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Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

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In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.

The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.

The move for a hearing is somewhat of a surprise, as Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) had refused to commit to schedule time for the issue when asked in April, saying that “as long as cannabis is illegal under federal law, it seems to me to be difficult for us to resolve” the financial services piece.

But pressure has increased, with 50 state banking associations, the National Association of State Treasurersthe top financial regulators of 25 states, a majority of state attorneys general and bipartisan governors of 20 states all endorsing the legislation—the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act—and calling on Congress to act on it.

Advocates point out that preventing banks from servicing state-licensed marijuana growers and retailers forces those businesses to operate on a cash-only basis, which creates public safety risks by making them targets for robberies.

While a House floor vote had been expected on the issue prior to the upcoming August recess, time is running short and no further action has yet been scheduled. That said, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) last week noted bipartisan support for the legislation.

“There’s an issue when it comes to banking, making sure you’re able to having accountability within that,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of bipartisanship in there.”

A separate House-passed spending bill also contains a provision seeking to prevent federal financial regulators from punishing banks for working with state-legal marijuana businesses, but its language is seen as less robust than the standalone legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in the Senate.

“House Democrats have a robust agenda which has made it tough to get time on the legislative calendar,” a spokesperson for Perlmutter said in an email. “But as we continue to talk with people, we keep gaining more and more support and look forward to a strong vote on the floor of the House soon.”

Witnesses at the newly scheduled Senate hearing—titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives”—will include representatives of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Citywide Banks and prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

“At its heart, cannabis banking is a public safety issue. It’s an $8.3 billion industry that’s currently being forced to operate almost entirely in cash,” CUNA President and CEO Jim Nussle said. “While 33 states, territories and DC have legalized cannabis, it’s been overwhelmingly difficult to provide these businesses financial services because handling transactions are currently considered money laundering. Credit unions have been leading the way in helping to get this money off the streets. We are dedicated to finding a solution to this ongoing challenge that impacts every community around the country, and look forward to working with Senate leaders during this hearing and with Congress at large.”

Also testifying will be John Lord, CEO of marijuana retail chain LivWell Enlightened Health and chairman of the industry advocacy group the Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF).

Neal Levine, CEO of CTF, said in a statement that he hoped the organization’s testimony will “contribute to the growing momentum behind meaningful and historic cannabis policy reform.”

“This hearing is yet another sign that Congress is taking the cannabis banking problem seriously and intends to take action to correct it,” he said. “Cannabis businesses operating legally under state and local laws should have the same access to banking and financial services as any other type of business.”

Merkley and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the bill’s chief GOP cosponsor, will appear at the hearing as well.

Michael Correia, government relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, called the hearing “yet another signal of the bill’s popularity.”

“Chairman Crapo has been clear that he does not support marijuana,” he said. “However, this clearly shows that he understands this issue is a banking problem that has serious public safety implications.”

Beyond financial services access, support on broader marijuana issues is growing in Congress.

Last week, a House Judiciary subcommittee held a first-ever hearing on ending federal cannabis prohibition at which lawmakers and witnesses expressed a near consensus that far-reaching reforms are needed but voiced some disagreement over specific provisions of pending bills.

Last month, the House approved amendments to protect state, territory and tribal marijuana laws from Justice Department interference and last week passed a measure to let military veterans who work in the cannabis industry apply for government-backed home loans.

This piece was first published by 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 20-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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Yelp Blocks Marijuana Businesses From Two Key Advertising Features

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Yelp is no longer offering two key advertising features to marijuana-related businesses, the company confirmed to Marijuana Moment.

Two cannabis businesses have shared an email from Yelp announcing the policy change. It states that the company had “unfortunate news” and that it will be removing both the “Business Highlights and Portfolio advertising options for cannabis-related businesses, effective immediately.”

“We will be removing these programs from your Yelp page over the course of the next few business days,” the email continues.

The Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), which is the longest-running cannabis dispensary in the country, told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that it has already seen a significant impact since receiving the notice two days earlier.

“This is yet another blow for us—amidst a devastating pandemic, no less,” BPG Director of Marketing Lauren Watson said. “Yelp was one of only a few effective advertising channels available to legal cannabis companies, and now, without warning, we’re being shut out. Just two days after the new policy was implemented, we’re seeing over a 60 percent decline in page views.”

In a tweet, the chief technology officer of cannabis delivery company Bud.com shared a screenshot of the email from Yelp.

“It’s frustrating to pay taxes and compete with unlicensed folks who can advertise digitally against you,” he said.

