, and develop a promotional scheme.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified cannabis lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local cannabis attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.