Companies that sell cannabis products—even those consisting of CBD derived from hemp, which was legalized in the U.S. through the Farm Bill late last year—are continuing to have trouble accessing basic financial services that are available to businesses in other sectors. That includes being able to maintain bank accounts and process their customers’ credit cards.
The latter problem could be solved under a new pilot program that has quietly been launched by the payment processing service Square.
“Square is currently conducting an invite-only beta for some CBD products,” a spokesperson for the company said in an email.
When asked about the reasons for the launching the new program, which comes after years of refusing to work with CBD companies, the spokesperson said that the company closely watches evolving public policies and strives to create new opportunities for clients.
Thanks for checking in, but we're not able to support sales of CBD at this time. This Support Center article has more information: https://t.co/KMgsu6cP6l. Send us a DM if you have any questions about this. https://t.co/1BxE8pERcm
— Square Support (@SqSupport) October 19, 2018
Unfortunately, Square is currently unable to support the sale of these products. If Square becomes able to support businesses selling CBD, we will announce it.
— Square Support (@SqSupport) December 13, 2018
In any case, Square’s beta effort comes just at the right time for businesses in the growing CBD space. This month, US Bank subsidiary Elavon, which has until recently handled payment processing for companies selling products with the non-intoxicating cannabis compound, is moving to shutter those accounts.
Last week, Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) pressed federal financial regulators about the issue during a hearing.
“I’ve had constituent businesses tell me that their access to financial products, specifically card services, have actually deteriorated since we descheduled industrial hemp in the Farm Bill,” he said. “This obviously conflicts with congressional intent.”
In April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)—who together championed hemp’s legalization through the Farm Bill, sent a series of letters to various federal agencies pushing for new guidance about financial services access for hemp businesses.
“While some financial institutions have agreed to offer financial products to the growing hemp industry, many of them have not due to confusion over the legal status of hemp,” the bipartisan duo wrote. “However, as hemp is no longer a controlled substance, financial institutions should feel secure in engaging with this industry.”
Square’s entry into the CBD space comes as federal legislation to allow broader access to financial services for marijuana businesses is gaining momentum in Congress.
In March, the House Financial Services Committee voted 45 to 15 to approve a bill to shield banks from being punished by federal regulators for working with state-legal marijuana businesses. That legislation now has 184 cosponsors—significantly more than a third of the chamber’s membership, and a floor vote is expected within the next several weeks.
A companion Senate bill has 29 lawmakers signed on, but Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) has so far refused to commit to even holding a hearing on the proposal.
But outside groups that do not traditionally support marijuana law reform are exerting pressure on Congress to act.
On Monday, bankers associations from all 50 states sent a joint letter urging Crapo to move the cannabis financial services legislation forward.
Earlier this month, members of the National Association of Attorneys General, which represents the top law enforcement officials in each state, sent a similar letter endorsing the marijuana banking bill.
And last week, The National Association of State Treasurers adopted a resolution supporting a legislative fix, writing that “cash-based systems are inefficient, expensive, and opaque, making illicit activity more difficult to track and posing a significant risk to public safety by increasing the likelihood of violent crime.”
While this story was being reported on Tuesday, the website New Consumer published an early report about Square’s move, citing an unnamed industry source.
Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, praised the Square for taking the step.
“Forward-thinking companies are stepping in to fill the gap created by outdated federal banking policies, and helping address the problems caused by a lack of financial services in the cannabis industry,” he said. “Lawmakers should take heed and open this space to all financial institutions.”
California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Saturday that he signed several marijuana-related bills into law—including one that will let legal businesses take advantage of more tax deductions—but also vetoed another measure that would have allowed some patients to use medical cannabis in health care facilities.
Under a section of current federal law known as 280E, marijuana growers, processors and sellers are unable to deduct expenses from their taxes that businesses in any other sector would be able to write off. Until now, California policy simply mirrored the federal approach.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.
Former Congressman Who Fought Marijuana Legalization Joins Cannabis Company Board
A former GOP congressman with a long track record of opposing marijuana legalization efforts is now cashing in on the legal cannabis industry.
FSD Pharma, a Canadian company that is a licensed producer of “pharmaceutical grade cannabis” through its subsidiary FV Pharma and researches cannabinoid-based therapies, announced on Friday that former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN) joined its board of directors. Missing from the press release is mention of his legislative history that includes repeated actions to oppose federal protections for state-level marijuana reforms.
From 1998 to 2000, Buyer cosponsored two resolutions and one bill aimed at condemning legalization and upholding federal prohibition. His opposition extended to limited medical cannabis reforms, too, voting five times from 2003 to 2007 against an amendment to protect state laws and the patients and providers complying with them from federal prosecution.
One of the anti-marijuana resolutions he signed onto passed the House but did not advance in the Senate. As introduced, it characterized cannabis as “both dangerous and addictive” and stated that “Congress is unequivocally opposed to legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, and urges the defeat of State initiatives that would seek to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.”
The version that passed, which Buyer voted for, expressed concerns that “ambiguous cultural messages about marijuana use are contributing to a growing acceptance of marijuana use among children and teenagers” and noting that federal authorities can enforce prohibition “through seizure and other civil action, as well as through criminal penalties.”
The separate bill he cosponsored sought to declare state laws that allow cannabis use as “null and void.”
