A bipartisan group of senators is stepping up the push to let marijuana businesses store their profits in banks, with a possible vote coming as soon as this week.
Under the current federal prohibition of cannabis, many banks refuse to do businesses with marijuana growers, processors and sellers that operate legally in accordance with a growing number of state laws. As a result, many cultivators and dispensaries operate on a cash-only basis, which makes them targets for robberies.
That could soon change under a proposal that ten U.S. senators filed on Wednesday.
The measure, led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would prevent federal officials from punishing a financial service provider “solely because the depository institution provides or has provided financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business.”
It is an amendment to a larger bill being considered on the Senate floor this week that would remove some restrictions that were enacted on financial institutions as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.
Despite a U.S. Department of Justice move in January to undo protections for state marijuana laws, a top Trump administration official has repeatedly indicated he wants to solve cannabis businesses’ banking access problems.
During a separate House hearing last month, Mnuchin indicated he wants cannabis businesses to be able to store their profits in banks.
“I assure you that we don’t want bags of cash,” he said. “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.”
Prior to being confirmed by the Senate last year, Mnuchin said in response to written questions from a senator that marijuana businesses’ banking and tax issues are “very important.”
In 2014, under the Obama administration, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) published a memo outlining how banks can open accounts for cannabis businesses without triggering federal enforcement actions. But because the document did not change overarching federal laws, many banks have remained reluctant to work with marijuana providers.
In January, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a broader Obama-era policy that had generally allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without Justice Department interference. That decision spurred concern that the Trump administration will delete the banking memo too.
Late in January, a Treasury official wrote in a letter to lawmakers that the department is “consulting with law enforcement” about whether to keep the cannabis guidance for depository institutions.
The policy remains in effect for now, a Mnuchin deputy testified at a Senate hearing.
Along with Merkley and Murkowski, the other cosponsors of the new cannabis banking amendment are Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Edward Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).
It is currently unknown if the measure will receive a floor vote as part of the consideration of the broader banking reform bill.
Documents released by FinCEN late last year showed that the number of banks willing to work with the marijuana industry has steadily grown over time, but that data was compiled prior to the revocation of the Justice Department guidance on state cannabis laws.
Read the full text of the bipartisan marijuana banking amendment below:
SA 2107. Mr. MERKLEY (for himself, Ms. Murkowski, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Wyden, Mr.Paul, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Markey, Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders, and Ms. Harris) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill S. 2155, to promote economic growth, provide tailored regulatory relief, and enhance consumer protections, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:
At the appropriate place, insert the following:
SEC. ___. SECURE AND FAIR ENFORCEMENT BANKING.
(a) Short Title.–This section may be cited as the “Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act” or the “SAFE Banking Act”.
(b) Safe Harbor for Depository Institutions.–A Federal banking regulator may not–
(1) terminate or limit the deposit insurance or share insurance of a depository institution under the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (12 U.S.C. 1811 et seq.) or the Federal Credit Union Act (12 U.S.C. 1751 et seq.) solely because the depository institution provides or has provided financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business;
(2) prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a depository institution from providing financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or to a State or Indian tribe that exercises jurisdiction over cannabis-related legitimate businesses;
(3) recommend, incentivize, or encourage a depository institution not to offer financial services to the owner, operator, or an individual that is an account holder of a cannabis-related legitimate business, or downgrade or cancel financial services offered to an account holder of a cannabis-related legitimate business solely because–
(A) the account holder later becomes a cannabis-related legitimate business; or
(B) the depository institution was not aware that the account holder is the owner or operator of a cannabis-related legitimate business; and
(4) take any adverse or corrective supervisory action on a loan to an owner or operator of–
(A) a cannabis-related legitimate business solely because the business owner or operator is a cannabis-related business without express statutory authority, as in effect on the day before the date of enactment of this Act; or
(B) real estate or equipment that is leased or sold to a cannabis-related legitimate business solely because the owner or operator of the real estate or equipment leased or sold the equipment or real estate to a cannabis-related legitimate business.
