As California’s legislative session drew to a close this week, lawmakers approved measures to reform marijuana taxes, expand industry access to banking and launch a state-regulated appellation program to help identify where cannabis is grown. A hotly contested proposal to regulate hemp and CBD, however, failed to make the cut.
The handful of successful bills, some of which weren’t decided until the legislature’s final hours Monday night, now head to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) desk. With his signature, they’ll shape the next phase of one of the nation’s most dynamic marijuana markets.
Most of the changes are more modest than industry advocates had hoped for when the year began, said Amy Jenkins, a lobbyist and senior policy director for the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA).
“We at CCIA were looking at this as a potentially transformative year,” she told Marijuana Moment in an interview on Tuesday, with many businesses hoping the state would consolidate a number of regulatory departments. “All of that really came to a halt in March, with the COVID pandemic and need to essentially shelter in place and mostly shut down business as usual.”
“We went from, as an industry, talking about these really exciting, transformative reform concepts to really post-pandemic preservation,” she added.
Perhaps the biggest victory for the industry in 2020, Jenkins said, had nothing to do with the legislature at all: As the pandemic set in, regulators deemed the marijuana industry essential, allowing businesses to continue operating. “Really progressive areas, like San Francisco, were poised to shut down,” she said. “I think a lot of people discount the significance of that.”
Some of the newly passed bills that will make their way to Newsom’s desk, such as those involving banking and appellations, result from years-long efforts by advocates. Others, such as tax and testing changes, represent more mechanical adjustments to the market.
Here’s a quick rundown of the measures passed by lawmakers:
Senate Bill 67 would help establish a long-awaited appellation program to allow producers to designate the physical origin of their marijuana, much like how wine regions are regulated. It would also prevent companies from misrepresenting where cannabis is grown, for example by misleadingly using the popular names of Humboldt or Mendocino counties in advertising and labeling. Under the bill, marijuana must be grown—either indoors or outdoors—in a designated city or county in order to qualify to use that name.
“People were really excited about this bill, because I think it solved two issues,” Jenkins said. “From the craft, sun-grown cultivator’s perspective, this kind of preserved the integrity of terroir, which is something that is really really meaningful to them, factoring in the sun and the soil and the topography.” At the same time, she said, it allows growers in regions less conducive to outdoor cultivation—Jenkins pointed to Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley as examples—to still represent and capitalize on their respective regions.
“I was so pleased to see this bill pass last night and that it’s heading to the governor’s desk,” Jenkins said Tuesday. “All indications are that he’ll sign it.”
California marijuana businesses have been complaining about taxes, which in parts of the state are among the highest in the nation, since the plant first became legal. While reforms in Assembly Bill 1872 are more restrained than many in the industry had pushed for, Jenkins at CCIA still describes them as a win. Among other changes, the bill essentially freezes potential increases on tax rates on marijuana, which lawmakers have said is an acknowledgement of the pandemic’s financial effects—and the fact that cannabis businesses don’t qualify for federal relief.
“We thought it was important to give these companies tax certainty over this next year because they are not getting much of the relief that other small businesses are getting through the federal government,” Assemblymember Phil Ting (D), chair of the chamber’s Budget Committee, said in an interview with Cannabis Wire.
Another thorny industry issue has been access to financial services. Many big banks, being federally regulated, have avoided working with marijuana operators due to cumbersome regulations about doing business with clients engaged in what remains federally illegal activity. While California lawmakers can’t change the federal landscape, Assembly Bill 1525 removes state penalties for working with marijuana clients.
“This bill would provide that an entity, as defined, that receives deposits, extends credit, conducts fund transfers, transports cash or financial instruments, or provides other financial services, including public accounting, as provided, does not commit a crime under any California law solely by virtue of the fact that the person receiving the benefit of any of those services engages in commercial cannabis activity as a licensee,” a Legislative Counsel Digest description of the bill says.
Advocates are hopeful the bill’s adoption by California lawmakers will send a message to Congress about the need for federal reform. Beyond that symbolic support, Jenkins at CCIA said the bill’s passage is meant to reassure financial institutions that work or are considering doing work with the marijuana industry.
“We talked to the banking community, and they said they wanted this and needed this,” Jenkins said. “If that bill can serve to encourage more banks to bank the industry, then that was something we wanted to take very seriously.”
