by Charles Alovisetti, Vicente Sederberg LLC
This is article is the first in a series, which will provide a general overview of the laws that impact raising money in the cannabis industry.
Any business owner planning to raise capital should consider the federal Securities Act of 1933, commonly referred to as the “Securities Act.” In addition to federal law, each state has its own set of laws that regulate securities sales, commonly referred to as the “Blue Sky Laws.” Both the Securities Act and any applicable Blue Sky Laws must be complied with in connection with the sale of securities – a security being proof of ownership or debt that has been assigned a value and may be sold (stocks and bonds are examples). Both the Securities Act and the Blue Sky Laws regulate the sale of securities by prohibiting the offer and sale of unregistered securities (other than pursuant to specified exceptions) and requiring companies to provide investors disclosure of all material facts concerning the securities for sale.
Crucially for business owners, it’s not only the actual documents to raise money that are governed by the Securities Act: so are those initial business plans and executive summaries that might be circulated to gauge interest. Ensuring that your business plans are not violating any securities laws is the focus of this article.
In analyzing whether a transaction or communication is in compliance with the Securities Act and Blue Sky Laws, it’s helpful to think through the following questions:
- Does the transaction or communication constitute an offer or sale?
- Is the offer or sale of a security (as defined in the Securities Act and the Blue Sky Laws)?
- If there is an offer or sale of a security, is the security properly registered with federal and state authorities?
- If there is an offer or sale of a security and the security is not registered, does the transaction fall within one or more of the specified exemptions to registration?
As you assess your materials for compliance, begin by asking whether an offer has been made. If a transaction or communication does not constitute an offer, then compliance with state and federal securities law is not a concern. However, if an offer is unintentionally made – a common mistake – it may trigger a violation of securities law since it is unlikely that the unintentional issuer will have taken into account the necessary disclosure items and determined the relevant exemption to registration. Note that in the context of securities law, “issuer” means any company that issues or proposes to issue a security.
What, then, is an offer, from the federal standpoint and from that of the state of Colorado? Section 2(a)(3) of the federal Securities Act defines “offer” as “every attempt or offer to dispose of, or solicitation of an offer to buy, a security or interest in a security, for value.” Under the Colorado Securities Act, “offer to sell” includes any attempt or offer to dispose of, or solicitation of an offer to buy, a security or interest in a security for value and “offer” means an offer to sell or an offer to purchase. What constitutes an offer, furthermore, may be a matter of perceived intent rather than explicit proposal: the SEC has noted that “[t]he publication of information and statements, and publicity efforts, generally, made in advance of a proposed financing, although not couched in terms of an express offer, may in fact contribute to conditioning the public mind or arousing public interest in the issuer or in the securities of an issuer in a manner which raises a serious question whether the publicity is not in fact part of the selling effort.” As a practical matter, these definitions, as well as the SEC’s guidance, mean that many communications that would not be considered offers under contract law may well be considered offers for purposes of state and federal securities law.
From a practical point of view, then, how should an entrepreneur approach an action that might be considered an offer – distributing information about a new company, for example? To mitigate risk of a securities violation, consider the following factors before circulating information about your business:
- Include Appropriate Disclaimers: If you do proceed with distribution, any documentation provided to potential investors should contain disclaimers that clearly indicate that the provided information is not an offer or a solicitation of an offer to buy securities. Note that such disclaimers do not necessarily mean the document will not be considered an offer.
- Require Further Information: Any documentation should also state explicitly that further information about a purchaser will be required before an offer can be made.
- Minimize Details: Generally speaking, the fewer details provided about a potential security, the better. Even high-level details can result in a document being considered an offer.
- Ensure Accuracy: Make absolutely sure that any information provided is correct and not misleading (i.e., do not claim that cannabis is legal in the United States, note that it remains illegal at the federal level). Avoid selective disclosure and be prepared to stand behind any claims made.
- Follow Best Practices: Every communication should adhere to best practices regarding offerings in general (e.g., avoiding general solicitations, keeping track of distributed documents, etc.)
- Seek Legal Counsel: When in doubt, speak to a qualified securities attorney. It’s always easier to do things right the first time, whereas it may not be possible to fix certain mistakes.
This information is educational only and shall not be construed as legal advice. Please consult your attorney prior to relying on any information in this article.
Charlie Alovisetti is a senior associate at Vicente Sederberg LLC. Prior to joining Vicente Sederberg, Charlie worked as an associate in the New York offices of Latham & Watkins and Goodwin Procter where his practice focused on representing private equity sponsors and their portfolio companies, as well as public companies, in a range of corporate transactions, including mergers, stock and asset acquisitions and divestitures, growth equity investments, venture capital investments, and debt financings. In addition, Charlie has experience counseling portfolio and emerging growth companies with respect to general corporate and commercial matters and all aspects of compensation arrangements, including executive employment and consulting agreements, stock option plans, restricted stock plans, bonus plans, and other management incentive arrangements. Charlie has experience in both U.S. and cross-border transactions, and has advised clients across a range of industries including technology, manufacturing, software, digital media, energy and clean tech, healthcare, and biotech. He holds a Bachelor of Arts, with honors, from McGill University and a law degree from Columbia Law School, where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar.
*Currently only admitted in New York