(c) Protections Under Federal Law.–
(1) In general.–In a State, political subdivision of a State, or Indian country that allows the cultivation, production, manufacturing, transportation, display, dispensing, distribution, sale, or purchase of cannabis pursuant to a law (including regulations) of the State, political subdivision of the State, or the Indian tribe that has jurisdiction over the Indian country, as applicable, a depository institution and the officers, director, and employees of the depository institution that provides financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business may not be held liable pursuant to any Federal law (including regulations)–
(A) solely for providing the financial services pursuant to the law (including regulations) of the State, political subdivision of the State, or Indian tribe; or
(B) for further investing any income derived from the financial services.
(2) Forfeiture.–A depository institution that has a legal interest in the collateral for a loan made to an owner or operator of a cannabis-related legitimate business, or to an owner or operator of real estate or equipment that is leased or sold to a cannabis-related legitimate business, shall not be subject to criminal, civil, or administrative forfeiture of that legal interest pursuant to any Federal law for providing the loan or other financial services solely because the collateral is owned by a cannabis-related business.
(d) Rule of Construction.–Nothing in this section shall require a depository institution to provide financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business.
(e) Requirements for Filing Suspicious Activity Reports.–Section 5318(g) of title 31, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
“(5) Requirements for cannabis-related businesses.–
“(A) Definitions.–In this paragraph–
“(i) the term `cannabis’ has the meaning given the term `marihuana’ in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802);
“(ii) the term `cannabis-related legitimate business’ has the meaning given the term in section 6 of the SAFE Banking Act;
“(iii) the term `financial service’ means a financial product or service, as defined in section 1002 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (12 U.S.C. 5481);
“(iv) the term `Indian country’ has the meaning given the term in section 1151 of title 18; and
“(v) the term `Indian tribe’ has the meaning given the term in section 102 of the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act of 1994 (25 U.S.C. 479a).
“(B) Reporting of suspicious transactions.–A financial institution or any director, officer, employee, or agent of a financial institution that reports a suspicious activity related to a transaction by a cannabis-related legitimate business shall comply with appropriate guidance issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The Secretary shall ensure that the guidance is consistent with the purpose and intent of the SAFE Banking Act and does not inhibit the provision of financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business in a State, political subdivision of a State, or Indian country that has allowed the cultivation, production, manufacturing, transportation, display, dispensing, distribution, sale, or purchase of cannabis, or any other conduct relating to cannabis, pursuant to law or regulation of the State, the political subdivision of the State, or Indian tribe that has jurisdiction over the Indian country.”.
(f) Definitions.–In this section:
(1) Cannabis.–The term “cannabis” has the meaning given the term “marihuana” in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802).
(2) Cannabis product.–The term “cannabis product” means any article which contains cannabis, including an article which is a concentrate, an edible, a tincture, a cannabis-infused product, or a topical.
(3) Cannabis-related legitimate business.–The term “cannabis-related legitimate business” means a manufacturer, producer, or any person or company that–
(A) engages in any activity described in subparagraph (B) pursuant to a law established by a State or a political subdivision of a State; and
(B)(i) participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling cannabis or cannabis products, including cultivating, producing, manufacturing, selling, transporting, displaying, dispensing, distributing, or purchasing cannabis or cannabis products; or
(I) any financial service, including retirement plans or exchange traded funds, relating to cannabis; or
(II) any business services, including the sale or lease of real or any other property, legal or other licensed services, or any other ancillary service, relating to cannabis.
(4) Company.–The term “company” means a partnership, corporation, association, (incorporated or unincorporated), trust, estate, cooperative organization, State, or any other entity.
(5) Depository institution.–The term “depository institution” means–
(A) a depository institution as defined in section 3(c) of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act (12 U.S.C. 1813(c));
(B) a Federal credit union as defined in section 101 of the Federal Credit Union Act (12 U.S.C. 1752); or
(C) a State credit union as defined in section 101 of the Federal Credit Union Act (12 U.S.C. 1752).
(6) Federal banking regulator.–The term “Federal banking regulator” means each of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the National Credit Union Administration, or any Federal agency or department that regulates banking or financial services, as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury.
