A congressman says he’s working to include provisions to allow marijuana businesses to access banking services in an upcoming COVID-19 stimulus package.
The proposal from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) also has the support of top congressional leadership, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), he said.
The congressman brought up the measure—a revised version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act—during a Democratic caucus meeting last week. That bill, which cleared the House along largely bipartisan lines last year, has been the subject of ongoing negotiations since it advanced to the Senate Banking Committee.
On a town hall call with small businesses in his Colorado district on Thursday night, Perlmutter was asked by the executive director of a top marijuana company whether the cannabis market has any hope of becoming eligible for federal loan and lending programs, as businesses that work with marijuana directly or indirectly are currently excluded from Small Business Administration (SBA) benefits.
Perlmutter first discussed the SAFE Banking Act and said that there “had been work on it and then the pandemic hit.” But now he’s working to insert its provisions into the next coronavirus package, albeit in a revised form.
“We have prepared legislation that we hope will be in the next package. Probably not the one that’s being discussed right now, but we’ve asked for legislation to allow for banking, for SBA lending, for testing to be part of the next package,” the congressman told the LivWell Enlightened Health executive. “Whether we’re going to get it, whether we can get the Senate to finally get off of their fannies and pass it, I don’t know. But you can rest assured that the issue you raised is front and center.”
A spokesperson later said the congressman misspoke when he referenced including SBA program access in the legislation, though there is a strong push by industry stakeholders and advocates to extend those benefits to cannabis businesses through upcoming coronavirus legislation.
“I raised this very question to our caucus, to Speaker Nancy Pelosi directly last week, saying, look this is a major employer in Colorado and elsewhere around the country. They have been deemed essential services in many, many states,” Perlmutter said during the town hall call. “They cannot access any of the relief that we are providing for in any of these three packages that we have passed. She said, as did the other leadership members on the call, said she wanted to see it get passed.”
Perlmutter reiterated that the speaker supports his proposal and said the Democratic caucus will “continue to work on it over the next couple weeks as we put these additional packages together.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to Pelosi’s office for comment, but a representative did not immediately respond.
“I continue to push for the passage and enactment of the SAFE Banking Act to ensure cannabis and cannabis-related businesses can access the banking system, including access to much-needed financial assistance during times of need such as this COVID-19 pandemic,” Perlmutter told Marijuana Moment. “I’m also focused on ensuring any federal funding for state and local governments remains flexible enough so as not to exclude cannabis businesses in states where they are legal, legitimate businesses.”
“The cannabis industry represents major employers and hundreds of thousands of employees across the country and we must keep them in mind as we continue to develop federal relief packages in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis,” he said.
It’s not clear what kind of revisions are being considered with respect to the SAFE Banking Act, which would shield banks from being penalized by federal regulators for servicing state-legal marijuana businesses. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) has floated certain changes that industry stakeholders generally view as untenable—including limits on the potency of products that businesses could sell in order to qualify for banking access—but Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) recently said that progress is being made in negotiations.
While SBA access might not be a key part of Perlmutter’s current COVID-related legislative efforts, advocates are strongly pushing for its inclusion in the aid packages.
“COVID19 has made this a difficult time for all Americans, and the cannabis industry is not immune,” Michael Correia, director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “The inability for both direct and indirect cannabis businesses to access any relief funds from the Small Business Administration is unacceptable, especially when the majority of states have deemed them essential.”
“Discussions regarding the next coronavirus relief package are well underway, and we are working day and night to remedy this and provide any sort of relief possible for our industry,” he said.
SBA has made clear that federal policies prohibit the agency from providing its services to businesses that market marijuana, or even those that indirectly work with the industry such as accounting or law firms. While many cannabis businesses are continuing to operate as state-approved essential services, industry stakeholders say they need the federal safeguards just like any other legitimate company.
In a letter to state treasurers that was delivered this week, a coalition of marijuana industry associations urged the officials to pressure their congressional delegations to include SBA access for cannabis firms in future coronavirus legislation. They also want the states to explore providing separate loan and lending programs for the market.
“Given the unprecedented government intervention in the economy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and the harm on businesses, it is crucial that workers and small businesses in the cannabis industry receive the same protections and resources,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s downright cruel that a majority of states have designated the marijuana industry as ‘essential’ yet deny them access to desperately needed support.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longtime champion of cannabis reform, also said in a blog post this week that the current COVID-19 response legislation “does not go as far as I’d like to give enough Oregonians the relief and security they deserve” and he’s fighting for “SBA grant eligibility for state-legal cannabis companies” as part of the next package.
Eleven senators wrote in a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership last week that they want the SBA issue for cannabis businesses addressed in separate annual spending legislation.
This story has been updated to include clarification from Perlmutter’s office about the scope of cannabis reform legislation he’s pushing to include in coronavirus aid packages.
