As Congress scrambles to reach a consensus on how to help Americans caught in the financial fallout of COVID-19, a coalition of marijuana industry trade groups is urging federal lawmakers not to forget about the hundreds of thousands of workers in state-legal cannabis industries.
Legal marijuana now employs an estimated 240,000 people in the U.S. but, because cannabis remains federally illegal, marijuana businesses remain cut off from nearly all benefits at the federal level, including emergency relief funds.
In a letter sent Friday to leaders of the House and Senate, major cannabis industry associations called on lawmakers to remove those restriction and ensure that state-legal cannabis businesses can qualify for assistance.
“Our members follow strict regulations, create jobs, generate billions of dollars in tax revenue—including federal corporate tax revenue—and act as good corporate citizens,” the groups said. “Yet it appears as if these businesses will not be eligible for the same loans available to other businesses in this country at risk due to the global pandemic.”
The letter was sent jointly by the National Cannabis Industry Association, National Cannabis Roundtable, Minority Cannabis Business Association, Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce and Cannabis Trade Federation.
“The ineligibility of cannabis businesses for disaster assistance loans is especially inequitable given that these same cannabis businesses are required to comply with other coronavirus-related measures, such as paid sick leave coverage,” the organizations wrote. “We are not seeking special treatment for state-legal cannabis businesses. We only seek to have them treated on an equal level as all other job-generating, tax-paying companies in this country.”
In a separate announcement on Friday, the nonprofit group NORML said in a blog post that the organization has been reaching out “to our numerous allies on Capitol Hill” to ensure that “discriminatory practices do not apply to those in the industry seeking unemployment benefits [for cannabis workers] during these uncertain times.”
“Given the tremendous amount of uncertainty in the broader economy,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said in a statement, “the hundreds of thousands of American workers who are employed by the state-legal marijuana industry must be respected and protected by the emergency actions being taken by elected officials.”
Cannabis Workers, Unemployment Insurance, and the Small Business Administration: What You Need to Know https://t.co/Tt2y2ovVHg
— NORML (@NORML) March 20, 2020
Programs already in place should extend at least some benefits to marijuana workers, NORML said in the post. In addition to workers qualifying for state-level unemployment benefits, the cannabis industry could see help from the congressional Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
The act, signed into law this week, directs federal funds to state governments to help with COVID-19 efforts. NORML said that after conferring with experts, it believes the act “provides the individual states with the authority to decide for themselves which industries are legally eligible to receive benefits.”
But unless lawmakers amend current rules, state-legal cannabis companies won’t receive a dime of disaster relief aid provided by the federal government to other small businesses. The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) is prohibited from providing financial assistance to industries that are illegal under federal law.
NORML said that it “will continue to work with our federal allies to call for an end for such discriminatory practices against the cannabis industry and those whose livelihoods depend upon it.”
One way to address the issue, NORML said, would be to pass pending legislation introduced last year by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), who chairs the House Small Business Committee. The bill, H.R. 3540, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and prohibit SBA from denying services to marijuana-related businesses.
That legislation was introduced just days after federal lawmakers heard about challenges facing small cannabis businesses at a hearing. Language from the bill was later included in the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last year.
“Now is not the time for Congress to think small,” Strekal, of NORML, urged as lawmakers continued debating how to best address the crisis. “Including Chairwoman Velazquez’s proposal to have the SBA support small cannabis businesses would protect both American jobs and the consumers that they serve.”
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic is also impacting drug policy reform efforts across the country. Lawmakers in New York have said in recent days that the effort to legalize marijuana for adults may be delayed due to coronavirus. Ballot initiative campaigns in California and Washington, D.C., have asked local officials for permission to gather signatures online. And in Nebraska, activists pushing to legalize medical marijuana in the state have announced they’ve temporarily suspended their signature gathering campaign.
“We look forward to the opportunity to get back out there to help Nebraskans create meaningful change for each other,” Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana posted to Facebook on Thursday, “and we wish you and your loved ones health and peace of mind.”
