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Businesses That ‘Indirectly’ Work With Marijuana Industry Ineligible For Federal Coronavirus Loans

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It’s not just state-legal marijuana retailers and growers that stands to miss out on federal relief loans amid the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to that restriction, which the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) confirmed last month, a wide range of businesses that indirectly service the cannabis industry are also ineligible under recently enacted legislation.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which the President Trump signed last month, provides for a Paycheck Protection Program that offers a significant amount of forgivable loans to companies with 500 or fewer employees. Cannabis businesses—as well as ancillary firms that contribute to them with products or services—are specifically excluded from those benefits, however.

In a notice about the draft rules of the CARES Act, SBA points to a document from last year outlining businesses that are generally ineligible for its programs. One section describes how “Businesses Engaged in any Illegal Activity” can’t receive federal loans.

“SBA must not approve loans to Applicants that are engaged in illegal activity under federal, state, or local law,” it states. “This includes Applicants that make, sell, service, or distribute products or services used in connection with illegal activity, unless such use can be shown to be completely outside of the Applicant’s intended market.”

“Because federal law prohibits the distribution and sale of marijuana, financial transactions involving a marijuana-related business would generally involve funds derived from illegal activity,” it continues. “Therefore, businesses that derive revenue from marijuana-related activities or that support the end-use of marijuana may be ineligible for SBA financial assistance.”

To that end, it’s no surprise that businesses such as dispensaries and cultivation facilities would be excluded. But it’s also the case that a large class of companies that indirectly work with the cannabis industry could also lose out on the benefits.

An ineligible “indirect marijuana business” is defined by SBA as “a business that derived any of its gross revenue for the previous year (or, if a start-up, projects to derive any of its gross revenue for the next year) from sales to Direct Marijuana Businesses of products or services that could reasonably be determined to aid in the use, growth, enhancement or other development of marijuana.”

SBA provides specific examples of such companies. The list includes “businesses that provide testing services, or sell or install grow lights, hydroponic or other specialized equipment, to one or more Direct Marijuana Businesses; and businesses that advise or counsel Direct Marijuana Businesses on the specific legal, financial/accounting, policy, regulatory or other issues associated with establishing, promoting, or operating a Direct Marijuana Business.”

Businesses that sell paraphernalia like bongs or pipes intended for cannabis use are also ineligible for the loans, SBA said.

However, the agency said its interpretation of an indirect cannabis business doesn’t extend to companies that provide general services such as plumbing or tech support for laptops that marijuana firms use, for example.

The penalty for submitting an application for the relief loans with fraudulent information is up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 under one federal statute. Another statute makes it punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and a maximum $5,000 fine. Finally, if the application was submitted to a federally insured institution, the penalty is up to 30 years in prison and up to a $1 million fine.

“As a starting point, it is incredibly unfair that state-legal cannabis companies are not eligible for these SBA loans,” Josh Kappel, founding partner at Vicente Sederberg, told Marijuana Moment. “These companies pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, unemployment taxes, and, of course, federal corporate taxes. In every way, they deserve to be treated like any other business when it comes to these emergency loans.”

“It is even more egregious when the SBA determines, not by law but by its own regulations, that companies will be ineligible for loans if they derived any revenue in the previous year from selling products or services to state-legal cannabis companies,” he added. “In a state like Colorado, when you consider law firms, accounting firms, advertising and marketing firms, HVAC companies, lighting companies, and on and on, there are literally hundreds of small businesses that could be deemed ineligible.”

Advocates are pushing for Congress to add language to future coronavirus-related spending legislation to free up access to SBA services for state-legal marijuana businesses. But it remains to be seen whether that will materialize.

Eleven senators did recently send a letter to leadership in a key committee asking that they add a provision allowing marijuana businesses to access federal loan services in an upcoming annual spending bill, however.

“While we would like to see loans available to all cannabis companies, the SBA, at the very least, should immediately modify its regulations to remove the prohibition on COVID-19-related loans to ‘indirect marijuana businesses,'” Kappel said. “Countless jobs and small businesses could be at risk if they do not.”

Because hemp was legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, businesses that sell the crop or those that indirectly service those companies are eligible for federal relief programs—a point SBA stressed in a recent blog post.

CBD Prescription Drug Is No Longer A Federally Controlled Substance, DEA Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Oregon Marijuana Sales Spike During Pandemic, But Officials Expect Market To ‘Mellow’

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Amid one of the sharpest economic downturns in state history, Oregon marijuana sales continue to roll along at a healthier-than-normal pace. State budget officials say that shelter-in-place policies and economic stimulus programs have kept marijuana sales “quite strong” during the pandemic so far.

Since March 1, the sales of adult-use marijuana products are up 60 percent compared to a year ago, the state Office of Economic Analysis said in its latest quarterly budget forecast published last week.