On the federal level, talks about marijuana banking are ongoing. A vote on federal descheduling expected this month could open the door to financial services for the entire legal industry if the bill is enacted into law. The House passed a standalone cannabis banking measure last year and included the reform in its latest version of a federal COVID relief bill, but so far the Senate has not adopted the change.
Lawmakers sent along a few product-testing tweaks for the governor’s approval, including a measure that would allow manufacturers to submit unpackaged product—rather than a product in its final retail packaging—to testing labs. Industry advocates said the change will remove a needless expense for producers, making state-mandated testing more affordable. Another bill would require more precise measurement of THC content in edibles, while a third would allow state-licensed cannabis testing labs to provide testing services to local law enforcement or prosecuting agencies. That law enforcement work wouldn’t be considered “commercial cannabis activity” overseen by the Bureau of Cannabis Control.
Hemp CBD Regs Fall Short
One widely anticipated piece of legislation that didn’t clear the finish line this legislative session had to do with hemp-derived CBD. For the second consecutive year, an effort to pass a bill that would regulate hemp CBD in food, beverages, cosmetics and dietary supplements was scuttled at the last minute as stakeholders failed to reach an agreement before the legislative deadline. A proposal still being hammered out in the session’s final weeks would have finally regulated CBD in food and beverages, which have been sold for years amid legal uncertainty.
A pervasive sticking point, however, was the draft versions’ proposed ban on CBD products intended for smoking and vaping. Jenkins said she and CCIA repeatedly attempted to strike smoking and vaping products from the suggested ban, though she acknowledged the matter is a “controversial issue” from both a political and industry standpoint.
Another industry group, the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, was frank in its disappointment about the failure to cross the finish line. “This weekend, our political system let us down,” the organization said in an email newsletter. “Due to intra-party fights that had nothing to do with our legislation, the state Senate leadership refused to allow a vote on our legislative language.”
While legislation action will have to wait for future sessions, Jenkins at CCIA said, work on the proposal is expected to continue with urgency. “The conversation is not going away,” she said, “and I think there’s going to be additional stakeholder discussions that will inevitably occur throughout the fall.”
All in all, Jenkins said, California’s 2020 legislative session was one of “modest wins” for the industry, which isn’t too bad given COVID’s abrupt halt to regularly scheduled programming. “We went from about 36 bills down to about ten. That was the lowest number of bills I’ve seen since I’ve become a cannabis lobbyist” in 2015, she said.
Still, Jenkins said, the results are heartening in terms of signaling the normalization of an industry long regarded as politically taboo. Of the bills that passed, she noted, many sailed through on unanimous or near-unanimous votes.
“I think that’s a great testament to everything the industry has been doing to educate the legislature,” she said. “They passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support, and I think that is something that we shouldn’t overlook. It’s a testament to how far we’ve come.”
Bank Of America Cancels Account Of Marijuana And Psychedelics Research Institute Registered With DEA
The second-largest bank in the U.S. is shutting down the account of a research institute that’s federally authorized to cultivate and study Schedule I substances like marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms.
Bank of America (BoA) abruptly notified the Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI) that it would be closing its accounts last week, without a clear explanation of the reasoning. A letter from the bank that was shared with Marijuana Moment on Monday says the decision was made after “a careful review of your banking relationship” and that the action is “final and won’t be reconsidered.”
SRI has spent years fighting for expanded access to research-grade controlled substances to study their therapeutic potential, in part by litigating against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on issues such as cannabis scheduling. In May, it received preliminary approval from the agency to be one of the first new federally authorized cultivators of cannabis for research, effectively ending a decades-long monopoly on such manufacturing.
The institute is already getting bids from other financial institutions that want to take on the account after chief investigator Sue Sisley shared the news of the BoA closure on social media.
“We just wanted to expose wrongdoing of these big banks,” Sisley told Marijuana Moment, adding that they want to “show the public that even federally legal operations are being unfairly targeted by these large banks who refuse to look at our federal regulatory documents.”
Bank of America closes down account of Federally-licensed cannabis researcher. SRI conducts FDA approved controlled trials evaluating cannabis as medicine for treating pain/PTSD in military veterans & terminally ill patients this TRAGICALLY shuts down our research @BankofAmerica pic.twitter.com/Q0a2nFvIIX
— Sue Sisley, MD (@suesisleymd) October 16, 2021
It takes significant resources to obtain and maintain DEA clearance to grow and study Schedule I substances like marijuana. One theory that Sisley floated was that BoA may have decided to end the business relationship after SRI was more recently cleared to cultivate psilocybin for research, but the bank provided “zero justification.”