“[I]t is the intent of the Congress to supersede any and all laws of the States and units of local government insofar as they may now or hereafter effectively permit or purport to authorize the use, growing, manufacture, distribution, or importation by an individual or group of marijuana or any controlled substance which differs from the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act or regulations issued pursuant thereto,” it read.
It’s not quite clear what changed for Buyer, but his appointment to the board of a major marijuana company that has benefitted from the successful reform movement he opposed is sure to raise questions.
In response to Marijuana Moment’s query about what accounted for the former congressman’s evolution on the issue, FSD Pharma President Zeeshan Saeed simply replied, “3M options as all other Directors and $40k cash comp.”
Hours later, Saeed clarified that he intended to send that reply to another journalist.
Raza Bokhari, executive co-chairman and CEO of FSD Pharma, said in a subsequent email that he’s known Buyer for years and believes that while he “remains opposed to recreational use of cannabis,” he “has come to recognize the potential of cannabinoid molecule in drug development targeting auto-immune diseases, especially the role of synthetic cannabinoids and other cannabinoids targeting the endocannibinoid system of the human body.”
The former congressman has been on “a very personal journey, with his wife being plagued with an auto-immune disease that has no cure and others in her family also that suffer from auto-immune diseases,” Bokhari said.
He added that Buyer has personally invested a quarter of a million dollars in the company and compared him to former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who also joined the marijuana industry after opposing cannabis reform while serving in Congress.
In a press release announcing the appointment, Buyer said the “opportunity to participate in FSD’s growth at this stage is exciting” and that he’s “attracted by FSD’s medical research to tame and define the unknown by challenging the edges of medical science to provide relief to people suffering from fibromyalgia and other serious illnesses.”
In welcoming Steve Buyer to the FSD Pharma Board of Directors and announcing a share consolidation, the Company has made an immense positive stride forward https://t.co/aAP9cM2kAi
— FSD Pharma (@FsdPharma) October 11, 2019
One industry that the former congressman’s actions did assist while in office and later went on to work for as a lobbyist is Big Tobacco. Buyer raised eyebrows in 2009 when he opposed legislation to regulate the tobacco industry and argued in a House floor speech that a person is just as likely to experience the health consequences of cigarettes if they were to smoke dried lettuce or grass. He insisted that it’s “smoke that kills, not the nicotine.”
Shortly after retiring, Buyer joined tobacco company Reynolds American as a lobbyist and paid consultant.
There have been several reports that noted Buyer’s decision not to run for reelection in 2010 came amid controversy over a foundation he founded. The Frontier Foundation was supposed to provide educational funding for students, but while it raked in tens of thousands from pharmaceutical interests such as Ely Lilly and PhRMA over a three-year period, it reportedly hadn’t distributed a single scholarship.
His retirement came months after USA Today and the Indianapolis Star reported on the foundation’s activities.
But now, Buyer is entering the cannabis space, and the company described his experience in the pharmaceutical industry and Congress as an asset.
“In welcoming Steve Buyer to the FSD Pharma Board of Directors and announcing a share consolidation, the Company has made an immense positive stride forward” FSD Pharma CEO Raza Bokhari said. “Steve’s addition has further strengthened the independence and profile of the FSD Pharma Board of Directors; his broad leadership experience and pharmaceutical industry relationships will help enhance our visibility, especially among U.S. Institutional investors and on U.S. Capitol Hill.”
Buyer also previously served as a special assistant U.S. attorney and an Indiana deputy attorney general.
This story has been updated to include additional comment from FSD Pharma’s CEO.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Inventors File Patent Application For Scratch-And-Sniff Marijuana Packages
Scratch-and-sniff marijuana packaging could be coming to a dispensary near you.
An application for a patent on the cannabis container concept was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday. In order to comply with state regulations while at the same time ensuring consumers know what they’re buying, the inventors are pitching a secure package that uses non-THC volatiles to produce the scent of the product when a sticker on the exterior is scratched.
The applicants recognized in their filing that there’s an existing patent application for scratch-and-sniff stickers that are meant to identify the flavor of coffee, but argued their idea is distinct because the other application produced the scent of coffee after it’s brewed whereas this sticker would smell like cannabis in its unsmoked form.
“A major hurdle to the purchase of Cannabis is the secure packaging laws of various states,” the application states. “Packaging can often prevent a purchaser from observing certain characteristics of the Cannabis, such as its scent.”
In a summary of the proposal, the applicants said the “general purpose of the present invention is to provide a Cannabis package and method of selection that includes all the advantages of the secure packaging, and overcomes the drawbacks inherent therein.”
Another advantage of the proposed packaging is to help patients identify medicinal properties of different marijuana varieties, or assess quality, without having to open the product, the applicants, Random Vaughn and Jonathan Tanzer of Olympia, Washington, argued. They said that scent is is important in “selecting Cannabis for medical reasons such as seizures, headaches, or insomnia.”
The application lists two iterations of the concept. The main one would involve a sticker that would be infused with the scent of cannabis. Terpenes, which are non-intoxicating compounds in the plant that give cannabis its smell and taste, would be used to produce the scent.
For the other, the scent wouldn’t correspond with the actual small of the marijuana itself, but instead various flavor notes, which are sometimes used in cannabis marketing to describe the product’s qualities similar to what’s often done with wine. The applicants listed a diverse list of potential smells, including freshly cut grass, bread, vanilla, bacon, fish and chips, a Christmas tree, cinnamon, after shave, shampoo, the seaside, furniture polish and a Sunday roast.