“These increases are not only related to the stockpiling consumers did after the sheltering in place policies were enacted,” the report says, “but have continued through April and early May.”

Oregon marijuana sales during COVID-19

In April alone, consumers bought $89 million worth of legal cannabis products—a record amount—thanks in part to what officials described as a “4/20 bump.” While the boost in sales figures are due in part to rising prices, state budget analysts said that “underlying demand is up as well.”

“The increase in sales for other marijuana products, like concentrates, edibles and the like, are due to significant gains in consumer demand as prices are flat or down,” analysts reasoned.

The June 2020 budget forecast estimates that the current increase in marijuana sales will yield an extra $9 million in state tax revenue during the 2019-2021 budget period. It’s a rare bright spot in the overall budget report, which state analysts described as “the largest downward revision to the quarterly forecast that our office has ever had to make.”

Oregon marijuana demand

But even the marijuana sector’s boost may be time limited.

“Expectations are that some of these increases are due to temporary factors like the one-time household recovery rebates, expanded unemployment insurance benefits, and the shelter in place style policies,” the report says. “As the impact of these programs fade in the months ahead, and bars and restaurants reopen to a larger degree, marijuana sales are expected to mellow.”

Demand for marijuana is also expected to fall in coming years due to a lower overall economic outlook, which is projected to reduce Oregon’s population and cut average incomes. “A relatively smaller population indicates fewer potential customers,” the report notes, “and lower total personal income than previously assumed indicates less consumer demand.”

Oregon population forecast

The projected slowdown in sales isn’t expected to make an impact until the next budget period, beginning in 2021. At that point, the forecast says, sales will begin trending down by 5 percent relative to the current period “due to the lower economic outlook” associated with COVID-19.

The pandemic has also changed how Oregonians are making marijuana purchases, the report found, though perhaps not as much as one might expect. The share of sales completed by delivery services more than doubled in recent months, but it remained relatively small, making up just 1.4 percent of total sales. As the Office of Economic Analysis observed, “Consumers still prefer to shop in store.”

Oregon is one of a handful of states looking to legal cannabis sales to help buoy tax revenues. A report published last month by cannabis regulators in Michigan, where legal sales to adults began this past December, forecasts annual marijuana sales in that state to top $3 billion as the market matures. That would mean another 13,500 jobs and roughly $500 million per year in taxes to state coffers. Factoring in the effects on peripheral businesses, the state found, the “total economic impact is estimated to be $7.85 billion with a total impact on employment of 23,700.”

Although tax revenue from cannabis sales will help pad budgets in many legal states, the Oregon report doesn’t mince words: The pandemic’s hit to the state’s economy will be drastic. Oregon’s current recession is “the deepest on record with data going back to 1939,” according to state analysts, and it hit with virtually no warning. “The path looks more like what happens to economic activity during a labor strike or in the aftermath of a natural disaster.”

Oregon incomes over time

For its part, Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis predicts a relatively swift recovery. “While this recession is extremely severe, it is expected to be shorter in duration than the Great Recession,” analysts wrote. “The economy should return to health by mid-decade.”

New Mexico Governor Says Legalizing Marijuana Would’ve Funded Programs Cut Due To Coronavirus

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Company Recalls Injectable CBD Products Following FDA Warning Letter

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A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) letter warning a company about its marketing of injectable CBD products has led to a voluntary recall that the federal agency announced on Wednesday.

Biota Biosciences received the letter last month, with FDA directing the firm to cease sales of its line of CBD vials, which it markets as a pain reliever that serves as an alternative to opioids and can help with detoxification.

The agency said the company was violating federal statutes both by engaging in interstate commerce of an unapproved new drug and failing to properly label the products by neglecting to include directions for use.

“Injectable drug products can pose a serious risk of harm to users because they are delivered directly into the bloodstream and bypass many of the body’s natural defenses against toxic ingredients, toxins, or dangerous organisms that can lead to serious and life-threatening conditions such as septicemia or sepsis,” FDA wrote.

 

In a public response published on Friday, the company told consumers that “we would like to convey that the executive and management team at Biota Biosciences take full responsibility for these observations and understand the gravity of the risk to consumers by posting these unapproved claims and intended use on our website.”

Products subject to the recall include formulations of Cannabidiol (CBD) Complex, Curcumin Complex, and Cannabidiol + Curcumin. “All customers who received this product will have the choice to keep any remaining product or receive a full refund for returning unused products,” the firm said.

Since receiving FDA’s warning letter, the company says has pulled all the products, provided the agency with a “root cause and corrective action plan” and launched a voluntary recall of the vials.

According to the original warning letter, the CBD products meet the definition of a drug subject to FDA regulation because “they are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, and/or intended to affect the structure or any function of the body,” the letter continues.

FDA identified several examples of medical claims Biota Biosciences made about their CBD vials in advertising:

“Fighting the opioid epidemic… BIOTA Biosciences produces and distributes effective all-natural alternatives with no side-effects. Join the growing ranks of pain, oncology, psychiatry, naturopathy healthcare professionals utilizing BIOTA Sterile CBD Vials.”