“Maybe it was the mushrooms that freaked them out?”
Marijuana Moment reached out to BoA for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.
Sisley said the institute received “no warning,” with “no ability to speak to somebody logical who could review our operating agreement with DEA. We have been plant-touching since our start with Bank of America 10 years ago” and were “always transparent about that.”
“We have a contract with DEA. We are growing cannabis for [Food and Drug Administration] clinical trials and selling it to the DEA,” she said. “It’s unconscionable the way they are behaving—and further proof that the word ‘cannabis’ continues to be completely radioactive even though this is a 100 percent federally legal operation.”
“Fortunately, there are banks that care about the progress of federally regulated and federally legal research and are eager to step up and support us immediately,” Sisley added. “We will be moving our funding from Bank of America and never returning there. Our research continues without harm because other banks that care about scientific freedom were able to step up. Bank of America doesn’t even have the decency to provide an explanation after a decade of banking with an openly plant-touching business.”
SRI has been behind several legal challenges imploring the federal government to remove research barriers for Schedule I drugs like marijuana and psychedelics.
In August, a federal appeals court has dismissed SRI’s petition to require DEA to reevaluate marijuana’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)—but one judge said in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the medical value of cannabis.
The lawsuit received oral arguments in June and largely centered on DEA’s 2020 denial of a one-page marijuana rescheduling petition filed by a separate individual. In its response, the agency argued that marijuana has no currently accepted medical value.
The petitioners initially filed their lawsuit, Sisley v. DEA, against the federal agency in May of last year, contending that DEA’s justification for maintaining a Schedule I status for cannabis violates the Constitution on numerous grounds. DEA attempted to dismiss the case, but the Ninth Circuit rejected that request in August.
In a separate case, the institute successfully forced DEA to issue an update on the status of its application to grow cannabis and then got the Justice Department to hand over a “secret” memo that DEA allegedly used to justify a delay in deciding those proposals.
Meanwhile, DEA is taking additional steps to promote research into the potential risks and benefits of marijuana and certain psychedelics. Last week it proposed a dramatic increase in the legal production substances like cannabis, psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT to be used in research next year.
DEA had already massively upped its proposed 2021 quota for cannabis and psilocybin last month, but now it’s calling for significantly larger quantities of research-grade marijuana and a broader array of psychedelics to be manufactured in 2022.
But despite these developments and the changing policy landscape surrounding marijuana and psychedelics at the state and local level, many financial institutions remain reluctant to service clients that work with these currently federally illicit products.
The number of banks and credit unions reporting that they work with marijuana businesses ticked up last quarter, according to federal data released last month.
Lawmakers have been working to to enact clear, statutory protections for banks and credit unions that work with the marijuana industry to alleviate remaining hesitation in the financial services industry about working with cannabis businesses. That would be accomplished through House-passed standalone legislation, or an amendment that was attached to a defense spending bill last month.
In the meantime, Sisley said SRI could sue BoA over the account cancelation, but it has other things to focus on.
“We have important work to do,” she said. “We need to stay on our path to helping whole plant cannabis flower walk through the entire FDA drug development process.”
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.
Americans Want To Live Where Marijuana Is Legal, Real Estate Survey Finds
Americans would rather live in states where marijuana is legal than in those that continue to criminalize cannabis consumers. That’s according to a new survey published on Monday by real estate company Redfin.
Among those who recently moved to a new metro area, 46 percent said they prefer to reside somewhere marijuana is “fully legal,” compared to just 22 percent who want to live in a place with prohibition still in effect.
The share of those who like legalized jurisdictions includes more than one in ten respondents—12 percent—who say they would only consider living in places where cannabis can be legally purchased. On the other side, 10 percent said they would rule out moving to areas that have ended criminalization.
Thirty-two percent of people taking the survey said they don’t care about the marijuana issue when it comes to where to live.
The survey, which involved 1,023 U.S. residents who moved to a new home during the 18 months prior to answering the questions in August, also asked about other issues such as abortion policy, voting rights and anti-discrimination laws for gender and sexual orientation.
Redfin said that while public policies on cannabis and other issues are important factors in deciding where to move, other considerations often take precedence.
