PART 2 of 5: The Business Fundamentals Every California Cannabis Company Needs to Know: CLEANING YOUR OWN HOUSE, Regulatory Compliance & Entity Governance  

By Heather Burke and Virginia Ryan

As Virginia Ryan and I discussed in the first of our 5-part business blog series, “The Business Fundamentals Every California Cannabis Business Needs to Know,” one of the first steps to doing business is to ensure you have your own house in order. Sorry to tell you this, but people in business get sued and, yes, someone may try to take what you spent your lifetime to build. A successful business will be prepared for those situations before they arise.  In order to gauge the cleanliness of our clients’ houses, we often ask the following questions of potential clients:

1. Are your cannabis business operations strictly compliant with all state and local regulations?

Compliance includes recordkeeping for any sale of your product, maintaining those records in a particular way, and reporting certain information to the state regarding sales, and so on. If you do not know the recordkeeping rules, you may be compliant in certain ways, i.e. your farm operations could be set up in a compliant manner, but you’re not compliant with your records (and the records are one of the primary issues the CDFA will be most concerned about).

2. Are your entity’s governance documents in order, including appropriate resolutions and a workable procedure for making resolutions?

This article presumes the reader is strictly compliant with local and state laws, which require you to have a valid license, a Seller’s Permit, and an EIN. But many farms don’t have those documents organized on the farm in an easily accessible place, which they’re required to be for regulatory purpose.

Equally as important, if the farm got sued for some aspect of a potential sale, would the entity protect you or would the entity’s “veil” be pierced? In other words, can someone sue the farm and get the personal assets of the owners (such as the land)? Here’s what courts will be looking for to determine whether someone can take your personal assets:

  • Does the corporation have executed bylaws and minutes of the Board of Directors and Shareholders (for LLCs: does the LLC have an executed operating agreement?)?

  • Are you current on your state filing requirements (i.e., Statement of Information with the California Secretary of State) and franchise taxes with the California Franchise Tax Board.

  • Is the type of business you want to conduct included in the “purpose” language in those documents (or in a resolution, which is where our firm often places the purpose language for access to banking). Note: purpose language can be important.

  • Do you and the company have separate “personalities,” meaning do you treat your company as a different and distinct entity from yourself? If you own the property, do you have a lease between yourself as the landowner and with your corporation or LLC? Do you keep separate financial records and separate bank accounts? Do you do business in the name of your entity or in your own name?  Do you personally offer to “guarantee” the debts of the company (:i.e. “I got you bro.”)?

All of those are factors California courts may look to in determining whether the relationship between you individually and you as an owner of the company are truly “arms-length,” i.e. strictly professional.

In addition, to these basic requirements, there are a host of other items that you should implement in your business, such as obtaining a state or federal trademark for your brand, obtaining commercial and product liability insurance, executing buy-sell agreements with the owners to protect the business in the event a partner wants to leave, implementing confidentiality agreements with all consultants and employees, implementing appropriate terms and conditions for your website presence, to name a few.

If you’re new to business, this may seem like a lot to think through, but these are the BASICS required in order to enter into a business transaction, particularly where the product is federally prohibited, carries stiff mandatory minimum penalties, and the only defense is strict compliance with local and state law.

This may sound like a lot, but no need to worry, we will discuss these items and more later in our blog series, including:

Blog 3 of 5: Snakes in the Grass: Due Diligence and Proper Vetting of Potential Deals 

Blog 4 of 5Contract Fundamentals: Dude, Where’s My Indemnity Clause and Other Super Fun Terms Every Cannabis Business Should Know

Blog 5 of 5: Contracts Overview: What Paper to Push? (+ Sample Contract Templates)

Much respect, ~hb


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This email is a communication from a lawyer, but it does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationshipThis is intended for educational purposes only.

Please contact an attorney for specific legal advice. 

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