One day after federal financial regulators issued guidance relaxing requirements for banks doing business with hemp companies, Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) called for further input on how financial institutions can work with the industry—particularly when it comes to credit card processing.
“I have heard from Kentucky bankers about this. They welcome this guidance, and it will go a long way to help the hemp industry thrive,” Barr said on Wednesday at a House Financial Services Committee hearing.
But after thanking witnesses—including Federal Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC) Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams and National Credit Union Association (NCUA) Chairman Rodney Hood—he reminded them that there is still much work to be done to give hemp businesses fair access to financial services.
Specifically, Barr called credit card processing services for Kentucky hemp companies “unreliable” and “unavailable” while pointing out that Tuesday’s hemp banking memo failed to clearly address the problem.
“I’ve read the guidance closely, as you can tell, and I didn’t see that in there,” Barr said. “That’s the financial service that has really been unreliable and spotty, so if you need to update that guidance to give more clarity to card processing businesses, that might be in order.”
It represents an understanding by our federal regulators that hemp is a LEGAL product.
— Rep. Andy Barr (@RepAndyBarr) December 4, 2019
McWilliams replied that her agency would “certainly take a look” at the issue and offered that “to the extent that we need to do additional explaining, we are more than happy to engage in that process.”
In response, Barr reminded her of the broader goals of congressional action to legalize hemp products under the 2018 Farm Bill.
“Congressional intent is not only that the regulators confirm the legality of industrial hemp and hemp related retailers under the Farm bill, but that those retailers and merchants can use card processing services to sell the product itself,” he said.
Watch Barr press federal regulators on hemp business credit card processing below:
This isn’t the first time Barr has raised the issued of hemp businesses’ ability to accept payments with cards.
“I’ve had constituent businesses tell me that their access to financial products, specifically card services, have actually deteriorated since we descheduled industrial hemp in the Farm Bill,” he said at an earlier hearing in May. “This obviously conflicts with congressional intent.”
The congressman’s questions and comments at the most recent hearing are emblematic of a larger bipartisan push to provide updated regulations to the hemp industry and banks that work with it.
Most notably, the House overwhelmingly approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in September. The legislation would protect banks and credit unions from being penalized by federal regulators for working with marijuana businesses, and Barr added an amendment clarifying that the protections also apply to hemp companies.
However, the vote came later than some observers expected, which may help explain why the growth in the number of financial institutions working with cannabis companies seems to have slowed down in the prior quarter of the fiscal year.
NCUA’s Hood, whose agency’s earlier hemp guidance released in August was among the first federal clarifications on the issue after the Farm Bill became law, testified on Wednesday about the steps NCUA is taking to open up access to financial services for companies in the industry.
“We are continuing to work with the industry to provide training to our examiners,” Hood said. “We will now be working with the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and other related parties to ensure that we get it right. We will be hosting a series of roundtables to gain insights from entities around best practices.”
In submitted testimony, he wrote that NCUA expects “to continue updating the credit union community now that the USDA has published its interim final rule [for hemp]” and said the agency has “received interest from credit unions eager to know the rules of the road for serving hemp-related businesses in their communities, and we want to make sure those credit unions have what they need to make informed decisions in this area.”
Jospeh Otting, comptroller of the currency, also discussed the latest guidance from federal regulators in testimony he submitted to the panel, writing that the joint statement from federal regulators “provides clarity regarding the legal status of commercial growth and production of hemp and relevant requirements for banks.”
Also discussed at the hearing was NCUA’s recent regulatory action on employment at credit unions by people with criminal records. Initially proposed by the agency in July, the move to allow participation by people convicted of minor offenses like simple drug possession was officially enacted by this week.
Asked by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) “what are you doing, and what can Congress do” to assist in the advancement of the so-called “second chance” decision, Hood responded that NCUA “recognized that individuals who have committed nonviolent criminal offenses who have paid their debts to society should have opportunities to work in federal credit unions.”
SECOND CHANCE: I am glad my @theNCUA Board colleagues and I approved the final second chance rule today. This rule is more than just about regulatory relief. It is simply the right thing to do. See my full statement here: https://t.co/JV5neDqbFi pic.twitter.com/bYCnaHH6fx
— Rodney E. Hood (@Rodney_e_hood) November 21, 2019
McWilliams called the second chance decision an “important social justice issue” and said FDIC is currently seeking input on how best to move forward. “I personally believe we can go a long way to enabling those individuals to re-enter the workforce,” she said.
Watch lawmakers and regulators discuss financial services employment by people with prior convictions below:
Outside of the House Financial Services panel, several lawmakers on Capitol Hill have recently pushed to make business easier for hemp companies.
Last week, for example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on USDA to extend its public comment period for proposed hemp regulations. And in October, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter to USDA asking for five specific changes in the rules.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Company Gets Trademark For The Word ‘Psilocybin,’ Frustrating Decriminalization Advocates
As psychedelics reform efforts pick up across the U.S., there’s an increasing weariness among advocates about the potential corporatization that may follow.
