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Biros' Blog

Should PA Revoke a Cannabis License For Their Parent Company’s Past?

By Aaron G. Biros
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Pennsylvania Medical Solutions, LLC (PAMS), won a license to grow medical cannabis in Pennsylvania, but some think the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) should reconsider awarding that license. PAMS is a subsidiary of Vireo Health, which has medical cannabis licenses in New York and Minnesota, as well as quite the blemish on their business record. In December 2015, two former employees were accused of breaking state and federal laws by transporting cannabis oil from Minnesota to New York. Because of that history, some are questioning why exactly they were awarded the PA medical cannabis license.

A part of the PAMS application

In that school of thought is Chris Goldstein, a Philadelphia-based cannabis advocate and author of an article on Philly.com, which calls PAMS’ license into question. According to Goldstein, Vireo Health could lose their licenses in New York and Minnesota, and those former employees involved might even face federal prosecution. “On the surface it would seem that Vireo broke every rule in the book,” says Goldstein. “Not only could the company lose its permits in both of those states, but employees could face federal prosecution for interstate transport and distribution.” But does that previous wrongdoing by two former employees have any bearing on their application in PA? In Maryland, it did. According to The Baltimore Sun, concerns surrounding MaryMed’s parent company, Vireo Health, is the main reason why their permit to grow medical cannabis was revoked.

In response to some of those concerns about their PA license, Andrew Mangini, spokesman for Vireo Health, issued the following statement, which appeared in Goldstein’s article: “While we’re aware of allegations against two former employees of an affiliate, those individuals have never had a role in our application or in the management of PAMS,” says Mangini. “It’s also important to note that our Minnesota affiliate and our parent company Vireo Health have not been accused of any wrongdoing in connection with those allegations.”

Below is a timeline of events leading up to the PA DOH defending their decision to give PAMS a license:

  • December 2015: Two former employees of Minnesota Medical Solutions, a subsidiary of Vireo Health, transported a half-million dollars worth of cannabis oil from Minnesota to New York, violating state and federal laws.
  • February 9th, 2017: The two former employees were formally charged with crimes in Minnesota for illegally transporting cannabis across state lines.
  • February 20th-March 20th, 2017: PAMS submitted a license application to the PA DOH between these dates, listing their business state as Minnesota on the application.
  • May 2017: Maryland DOH suspended the licenses of MaryMed LLC, a subsidiary of Vireo Health, over concerns that the company did not provide information related to the Minnesota and New York licenses on their application, according to the Washington Post.
  • June 20th, 2017: PA DOH releases a list of license winners; PAMS was listed among winners for a cultivation license in Scranton.
  • June 26th, 2017: PA DOH officials defend their decision to award PAMS a license, according to a Philly.com article. That same day, The Baltimore Sun reported the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission revoked MaryMed, LLC their license, citing concerns about Vireo Health.

April Hutcheson, spokeswoman for the PA DOH, told Philly.com in June, “Remember, the permits are given to business entities, not people.” The point she is making refers to the charges being filed against former employees, not any of the businesses who hold medical cannabis licenses.

Steve Schain, Esq. practicing at the Hoban law Group

Steve Schain, Esq., an attorney with Hoban Law Group in Pennsylvania, has seen no objective evidence of anything wrongful in either PAMS’ application or the DOH’s processing of it. “Marijuana related businesses often have distinct, affiliated components and the Department of Health faces two critical issues,” says Schain.

“First, whether grow applicant PA Medical Solutions, LLC (PAMS) had a duty to disclose alleged wrongdoing on its application, failed to fulfill this duty and, if so, whether PAMS’ application should be amended, re-scored or disqualified. Second, as part of its ongoing license reporting requirements, whether grow licensee PAMS has any duty to disclose the alleged wrongdoing. The answer to much of this hinges on whether criminal or administrative charges were leveled against just Vireo Health’s former employees or also included the entity and whether these individuals or enterprise fell within Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Organization Permit Application definition of an “Applicant” (“individual or business applying for the permit”) or applicant’s “Principals, Financial Backers, Operators or Employees” of PAMS. Either way, it does not presently appear that the [PA] DOH missed anything.”