(7) Financial service.–The term “financial service” means a financial product or service, as defined in section 1002 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (12 U.S.C. 5481).
(8) Indian country.–The term “Indian country” has the meaning given the term in section 1151 of title 18, United States Code.
(9) Indian tribe.–The term “Indian tribe” has the meaning given the term in section 102 of the Federally Recognized Indian Tribe List Act of 1994 (25 U.S.C. 479a).
(10) Manufacturer.–The term “manufacturer” means a person or company who manufactures, compounds, converts, processes, prepares, or packages cannabis or cannabis products.
(11) Producer.–The term “producer” means a person or company who plants, cultivates, harvests, or in any way facilitates the natural growth of cannabis.
(12) State.–The term “State” means each of the several States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, any territory or possession of the United States.
USDA Touts Hemp Industry’s Growth But Says Challenges Remain
Hemp production in the U.S. has scaled up rapidly since lawmakers lifted federal prohibition of the crop, with more acres of hemp grown in the country today than at any point since the 1940s. But the fledgling industry is still very much in flux, and reporting practices that vary wildly from state to state have hampered efforts to fully understand it.
Those are the top-level takeaways of a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that explores the economic viability of the American hemp industry as the country transitions to a legal era.
After decades of prohibition due to hemp’s close relationship to its high-THC cannabis cousin marijuana, Congress in 2014 approved state-level pilot programs, allowing growers in certain states to produce and sell hemp as part of limited research initiatives. In 2018, lawmakers went further, ending federal hemp prohibition entirely. Since then, the sector has exploded.
“Under the pilot programs, United States industrial hemp acreage reported by States increased from zero in 2013 to over 90,000 acres in 2018, the largest U.S. hemp acreage since the 146,200 acres planted in 1943,” the USDA study found. “By December 2019, hemp could be grown legally in every State except Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota.”
As of last year, more than 146,065 acres of planted hemp were reported to the agency.
— Economic Research Service (@USDA_ERS) February 19, 2020
The 83-page report, “Economic Viability of Industrial Hemp in the United States: A Review of State Pilot Programs,” attempts to draw conclusions about the legal, logistical and economic challenges that might arise as US farmers return to a crop that hasn’t been grown in the country for generations.
One of the biggest obstacles, the study shows, is keeping everyone on the same page.
“There is no systematic comprehensive data source regarding the emerging United States hemp industry or requirement to report a consistent set of data for the pilot programs,” noted the authors, who said they drew on annual reports, website information, internal USDA data, unstructured discussions with state agencies and other third-party information to compile the document.
“States collected data at various times and levels of aggregation,” the study says. “For example, some States report hemp data by intended end use (i.e., grain, fiber, cannabidiol (CBD) or other extracts) while others do not report data.”
Inconsistency between state requirements was one of the main obstacles highlighted by the report. USDA found that state-level hemp programs ran into a handful of common problems, starting with the difficulty of passing state-level legislation to regulate the new programs. Other problems arose in obtaining “critical production inputs,” such as seeds and insecticides, or in trying to easily distinguish industrial hemp from high-THC marijuana, which remains federally illegal.
A fundamental problem, the USDA report found, was “lack of basic data and information for decision-making”—something that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched a legislative hearing on cannabis.
Getting stakeholders involved early seemed to help smooth some wrinkles, the study found. In some states, authors wrote, “hemp legislation failed repeatedly, typically because of law enforcement concerns or lack of public support.”
“Colorado and Kentucky are two examples of States that included law enforcement stakeholders early when establishing their pilot programs,” the report notes. “This allowed an early basis for dialogue and shared knowledge.”
Data from state pilot programs also led analysts to conclude that while industrial hemp is a burgeoning industry in the U.S., it likely won’t emerge as a strong economic player in every state.
“As with other crops, it is not likely that hemp will be economically viable in every State,” the study concludes. “States that moved quickly to establish pilot programs were not leading producers of competing major field crops,” it found, and “growers are not likely to plant or process hemp if more profitable options exist.
Hemp-producing states could also run into competition internationally, the report says, acknowledging that the U.S. is one of many hemp-producing regions globally. “While the reintroduction of hemp production in the United States is relatively recent,” it says, “hemp production has already been legal in other parts of the world,” including Canada, Europe and China.
