Can You Get a Cannabis Business License if You’re a Convicted Felon?
News broke recently that infamous couple Vili Fualaau and Mary Kay Letourneau are parting ways after more than 20 years together. Rumors have been flying through the media that the reason for the split is due to Fualaau’s desire to enter the cannabis industry as a licensed distributor for a company called Cigaweed, LLC, which produces cannabis pre-rolls.
Letourneau had a very public trial and conviction in 1997 of two counts of felony second-degree rape of a child, her then-12-year old student Fualaau (the couple married in 2005). Washington state’s marijuana law requires that anyone entering the cannabis industry must subject themselves to a background check. Their spouse is also required to undergo a background check, regardless of whether or not they have a vested interest in the business.
This made us wonder: What happens when you’re looking to enter the legal cannabis industry and your partner (romantic or otherwise) is a convicted felon?
Leafly reached out to Seattle cannabis attorney Aaron Pelley, who works with Northwest Marijuana Law, to get a legal perspective on the question.
“To be quite honest,” Pelley responded, “I’m confused as to why they’re separating because it’s been longer than 10 years since her conviction.”
Pelley further explained, “The rule is 10 years. When you’re applying [to enter the cannabis industry], you have to report any past convictions. A felony conviction is worth 12 points, a misdemeanor is worth three points, and anything over eight points gets you automatically disqualified.”
A conviction, felony or misdemeanor, is not necessarily an automatic disqualification. “I have clients with multiple felonies and misdemeanors who have licenses, but [their crimes] happened in the 70s and 80s,” Pelley said.
For those with past drug convictions, this is particularly relevant. As more states legalize cannabis, past cannabis convictions can come back to haunt someone looking to get licensed. Recently, Marley Natural joined forces with the Minority Cannabis Business Association for the Rise Up campaign, which helps those with past cannabis convictions get their records expunged in Washington state. (Both Marley Natural and Leafly are owned by Privateer Holdings.)
Pelley informed Leafly that while past drug offenses may be vacated under certain circumstances, a sexual offense is a different story. “For someone who committed a sexual offense, it’s more difficult–actually, in Washington state, it’s impossible to vacate the conviction.”
Whether or not the rumors are true, for an up-and-coming entrepreneur, it’s important to know the restrictions on entering the cannabis industry with any kind of a past record.
Other legal states have similar policies:
A marijuana establishment in Alaska may not be registered with any person who has been convicted of a felony less than five years prior, or is currently on probation for that felony. Currently, this law only applies to owners, officers, or agents of the establishment, with no mention of employees.
The California licensing committee prohibits anyone with a felony controlled substance offense, violent or serious felonies, felonies involving fraud or embezzlement, or any sanctions from local licensing authorities within the past three years from entering the industry. Proposition 64 also allows you to apply to have certain past convictions wiped from the record.
In order to qualify for a cannabis business license in Colorado, you may not have any controlled substance felonies within the past 10 years, or five years from May 28, 2013, whichever is longer, and you may not have any other felony convictions that have not been expunged in the past five years. Colorado also investigates the criminal history of any business partners to determine whether “he or she is not of good moral character.” However, Colorado does make an exception for past marijuana possession or use convictions.
All persons entering the Nevada cannabis industry must undergo a criminal background check, and anyone who has been convicted of an “excluded felony offense” may not work in the either the medical or retail cannabis industry.
After Oregon legalized cannabis, Governor Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 364 into law, which allows Oregonians with past cannabis convictions to apply for expungement. Oregon prohibits anyone with a felony conviction after 2006 from growing medical marijuana, and anyone with two felony convictions since 2006 are prohibited from growing permanently. Retail cannabis regulations requires that anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony notify the Oregon Liquor Control Commission within 10 days.