Contract dates are among the most basic, fundamental aspects of any contract– cannabis or otherwise. Nevertheless, parties often mess them up or overlook them in potentially disastrous ways. Today, I want to look at a few key contract date issues and what they mean.
Key contract date terms
An execution date is the date on which a contract is executed.
An effective date is the date on which the contract takes effect. They are often (but not always) the same date as the execution date. Sometimes, effective dates may be set in the past or future, depending on the context.
A commencement date is the date on which certain obligations under an active contract commence. Commencement dates are used most frequently in lease agreements. Leases often take effect on an effective date, with a delay in occupancy of property until a future date (lease commencement date) and a delay in rent until a future date (rent commencement date).
A termination or expiration date is the date on which the contract terminates. Sometimes contracts define a termination date (i.e., January 5, 2027). Sometimes they just set a fixed term (five years). In that case, the parties calculate the termination date on the side.
A closing date is the date when a contract closes. They are most frequent in purchase agreements. For example, the closing date for a property purchase agreement is the date on which the buyer pays the seller and the seller gives the property to the buyer.
A drop-dead date is a date by which closing must occur. In a business purchase, for example, the parties may agree that the drop-dead date is 180 days after the effective date. If the deal hasn’t closed by that date, any party can walk away.
Common mistakes related to contract dates
One of the most common mistakes I see in cannabis contracts is the absence of a clear effective date. Sometimes, it’s not defined at all. Other times, the lawyers will leave the date blank for the parties to fill in at signing (i.e., “September __, 2022”), but the parties don’t fill it in. An unclear effective date has a host of ramifications for the entire life of the contract. Any date that is keyed off of the effective date (i.e., termination one year after the effective date) will be unclear. Performance of obligations associated with the effective date (i.e., payment on the effective date) will be unclear.
Another common mistake is not clearly defining the termination date. As mentioned, parties usually either fix a specific date for termination and/or a specific contract term length. If the parties don’t set a specific term length and the contract has ongoing performance obligations that are not by their nature limited in time, the contract may stay open indefinitely. This is not good! If a contract has some kind of exclusivity or non-compete obligation, it’s bad to leave it open forever.
One of the bigger mistakes I see in cannabis business purchase agreements is failing to clearly define the closing date. Generally, closing will happen at some point after (1) the effective date, and (2) a series of conditions are satisfied (i.e., getting regulatory approval to close). But beyond that, some agreements don’t clearly set the parameters for how and when a deal will close. It’s good practice to do this, in order to keep the parties’ feet to the fire so to speak. It’s not great to have one side drag it’s feet to close out a deal even after closing conditions were met.
A related mistake happens when parties don’t clearly set a drop-dead date. Without a drop-dead date, parties may be tied up in a contract indefinitely, even when a deal clearly won’t close anytime soon. Think about this hypothetical business purchase: the buyer and seller sign an agreement on January 1 with a dozen closing conditions. It becomes clear by April 1 that some conditions almost certainly won’t be able to be met. This is still the case on June 1, but the buyer won’t agree to terminate the agreement because it incorrectly thinks it can meet the conditions. The seller has a backup buyer willing to offer the same (or better) terms and who can meet all closing conditions. If the seller had set a June 1 drop-dead date, it would have been able to walk away. Now it’s stuck waiting.
Another pretty common issue can arise when parties set a date but don’t address timing issues sufficiently. Imagine that something has to happen on a fixed date with parties in different time zones. Good cannabis contracts will specify times and applicable time zones. But more often than not, that doesn’t happen.
Another issue that often comes up is the concept of “business days.” We all kind of intuitively know what a business day is (weekdays except for holidays), but those rules really only apply in the United States. If a party is based outside the U.S. (and they often are in cannabis deals) and has a holiday we don’t observe here, that could confuse the issue. Moreover, what happens when a performance obligation falls on a weekend or holiday? Does the contract specifically say that the obligation gets pushed until the next business day? If not, parties shouldn’t assume it’s the default rule.
The last common cannabis contract date issue I’ll mention is timing for legal notices. If you’ve ever read a good cannabis contract, you’ll have seen a very detailed section on how legal notices are given and when they are effective. It may specify that notices served personally are effective immediately whereas notices sent by certified mail are effective the Xth day after mailing, with yet another effective time for emailing. Sometimes, contracts fail to do this altogether, which can make it very unclear as to when the parties can conclude that their notices are effective.
These are just a host of common mistakes we see with respect to cannabis contract dates. As you can see, simple things like contract dates are actually very, very important. When it comes to drafting cannabis contracts, or any other contract for that matter, it’s really important to sweat the small stuff like this.