“VISION: OPIOID-FREE FUTURE… Our goal is to supply the world with pharmaceutical grade, all natural products containing cannabidiol and other natural compounds. We believe strongly that pharmaceutical grade hemp oil will drastically reduce the need for opioid-based pain relief and eliminate the global opioid epidemic by providing a safe and natural alternative.”

“Instant relief for patients that are symptomatic of inflammatory auto-immune diseases”

While the products lack directions for use, the company has claimed that they bypass liver absorption and deliver CBD “directly into your bloodstream.”

Further, FDA stressed that even if the labels did contain usage information, they would still be in violation.

“New drugs may not be legally introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce without prior approval from the FDA,” the letter states. “FDA approves a new drug on the basis of scientific data and information demonstrating that the drug is safe and effective.”

The injectable CBD vials “are offered for conditions that are not amenable to self-diagnosis and treatment by individuals who are not medical practitioners; therefore, adequate directions for use cannot be written so that a layperson can use these drugs safely for their intended purposes.”

“The violations cited in this letter are not intended to be an all-inclusive statement of violations that exist in connection with your marketed products. You are responsible for investigating and determining the causes of the violations identified above and for preventing their recurrence or the occurrence of other violations. According to your website, you manufacture many other types of CBD containing products. It is your responsibility to ensure that your firm complies with all requirements of federal law, including FDA regulations.”

FDA gave Biota Biosciences 15 days within the receipt of the letter to notify them about corrective steps they’ve taken. Failure to resolve the issues could have resulted in “legal action without further notice, including, without limitation, seizure and injunction.”

In its public statement, Biota Biosciences said that so far “no adverse or serious adverse events have been reported in relation to these products.” FDA is urging consumers may have such experiences to report them to its MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program.

This is one of the latest statements FDA has made about CBD companies that are not meeting its standards.

Earlier this week, the agency publicized a voluntary recall of another CBD product from a different company, notifying consumers about potentially high levels of lead in a batch of tinctures.

FDA has said that it is currently targeting companies that make especially outlandish and unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic potential of their cannabis products.

For example, it sent a warning letter to a CBD company owned by a former NFL player after advertisements it displayed suggested its products could treat and prevent a coronavirus infection.

FDA has previously issued warnings to other CBD companies that have made unsubstantiated claims about the therapeutic potential of their products.

Although the agency does not currently approve of CBD as a food item or dietary supplement, it is in the process of developing regulations that may allow for such marketing.

FDA Notifies Public About Recall Of CBD Product That Tested High For Lead

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Marco Verch.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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FDA Notifies Public About Recall Of CBD Product That Tested High For Lead

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is publicizing a voluntary recall of a CBD product, notifying consumers about potentially high levels of lead in a batch of tinctures that were tested by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The federal agency reported on Friday that Summitt Labs, which produces a wide range of hemp-derived cannabidiol products, voluntarily pulled a batch of its Kore Organic watermelon tincture after the state agriculture department conducted a test on a random sample and found high levels of lead, which when ingested can cause various symptoms such as pain, nausea and kidney damage.

The company conducted its own test through an accredited, independent lab that found the lead levels in an acceptable range under state law. But, because the Florida officials found excess lead levels in the sample they tested, Summitt quickly moved to get the batch off of shelves, FDA said. Retailers that carry the product have been notified by phone and email.

“To this date, Summitt Labs has not had a call, complaint or report of any adverse effect from the use of this product,” FDA said.

While the federal agency was not involved in the testing, it has a policy of posting companies’ announcements about recalls as a public service. This one in particular is interesting given that FDA does not currently approve of CBD as a food item or dietary supplement. However, it is in the process of developing regulations that may allow for such marketing.

“Summitt Labs is an inspected and licensed facility under the Florida Department of Food and Agriculture and Consumer Services to produce products containing CBD but the Federal Food and Drug Administration does not consider CBD to be a legal drug or dietary supplement,” FDA said in its notice.

The agency also invited consumers who’ve used the recalled products who are experiencing adverse side effects to submit information through FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program.

CBD might not be recognized as an approved food item or dietary supplement by FDA just yet, but the agency is still monitoring the market for bad actors. It’s said that it is currently targeting companies that make especially outlandish and unsanctioned claims about the therapeutic potential of their cannabis products.

To that end, FDA sent a warning letter to a CBD company owned by a former NFL player after advertisements it displayed suggested its products could treat and prevent a coronavirus infection.

FDA has previously issued warnings to other CBD companies that have made unsubstantiated claims about the therapeutic potential of their products.

Including Marijuana Banking In Coronavirus Bill Protects Public Health, Sponsor Says Ahead Of House Vote

Photo by Kimzy Nanney.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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