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Feds May Remove Marijuana Banking Protections, Treasury Department Says

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The Trump administration is currently considering removing Obama-era guidance that has allowed banks to open accounts for marijuana businesses without fear of running afoul of federal regulators.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a broader policy from the former administration that has generally cleared the way for states to implement their own cannabis laws without Justice Department interference.

Now, the federal government may move to make it harder for cannabis industry operators who comply with state laws to store their profits with financial institutions.

“We are reviewing the [banking] guidance in light of the Attorney General’s announcement and are consulting with law enforcement,” Drew Maloney, the U.S. Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs, wrote in a letter to members of Congress on Wednesday.

The letter is a response to a bipartisan group of 31 House members that had written the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) last month asking the agency to continue the cannabis banking guidance. Fifteen senators separately sent a similar letter.

The FinCEN document, issued in 2014, laid out a process for how banks can open accounts for marijuana businesses and avoid triggering federal enforcement actions.

“FinCEN’s stated priorities have allowed such businesses to conduct commerce more safely through financial institutions which reduces the use of all cash, improves public safety, and reduces fraud,” the House lawmakers wrote in their letter. “Leaving your guidance unchanged will continue to encourage small companies to make investments by freeing up access to capital. It will also further provide for well regulation and oversight through suspicious activity reports. Rescinding this guidance would inject uncertainty in the financial markets.”

Last month, Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department’s deputy secretary, testified at a Senate hearing that the banking memo is still in effect while the Trump administration weighs whether to revoke it.

Similarly, Maloney wrote on Wednesday that guidance “remains in place” for now, pledging to alert lawmakers to any changes.

The FinCEN policy, which requires financial institutions to regularly file reports on their cannabis customers, was intended to provide clarity and assurances to banks, but many have remained reluctant to work with marijuana businesses because of overarching federal prohibition laws.

Nonetheless, documents released by FinCEN late last year showed that the number of banks willing to work with the marijuana industry has steadily grown over time, though those figures were collected prior to Sessions’s move to revoke the broader Justice Department guidance.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Feds Warn More CBD Companies Over Health Claims

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent letters on Tuesday ordering three companies to stop making unfounded health claims about their CBD products.

“It is illegal to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease without competent and reliable scientific evidence to support such claims,” FTC said in a press release about the action.

Though the agency did not name the three companies that received letters, it described their claims.

One firm said on its website that CBD “works like magic” to relieve “even the most agonizing pain” and has been “clinically proven” to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, cigarette addiction and colitis.

Another company claimed CBD is a “miracle pain remedy” that can also treat treat autism, anorexia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), stroke, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and AIDS.

A third CBD provider sold cannabidiol-infused gummies that it said can treat “the root cause of most major degenerative diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, fibromyalgia, cancer, asthma, and a wide spectrum of autoimmune disorders,” according to FTC.

The agency is directing the companies to reply within 15 days with information about steps they have taken to address potential violations of the law, which could lead to injunctions and orders to refund money to consumers.

The latest actions follow several other steps the federal government has taken to push back on marketplace claims about CBD.

In March, FTC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) teamed up to send a previous round of letters to three companies for potentially making false or unsubstantiated health claims about their CBD products. In July, FDA issued a warning letter to Curaleaf Inc. about what the agency said were “unsubstantiated claims” the company made about cannabidiol products on its website.

Hemp and its derivatives, including CBD, were legalized under the Farm Bill that was enacted late last year but FDA has not yet created a process to approve the use of the compound in food products or dietary supplements.

Preliminary research has indicated that CBD has the potential to help people struggling with substance use disorders involving alcohol, opioids and stimulants, but to date it has only been federally approved to treat severe seizure disorders in the form of the prescription medication Epidiolex.

“Before making claims about purported health effects of CBD products, advertisers need sound science to support their statements,” FTC wrote in a blog post. “The takeaway tip for anyone in the industry is that established FTC substantiation standards apply when advertisers make health-related representations for CBD products.”

A separate FTC consumer advisory urges people to “talk with your doctor before you try a healthcare product you find online” and “find out about the product’s risks, side effects, and possible interactions with any medications you’re taking.”

This piece was first published by Forbes.

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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Colorado Sold Twice As Much Recreational Marijuana As Medical Cannabis Last Year

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The share of legal marijuana sales in Colorado that came from the recreational market in 2018 significantly outpaced those from the medical market, according to an annual government report released on Monday.

In fact, there were about two times as many adult-use sales of flower compared to medical cannabis purchases—a new milestone for the state.

Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) said that 288,292 pounds of bud were sold last year for recreational purposes, while 147,863 pounds were sold to medical marijuana patients. For comparison, in 2017, recreational consumers purchased 238,149 pounds and 172,994 pounds were sold to patients.

That means the recreational-medical gap increased 73 percent in one year.

Via MED.

Overall, 436,155 pounds of cannabis were sold in 2018, compared to 411,143 pounds in 2017.

In part, the trend can be attributed to the ongoing expansion of Colorado’s adult-use cannabis market since the state’s first recreational shops opened in 2014. Medical cannabis sales were notably higher than recreational sales in that first year of implementation, with just 38,660 pounds coming from the adult-use market and 109,578 pounds being sold to medical patients.