The list of permit winners in PA

This does raise the question of whether or not Vireo Health is under investigation, which is yet to be determined. According to Goldstein in his Philly.com article, the Minnesota DOH declined to comment on Vireo Health and the New York DOH says the department’s investigation is ongoing. “The selection of a Vireo Health affiliate to grow and process medical cannabis in Pennsylvania has cast a serious shadow over the integrity of the program even before it has started,” says Goldstein.

In Maryland, the DOH revoked their license as a direct result of those former employees in Minnesota committing crimes, according to The Baltimore Sun. Commissioner Eric Sterling said there is “a reasonable likelihood of diversion of medical cannabis by the applicant.” So should Pennsylvania do the same? Do those crimes by former employees have any bearing on their application? This story raises a number of questions regarding applications for state licenses that are largely left unanswered. One thing we know for certain: each state handles applications very differently.

Adam Jacques and Team Launch Sproutly, Dispensary in Eugene, Oregon

By Aaron G. Biros
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sproutly signAdam Jacques and his team officially launched the newest arm of their business last week, Sproutly, a dispensary located in Eugene, Oregon. “This is an extension of what the Grower’s Guild Gardens does and what the Microgrower’s Guild was,” says Jacques. The Grower’s Guild Gardens, Jacques’ award-winning cultivation business, is known for their high-CBD genetics and patient-focused work, most notably with Leni Young, which helped lead to the passing of legislation in Alabama called Leni’s Law, decriminalizing the possession of cannabis oil for patients in the state.

The shelves of Sproutly boast over 75 strains of cannabis from Jacques' farm.
Sproutly’s shelves boast over 75 strains of cannabis from Jacques’ farm.

Sproutly is a medical and recreational dispensary that boasts a wide variety of high-CBD strains, a reflection of the team’s focus in the past. “We are extremely medically focused with a variety of unique CBD strains in stock,” says Jacques. “First and foremost are the patients, but entering the recreational market means we will be carrying a wider variety.” The opening of the dispensary is well timed as the team received their Tier II cultivation license, allowing them to grow cannabis up to 20,000 square feet in an outdoor space and 5,000 square feet indoor. So in addition to the handful of brands they carry, including Lunchbox Alchemy edibles, Northwest Kind and Marley Naturals, they also carry over 75 strains from their own Grower’s Guild Gardens.

Adam Jacques in front of a display shelf at Sproutly.
Adam Jacques in front of a display shelf at Sproutly.

Adam and Debra Jacques pride themselves in rigid standards for quality in sourcing, so it should be no surprise that they plan on supplying their dispensary with over 150 strains coming from more than 1,200 plants on their farm. “We really only take products from people we know and trust,” says Jacques. “That is why most of the flower in the dispensary is coming from our farm, so we know exactly what is going into it.” Jacques points to third-party certifications such as Clean Green, for other vendors to find reputable growers. “I need to know where it is coming from and that requires a personal relationship to trust the quality of their products.” The value of trust and personal relationships is also why they go through extensive training of their staff, using their own expertise for in-house training.

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The team includes Chris West, Elton Prince and John De Kluyver, all of whom have a decade or more of experience cultivating cannabis and working with patients. “We take our bud tenders through training classes, they get tested on their knowledge of products and the science of cannabinoids and terpenes and how the combinations affect people differently,” says Jacques. By leveraging that high level of in-house expertise, the team prides themselves on customer service, helping patients and customers find the right strain or product that suits them best.

In the front of the dispensary, a receptionist greets patients or customers, checking identification and showing you to a bud tender. As you walk into the retail space, you immediately notice the professionalism of the staff, taking time to personalize each customer’s experience without making him or her feel rushed. The clean aesthetics, product selection and knowledgeable staff provide for a friendly retail culture without the common ‘stoner culture’ that usually follows.

Jacques and his team will not be trading in their overalls and work boots just yet as they are inching toward harvesting their 1,200 outdoor cannabis plants soon. Grinning ear-to-ear, Jacques showed off his Tier II cultivation license on the farm, and with it came a glimpse into their exciting growth.