Under a recent trade deal with the U.S., China agreed to import more American-grown hemp and other agricultural products over the next two years.
For now, the rising tide of interest in hemp-derived CBD appears to be lifting all boats. “Global production was small and relatively stable until the recent worldwide interest in CBD oil,” the USDA study found. “There is some demand for hemp as a sustainable natural fiber, hemp seeds and protein as a food ingredient, and hemp extracts for cosmetics and food, but CBD oil has been the primary source of demand growth.”
Earlier this month, USDA officials said they won’t be able to comply with a request by farmers and some state lawmakers to increase the federal THC limit on industrial hemp, which is currently defined as cannabis that contains no more than 0.3 percent THC. Advocates had asked for that limit to be increased to 1 percent, but the agency said that’s a job for Congress.
They did, however, say that a new public comment period will be opened before hemp rules are finalized.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
Businesses Are More Profitable And Innovative In States With Legal Marijuana, Study Finds
States have been experimenting with various forms of marijuana legalization for years and, according to new research, business is better where cannabis is legal.
To investigate the impact legalization has on the economy, researchers at the University of Iowa analyzed 9,810 corporations between 1991 and 2017, finding “a multitude of positive effects” after a state enacts medical marijuana laws.
“Firms headquartered in marijuana-legalizing states receive higher market valuations, earn higher abnormal stock returns, improve employee productivity, and increase innovation,” the authors said.
The study, which was reviewed by Marijuana Moment but has yet to be published, found that having cannabis laws on the books can unleash the previously untapped potential of employees and helps companies attract new talent.
Corporations “become more productive and hire more productive human capital from out of state after the passage of the law,” the authors wrote.
They also report that “firms earn higher net income per employee” after a medical cannabis law is passed, and “the positive impact is sustained over the next two years.”
Additionally, the study found a 4.2 percent increase in company value, which translates into an average increase of the market-value of corporations by $166 million after a medical marijuana law is enacted.
“Firms experience an increase in profitability likely due to the positive shock to the human capital post-legalization,” the study finds.
“State-level medical marijuana laws have a considerable positive impact on firms in the state, likely by having a positive impact on the human capital of firms.”
Higher profits and more productivity aren’t the only benefits a company sees after marijuana is legalized. When it comes to stock prices, companies located in states with medical cannabis fare better than those in jurisdictions where the plant is prohibited.
Additionally, the stock value of corporations in medical marijuana states increased by 4.56 percent. An “equal-weighted portfolio” composed of similar stocks located in states without a medical marijuana program showed a loss of about two percent annually.
Returns on stocks were also 4.44 percent higher per year for companies in states that have legalized.
What’s the source of such financial benefits? The authors suggested that companies will ramp up innovation after marijuana laws are passed, making the company more profitable over time, compared to their counterparts in areas that don’t permit cannabis at all.
“Our results imply that after marijuana legalization, firms not only apply for more patents and receive more citations on those patents, but also are more productive and efficient in generation innovation output from labor and [research and development] input,” the study determined.
“We also find an increase in both entrepreneurial activity and venture capital funding in states that legalize marijuana.”
Finally, the study measures the “innovation productivity” of those working, living and moving to the state, following the passage of a medical marijuana law.
“The inventors that are in the state both before and after legalization become more creative” post-legalization, the authors found.
And when it comes to attracting new talent from other states, “more inventors relocate to states after medical marijuana legalization than before passage of the law.”
The benefit is two-fold for such corporations. In addition to being “able to attract more productive inventors” in states with medical marijuana “relative to states that do not legalize,” existing employees also see an uptick in innovation after a cannabis law is passed, the study concluded.
Company Gets Trademark For The Word ‘Psilocybin,’ Frustrating Decriminalization Advocates
As psychedelics reform efforts pick up across the U.S., there’s an increasing weariness among advocates about the potential corporatization that may follow.
That’s why many found it alarming when a California-based company announced on Thursday that it had successfully trademarked the word “psilocybin,” the main psychoactive constituent of so-called magic mushrooms.
