Oregon Cannabis Securities: Raising Money Right
The deals in Oregon cannabis are getting very big and much of what we do these days involves mergers, acquisitions and cross border work. It’s amazing this happened so fast. Less than four years ago, as the OLCC began writing rules for the adult use marijuana industry, there was a distinct small business tenor to everything. At that time, our Portland office began forming the first of what eventually became a few hundred local cannabis companies. It was an exciting time, and a typical set-up looked something like this: two founders with limited capital, medical market bona fides and maybe credit card debt, would join forces with an investor and her few hundred grand. This crew would then form an LLC or corporation to grow weed on somebody’s property.
Today, many of those businesses have disappeared for one reason or another, others are humming along, and a few have really crushed it. Despite all of the consolidation in the OLCC world, though, the small deals and simple structures are making comeback. The only difference is that this time it’s on the hemp side. Oregon has seen a staggering increase in registered growers and acreage this planting season, owing to the new Farm Bill and the CBD craze. So we’ve been forming small LLCs and corporations again, alongside the seven figure deals– and just in time for planting season. Who would have thought?
One commonality among most of these transactions, large and small, is something called “securities.” Simply defined, a security is a negotiable financial instrument (company stock, certain debt instruments, investment contracts, etc.) offered or sold to an investor who lacks real authority to manage the investment. Many of those early Oregon marijuana companies and the new hemp companies have been trading in securities from the outset, even if unaware of this fact. Noncompliant companies have sometimes skated by, but given the liability exposure here–including lawyer liability for bad deals–it’s crucial to get the securities issuance right.
Federal and state securities laws are very complex, but they apply even to small businesses (including cannabis businesses) offering or selling a security to even just one person. Federal law requires that the issuer either: 1) register the offering and sale with the SEC (“go public”), or 2) conduct that offering and sale within a registration exemption. Fortunately, there are quite a few exemptions available, but you’ve got to hit the target square. And even when you don’t have to register, it’s a really bad idea not to make extensive disclosures to offerees and investors in conjunction with any solicitation.
Finally, in addition to federal securities laws, an Oregon cannabis business issuing securities must comply with Oregon blue sky laws and also the blue sky law of each state in which a purchaser is located. For this reason, our cannabis company clients often end up paying registration fees in other states. Those can add up pretty fast and there may be circumstances where it’s just not worthwhile.
All of that said, below are the Oregon small offering exemptions typically used for a new cannabis business, which do not require registration when done correctly.
Sales to Accredited Investors
An “accredited investor” is an investor with special status under financial regulation laws, generally due to high net worth. ORS 59.035(5) exempts transactions between start-ups and accredited investors from registration, so long as there is no public advertising or general solicitation in connection with the transaction. This is a self-executing exemption, which means that no state filing is necessary to take advantage of the exemption.
The “10 in 12” Exemption
ORS 59.035(12) exempts from Oregon registration requirements transactions that result in not more than 10 purchasers within Oregon during any consecutive 12 months. Note that accredited investors do not count as “purchasers” here. Repeat transactions with the same purchaser during a 12-month period also do not increase the number of purchasers (in other words, each purchaser is counted as one purchaser for the 12-month period). To use this exemption, no commission or other remuneration can be paid, and no public advertising or general solicitation can be used.
Federal Rule 506 (Regulation D) Offerings
If you’ve made it this far, I’m not going to thrill you with an outline of SEC Rule 506; instead, there is a good overview of allowed offerings here. Suffice it to say that in Oregon, for any Rule 506 offering, ORS 59.049(3) provides that the local start-up must, within 15 days after the first sale in the state, file a completed Form D (including the state signature page) with the Oregon Securities Division. There is also a $250 filing fee requirement.
The bottom line is that very often, new Oregon cannabis businesses raising money are subject to securities laws. That is true even if the business intends to break federal laws by trading in marijuana, and even if the business is taking on investment (equity, loan, whatever) from just one person. With a new wave of cannabis businesses coming online, it’s important to get it right. The alternative may be getting sued for securities violations–or even cannabis investment fraud–and that’s no fun at all.