Cannabis Compliance: Keep the Feds Happy

cannabis compliance
Written by Alex Valvassori

Remember the Cole Memo in reference to cannabis compliance.

Here at Complia HQ, we typically write about issues surrounding state-specific regulatory issues.  While it is absolutely critical to comply with state and local regulations, it’s also important to regularly revisit the Cole Memo.  For those who don’t know, the Cole Memo is the closest thing we have to federal cannabis regulation.  The Cole Memo is only guidance for cannabis compliance. It’s important you comply with each of the eight areas of focus in order to stay off the fed’s naughty list.


  • Prevent distribution of marijuana to minors

Make sure your staff is trained to check every single customer for their ID at least once (we work with many clients who check two or even three times per customer!).  We also recommend buying an ID verification book and/or scanner to make sure fake IDs are caught.  There are also operators who have “secret shopper” programs to keep staff on their toes.


  • Prevent marijuana revenue from funding criminal enterprises, gangs or cartels

Even though the regulators typically perform methodical background checks on owners, it is also wise for businesses to perform their own checks as well.  This is especially important when bringing new investors into the business.  It’s important to know your partners!


  • Prevent marijuana from moving out of states where it is legal

Educating customers is the best way to help prevent a product from leaving the state.  If a customer asks which product is easiest to hide from TSA, it probably makes sense to kindly tell that customer their business isn’t welcome.  Educational signage and pamphlets are also a great way to help educate customers and demonstrate your company’s commitment to compliance.


  • Prevent use of state-legal marijuana sales as a cover for illegal activity

For the well-intentioned, this is easy: don’t leverage your legitimate marijuana business for illegitimate purposes!


  • Prevent violence and use of firearms in growing or distributing marijuana

This one is always a touchy subject.  Many businesses hire armed security staff whereas others strictly prohibit anyone (staff, security, or otherwise) from carrying any type of weapon on the licensed premises.  Regardless of the policy, your company has in place, make sure your facilities are violence-free areas.


  • Prevent drugged driving or exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use

As with out of state transport, this is also a topic that relies on educating customers.  Some state regulations already require that a warning about driving under the influence be included on the label.  Educational signage and pamphlets are also effective educational tools.


  • Prevent growing marijuana on public lands

In most states, this is an easy one.  Because some regulatory agencies require a state and local license, it’s pretty much impossible to operate a legitimate, licensed cannabis business on public lands in these markets.  If a local license isn’t required, make sure you aren’t operating on public lands!


  • Prevent marijuana possession or use on federal property

This is another topic that relies heavily on education.  While this may not be an area of scrutiny for licensed businesses, we can do our part to help educate the public, especially tourists, about this provision.  This is especially applicable for dispensaries in areas near National Parks.  Take some time to help your out-of-town patrons understand that cannabis may not be possessed on federal property.


It’s easy to get bogged down in the complexities of state and local regulation.  That said, given the uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration and Jeff Sessions, we urge our readers to keep these fundamental guiding principles in mind.


Yours in Compliance,

Team Complia

About the author

Alex Valvassori

Alex Valvassori is Co-Founder and Chief Compliance Officer at Complia, the Quickbooks of marijuana compliance. Complia captures and manages all critical compliance and licensing documents in an alert based license dashboard. Complia works with 3 of the 10 largest operators in Colorado and is quickly expanding across the US. Contact us today at to schedule a demo and kick start a risk free trial!

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