Marijuana Matters

A Guide to Documentation and SOPs for Start Ups

By David C. Kotler, Esq.
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As your company grows, or whether you want to have certain documentation to make an application for licensure and/or for outside entities looking to invest, it is necessary to handle issues from a documentation standpoint. Learning how to handle situations with staff through proper employee manuals and how to establish and practice standard operating procedures can help businesses avoid common pitfalls with a little forethought.

Beginning with standard operating procedures (SOPs), there are many resources available to get assistance in crafting them. You can consult with individuals such as safety content producers, business consultants, lawyers, technical writers, and even borrowing SOP writers from other industries. I am aware of a Connecticut producer who tapped pharmaceutical SOP writers as consultants with the focus of establishing their standard operating procedures. I am not convinced that there is any proper person or method by which an entity may want to consider an SOP. As a threshold, however, it is important that a proper format is created, i.e., simple steps, hierarchical steps format or perhaps even a flow chart format.

One would want to consider the audience who will be reading the SOP and the information to impart to that audience. It is also important to consider SOPs that you want to update as practices evolve or change.

It is possible to create SOPs internally, and frankly, this may be the most recommended route. If the SOPs are being used for guidance and not just to support the license application process, this is particularly important. It is a time-consuming task and if created from the inside out, it can be most effective.

It is possible to get lost in the minutia by documenting every step taken within a particular process. I have seen SOPs number in the hundreds just for cultivation and processing operations. One particular entity in Colorado created over 63 SOPs within the past year. If you are writing your own SOPs, it is important to understand the scope and applicability, i.e. why a particular process is performed and how it is used, then the procedures and/or steps that are necessary to accomplish that particular process, clarify any terms that are necessary so that the reader is able to follow the steps throughout a particular outline, cover health and safety issues, address equipment and supplies and provide emergency procedures.

The process that I can attest to as being fruitful is interplay between an employee who is actually responsible for a given task and a third party looking from a 1000-foot view. For instance, have the employee who completes a number of tasks within the organization provide a list of what they do on a general day-to-day basis. From that list, have the third party extrapolate what topics might be covered, often times borrowing from other well known standard operating procedures that are seen across industries and come up with a master list of the SOPs which are desired. It is important for the employee and third party to collaborate to finalize SOPs.

Employee guides or manuals provide information on benefits, when time sheets are due, paydays, holidays, vacation days, sick days and more. For employees, it helps mitigate risk by providing guidelines for conduct, discipline, and local practices in the states in which you operate. Employee guides are most effective when they are created to match your company’s needs. When it is tailored to your company, you are certain that the policies meet the laws of the places where your offices and employees are located. It allows you to provide input so you can ensure that you have developed policies that your company will follow. Unwritten policies are unwise as they may cause issues and can potentially lead to lawsuits. There are three types of multi-state employee guides: a guide with favored nations status, meaning that the most liberal laws in one location apply to the entire organization; an employment guide for each location in which you operate; or you can create one guide with a local practice section.

Creation of employee guides is a time consuming and arduous practice, but once completed, they help guide the relationship between employee and employer. Employees should review the employee manual and sign off upon receipt and review. This will serve to protect the employer in the future should an issue covered by the manual arise.

An effective employee guide might include (but certainly not be limited to) the following:

  • An “employment at will” disclaimer
  • An anti-harassment policy
  • An internal grievance procedure
  • Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)
  • Employee benefits
  • Paid time off (vacation, personal days, sick leave)
  • Unpaid leaves of absence
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (for employers with more than 15 employees)
  • Jury duty, military leave
  • Hours of work
  • Introductory/probationary period
  • Legally mandated language concerning pay deductions
  • Proper E-mail/Internet usage
  • Professionalism/dress code
  • Drugs in the workplace
  • Social media policy

There are many other policies that would be included in order to comply with requirements that might be mandated by a particular regulatory scheme i.e. security compliance. The guide should be a living, breathing document that evolves over time based on new knowledge, changes in laws and business fluidity.

Both standard operating procedures and employee manuals or guides are integral to the viability of a cannabis related business whether a hands on the plant license holder or an ancillary company. I encourage my clients to craft self-created content that they have invested their time and knowledge into, with some help where necessary. Purchasing forms online does not provide a workable format and will only lead to problems in the future. You get what you put in and creating these documents internally and from the ground up gives more control to the business.