That’s why many found it alarming when a California-based company announced on Thursday that it had successfully trademarked the word “psilocybin,” the main psychoactive constituent of so-called magic mushrooms.
Psilocybin™ is a brand of chocolates that do not contain the psychedelic itself but are meant to “begin educating, enlightening and supporting the community in upgrading their inner vibrations in order to get everything they want of their time here on earth,” according to a mission statement.
Soon after founder Scarlet Ravin shared news of the trademark on LinkedIn, advocates raised questions and concerns: What does that mean on a practical level for other psilocybin organizations? Why should one brand get exclusive rights (to a certain legal extent) to the scientific name of a natural substance?
The reality of this particular trademark is more nuanced than it might appear at first glance. While it’s true that the company was granted the distinction by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it’s specifically for educational materials and it’s listed on the supplemental register, rather than the principal register, which means it would be incumbent upon the brand to prove that it has earned distinctiveness of the mark if the issue went to court.
“It’s certainly good for her business to have that mark, but I think at the end of the day, it’s going to be somewhat weak,” Larry Sandell, an intellectual property attorney at Mei & Mark LLP, told Marijuana Moment. He added that this example is “indicative that people are trying to stake early claims to IP.”
“Even if they might be somewhat overreaching, people see a potential new market here and they want to stake out their ground,” he said. “It’s a big next space that people are anticipating a legal market. Maybe it’s where cannabis was five to 10 years ago.”
Despite those legal limitations, reform advocates view the trademark as emblematic of a bigger issue—that someone would presume to take ownership of a substance that’s at the center of a national debate on whether or not to criminalize individuals for using it.
Kevin Matthews, who led the successful campaign to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in Denver last year and is the founder of the national psychedelics advocacy group SPORE, told Marijuana Moment that he didn’t doubt Ravin had the right intentions—to promote education into the substance—but he said the decision to trademark is nonetheless questionable.
“This being an open-source movement, trademarking the word psilocybin, in some ways it feels like—although I don’t think this is her intention—it’s lacking perspective,” he said. “Does that mean we can’t use psilocybin as SPORE because we’re an educational non-profit and she’s a for-profit branded company? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. She needs to let go of the trademark.”
Ravin said that her goal in trademarking psilocybin was to prevent the substance from being becoming the next cannabis, which she said has been corrupted from its “true spiritual, medicinal benefit” and turned into a corporate commodity.
“Knowing that psilocybin is going to be next [to be legalized] I feel strongly guided by the deepest part of my heart to really offer a sense of education of what could be when you take such a strong, beautiful medicine and to give people an education platform here and now to let them know what’s coming, how to receive it, how to get the most benefit from,” she told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview.
“We paved the way for this being a medicinal offering and not a consumer, recreational shitshow. That was our intention,” Ravin said. “The only way that we are going to have access to mainstream consumers is by having some sort of trademark on the word so that we can use it for something that’s not what it actually is.”
“With this being something that we can now put into market with a box of chocolates that has no psilocybin in it, but as you can already see, it creates a platform for discussion of what the beauty of this plant can do,” she said. “Me and my movement and my team, we don’t own the word. We’re not going to ever sue anyone who also uses the word—we’re opening a doorway for ourselves and anyone that wants to see this educated upon so that we can hit people who are unfamiliar with it now with downloads to actually have this be a safe, successful psychedelic transition.”
Asked to react to criticism about the trademark from advocates, Ravin said “we’re all here to follow spirit guidance to show love and light, and the visions I had of doing what we’re doing now was based upon breaking boundaries and breaking perceptions and allowing people to have an opportunity to sink into being one unit.”
“Yeah, it might be coming out, we might be using the platform of psilocybin. We can use any platform to do this,” she said. “We can use any platform to come together as a whole, and the longer that people sit in duality and say, ‘oh now she’s going to have a stronger voice than me is just looking at something not through their heart,’ it’s looking at it through ego and judgement.”
“The more that we describe what we’re doing, the more people I think will start to feel our unity and we’ll be able to move together as a stronger force than pointing fingers and trying to separate one another,” she said. “Those days are done.”
Ravin said that once the Psilocybin™ chocolates are ready for market, she plans to contribute 10 percent of profits to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is involved in researching therapeutic benefits of psychedelic substances.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.
China Must Import More Hemp From U.S. Under New Trade Deal
After years of being one of the United States’s main sources of hemp imports, China will now be required to buy a lot more of the non-intoxicating cannabis crop from the U.S. under a new trade deal.
Hemp, which was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, is one of a long list of agricultural products that China agreed to import on a larger scale over the next two years as part of an international trade agreement that was signed on Wednesday.
