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Texas Lawsuit Challenges State’s New Ban On Smokable Hemp

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Four Texas companies are suing to overturn the state’s new ban on the manufacture and sale of smokable hemp products, which they warn will shut Texas companies out of a multibillion-dollar industry and lead to inaccurately labeled products on store shelves.

In a lawsuit filed in Travis County District Court on Wednesday, the companies are asking a judge to declare the ban unconstitutional and allow hemp products intended for smoking or vaping to be produced and sold legally across the state.

“At a time when the Texas economy is reeling from the fiscal impact of COVID-19, it is unfortunate that the State chose to foreclose such a large economic opportunity for our state and instead chose to force long-standing Texas businesses and jobs across the border to neighboring states, such as Oklahoma,” said attorney Chelsie Spencer, counsel for lead plaintiff Crown Distributing LLC.

“Crown Distributing, which manufactures the popular Wild Hemp brand of smokable products, stands to lose $59.6 million in revenue over the next five years if the bans are upheld,” Spencer told Marijuana Moment in an email. “The state of Texas stands to lose $2.9 million in sales tax revenue alone.”

hemp sales in texas

Image from lawsuit

Texas legalized hemp in 2019, in large part to capture a piece of an industry that is booming following the federal legalization of the crop through the 2018 Farm Bill. Hemp, a category of cannabis that contains less than 0.3 percent THC, has a variety of uses: Its seeds are a nutritious food source, its fibrous stalks can be made into textiles or building materials and its flowers can produce a variety of cannabinoids, most notably cannabidiol (CBD).

Texas’s hemp law as passed by the legislature specifically prohibited the manufacture of hemp products intended for smoking or vaping, though it left open the door for selling products made out of state. But a year later, regulators at the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) issued rules extending that ban to forbid the retail sale of any smokable hemp products. That restriction took effect on Sunday.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that both those provisions should be overturned. The state legislature’s ban on processing and manufacturing smokable products violated the state constitution’s protection of economic freedom, they say, while DSHS lacked the authority to extend lawmakers’ ban to include retail sales.

“DSHS characterizes banning distribution and retail as ‘a logical extension’ of banning manufacturing,” the lawsuit says. “But even if this were true (it is not), agencies have no authority to enact rules that they deem to be a ‘logical extension’ of law.”

Cannabis advocates in the state agree, calling the change a regulatory overreach.

“Hemp regulators are over-stepping their authority and encroaching on the economic liberty of Texas business owners,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s absurd to forbid the in-state sale of products that are completely legal in Texas and across the country. Consumers can simply make their purchases online and have it shipped, legally. Cutting local entrepreneurs out of this thriving market is bad for business and bad for Texas.”

Joining in the lawsuit are America Juice Co. LLC, a Crown affiliate that also manufacturers smokable products; Custom Botanical Dispensary LLC, an Austin-based retailer that sells smokable hemp products; and 1937 Apothecary, also based in Austin, which makes and sells consumable hemp products including tea, smokables and gummies.

“If allowed to move forward, these bans on smokable hemp products will shutter businesses across the state, resulting in a loss of jobs and tax revenue,” the companies said in their complaint. “They impede the economic liberty of Texas businesses, pose an existential threat to Texas hemp manufacturers, farmers, and retailers, and are sure to stifle growth of a budding Texas industry.”

As for the ban on producing and manufacturing smokable hemp products, the companies say it violates the state constitution’s protections against arbitrary economic restrictions.

“There is no plausible law enforcement benefit from banning the Texas manufacture and processing of smokable hemp products,” the lawsuit argues. “Imposing an arbitrary constraint here is particularly perverse because the law does not ban the use or consumption of smokable hemp products. As such, Texas consumers will simply buy smokable products made out-of-state.”

“Stated differently,” it continues, “if Texas had banned the processing and manufacture of cheese in Texas, Texans wouldn’t stop eating cheese.”

Banning in-state sales are also problematic from a practical standpoint, the lawsuit argues. Because smokable hemp flower is indistinguishable from hemp flower intended to be used for other purposes, the companies argue, marketers will be encouraged to mislabel products in efforts to skirt the ban.

“The retail ban—especially in view of DSHS’s public comments—has no more logic to it than the ban on processing and manufacturing smokables,” the lawsuit says. “Texans can still purchase and use smokable hemp products manufactured out-of-state. Texans can also purchase hemp that is not labeled or marketed ‘for smoking’—for example, hemp marketed as ‘tea’—and they can use that hemp to make their own smokables or with the vaporizing devices shown above. If anything, the Rule and DSHS commentary encourages Texas farmers and retailers to mislabel hemp flower so that consumers will still be able to purchase hemp flower grown in Texas.”

