A bipartisan bill that would address banking issues in the marijuana industry was officially filed on Thursday.
The legislation—led by by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Denny Heck (D-WA), Steve Stivers (R-O) and Warren Davidson (R-OH)—would shield financial institutions from being penalized by federal regulators for servicing cannabis and cannabis-adjacent businesses.
The bill, titled the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, explicitly stipulates that proceeds from transactions conducted by marijuana companies “shall not be considered as proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction was conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider.”
Nearly a quarter of the House, 108 members, has signed onto the bill as initial cosponsors, a spokesperson for Perlmutter told Marijuana Moment, and that includes nine Republicans. The last version, introduced in 2017, ended the 115th Congress with 95 cosponsors.
After the first-ever congressional hearing on #cannabis banking, I'm reintroducing the bipartisan #SAFEBanking Act to allow marijuana-related businesses access to the banking system. Congress needs to act to reduce risks for employees, businesses & communities across the country.
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) March 7, 2019
Draft text of the bill was circulated last month ahead of the first marijuana hearing of the 116th Congress, which focused on how providing banking access to the cannabis industry can improve transparency and public safety.
Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can read the full text of the new bill as filed below:
While the prior version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act didn’t advance to votes in the last Congress, advocates are optimistic about the prospect of actually passing the reform legislation this session.
“If Congress fails to act, we are discouraging responsible, regulated markets and allowing a serious public safety threat to go unaddressed,” Heck told Politico, which first reported on the bill’s formal reintroduction.
The congressman put the situation in starker terms during last month’s hearing before a House financial subcommittee, saying that the body has the power “to prevent murders and armed robberies,” referring to the fact that current policy forces many cannabis businesses to operate on a cash-only basis, which can make them targets.
“We must use it and we must use it now because we are already late,” he said.
“The SAFE Banking Act is an answer to the very real problem facing these businesses as they are forced to operate exclusively with cash. It makes them prime targets for violent robberies and money laundering schemes,” Stivers said in a press release. “This isn’t about condoning marijuana businesses, it’s about creating an auditable trail and keeping our neighborhoods safe.”
Today I introduced the SAFE Banking Act to allow the cannabis industry access to banking. The current system must be fixed to end this public safety issue. Add your name in support of the bill! https://t.co/khmr3Vjf9X
— Ed Perlmutter (@Ed4Colorado) March 8, 2019
“Government Regulators have deemed cannabis business owners to have certain reputational risks. From a civil liberties standpoint, I believe this is something we need to move away from,” Davidson added. “There are reputational risks associated with any small business, and barring legally recognized small businesses from our financial institutions threatens the very pillars of liberty and freedom our country was founded on.”
Passing marijuana banking reform could be the first in a series of more modest cannabis legislation that Congress will take up this session, with the ultimate goal of ending federal marijuana prohibition. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) outlined a congressional blueprint to legalization last year.
Feds Warn More CBD Companies Over Health Claims
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.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.
Colorado Sold Twice As Much Recreational Marijuana As Medical Cannabis Last Year
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.
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).
“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.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.
Credit Unions Won’t Be Punished For Working With Marijuana Businesses, Federal Regulator Says
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.