Read the cannabis industry letter to congressional leaders below:
Marijuana Legalization Increases Home Property Values, New Study Finds
There are plenty of marijuana NIMBYs out there, but a new study found that cannabis legalization and the presence of dispensaries actually increases home property values.
The research from Clever Real Estate draws on data from Zillow, the U.S. Census and other sources. A main takeaway is that from 2017 to 2019, “home values increased $6,338 more in states where marijuana is legal in some form, compared to states that haven’t legalized marijuana.”
Part of the reason for the increased value is that legalizing and regulating cannabis means tax revenue for states. And that revenue translates into “new investment in things such as public services and infrastructure,” the company found, driving up property value.
For every $1 million in additional tax revenue from marijuana sales, home values increase by $470, according to the study.
Take Illinois as a case in point. Last year, the state sold about $670 million in cannabis and took in $205.4 million in tax revenue. And that revenue has gone towards a wide range of causes such as supporting organizations that work to decrease street violence. If successful, reducing violence in a given community would be one simple way to increase property value.
The Clever Real Estate study also found that states that legalize for adult use see the greatest gains in home value.
“Between April 2017 and April 2021, property values rose $17,113 more in states where recreational marijuana is legal, compared to states where marijuana is illegal or limited to medicinal use,” it said. And for the states that have enacted legalization but where sales have yet to start, “home values are predicted to increase by an average of $61,343.”
The presence of cannabis dispensaries nearby also seems to be correlated with an increase in home value.
“Home values increased $22,090 more in cities with recreational dispensaries, compared to home values in cities where recreational marijuana is legal but dispensaries are not available,” the study says. “With each new dispensary a city adds, property values increase by $519.”
“When we controlled for other factors, we found that home values in areas that have legalized recreational marijuana leapt by $17,113 more than places where marijuana is illegal or only allowed for medicinal use. Even when we limited the comparison to recreational versus medicinal legalization, this disparity persisted. Places that legalize recreational marijuana saw home values increase by $15,129 more than those that only legalized medicinal use.”
Last year, a separate analysis from economists at the University of Oklahoma similarly found that states that legalize marijuana actually see a boost in housing prices, with the effect most pronounced once nearby retail outlets open for business.
“This demonstrates that [it is] not simply the benefits of increased tax revenue, but also the existence of the dispensaries themselves, that is driving the price increases,” the researchers found. “The dispensaries act as commercial amenities that the public puts a premium on being nearby.”
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Missouri Governor Vetoes Medical Marijuana Tax Deduction Bill
The measure, if enacted, would not have changed the federal 280E provision that remains in effect against cannabis businesses.
By Jason Hancock, Missouri Independent
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) vetoed legislation Friday that would have lifted a prohibition on licensed medical marijuana companies deducting business expenses on their taxes.
In his letter vetoing the measure, Parson didn’t mention the medical marijuana provisions. He said his decision to reject the bill came down to a section lawmakers included that would have provided tax relief for businesses impacted by city-wide or county-wide public health restrictions.
Parson said those provisions would have created “significant unintended consequences that could greatly harm localities.”
In vetoing the bill, however, the medical marijuana provision was also struck down.
Missourians voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2018. But under federal law, growing, transporting or selling marijuana remains a crime.
Because of this dynamic, marijuana companies differ from every other legal business in the state because they can’t deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses on their tax returns.
While federal law remains unchanged, the legislation approved nearly unanimously in both the House and Senate would have changed that for state taxes.
David Smith, a certified public accountant from St. Louis County who works with numerous medical marijuana companies, said during a Senate hearing earlier this year that Missouri’s existing law could mean an effective tax rate for those businesses of 70 percent or higher.
“Some companies may even be subject to income taxes while operating at a loss,” Smith said.
Andrew Mullins, executive director of MoCannTrade, said it was “both common sense and smart public policy to put medical cannabis businesses on a level playing field with all others that pay state business taxes.”
“While disappointed in the veto, we remain encouraged by the overwhelming bipartisan support for a measure of basic tax fairness that received near-unanimous votes in both the state House and Senate,” Mullins said in a statement to The Independent. “As our state’s newest industry continues to create thousands of new jobs and generate tens of millions in new spending each month, we look forward to again passing this policy change and seeing it signed into law.”
Another casualty of the veto was a provision providing sales tax exemptions for certain cancer treatment devices. Parson wrote in his veto letter that he supports this tax deduction and hopes lawmakers will pass it again next year.
First Full-Service Marijuana Delivery App Launches On Apple Store Following Policy Change
Apple has long restricted marijuana companies from conducting business on its app store. But following a recent policy change, the cannabis delivery service Eaze on Thursday announced that consumers can now shop and pay for marijuana products on its iPhone app for the first time.
This marks a “major milestone for the legal cannabis market and consumers,” Eaze said in a press release. “The Eaze app allows customers to complete all aspects of delivery seamlessly: registration, ID verification, product selection, payment, and receipt to the doorstep.”
Previously, people buying marijuana through the nation’s largest cannabis delivery service had to leave the prior version of the app and submit orders through a less-convenient mobile version of the company’s web page. The Apple policy change means the service is streamlined, and it represents a significant development in the evolving relationship between Big Tech and the marijuana industry.
“Eaze has always been about using the latest developments in technology to make shopping for legal cannabis more accessible,” CEO Rogelio Choy said. “It’s hard to overstate how important this is to our company and the industry. It’s deeply gratifying to launch the Apple Store’s first fully-functional cannabis delivery app, making it even easier for our two million registered customers to legally consume.”
In contrast to Apple, Google’s Android app hub updated its policy in 2019 to explicitly prohibit programs that connect users with cannabis, no matter whether it is legal in the jurisdiction where the user lives.
“We don’t allow apps that facilitate the sale of marijuana or marijuana products, regardless of legality,” it says, adding that some examples of violations would be “allowing users to order marijuana through an in-app shopping cart feature” or “assisting users in arranging delivery or pick up of marijuana.”
It also says that “facilitating the sale of products containing THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), including products such as CBD oils containing THC” is against its policies.
Eaze Distinguished Engineer CJ Silverio said that the “flexibility and depth of our technical team allowed us to respond immediately to the changes in Apple’s policy, and create an app that offers our customers the ideal experience for cannabis delivery.”
Chris Vaughn, CEO of the California delivery service Emjay, previously told WeedWeek that he believes Apple’s decision was informed by the continuing legalization movement in states like New York, as well as Amazon’s recent announcement that it will no longer be drug testing workers for cannabis in addition to lobbying for a federal legalization bill. He added that he thinks Google will “follow quickly” to update its own policies.
The tech industry has had a strained relationship with the marijuana industry, even as a growing number of states have decided to legalize and regulate the sale of cannabis.
Facebook, which in 2019 showed off its artificial intelligence technology that’s capable of identifying images of marijuana, continues to prohibit the commercial advertising of cannabis products, regardless of the legality of the business under state law.
Noncommercial cannabis news sites such as Marijuana Moment and state regulatory bodies like the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission have also been caught up in the anti-marijuana policy despite the fact that they do not promote or sell cannabis products. In some cases, it appears these organizations have been hidden from appearing in search results—a practice known as “shadowbanning.”
Despite marijuana firms being banned from Google’s app market, some of the company’s top officials seem pretty bullish about loosening cannabis laws. Google co-founder Sergey Brin joked about supplying employees with joints at a post-election meeting in 2016.
“I was asking if we could serve joints outside on the patio, but apparently these things take a little while to take effect,” Brin said, referring to the implementation of California’s cannabis legalization measure. “It was a huge, huge disappointment. I’ve been bemoaning that all week, I’ll be honest with you.”
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.