While Texas’s legalization of hemp last year was met with considerable fanfare, its rollout has been bumpy. In addition to industry frustration over bans on smokables, legalization has also sparked unintentional disruptions in marijuana enforcement across the state.

Because hemp—whether as flower or vape liquid—is virtually indistinguishable from marijuana without testing, law enforcement agencies across the state say they’re now unable to bring sound criminal cases without analyzing seized cannabis for THC. Facing backlogs and high costs of private labs, prosecutors have dropped hundreds of low-level cases. The situation has led to a patchwork of marijuana enforcement policies across the state and uncertainty for consumers, who still risk arrest for hemp products that are perfectly legal.

In February, state officials announced a crucial caveat to a long-awaited test to help determine whether samples were hemp or marijuana: State labs wouldn’t perform testing in misdemeanor cases. The Texas Department of Public Safety “will not have the capacity to accept those,” a letter from Director Steve McCraw said.

In the meantime, Texas hemp companies that once saw the state as a business-friendly environment are considering whether to set up shop elsewhere. The new lawsuit says that Crown is already weighing a move to Oklahoma, citing concerns of more than $50 million in lost revenue during the next five years and as many as 60 lost jobs.

It’s not just about profits, the companies insist. “To the extent the Legislative Ban purports to address law enforcement concerns or health related concerns,” they argue, “it does nothing.

“The Legislative Ban cannot rationally be understood to reduce the prevalence of smokable hemp in Texas. On the contrary, it works against promoting safe and effective products for consumers,” the lawsuit says. “Rather than keeping the manufacture and processing of smokable hemp products in-state, the products will be manufactured and processed out-of-state and shipped into Texas outside its full regulatory reach for consumer safety. The state of Texas will have little to no regulatory oversight over these products.”

Read the full lawsuit challenging Texas’s ban on smokable hemp below:

Texas Smokable Hemp Lawsuit by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Texas Marijuana Prosecutions Have Dropped By More Than Half Following Hemp’s Legalization

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Missouri Regulators Derail Medical Marijuana Business Ownership Disclosure Effort With Veto Threat

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Missouri regulators say they feel requiring medical marijuana business license ownership disclosures under a House-approved amendment could be unconstitutional, and they may urge the governor to veto the legislation. 

By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent

An effort by lawmakers to require disclosure of ownership information for businesses granted medical marijuana licenses was derailed on Thursday, when state regulators suggested a possible gubernatorial veto.

On Tuesday, the Missouri House voted to require the Department of Health and Senior Services provide legislative oversight committees with records regarding who owns the businesses licensed to grow, transport and sell medical marijuana.

The provision was added as an amendment to another bill pertaining to nonprofit organizations.

Its sponsor, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said DHSS’s decision to deem ownership records confidential has caused problems in providing oversight of the program. He pointed to recent analysis by The Independent and The Missourian of the 192 dispensary licenses issued by the state that found several instances where a single entity was connected to more than five dispensary licenses.

The state constitution prohibits the state from issuing more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under substantially common control, ownership or management.

On Thursday, a conference committee met to work out differences in the underlying bill between the House and Senate.

Sen. Eric Burlison, a Republican from Battlefield and the bill’s sponsor, called the medical marijuana amendment an “awesome idea. I think it’s awesome.”

However, he said opposition from the department puts the entire bill in jeopardy.

“The department came to me,” he said, “and said they felt that this was unconstitutional.”

DHSS has justified withholding information from public disclosure by pointing to a portion of the medical marijuana constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2018 that says the department shall “maintain the confidentiality of reports or other information obtained from an applicant or licensee containing any individualized data, information, or records related to the licensee or its operation… .”

Alex Tuttle, a lobbyist for DHSS, said if the bill were to pass with the medical marijuana amendment still attached, the department may recommend Gov. Mike Parson veto it.

The threat of a veto proved persuasive, as several members of the conference committee expressed apprehension about the idea of the amendment sinking the entire bill.

Merideth said the department’s conclusion is incorrect. And besides, he said, the amendment is narrowly tailored so that the information wouldn’t be made public. It would only be turned over to legislative oversight committees.

Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, chairman of the special committee on government oversight, said the amendment is essential to ensure state regulators “are following the constitution, that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

The medical marijuana program has faced intense scrutiny in the two years since it was created by voters.

A House committee spent months looking into widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored and allegations of conflicts of interest within DHSS and a private company hired to score applications.

In November 2019, DHSS received a grand jury subpoena, which was issued by the United States District Court for the Western District. It demanded the agency turn over all records pertaining to four medical marijuana license applications.

The copy of the subpoena that was made public redacted the identity of the four applicants at the request of the FBI. Lyndall Fraker, director of medical marijuana regulation, later said during a deposition that the subpoena wasn’t directed at the department but rather was connected to an FBI investigation center in Independence.