Psilocybin™ is a brand of chocolates that do not contain the psychedelic itself but are meant to “begin educating, enlightening and supporting the community in upgrading their inner vibrations in order to get everything they want of their time here on earth,” according to a mission statement.
Soon after founder Scarlet Ravin shared news of the trademark on LinkedIn, advocates raised questions and concerns: What does that mean on a practical level for other psilocybin organizations? Why should one brand get exclusive rights (to a certain legal extent) to the scientific name of a natural substance?
The reality of this particular trademark is more nuanced than it might appear at first glance. While it’s true that the company was granted the distinction by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it’s specifically for educational materials and it’s listed on the supplemental register, rather than the principal register, which means it would be incumbent upon the brand to prove that it has earned distinctiveness of the mark if the issue went to court.
“It’s certainly good for her business to have that mark, but I think at the end of the day, it’s going to be somewhat weak,” Larry Sandell, an intellectual property attorney at Mei & Mark LLP, told Marijuana Moment. He added that this example is “indicative that people are trying to stake early claims to IP.”
“Even if they might be somewhat overreaching, people see a potential new market here and they want to stake out their ground,” he said. “It’s a big next space that people are anticipating a legal market. Maybe it’s where cannabis was five to 10 years ago.”
Despite those legal limitations, reform advocates view the trademark as emblematic of a bigger issue—that someone would presume to take ownership of a substance that’s at the center of a national debate on whether or not to criminalize individuals for using it.
Kevin Matthews, who led the successful campaign to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in Denver last year and is the founder of the national psychedelics advocacy group SPORE, told Marijuana Moment that he didn’t doubt Ravin had the right intentions—to promote education into the substance—but he said the decision to trademark is nonetheless questionable.
“This being an open-source movement, trademarking the word psilocybin, in some ways it feels like—although I don’t think this is her intention—it’s lacking perspective,” he said. “Does that mean we can’t use psilocybin as SPORE because we’re an educational non-profit and she’s a for-profit branded company? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. She needs to let go of the trademark.”
Ravin said that her goal in trademarking psilocybin was to prevent the substance from being becoming the next cannabis, which she said has been corrupted from its “true spiritual, medicinal benefit” and turned into a corporate commodity.
“Knowing that psilocybin is going to be next [to be legalized] I feel strongly guided by the deepest part of my heart to really offer a sense of education of what could be when you take such a strong, beautiful medicine and to give people an education platform here and now to let them know what’s coming, how to receive it, how to get the most benefit from,” she told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview.
“We paved the way for this being a medicinal offering and not a consumer, recreational shitshow. That was our intention,” Ravin said. “The only way that we are going to have access to mainstream consumers is by having some sort of trademark on the word so that we can use it for something that’s not what it actually is.”
“With this being something that we can now put into market with a box of chocolates that has no psilocybin in it, but as you can already see, it creates a platform for discussion of what the beauty of this plant can do,” she said. “Me and my movement and my team, we don’t own the word. We’re not going to ever sue anyone who also uses the word—we’re opening a doorway for ourselves and anyone that wants to see this educated upon so that we can hit people who are unfamiliar with it now with downloads to actually have this be a safe, successful psychedelic transition.”
Asked to react to criticism about the trademark from advocates, Ravin said “we’re all here to follow spirit guidance to show love and light, and the visions I had of doing what we’re doing now was based upon breaking boundaries and breaking perceptions and allowing people to have an opportunity to sink into being one unit.”
“Yeah, it might be coming out, we might be using the platform of psilocybin. We can use any platform to do this,” she said. “We can use any platform to come together as a whole, and the longer that people sit in duality and say, ‘oh now she’s going to have a stronger voice than me is just looking at something not through their heart,’ it’s looking at it through ego and judgement.”
“The more that we describe what we’re doing, the more people I think will start to feel our unity and we’ll be able to move together as a stronger force than pointing fingers and trying to separate one another,” she said. “Those days are done.”
Ravin said that once the Psilocybin™ chocolates are ready for market, she plans to contribute 10 percent of profits to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is involved in researching therapeutic benefits of psychedelic substances.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.