Medical and adult-use sales were roughly even in 2016. But by 2017, recreational sales accounted for 58 percent of the market. And last year, they represented 66 percent of the market.

MED also found that licenses for recreational marijuana facilities increased by three percent (47 licenses) while medical business licenses declined by eight percent (77 licenses).

Via MED.

“Data collection continues to be a priority at the MED,” Jim Burack, director of the program, said in a press release. “This ongoing analysis and compilation of industry information helps inform the public and contributes to our outreach efforts to stakeholders.”

The report also showed that the adult-use market is the primary destination for individuals purchasing edibles. Eighty-six percent of edible sales came from recreational consumers. And from July-December 2018, 75 percent of cannabis plants were cultivated for adult use.

The market shift isn’t unique to Colorado. An Associated Press analysis from June detailed how states across the country that have established recreational marijuana programs are seeing the number of medical patients decline as more consumers transition to the adult-use market.

That may be partially explained by individuals who sought out medical cannabis recommendations choosing not to renew their registration after recreational marijuana shops became available. To that point, a recent study found that many customers at recreational dispensaries are consuming cannabis for the same reasons that registered patients do, such as to alleviate pain and sleep issues.

The concern for some advocates, however, is that adult-use legalization could drive up prices for patients, or leave them with fewer product options tailored to therapeutic use as demand for high-THC products increases.

“When states pass adult-use legalization we are seeing many patients leave the strict controls of the medical programs,” David Mangone, director of government affairs at Americans for Safe Access, told Marijuana Moment. “Patients must already pay out of pocket for cannabis, and any added cost like a registration fee for a medical card or renewal can make the process of obtaining medicine extremely burdensome and costly.”

“States like Colorado must continue to provide adequate benefits to patients to ensure the medical program remains robust,” he said.

Mangone added that “as states pass adult-use programs it is important that they continue to understand and appreciate the needs of patients.”

“A common frustration for many is not what happens in terms of access to cannabis, but rather what happens in terms of access to specific products. Products and flower with a high-THC content have a wider market appeal, but may not necessarily benefit the existing medical market.”

That said, one interesting finding from this latest MED report is that medical and recreational consumers alike seem increasingly interested in concentrates, with the units of such products sold to both nearly doubling from 2017 to 2018. Concentrates are sold at a much higher rate in the adult-use market, but the potent products evidently have growing appeal across the board.

Gov. Jared Polis (D) recently celebrated tax earnings from marijuana sales, touting the fact that the state has amassed more than $1 billion in cannabis revenue that has been allocated to various social programs.

And the marijuana market is continuing to evolve in state. Polis signed legislation in May allowing for home deliveries of cannabis products as well as social consumption sites.

The governor said last month at a conference with governors from around the country that the new delivery law could help mitigate impaired driving.

After Legalizing Marijuana, Colorado Saw ‘Significant Decrease’ In Opioid Prescriptions, Study Finds

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

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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Credit Unions Won’t Be Punished For Working With Marijuana Businesses, Federal Regulator Says

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Regulators won’t punish credit unions simply for working with marijuana businesses that are operating in compliance with state laws, the head of the federal agency that oversees the financial services providers said in a new interview.

National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) Chairman Rodney Hood also suggested that Congress could entirely resolve banking issues in the cannabis industry by federally descheduling marijuana.

“It’s a business decision for the credit unions if they want to take the deposits,” Hood told Credit Union Times, adding that the financial institutions must follow existing federal guidance and ensure that the businesses they choose to service are not violating anti-money laundering laws or other rules.

“We don’t get involved with micro-managing credit unions,” he said.

While the comments don’t signify a new shift in policy, and don’t take into account the fact that the Justice Department still maintains authority to potentially prosecute credit unions that allegedly violate the law by banking marijuana proceeds, they are the latest indication of a growing consensus that federal action is needed to clarify the situation.

Uncertainty around banking in the state-legal marijuana market has been a hot topic in the 116th Congress.

Legislation that would shield banks and credit unions that take on cannabis clients from being penalized by federal regulators was approved by the House Financial Services Committee in March, and the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on the bill last month. That panel’s chair, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), said last week that he agrees a solution for the industry is necessary.

Though the NCUA head didn’t endorse specific legislation to give credit unions peace of mind when dealing with cannabis businesses, he did float the idea of descheduling marijuana as one way to provide unambiguous clarity for financial institutions.

“Hood said that Congress could remove all ambiguity if it enacted legislation to declassify marijuana,” the trade publication reported after its interview with the official.

Separately, the independent federal agency recently took one proactive step toward reforming policy partly in response to state-level legalization efforts. In a notice published in the Federal Register last week, NCUA proposed changing its rules so that individuals with prior low-level drug convictions would be allowed to work at credit unions.

Though bank and credit union representatives are calling for enhanced clarity when it comes to cannabis banking, more financial institutions do seem willing to take the risk anyway, with federal data showing a notable uptick in the number of marijuana-servicing banks in the last quarter.

Federal Agency Proposes Letting People With Drug Convictions Work At Credit Unions

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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