June 26, 2019
Information disclosure is a key theme that emerges from Canada’s new cannabis regulatory regime: the government wants lots of information from those to which it grants a cannabis –related licence – especially about “key investors” of certain licensees. It’s not surprising that the new regime, comprised of the Cannabis Act, Cannabis Regulations and other related regulations (all of which took effect on October 17, 2018), requires cannabis industry licensees to disclose information to the federal government. What might be surprising, however, to certain licensees, their investors (particularly, privately held companies), and others that do business with them (for example, commercial lenders) is the broad scope of both the definition of a “key investor”, and of the information about them that some licensees must disclose.
The Cannabis Regulations establish categories of licences for cannabis-related activities (cultivation, processing, analytical testing, sale and research, and licences respecting drugs containing cannabis) and impose differing disclosure obligations on them. Cannabis cultivation, processing or sale licensees, which we’ll call “Licensed Producers” or “LPs” (the term used in the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) that were repealed when the new cannabis law regime took effect, but that’s still commonly used in the industry) are subject to some unsurprising – and some potentially surprising – disclosure requirements. All licensees, including LPs, must maintain certain records and make them available to the federal government minister designated as responsible for the Cannabis Act (formerly, the Minister of Health, but as of December 2018, the Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction) on request. Most come as no surprise: for example, certain license-holders must record the identity of people entering or exiting a cannabis storage area, monitor operations and storage areas, and record unauthorized intrusions into operations and storage areas. Licensed Producers (LPs), however, must also provide extensive and ongoing information disclosure to the designated Minister. One of the most onerous: information about the LP’s “key investors”. And while the requirement to disclose information about “key investors” might come as no surprise, just who a “key investor” is might surprise LPs, their investors and those that do business with them.
5 “Key Investor” Disclosure FAQs
It’s key that all stakeholders clearly understand the Cannabis Regulations’ key investor disclosure obligations to avoid surprises and to ensure compliance. Here are the answers to five key frequently asked questions about cannabis companies’ “key investor” disclosure requirements.
1. What’s a “key investor”?
The lynchpin of the definition of a “key investor” is “control” over the LP. The Cannabis Regulations define the term “key investor” far more broadly than the way in which many other federal laws define it. Section 241 of the Cannabis Regulations defines a “key investor” in a LP as a person (which can be either an individual or a corporation or other entity) that exercises, or is in a position to exercise, direct or indirect control over the LP by virtue either of:
2. What’s “control” for the purpose of determining an LP’s “key investors”?
It looks like the federal government will interpret “control” broadly, though it remains to be seen whether the courts will agree with that approach. But it does require LPs – and those investing in and those doing business with them – to think hard about who a “key investor” is when structuring commercial agreements.
Many laws, such as corporate, securities and tax laws, use the term “control”. Depending on whether, and if so how, a particular law defines it, “control” generally refers to the ability to influence an entity’s decisions and actions either by:
The existence of a “legal control” relationship is usually straightforward to identify. The existence of a “factual control” relationship, however, is usually more complex to identify because the relevant considerations can vary depending on the particular law, and in some contexts (such as the Income Tax Act) is the subject of legal dispute and interpretation. The Cannabis Regulations’ definition of “key investor” indicates considerations relevant to the existence of a factual control relationship are: the provision of money, goods or services directly or indirectly to an LP; or holding an ownership interest or other right or interest in, or in respect of, a business or organization the LP operates. This suggests the federal government seeks to cast the “key investor” net very broadly. The government’s Cannabis Licensing Application Guide, at Appendix I, confirms this view, providing examples of the forms and factors it will consider relevant to determining whether a party has factual control:
The Cannabis Licensing Application Guide is an articulation of how the government says it will apply the cannabis laws, but it’s not actually the law. If a party challenges the government’s interpretation of “key investor”, a court will ultimately define whether a factual control relationship exists, and whether a party is a “key investor”, within the meaning of the Cannabis Regulations. However, under the interpretation of “key investor” in the Cannabis Licensing Application Guide, the government could determine a factual control relationship exists between an LP and these parties, for example, by virtue of the rights and obligations set out in their agreement:
3. What information must a LP disclose about its “key investors”?
It depends, but generally: a lot. The scope and volume of the information LPs must disclose under section 241 of the Cannabis Regulations about their key investors can be significant – and can include commercially sensitive information.
