Interview: Seth Goldberg, Duane Morris Cannabis Practice Head. Is NJ About To Fire Up The East Coast Regulation Rush ?…And Hemp vs Cannabis

You may have read a piece by CLR on Duane Morris’ approach to the national cannabis market late last year.

They are running ahead of their competitors and continue to do so.

They are one of the few firms in the Am Law 200 to have taken up the challenge presented by this de-centralized and sometime rather chaotic corner of the American economy.

Goldberg, based in Philadelphia,  practices in business and litigation with a particular emphasis in highly regulated industries such as healthcare and Pharma, saw the opportunities in cannabis and hemp early on in the game and has developed a multidisciplinary cannabis practice drawing across a wealth of experience in the firm.

The practice now comprises 48 attorneys  of whom a good 30 or so, are partners.

They are taking the sector seriously and here at CLR we’re surprised that more in the top echelons still aren’t doing the same.

It’s a question we posed to Seth during our hour long conversation and he concurred that he was equally surprised at the lack of cannabis / hemp practice development at the larger firms on the eastern seaboard.

Although, he did note that there were more senior partners taking on more transactional work in the space at some of the firms, but in general this was just part of their portfolio of clients and that  many are still baulking about being too public about the work. In our books this is somewhat of a shame, but, as he mentioned New Jersey may be the spark that changes all of this.

Over the past month a day hasn’t gone by without news out of NJ about developing legislation and in the past 10 days CLJ recalls recent press releases out of 3 or 4 SME firms developing cannabis practices.

The demise of Christie and the ascendancy of the likes of Scutari and Gusciora has ensured something will be on the books sooner rather than later.

As the Marijuana Policy Project reported only a few days ago.

Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana, emphasizing the need to address the harms caused by prohibition. He recently included revenues from marijuana taxes in his budget and called on lawmakers to pass a bill this year. Stephen Sweeney, the Senate President, has repeatedly expressed his support as well. The details of a final bill are expected to be the subject of extensive debate.


Today, Cannabis Wire Newsletter reported,

Yesterday Murphy announced specifics on how he wants to expand NJ’s medical cannabis program. 

Here is their link to his tweet

And an infographic too.

We asked Goldberg where he saw all of this moving and he intimated that NJ will be the eastern seaboard state to move first on both medical and recreational and sooner rather than later.

The firm are already making sure that their NJ state offices are up to speed and carefully following developments in the legislatures as well as from the governor’s office. He believes that other states, close by,  will have to follow their lead. That will mean  Albany playing some serious catch up and Pennsylvania taking a bit more effort to iron out the politics currently dogging their medical cannabis sector.

If half of NYC starts taking more of those bridge and tunnel journeys to stock up on medical and then recreational the tax base loss to Albany is going to start to hurt very quickly.

Hemp vs Cannabis

Sen house leader McConnell’s announcement midweek on de-scheduling hemp and introducing hemp as an agricultural commodity in his proposed Hemp Farm Act came somewhat as a bolt of lightening to many with the mainstream media from Time to CNN running the story.

A CLR source had revealed to us a few weeks ago, after spending a couple of days on the Hill,  that we should expect something interesting just before the easter break. The bunny turned up a few days early with this news.

” I will be introducing, when I go back to the Senate a week from Monday, a bipartisan bill in the Senate to continue to support this important Kentucky industry; it will be the Hemp Farm Act of 2018. What will it do?”

“First and foremost, this bill will finally legalize hemp, legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from list of controlled substances.”

We asked Seth what all of this might mean and his series of answers and comments were illuminating.

Firstly he believed, as do we, that McConnell’s  announcement was as much politics as a desire for sensible legislative change.

The GOP needs to shore up its agricultural base in states like his, Kentucky. As well as across the midwest and especially in places like Wisconsin where the results were tight in the presidential race and the re-introduction of hemp is a very popular move amongst farming community.

Goldberg also asserted that, for their practice, although hemp is on the rise it is still a sideshow to the main games of medical and recreational cannabis.

Across the board there’s more activity in these two sectors. Investment, capital raisings, fund activities are all seeing increased activity as are newer growth sectors such as medical(research), universities, industry associations and hospitals, to name a few.

The firm is now working nationwide with cannabis clients and is also seeing growth in the following areas.  “Marijuana” products, swift knowledge growth and increased production of CBD’s and terpenes.

Goldberg asserts that the DM practice is seeing growth across the board and most of it on the cannabis side of the sector.

He also notes the firm’s clients having an absolute desire to be “responsible” and work within the strictures of the Cole Memo and the push he says, is for more regulations and guidelines and as soon as possible rather than  the recent fuzzy memos emanating from Sessions.

This desire amongst clients also applies to international and cross border matters.

There’s now more money coming from Canada and Australia into the US market and JV activity in countries like Mexico and Columbia demand more clarity than is presently available to attorneys and their clients, especially with regard to banking and financial issues .

Although the treasury are re-evaluating the finCEN guidelines some serious steps need to be taken in finance and insurance to avert a public safety nightmare.

Our takeaways from our 60 minutes with Seth are.

Keep an eye on the East Coast, things could move quickly once NJ makes the decisions it needs to and don’t jump from cannabis to hemp just because it is flavor of the month.

There’s now depth and a level of maturity in the cannabis market that can’t be ignored as the national and international market expands.

This is something we’ve noticed on our recent trip to Australia and conversations we’ve had with people in the market here. Funds and investors are no longer just dabbling, they are taking the cannabis sector very seriously and are looking for long term investments to bolster and grow the market.

Before we go Seth reminded us of Duane Morris’ series  of monthly webinars for the cannabis sector.

Here’s what they say.

Duane Morris is presenting a series of monthly webinars throughout 2018 to discuss issues affecting the cannabis industry. Each session will cover a specific subject and feature a “Hot Topics” segment to cover recent developments in the industry.

The url for further information is as follows

And here’s what’s happened and planned so far in 2018

January 29, 2018 | Cannabis 101: Update on the Federal Enforcement & State Regulatory Environment | Webinar

February 27, 2018 | Cannabis 102: Intellectual Property, Trademark and Branding, and Marketing | Webinar

March 20, 2018 | Cannabis 103: Real Estate – Practical Considerations for Owners, Operators and Investors in Cannabis Real Property | Webinar

April 17, 2018 | Cannabis 104: Medical Marijuana in the Workplace – What Employers Need to Know | Webinar

Finally for regular updates from the firm the best place to start is their blog

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