Top Legal Challenges Facing Cannabis Startups in 2024

The cannabis industry has been undergoing rapid evolution, driven by increasing legalization and societal acceptance. However, cannabis startups face a myriad of legal challenges that can significantly impact their growth and operations. As we move into 2024, these challenges remain as complex as ever, and understanding them is crucial for any aspiring entrepreneur in the cannabis sector.

1. Federal vs. State Law Conflicts

One of the most prominent legal challenges for cannabis startups is navigating the conflict between federal and state laws. While numerous states have legalized cannabis for medical and/or recreational use, it remains illegal under federal law. This discrepancy creates a precarious legal environment. Businesses must comply with state regulations, but the looming threat of federal enforcement complicates matters, especially in financial operations and interstate commerce.

2. Banking Restrictions

Due to cannabis still being classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, most financial institutions are wary of providing services to cannabis businesses. This lack of access to traditional banking services forces many startups to operate on a cash-only basis, which poses significant security risks and creates cumbersome logistical challenges. The SAFE Banking Act, which aims to provide a safe harbor for financial institutions working with cannabis businesses, has yet to pass in Congress, leaving this issue unresolved in 2024.

3. Intellectual Property Issues

Securing intellectual property (IP) rights poses another hurdle for cannabis startups. Trademarks for cannabis-related products and services are currently not recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) due to federal illegality. This causes difficulties in protecting brand identity and proprietary developments. Companies must navigate complex strategies to establish and defend their IP within a fragmented legal landscape.

4. Compliance with Diverse State Regulations

Each state that has legalized cannabis has its own unique set of regulations concerning licensing, production, distribution, and sale. Compliance with these diverse regulations can be overwhelming, especially for startups with limited resources. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines, license suspensions, or even criminal charges, underscoring the need for thorough understanding and meticulous adherence to each state’s legal framework.

5. Advertising and Marketing Restrictions

Advertising cannabis products is tightly regulated and varies significantly by state. Restrictions on digital and traditional marketing avenues limit the ability of cannabis startups to reach potential customers. Rules often prohibit advertisements from targeting minors, using certain types of imagery, or making unverified health claims. Navigating these marketing restrictions requires a keen understanding of each state’s specific regulations.

6. Employment Law

Cannabis startups also face challenges in employment law, including issues related to drug testing policies and workplace safety. Employers must balance the legal right to consume cannabis with maintaining a safe and drug-free workplace. Additionally, as the industry grows, startups must ensure they are compliant with labor laws regarding employee rights, wages, and benefits.

7. Real Estate and Zoning Issues

Securing appropriate real estate is another significant hurdle. Many municipalities have stringent zoning laws that limit where cannabis businesses can operate. Finding locations that meet these zoning requirements while also being accessible to customers and compatible with community standards can be challenging and costly.

8. Product Liability Concerns

As with any consumer product, cannabis startups face potential product liability issues. Ensuring that products are safe, accurately labeled, and free from contaminants is critical. Failure to meet regulatory standards can result in recalls, customer lawsuits, and damage to the company’s reputation. Ensuring rigorous quality control processes is essential to mitigating these risks.


The cannabis industry offers immense opportunities, but these come with significant legal challenges that startups must carefully navigate. Understanding and proactively addressing issues related to federal and state law conflicts, banking restrictions, IP rights, compliance with regulations, marketing, employment law, real estate, and product liability are crucial for success in the evolving landscape of 2024. Aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs should seek expert legal counsel and stay informed about ongoing legislative developments to mitigate risks and create a solid foundation for their business.