“The Parties acknowledge that trade and economic structural changes resulting from this Agreement and from other actions being taken by China to open up its economy and improve its trade regime should lead to improved trade flows, including significant increases in exports of goods and services to China by the United States and other countries,” the accord says.
“The Parties believe that expanding trade is conducive to the improvement of their bilateral trade relationship, the optimal allocation of resources, economic restructuring, and sustainable economic development, given the high degree of complementarity in trade between them. The Parties recognize that the United States produces and can supply high-quality, competitively priced goods and services, while China needs to increase the importation of quality and affordable goods and services to satisfy the increasing demand from Chinese consumers.”
While the deal didn’t specify just how much more hemp China will be importing, the document states that the country must spend at least $12.5 billion more than it did in 2017 on more than 200 agricultural commodities, including the cannabis plant, for calendar year 2020. The following year, it must spend at least $19.5 billion more.
Included in the deal is a particular form of cannabis, which is referred to as “true hemp” in the document.
“True hemp (cannabis sativa l.), raw or processed but not spun; tow and waste of true hemp (including yarn waste and garnetted stock),” the description of the item states.
Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment that hemp’s inclusion in the trade deal is a “really good development.”
“The fact that China would be importing our hemp and would be giving a new market for American farmers is pretty exciting,” he said, referring to the fact that the U.S. has historically imported the crop from China and that it has sometimes been criticized as being of inferior quality.
While cannabis has been cultivated in China for thousands of years, the country has only recently begun expanding the industry domestically. Part of the delay has to do with strict anti-drug laws, but as the legalization has spread internationally, more businesses are getting into the hemp, and particularly CBD, market.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the hemp industry has exploded, with bipartisan lawmakers working with regulators to ensure that hemp farmers have access to the resources they need to expand and meet booming consumer demand for CBD products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently finalizing its regulations for the crop after releasing an interim final rule last year.
USDA clarified in guidance last year that hemp plants and seeds are able to be imported from other countries. In 2018, the U.S. imported about $3.3 million in hemp from China, according to Hemp Industry Daily.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Coca-Cola Denies CBD Beverage Rumor Spurred By Video
Coca-Cola denied that it has plans to enter the CBD market in a statement to Marijuana Moment on Thursday.
The comment comes after a man who said he obtained a prototype of a childproof can of Coke claimed to have insider knowledge of the soda company’s intent to launch a line of CBD-infused drinks in partnership with the Canadian cannabis company Aurora.
In a video shared on YouTube on Wednesday, the individual, who goes by Gabor the Blind Guy, said his father is an engineer for a company that “produces bottling and capping machines” for pharmaceutical and food businesses.
“Recently he was approached by Coca-Cola in Canada to design a machine that puts a childproof cap on cans of Coca-Cola,” he said. “In Canada, Coca-Cola is coming out with a new line of Coca-Cola that contains CBD extracts—pretty much cannabis-based drugs.”
“Obviously, they don’t want little kids popping open those cans and drinking them…so my dad was tasked with designing a cap that will prevent little kids from opening these cans of CBD Coca-Cola,” he said.
The description of the video on YouTube mentioned the alleged partnership with Aurora.
Watch a mirrored version of the now-deleted YouTube video below:
But on Thursday, a media relations officer for Coca-Cola told Marijuana Moment that the “rumors are untrue.”
“As we have stated many times, we have no plans to enter the CBD market.”
Gabor claimed that his father gave him a prototype of a non-CBD can with the cap he designed because he wanted to see if a blind person could open it. The video led some to speculate that he inadvertently disclosed confidential information that could be in violation of a non-disclosure agreement.
On Reddit, users questioned whether the video was authentic. Some wondered if the claim was an attempt to boost Aurora’s stock. However, marijuana wasn’t a main focus of Gabor’s YouTube prior videos posted over a period of years.
Marijuana Moment also reached out to Aurora for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
This isn’t the first time that people have speculated about Coca-Cola’s potential interest in entering the cannabis space. Bloomberg reported last year that the company was monitoring the industry but hadn’t made any decisions yet.
Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey has said on several occasions that the company isn’t planning to get involved in the cannabis market.
“There’s been no change in my position, which is: there’s nothing happening,” he said in July.
“We want to sell drinks that people can drink each day. So it’s not like you have something once,” he told CNBC last year. “You have one a day. And if you can’t cross [off] those three things of legal, safe and consumable, it’s not an ingredient that’s going to work for us.”
— CNBC (@CNBC) October 30, 2018
Also in a statement last year, Coca-Cola said the company has “no interest in marijuana or cannabis.”
“Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world,” the statement read. “The space is evolving quickly. No decisions have been made at this time.”
With respect to prior rumors about talks specifically between Coca-Cola and Aurora, the soda company declined to comment when previously pressed. Aurora said in a statement that it had “no agreement, understanding or arrangement with respect to any partnership with a beverage company.”
Image via Gabor the Blind Guy.