Basics. A LP must disclose the following in respect of any and all of its key investor(s):
Money, Goods or Services. A LP must disclose additional information about each “key investor” depending on how it became a “key investor” under the Cannabis Regulations’ definition – and must do so each time the key investor provides the LP, directly or indirectly, with money, goods or services:
And regardless of how a key investor became such, the LP must also disclose:
4. Are there any exemptions from the “key investor” disclosure obligations?
Yes. The Cannabis Regulations set out these exemptions from the key investor disclosure obligations:
Publicly traded LPs. Notably, none of the key investor disclosure requirements apply to publicly-traded LPs. This is presumably because the disclosure that securities laws and exchange rules require of public companies, including public LPs, achieves the same level of disclosure that the Cannabis Regulations’ key investor disclosure requirements seek to achieve – although a recent review by the Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) concluded disclosure by publicly-traded companies in the cannabis industry needs improvement.
Pre-license Key Investors. There are some advantages to getting in early: the LP isn’t required to disclose the details about the transaction by which an investor became a “key investor” if that transaction completed before the LP was granted its license – but the LP must still disclose all other information about and in respect of that key investor that the Cannabis Regulations require, including those about subsequent transactions between the LP and that key investor.
ACMPR-Continued Licences. And it isn’t required to disclose the details about the transaction by which an investor became a “key investor” if: that transaction completed before the Cannabis Regulations took effect; the LP obtained its license under the former Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR); and that license was continued under the new cannabis licensing law regime. But, again, the LP must still disclose all other information about and in respect of the key investor required under the Cannabis Regulations.
5. Who can obtain the “key investor” information that an LP discloses to the government?
It’s clear that it’s best practice for a LP to inform prospective “key investors” that the Cannabis Regulations require it to collect certain information from and about the key investor, and disclose that information to the federal government. It’s also clear that a prospective “key investor” needs to agree to this to become a “key investor”. But it’s not clear yet who can access that disclosed information, or to whom the federal government can disclose it. To date, there are no decisions of any court or privacy commissioner that offers further guidance around these issues. However, it’s still early days in the cannabis legal regime, and clarity around access to and further disclosure will likely come in due course. Right now, it seems the purpose of the key investor disclosure requirements isn’t to publicize the information, but to facilitate the regulation of the cannabis industry further to the stated purposes of the Cannabis Act: to protect public health and public safety, including to reduce and deter illicit activities in relation to cannabis. Thus the responsible Minister can – and arguably only should – disclose the information where:
Access by the public & the media. All information in the federal government’s custody or control, which includes the key investor information an LP is required to disclose, is subject to the federal Access to Information Act (ATIA). It’s unclear how the government will respond to an Access to Information Act request for key investor information. However, the ATIA does have exceptions designed to protect personal information and certain confidential business information from public access that could apply to key investor information, although these exceptions are still subject to the overriding ability to disclose information if it’s in the public interest to do so or the Minister considers it’s necessary to protect public health or safety.
Disclosure. The Cannabis Act authorizes the Minister to disclose certain information, in certain circumstances; however, these relate primarily to the protection of public health or safety, fulfilment of Canada’s international obligations, and enforcement of the Cannabis Act and Regulations.
Please contact your McInnes Cooper lawyer or any member of the Cannabis Team @ McInnes Cooper to discuss this topic or any other legal issue.
McInnes Cooper has prepared this document for information only; it is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult McInnes Cooper about your unique circumstances before acting on this information. McInnes Cooper excludes all liability for anything contained in this document and any use you make of it.
© McInnes Cooper, 2019. All rights reserved. McInnes Cooper owns the copyright in this document. You may reproduce and distribute this document in its entirety as long as you do not alter the form or the content and you give McInnes Cooper credit for it. You must obtain McInnes Cooper’s consent for any other form of reproduction or distribution. Email us at [email protected] to request our consent.
Apr 13, 2021
On April 7, 2021, the Nova Scotia government introduced Bill 97, amendments to the N.S. Electricity Act aimed at growing the solar industry in…
Mar 31, 2021
Close to five million Canadians who didn’t usually work from home, did so in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as public health…
Mar 26, 2021
Merger and acquisition deals are still happening across all sectors, perhaps at an even higher rate than pre-COVID-19 pandemic, even if the…
Mar 19, 2021
Recently, New Brunswick temporarily broadened the eligibility for its Skilled Worker Stream through its Provincial Nominee Program (PNP),…
Mar 18, 2021
Your startup idea has blossomed into a viable business: you’ve incorporated a company, it’s been growing steadily, and you’re at the stage…
Subscribe to McInnes Cooper to stay current with our leading insights on legal updates, trends, news, events, and services.