The Business Highlights service allows individuals to pay to feature up to six descriptors on their page showing what “makes their business unique” such as “family-owned.” The separate Portfolio option is another paid feature where businesses can include photos of projects they’ve completed “to showcase their quality of work, expertise, and specializations along with additional details such as cost and project timelines.”

A Yelp spokesperson told Marijuana Moment that the company made the policy change in February—though these two marijuana businesses said they only received notice of the change this week. Just prior to when the company says it made the decision to block marijuana firms from the premium products, an NBC News investigation found that Yelp’s site included pages for unlicensed cannabis dispensaries, prompting the launch of the verification process.

The company allows “cannabis businesses on our platform in all states where it is either recreationally or medically legal, as it’s important that consumers have access to first-hand information about these businesses,” the spokesperson told Marijuana Moment.

The representative did not directly reply to a question about the reasoning for the policy change. Instead, they discussed how Yelp does not “take revenue from cannabis businesses that have not purchased our Verified License product.”

“By verifying their license to operate, Yelp is able to confirm to consumers that the business has satisfied the requirements of their local regulator to operate legally,” they said. “Once verified these businesses are then eligible to purchase Yelp’s enhanced profile product only, at this time.”

Asked for clarification about whether verified marijuana businesses are eligible for the two advertising services mentioned in the email announcing the change to current clients, the spokesperson confirmed they are not.

“If a cannabis company purchases Verified License, they’re then only eligible to purchase Yelp’s enhanced profile product, at this time,” they said.

The company did not immediately respond to a follow-up question about why at least some businesses were not notified about the policy change until this week even though the company says it made the decision four months ago.

“This is just one more example of prohibition discouraging companies from working with legal cannabis businesses, depriving them of the basic and vital services enjoyed by every other industry,” Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “Given Yelp’s size and accessibility, this unfortunate decision will certainly be a blow to many cannabis businesses which are already hurting because of the pandemic, as well as lack of access to relief funds and other financial services.”

“Thankfully, there are some other services out there that can provide business information to consumers which are either tailored to cannabis or are willing to work with related businesses,” he said.

While Yelp provides the verification service for licensed marijuana businesses, the cannabis-focused directories Weedmaps and Leafly have both taken steps in recent months to prevent unlicensed shops from being advertised on their sites. WeedMaps said it removed about 2,700 listings for illegal dispensaries as of January and Leafly reported that it booted about 1,000 as of September 2019.

Nevada Pardons More Than 15,000 People With Marijuana Convictions Under Governor’s Resolution

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NBA Players Union Head Joins Marijuana Company As League Reportedly Suspends Drug Testing

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The head of the NBA’s players union is joining the board of a major marijuana company at the same time reports are surfacing that players will not be tested for cannabis and other recreational drugs when they convene to wrap up the season in Orlando next month.

Michele Roberts, who has served as the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) since 2014, will be the first female board member of the national cannabis company Cresco Labs, the firm announced on Wednesday.

She said in a press release that she will help advance Cresco’s “distinctive brands of high quality products and services, particularly those focused on the promise held by medicinal cannabis to treat conditions and illnesses where more traditional protocols have not met the patients’ needs.”

Roberts added that she is committed to supporting the company’s social responsibility efforts to” better both individual lives and underrepresented communities.”

In her full-time job, Roberts has also advocated for reforming NBA’s marijuana policies, stating in 2018 that she feel “there are substantial signs that support its efficacy and the value that it has for us, especially pain management.”

“We’re in talks with the league to see where we can go with it,” she said at the time. “The obvious future is that marijuana will be decriminalized probably throughout the country in short order.”

Now it seems those negotiations are paying off, with sources telling The Athletic that the league and the players’ union have agreed to suspend testing for recreational drugs, at least for the rest of the current abbreviated season. NBA will continue to test for performance-enhancing drugs, however.

This is apparently an extension of a temporary policy, as players reportedly have not been tested for cannabis during the coronavirus pandemic that forced NBA to go into hiatus earlier this year. It’s not clear if it will be extended indefinitely following the “bubble” tournament housed at Disney World, but negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement are still in the works.

“It’s something that we are talking to Michele Roberts and the players association about, about what our policy should be,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last year. “I think it’s not as much about what guys do in the summer. If they want to smoke pot in the summer, whatever. It’s legal in a lot of states, to your point. No issue. I do think there’s a little bit of concern about some of the pot smoking in-season.”

If NBA does ultimately end marijuana testing, it would be another example of evolving drug policies within national sports leagues. Earlier this year, the MLB announced that players would not longer be tested for cannabis, though they’re barred from being sponsored by marijuana companies.