More recently, Parson faced criticism for a fundraiser with medical marijuana business owners for his political action committee, Uniting Missouri.

The group reported raising $45,000 in large donations from the fundraiser. More than half of that money came from a PAC connected to Steve Tilley, a lobbyist with numerous medical marijuana clients who has been under FBI scrutiny for more than a year.

This story was first published by Missouri Independent.

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Colorado Sold More Than Half A Billion Dollars In Legal Marijuana In 2021’s First Three Months

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More than $10.5 billion in cannabis has been sold in Colorado since it was legalized in 2014. Those sales translate into over $1.7 billion in tax revenue that goes towards public schools, infrastructure projects and local government programs.

By Robert Davis, The Center Square

Colorado’s marijuana sales eclipsed the half-billion dollar mark in the first quarter of 2021, the state Department of Revenue (DOR) said on Tuesday.

In all, marijuana sales were over $560 million between January and March. More than $10.5 billion in marijuana has been sold in Colorado since it was legalized in 2014.

Those sales translate into over $1.7 billion in tax revenue that goes towards public schools, infrastructure projects and local government programs.

DOR compiles its monthly marijuana sales report by adding the state’s medical and recreational sales together. The total does not include marijuana accessories or any products that do not contain medical marijuana.

Marijuana sales reached $207 million in the month of March alone. In exchange, the state collected $39.6 million in taxes.

Marijuana tax revenue is collected through three state taxes: a 2.9 percent sales tax on marijuana sold in stores, a 15 percent tax on retail marijuana and a 15 percent retail marijuana excise tax.

State law requires 71 percent of the total to be remitted to the marijuana tax cash fund, a budget account that is statutorily required to fund health care, health education, substance abuse prevention and treatment programs and law enforcement.

The remaining 29 percent is then subdivided between the state public school fund and the general fund. Schools receive just over 12 percent of the total while the general fund receives greater than 15 percent.

In April, the public school fund received over $14 million. The account supports school construction projects and is controlled by the School Board Investment Fund, a three-member panel responsible for maintaining the fund’s capital that was established in 2016.

Meanwhile, the marijuana tax cash fund received over $16 million and the general fund received $3.5 million.

This story was first published by The Center Square.

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Missouri Medical Marijuana Business Ownership Info Would Be Disclosed Under House-Approved Amendment

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The state isn’t supposed to issue more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under substantially common control, ownership or management—but an analysis found instances where a single entity was connected to more than five licenses.

By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent

The Missouri House voted Tuesday afternoon to require state regulators to turn over ownership information for businesses granted medical marijuana licenses to legislative oversight committees.

The amendment, which was approved 82-59, was sponsored by Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis. He said the Department of Health and Senior Service’s decision to deem ownership records confidential has caused problems in providing oversight of the program.

Tuesday’s vote came a day after analysis by The Independent and the Missourian of the 192 dispensary licenses issued by the state found several instances where a single entity was connected to more than five dispensary licenses.

According to the constitution, the state can’t issue more than five dispensary licenses to any entity under substantially common control, ownership or management.

But because DHSS has steadfastly withheld any ownership information about license holders from public disclosure, it’s impossible to determine who owns what.

The situation has bred suspicion, especially in light of more than a year of scrutiny by state lawmakers into widespread reports of irregularities in how license applications were scored and allegations of conflicts of interest within DHSS and a private company hired to score applications.

“We’ve asked the department: ‘Are there any entities that have complex ownership structures so that someone that owns one license actually owns or has a controlling interest in a whole bunch of others?’” Merideth said. “The department said, ‘nope.’ We asked for records to confirm that, and the department said, ‘nope.’”

He has no reason to trust the department, Merideth said, “based on how this program has been managed so far,” adding later that DHSS is in “dire need of accountability and transparency.”

His amendment would not require DHSS to make ownership information publicly available. The department would only be required to turn records over to legislative committees upon request.

Joining him in support of the amendment was Republican Rep. Jered Taylor of Republic, who is chairman of the special committee on government oversight.

“The department should be disclosing this information,” he said, saying he’d actually support going further and making the information publicly available.

Taylor later added: “If we want to do our jobs correctly, we have to have the information.”

DHSS justifies withholding the information from public disclosure by pointing to a portion of the medical marijuana constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2018 that says the department shall “maintain the confidentiality of reports or other information obtained from an applicant or licensee containing any individualized data, information, or records related to the licensee or its operation… .”

Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said DHSS is asking lawmakers and the public to trust that they are enforcing limits on license ownership.

“When I as a Republican I hear ‘trust us’ from the government,” he said, “I usually say no. Trust but verify.”

Merideth’s amendment was added to a Senate bill pertaining to nonprofit organizations. The legislation now heads back to the Senate, where it can either vote to send it to the governor or request a conference committee to work out differences with the House.

This story was first published by Missouri Independent.

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