State Of Montana Launches Online Hemp Marketplace To Connect Buyers And Sellers
Say you’re a Montana farmer who has planted acres of industrial hemp. As harvest nears, you’re looking to offload it. Where do you go to find a buyer?
Montana’s Department of Agriculture says it has the answer.
The state this week announced the launch of an online “Hemp Marketplace,” unveiling an online portal meant to connect the hemp farmers with buyers in search of seeds, fiber and derivatives such as cannabidiol, or CBD.
“The Hemp Marketplace concept originated from the same idea as the department’s Hay Hotline,” the Agriculture Department says on its website, “only instead of hay and pasture, the online tool connects buyers and sellers of hemp and hemp derivatives.”
Listings are free of charge.
Montana farmers have embraced industrial hemp since the state legalized its production under a federal pilot program. The first legal crop was planted in 2017, and in recent years the state has led the country in terms of space dedicated to the plant. In 2018, for example, licensed farmers in Montana grew more acreage of hemp than any other U.S. state. While other states have since eclipsed the state’s hemp production—the crop became broadly federally legal through the 2018 Farm Bill—Montana remains an industry leader.
But to make revenue, farmers have to be able to sell their crop. That’s where the new hemp marketplace comes in. The online portal is essentially a sophisticated bulletin board for buyers and sellers, split into “Hemp for Sale” and “Hemp to Buy” categories.
“With hemp being a relatively new crop grown in Montana, the department recognizes that these markets are still developing,” Department of Agriculture Director Ben Thomas said in a statement. “The Hemp Marketplace was designed to help facilitate connections between buyers and sellers. I’m looking forward to seeing how the marketplace will continue to advance the industry.”
Listings include what type of products are on offer (or being sought), whether a given crop is organic and even whether laboratory testing data is available. The portal also organizes products into one of four varieties based on whether the hemp seeds have been certified by regulators. None of the products may contain more than 0.3 percent THC—the upper limit for what qualifies as hemp under both state and federal law.
Meanwhile, Montana voters are set to decide on Tuesday whether the state will legalize hemp’s more infamous cousin, high-THC marijuana. According to a poll released this week, passage looks likely: The survey, conducted by Montana State University at Billings, found that 54 percent of likely voters plan to support legal cannabis on the ballot. Another 38 percent said they were opposed, while 7 percent remained undecided.
At the federal level, officials at the Drug Enforcement Administration are still working to revise rules around marijuana and hemp to reflect Congress’s move to legalize hemp broadly in 2018. While the public comment on the proposals closed earlier this month, nine members of Congress cautioned the agency against adopting its proposed changes, warning some could put hemp producers at risk of criminal liability. Already a number of arrests and seizures have been made by law enforcement officers confused whether products were legal hemp or illicit marijuana.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), meanwhile, has faced separate criticism over its own proposed hemp rules, though it has been more proactive in addressing them. Following significant pushback from the industry over certain regulations it views as excessively restrictive, the agency reopened a public comment period, which closed again this month.
USDA is also planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the market.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak
New Jersey Governor Steps Up Marijuana Legalization Push As New Ad Touts Economic Benefits Days Before Election
With just a few days to go before Election Day, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is continuing to stump for marijuana legalization in that state, extolling the economic and social justice benefits he says the change would bring. His latest comments came shortly after the release of a new campaign ad focusing on legalization’s economic impact.
“We’ll build an industry, it would be a revenue-generator,” Murphy said in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “I think at first it would be modest, but ultimately will grow, I think, into several hundred million dollars in the state budget.”
“Along with social justice,” he added, “that’s a pretty good, winning combination.”
Recent polling suggests voters are mostly on board with legalization, with surveys showing upwards of 60% support for Public Question 1, a referendum to legalize and establish a commercial industry around the drug. If it passes, some lawmakers hope legal sales to adults 21 and older could begin as soon as next month, though regulators and some advocates have pushed back on the plan to start sales in existing medical cannabis dispensaries, saying that it could lead to access and supply issues for patients.
Highlight: "The public sentiment is strongly in favor" of legalizing marijuana in New Jersey, @GovMurphy says. "I hope that's what happens on Tuesday… I get there because of social justice." Notes racial disparities in drug convictions in NJ. pic.twitter.com/vPp2hnqFM4
— Yahoo Finance (@YahooFinance) October 30, 2020
Legalization would indeed likely bring in millions of dollars to the state budget, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic downturn. But Murphy claims his chief motivation for supporting the measure is racial justice.
“When I became governor, we had the widest white–nonwhite gap of persons incarcerated, believe it or not, of any American state. The biggest reason was low-end drug offenses,” he said. “So I get there first and foremost because of social justice.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, one of the campaign committees behind New Jersey’s legalization effort, NJ CAN 2020, released a new 30-second ad emphasizing the economic benefits legalization could bring the cash-strapped state.
“At a time when this crisis has created challenges we all face—a budget deficit and a lack of funding for services we need—New Jersey could raise hundreds of millions of dollars to support our local schools, vital health care services and community programs, by simply voting yes on Public Question 1,” the ad says.
Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also filmed a video in support of the measure. Appearing in a NJ CAN campaign video released Wednesday, he said prohibition “has not been a war on drugs, but a war on people.”
“Veterans, for example, are more likely to be arrested for drug use or possession of marijuana. Instead of getting help, they’re often hurt by a system that piles upon them criminal charges for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing,” he said.
Black, Latino and low-income communities are also disproportionately targeted by enforcement of drug laws, Booker added. “We can do this as a state so much more responsibly, and instead of destroying lives we can get more resources to help to empower the well-being of all New Jerseyans.”
In other legal states, cannabis has been a rare bright spot in terms of tax revenue. Oregon, for example, saw record sales this summer even as other areas of the economy slowed. State budget analysts said last month that they expect the strong sales to continue.
“Since the pandemic began, the increase in recreational sales have been more than 30 percent above forecast,” Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis said in a recent report. “Expectations are that some of these increases will be permanent.”
Other established markets, such as Washington state, Colorado and Nevada, have also seen “strong gains” in marijuana sales amid the pandemic, Oregon’s budget office noted.
Big money has also been flowing into New Jersey’s legalization campaign itself. A report released Thursday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) shows that committees supporting the referendum have raised more than $2 million in campaign contributions. That’s compared to just $9,913 brought in by opponents.
“Assuming all available funds are spent, the marijuana ballot question already ranks eighth among the top ten most expensive public referenda in the Garden State,” ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle said. “Keep in mind that marijuana interests already have spent $4.1 million on lobbying between 2017 and 2019. So the industry’s overall political investment in New Jersey already has topped $6 million.”
If voters approve the referendum, lawmakers will still need to pass a bill to establish a framework for the state’s legal marijuana market. A legislative hearing to get a head start on planning was scheduled for last week, but that was canceled when a state senator leading the proposal went into quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus.
Friday’s appearance by Murphy is the latest effort by the governor to encourage voters to back legalization. He also recorded a video that was released by NJ CAN 2020 earlier this month and recently called on voters to support the proposal in an email blast circulated by the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
In July, Murphy described legalizing cannabis is “an incredibly smart thing to do” both from an economic and social justice perspective.
The governor isn’t alone in his attempts to get out the vote for cannabis reform. Filmmaker Kevin Smith earlier this month urged his Twitter followers to “VOTE YES when you see State Public Question Number 1: Constitutional Amendment to Legalize Marijuana.”
Also this month, the NJ CAN campaign scaled up its advertising push, releasing a series of English- and Spanish-language videos.
In June, the state Assembly passed a cannabis decriminalization bill that would make possession of up to two ounces of marijuana a civil penalty without the threat of jail time. The bill hasn’t advanced in the Senate.
Oregon Psilocybin Ballot Measure Can Help Dying People Find Peace, Doctor Says In TV Ad
Oregon’s first-of-its-kind ballot measure to legalize psilocybin therapy has the potential to help ease mental suffering for terminally ill people, a medical doctor says in a new TV ad for the initiative.
“I’ve worked in end-of-life care for 28 years. In hospice, we believe when people are dying, we should treat their pain—physical or mental distress,” Dr. Nick Gideonse says in the 30-second spot. “There’s often mental suffering that comes with a terminal diagnosis.”
“So I support Measure 109 to allow psilocybin therapy for terminally ill people suffering from depression. It’s humane,” he said. “Yes on 109 will help those near death come to terms with their diagnosis and find peace.”
If approved by voters, adults would be able to access the psychedelic in a medically supervised environment. There aren’t any limitations on the types of conditions that would make a patient eligible for the treatment.
A previous ad released earlier this month by the campaign featured a state senator who is also a medical doctor saying that the measure “promotes safety for a therapy that can help people who are suffering.”
That followed an independent spot by the nonprofit Heroic Hearts Project going on the air in Oregon to tout the benefits of psilocybin therapy, but it didn’t mention the specific ballot measure.
A campaign working to pass a separate measure on the Oregon ballot to decriminalize drug possession and expand substance misuse treatment also recently released a series of ads.
The Oregon Democratic Party formally endorsed both measures last month.
Meanwhile, the psychedelic reform measure has drawn opposition from an unlikely source. Decriminalize Nature, which has led efforts to pass local policies reducing criminal enforcement against psilocybin and other entheogens, has argued that it could threaten equitable access to the substance.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in January that he was in favor of the psilocybin reform proposal and that he would be working to boost the campaign as the election approaches. In August, he wrote in an email blast that passing the measure is necessary “because it tackles an important issue in our community, mental health, and it does so in an innovative and responsible way.”
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.