The NFL also made the decision to end suspensions for positive drug tests as well as limiting the testing window.

Colorado Marijuana Social Equity Businesses Would Be Defined Under New Bill

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

 

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MedMen Temporarily Closes All Locations And Condemns Looting In Internal Memo

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The national marijuana dispensary chain MedMen has temporarily closed down all of its stores after several of its Los Angeles-based locations were looted over the weekend. While the company strongly condemned the looting, it said it recognizes the tragedies that led up to the incidents and is offering to support its black employees during this time.

Businesses in cities across the country have been impacted by outrage over recent police killings of black Americans. That includes George Floyd, whose death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer ignited mass protests, some of which have been followed by looting.

In an internal memo to MedMen employees that was obtained by Marijuana Moment, the company said that its locations in downtown Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills “were heavily damaged, as were a number of other businesses, including those in the cannabis community.”

“Effective immediately, we are temporarily closing all stores and the corporate office to protect the safety of our employees,” the memo states. “The safety of everyone in the MedMen family is the most important thing right now, and we are grateful to report that while our stores were damaged, our employees and security guards were unharmed.”

“Our assumption is that all of you know this, but we want to take the time to make it very clear there is a bright line between the peaceful protests yesterday and the criminal activity that followed,” it continues. “We do not know what goes through the mind of those that would promote violence or destruction immediately on the heels of a peaceful protest designed to bring us all closer together.”

But while that language largely contrasts with that of some other impacted marijuana businesses that have more clearly sympathized with people expressing outrage in the face of police killings, MedMen also extended a hand to its black workers and said it appreciates the circumstances that contributed to the situation.

“Regarding the events of the last week, we are heartbroken, outraged and horrified by the tragic events in our country and the continued violence and injustice perpetrated against the Black community. To our Black colleagues, if there is any way we can show up for you during this time, we would encourage you to email [the CEO’s office],” the company said. “In the meantime, we offer our deepest empathy, we are here to listen, we are here to help and we are here to stand with you as a MedMen family in any way we can.”

“To those fighting for social justice, MedMen stands with you. The horrifying treatment of our black colleagues and community must end,” MedMen added in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “Systematic oppression and inequality must end. We are committed to using our platform to help. We will rebuild and come back stronger in a way that makes our communities proud and advances justice and equality.”

A spokesperson said that the company is actively assessing its plan moving forward. While the representative initially suggested to Marijuana Moment that employees would continue to be paid during the temporary shutdown, he later said that the company “will take care of our employees as demonstrated by our response to COVID-19” but could not get into specifics about ongoing financial decisions.

Meanwhile, the rapper Berner, who owns the popular Los Angeles dispensary Cookies, said after his shop was looted that ensuring justice and addressing the problems underlying the protests is more important than the loss of merchandise.

“It’s extremely unfortunate what happened to our store tonight on Melrose. But as a human living in the world we’re living in today, I cannot expect anything less until justice is served,” he said. “We can rebuild our store, but you cannot bring someone back to life.”

Debby Goldsberry, the executive director of the dispensary Magnolia Wellness Oakland, struck a similar tone in a Facebook post about their experience being looted. She said that while the property loss was extensive and will hit the small retailer hard financially, this “story is not about Magnolia Wellness. It’s about this nation, blistering in pain. It’s bubbled up, and can’t be stopped, no matter how much salve we put on it.”

“Our shop can be rebuilt, but the black lives taken by the police, again and again, are gone forever. Simply put, the police are murdering people right before our eyes, and the anger has boiled over. We saw it on camera, watching these men rampage through our space,” she wrote.

“Anger like this is based in injustice. Anger like this is based in facts. Anger like this is based in hundreds of years of oppression, and in never, ever getting a fair shot, no matter what, because the system is set up in a systematic manner that assures you never will,” the post continues. “George Floyd’s horrible death is just one of so many by now that it’s become impossible to track.”

Kris Krane, president of 4Front Ventures, said one of the company’s Mission dispensaries in Chicago was also raided over the weekend.

“Despite the sadness and destruction, my support for the protests and the underlying goal of ending police brutality, systemic law enforcement reform, and societal recognition of the fundamental humanity of people of color in this country remains undeterred,” he said. “I stand with those protesting for human rights and justice, and understand why some feel so disempowered that they have no recourse but rage and violence.”

Cannabis shops from California to Oregon have impacted by looting in recent days.

This story has been updated to include additional commentary on future plans from a MedMen spokesperson

Rapper Who Owns Looted Marijuana Dispensary Says Justice Is More Important Than Business

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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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