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Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment

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One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.

Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.

While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.

“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”

“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”

“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”

“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”

Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.

At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.

“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.

But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.

“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”

The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.

See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:

Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.

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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Feds Warn More CBD Companies Over Health Claims

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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.

Though the agency did not name the three companies that received letters, it described their claims.

One firm said on its website that CBD “works like magic” to relieve “even the most agonizing pain” and has been “clinically proven” to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, cigarette addiction and colitis.

Another company claimed CBD is a “miracle pain remedy” that can also treat treat autism, anorexia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), stroke, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis and AIDS.

A third CBD provider sold cannabidiol-infused gummies that it said can treat “the root cause of most major degenerative diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, fibromyalgia, cancer, asthma, and a wide spectrum of autoimmune disorders,” according to FTC.

The agency is directing the companies to reply within 15 days with information about steps they have taken to address potential violations of the law, which could lead to injunctions and orders to refund money to consumers.

The latest actions follow several other steps the federal government has taken to push back on marketplace claims about CBD.

In March, FTC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) teamed up to send a previous round of letters to three companies for potentially making false or unsubstantiated health claims about their CBD products. In July, FDA issued a warning letter to Curaleaf Inc. about what the agency said were “unsubstantiated claims” the company made about cannabidiol products on its website.

Hemp and its derivatives, including CBD, were legalized under the Farm Bill that was enacted late last year but FDA has not yet created a process to approve the use of the compound in food products or dietary supplements.

Preliminary research has indicated that CBD has the potential to help people struggling with substance use disorders involving alcohol, opioids and stimulants, but to date it has only been federally approved to treat severe seizure disorders in the form of the prescription medication Epidiolex.

“Before making claims about purported health effects of CBD products, advertisers need sound science to support their statements,” FTC wrote in a blog post. “The takeaway tip for anyone in the industry is that established FTC substantiation standards apply when advertisers make health-related representations for CBD products.”

A separate FTC consumer advisory urges people to “talk with your doctor before you try a healthcare product you find online” and “find out about the product’s risks, side effects, and possible interactions with any medications you’re taking.”

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo by Kimzy Nanney.

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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Colorado Sold Twice As Much Recreational Marijuana As Medical Cannabis Last Year

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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.

Via MED.

Overall, 436,155 pounds of cannabis were sold in 2018, compared to 411,143 pounds in 2017.

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).

Via MED.

“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.

After Legalizing Marijuana, Colorado Saw ‘Significant Decrease’ In Opioid Prescriptions, Study Finds

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

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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Credit Unions Won’t Be Punished For Working With Marijuana Businesses, Federal Regulator Says

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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.

Federal Agency Proposes Letting People With Drug Convictions Work At Credit Unions

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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