“People take the politics of a place into consideration when deciding where to move, but the truth of the matter is that other factors including housing affordability and access to jobs and schools take priority,” Taylor Marr, the deputy chief economist for the company, said in a press release. “Oftentimes this means someone will move from a blue state to a red state (or vice versa), but choose a home in a neighborhood where most people hold the same political views as they do. Austin—a liberal Texas enclave that’s attracting scores of left-leaning folks from pricier coastal cities—is just one example.”
Prior analyses, including one published this year that uses data from online real estate marketplace Zillow, has shown that marijuana legalization is associated with higher home property values. “Home values increased $6,338 more in states where marijuana is legal in some form, compared to states that haven’t legalized marijuana,” it concluded.
Last year, a separate analysis from economists at the University of Oklahoma similarly found that states that legalize marijuana see a boost in housing prices, with the effect most pronounced once nearby retail outlets open for business.
Research—including a study released this month that was authored by a federal official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture—has tied cannabis legalization to lower crime rates, a key factor in home values and neighborhood desirability.
Nevada Sold More Than $1 Billion In Marijuana In One Year, Officials Report
Nevada retailers sold more than $1 billion in medical and recreational marijuana over a one-year period, state officials announced on Wednesday.
The Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board (CCB) and the Nevada Department of Taxation released the data, which shows $1,003,467,655 in taxable cannabis purchases in Fiscal Year 2021, which ran from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021.
By contrast, total marijuana sales for the prior 2020 fiscal year amounted to $685 million.
This is what Nevadans expected since the legalization of recreational marijuana. Education remains one of my top priorities, and I’m proud to see promised tax revenue from cannabis sales directly funding our students and classrooms. https://t.co/iy64R47v4G
— Governor Sisolak (@GovSisolak) October 13, 2021
The bulk of the marijuana purchases ($791,100,017) came from Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. Another $135,326,790 of cannabis was sold in Washoe County, with Reno being the major city in that jurisdiction. The $77,040,859 remainder came from other counties.
Ten percent of tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales will support pubic education funding, as prescribed under a bill that Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) previously signed.
“This is what Nevadans expected since the legalization of recreational marijuana,” the governor said in a press release about the new sales data. “Education remains one of my top priorities, and I’m proud to see promised tax revenue from cannabis sales directly funding our students and classrooms.”
Sisolak also signed a bill in June to legalize marijuana consumption lounges in the state.
The new social use license types statewide and giving consumers this option—especially in the tourist-centric state—could further boost marijuana and other tax revenues.
The governor has also committed to promoting equity and justice in the state’s marijuana law. Last year, for example, he pardoned more than 15,000 people who were convicted for low-level cannabis possession.
That action was made possible under a resolution the governor introduced that was unanimously approved by the state’s Board of Pardons Commissioners.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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Meanwhile, states across the U.S. have been touting marijuana sales and the resulting tax revenue as markets continue to mature.
For example, Illinois marijuana retailers have sold nearly $1 billion worth of legal recreational cannabis products so far in 2021, officials recently reported.
Maine recreational marijuana sales broke another marijuana sales record in August, exceeding $10 million for the first time since the adult-use market launched in October 2020.
Arizona brought in about $21 million in medical and adult-use marijuana tax revenue in July, state officials reported on a new webpage that enables people to more easily track how the industry is evolving.
California collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, state officials estimated in August. That’s 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the prior fiscal year.
A recent scientific analysis of sales data in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State found that marijuana purchases “have increased more during the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous two years.”
In July alone, at least three states saw record-breaking sales for recreational cannabis. The same goes for Missouri’s medical marijuana program.
Michigan marijuana sales broke another record in July with more than $171 million in cannabis transactions, according to data from the state’s regulatory body. There were $128 million in adult-use sales and $43 million in medical cannabis purchases.
Throughout the pandemic, many states allowed cannabis retailers to remain open—with governors and regulators in several markets declaring marijuana businesses to be essential services—and some jurisdictions issued emergency rules allowing curbside pickup, delivery services or other more relaxed policies in order to facilitate social distancing.
Meanwhile, New York officials are projecting that marijuana tax revenue will help keep the state’s budget afloat as cigarette sales continue to decline over the coming years. But retails sales have yet to launch as of now.
Read the marijuana sales data that Nevada officials released below: