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More Banks Welcome Marijuana Business Accounts, New Federal Report Shows

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The number of banking institutions that are actively servicing accounts for marijuana businesses has grown by nearly 20 percent since the beginning of the year, according to newly released federal data.

As of the end of September, there were 375 banks and 111 credit unions maintaining financial services for cannabis businesses, according to a report published this month by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

It is the latest in a series of quarterly updates the agency has issued, which together have shown steady growth in the number of financial services providers that are willing to work with the cannabis industry despite its continued federal illegality.

FinCEN

The new data comes as marijuana reform continues its political ascendancy. During this month’s midterm elections, Michigan voters approved marijuana legalization and those in Missouri and Utah passed medical cannabis measures. Several new pro-legalization governors are set to take office in January. And Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where cannabis legislation is expected to be more seriously considered in 2019 than it has been over the past several years. One of the most-sought reforms by marijuana businesses is greater clarity on their ability to access banks.

In 2014, under the Obama administration, FinCEN issued guidance to banks about how to serve the marijuana industry without running afoul of federal regulators. The memo, which requires financial services providers to regularly file reports on customers with cannabis accounts, was meant to provide assurances to banks. But many have remained reluctant to work with marijuana businesses because ongoing federal cannabis prohibition could trigger money laundering laws and other risks.

In October, the American Bankers Association began surveying its members about the issues they face in serving cannabis businesses.

“We believe the time has come for Congress and the regulatory agencies to provide greater legal clarity to banks operating in states where cannabis has been legalized for medical or adult use,” a spokesperson for the organization said at the time.

“The [marijuana banking] reporting structure laid out in the 2014 guidance remains in place,” the new FinCEN report, which was first spotted by Cannabis Wire, says. “FinCEN will continue to work closely with law enforcement and the financial sector to combat illicit finance, and we will notify the financial sector of any changes to FinCEN’s” cannabis reporting procedures.

When then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved in January to rescind separate Obama-era guidance that generally protected state marijuana laws from federal interference, industry participants feared that it would spook major businesses like banks from associating with cannabis operators.

The new FinCEN data showing steady growth in the number of financial institutions maintaining marijuana industry accounts indicates that those fears were largely unfounded.

Meanwhile, a number of key Trump administration officials have indicated they want to see a clarity on cannabis banking issues.

For example, Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, has suggested in congressional testimony that he wants state-legal marijuana businesses to be able to store their profits in banks.

“I assure you that we don’t want bags of cash,” he told a House committee in February. “We do want to find a solution to make sure that businesses that have large access to cash have a way to get them into a depository institution for it to be safe.”

In a separate hearing he said that resolving marijuana banking issues is at the “top of the list” of his concerns.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in June that the disparity between local and national marijuana laws “puts federally chartered banks in a very difficult situation.”

“It would great if that could be clarified,” he said.

That same month, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams said that while she directed her staff to consider ways to address the issue, the agency’s hands are “somewhat tied” until federal law changes.

Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting said last month that he is “hopeful there’s enough momentum in that direction” toward solving marijuana businesses’ banking access issues and that forcing them to operate in cash is “generally not healthy.”

Pressure is also coming from the states. In August, a coalition of the top financial regulators in 13 states sent a letter demanding Congress take action to protect banks that work with marijuana businesses.

Despite the growing call for clarity on the issue, key committees in the House and Senate rejected amendments this summer that would have prevented federal banking regulators from punishing financial institutions for serving the marijuana industry.

Standalone legislation to provide permanent protections to banks that work with cannabis businesses have garnered increasing numbers of cosponsors in both chambers, though they haven’t been scheduled for hearings or votes.

It remains to be seen whether a Democratic House will move cannabis banking legislation in 2019, and whether the Republican-controlled Senate would go along.

Portions of this story were previously published on 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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California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Saturday that he signed several marijuana-related bills into law—including one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions—but also vetoed another measure that would have allowed some patients to use medical cannabis in health care facilities.

Under a section of current federal law known as 280E, marijuana growers, processors and sellers are unable to deduct expenses from their taxes that businesses in any other sector would be able to write off. Until now, California policy simply mirrored the federal approach.

But under AB 37, the state tax code will depart from Internal Revenue Service policy when it comes to 280E, allowing licensed state cannabis firms to take deductions just like other business.

Newsom, who campaigned for the state’s successful marijuana legalization measure that voters approved in 2016, also signed SB 34, which allows businesses to provide free medical cannabis to low-income patients, and exempts those products from state taxes.

Another bill signed by the governor, SB 153, directs state officials to develop and submit to the U.S. Department of Agriculture an industrial hemp program plan in accordance with the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop and its derivatives—including CBD.

“The California hemp industry looks to become a significant force nationally thanks to” the bill, Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said in a press release.

But Newsom “begrudgingly” vetoed legislation, SB 305, that would have required certain health care facilities to allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis on site.

“This bill would create significant conflicts between federal and state laws that cannot be taken lightly,” the governor wrote in a veto message that suggested facilities would be at risk of losing Medicare and Medicaid funds if they allowed use of federally illegal cannabis.

“It is inconceivable that the federal government continues to regard cannabis as having no medicinal value,” Newsom said, adding that its “ludicrous stance puts patients and those who care for them in an unconscionable position.”

California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said in an email that the group is “disappointed” with the governor’s veto, noting that the legislation had already been watered down from an initial version that covered more than just terminal patients.

“The bill even allowed exemptions in the case that federal agencies ruled or notified the facilities that they were violating the law,” he said.

Other legislation Newsom signed includes measures on marijuana testing laboratories, vape cartridge labeling, appellations and marketing, cultivation canopy sizes, industry labor peace agreements and equity license applicants.

He also signed the appropriately numbered AB 420, which expands cannabis-focused research.

Last week, Newsom signed a bill to allow parents to administer medical cannabis to students at schools.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.

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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Former Congressman Who Fought Marijuana Legalization Joins Cannabis Company Board

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A former GOP congressman with a long track record of opposing marijuana legalization efforts is now cashing in on the legal cannabis industry.

FSD Pharma, a Canadian company that is a licensed producer of “pharmaceutical grade cannabis” through its subsidiary FV Pharma and researches cannabinoid-based therapies, announced on Friday that former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) joined its board of directors. Missing from the press release is mention of his legislative history that includes repeated actions to oppose federal protections for state-level marijuana reforms.

From 1998 to 2000, Buyer cosponsored two resolutions and one bill aimed at condemning legalization and upholding federal prohibition. His opposition extended to limited medical cannabis reforms, too, voting five times from 2003 to 2007 against an amendment to protect state laws and the patients and providers complying with them from federal prosecution.

One of the anti-marijuana resolutions he signed onto passed the House but did not advance in the Senate. As introduced, it characterized cannabis as “both dangerous and addictive” and stated that “Congress is unequivocally opposed to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, and urges the defeat of State initiatives that would seek to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.”

The version that passed, which Buyer voted for, expressed concerns that “ambiguous cultural messages about marijuana use are contributing to a growing acceptance of marijuana use among children and teenagers” and noting that federal authorities can enforce prohibition “through seizure and other civil action, as well as through criminal penalties.”

The separate bill he cosponsored sought to declare state laws that allow cannabis use as “null and void.”

“[I]t is the intent of the Congress to supersede any and all laws of the States and units of local government insofar as they may now or hereafter effectively permit or purport to authorize the use, growing, manufacture, distribution, or importation by an individual or group of marijuana or any controlled substance which differs from the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act or regulations issued  pursuant thereto,” it read.

It’s not quite clear what changed for Buyer, but his appointment to the board of a major marijuana company that has benefitted from the successful reform movement he opposed is sure to raise questions.

In response to Marijuana Moment’s query about what accounted for the former congressman’s evolution on the issue, FSD Pharma President Zeeshan Saeed simply replied, “3M options as all other Directors and $40k cash comp.”

Hours later, Saeed clarified that he intended to send that reply to another journalist.

Raza Bokhari, executive co-chairman and CEO of FSD Pharma, said in a subsequent email that he’s known Buyer for years and believes that while he “remains opposed to recreational use of cannabis,” he “has come to recognize the potential of cannabinoid molecule in drug development targeting auto-immune diseases, especially the role of synthetic cannabinoids and other cannabinoids targeting the endocannibinoid system of the human body.”

The former congressman has been on “a very personal journey, with his wife being plagued with an auto-immune disease that has no cure and others in her family also that suffer from auto-immune diseases,” Bokhari said.

He added that Buyer has personally invested a quarter of a million dollars in the company and compared him to former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who also joined the marijuana industry after opposing cannabis reform while serving in Congress.

In a press release announcing the appointment, Buyer said the “opportunity to participate in FSD’s growth at this stage is exciting” and that he’s “attracted by FSD’s medical research to tame and define the unknown by challenging the edges of medical science to provide relief to people suffering from fibromyalgia and other serious illnesses.”

One industry that the former congressman’s actions did assist while in office and later went on to work for as a lobbyist is Big Tobacco. Buyer raised eyebrows in 2009 when he opposed legislation to regulate the tobacco industry and argued in a House floor speech that a person is just as likely to experience the health consequences of cigarettes if they were to smoke dried lettuce or grass. He insisted that it’s “smoke that kills, not the nicotine.”

Shortly after retiring, Buyer joined tobacco company Reynolds American as a lobbyist and paid consultant.

There have been several reports that noted Buyer’s decision not to run for reelection in 2010 came amid controversy over a foundation he founded. The Frontier Foundation was supposed to provide educational funding for students, but while it raked in tens of thousands from pharmaceutical interests such as Ely Lilly and PhRMA over a three-year period, it reportedly hadn’t distributed a single scholarship.

His retirement came months after USA Today and the Indianapolis Star reported on the foundation’s activities.

But now, Buyer is entering the cannabis space, and the company described his experience in the pharmaceutical industry and Congress as an asset.

“In welcoming Steve Buyer to the FSD Pharma Board of Directors and announcing a share consolidation, the Company has made an immense positive stride forward” FSD Pharma CEO Raza Bokhari said. “Steve’s addition has further strengthened the independence and profile of the FSD Pharma Board of Directors; his broad leadership experience and pharmaceutical industry relationships will help enhance our visibility, especially among U.S. Institutional investors and on U.S. Capitol Hill.”

Buyer also previously served as a special assistant U.S. attorney and an Indiana deputy attorney general.

This story has been updated to include additional comment from FSD Pharma’s CEO. 

Inside Mitch McConnell’s Private Lunch Meeting With The Marijuana Industry

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Inventors File Patent Application For Scratch-And-Sniff Marijuana Packages

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Scratch-and-sniff marijuana packaging could be coming to a dispensary near you.

An application for a patent on the cannabis container concept was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday. In order to comply with state regulations while at the same time ensuring consumers know what they’re buying, the inventors are pitching a secure package that uses non-THC volatiles to produce the scent of the product when a sticker on the exterior is scratched.

The applicants recognized in their filing that there’s an existing patent application for scratch-and-sniff stickers that are meant to identify the flavor of coffee, but argued their idea is distinct because the other application produced the scent of coffee after it’s brewed whereas this sticker would smell like cannabis in its unsmoked form.

“A major hurdle to the purchase of Cannabis is the secure packaging laws of various states,” the application states. “Packaging can often prevent a purchaser from observing certain characteristics of the Cannabis, such as its scent.”

In a summary of the proposal, the applicants said the “general purpose of the present invention is to provide a Cannabis package and method of selection that includes all the advantages of the secure packaging, and overcomes the drawbacks inherent therein.”

Random Vaughn and Jonathan Tanzer via USPTO.

Another advantage of the proposed packaging is to help patients identify medicinal properties of different marijuana varieties, or assess quality, without having to open the product, the applicants, Random Vaughn and Jonathan Tanzer of Olympia, Washington, argued. They said that scent is is important in “selecting Cannabis for medical reasons such as seizures, headaches, or insomnia.”

The application lists two iterations of the concept. The main one would involve a sticker that would be infused with the scent of cannabis. Terpenes, which are non-intoxicating compounds in the plant that give cannabis its smell and taste, would be used to produce the scent.

For the other, the scent wouldn’t correspond with the actual small of the marijuana itself, but instead various flavor notes, which are sometimes used in cannabis marketing to describe the product’s qualities similar to what’s often done with wine. The applicants listed a diverse list of potential smells, including freshly cut grass, bread, vanilla, bacon, fish and chips, a Christmas tree, cinnamon, after shave, shampoo, the seaside, furniture polish and a Sunday roast.

Seth Rogen And Snoop Dogg Offer Marijuana Advice To First-Time Consumers

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