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These New Marijuana Banking Bill Amendments Could Help Win GOP Support

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The sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would resolve banking issues in the marijuana industry is preparing to amend the legislation as a planned House floor vote approaches in order to bolster its appeal among GOP members.

The bill, which currently has 206 cosponsors, including 26 Republicans, was revised to clarify that banking protections apply to hemp and CBD businesses and also shields certain businesses such as firearms dealers from being targeted by financial regulators, as was the case under a 2013 Justice Department initiative that flagged various industries as higher risk for fraud and money laundering.

Other changes include an expansion of the definition of ancillary businesses working with marijuana firms that would be protected, extending and clarifying protections to federal home loan banks and insurers and language specifying that financial regulators wouldn’t be uniquely restricted in their supervisory roles over the cannabis industry.

The text of the updated bill as prepared for floor action next week was obtained by Marijuana Moment.

The provisions are meant to entice conservative members who might have been wary of approving a bill that is narrowly tailored to help the cannabis industry.

A new section of the bill notes that hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill yet “some hemp businesses (including producers, manufacturers, and retailers) continue to have difficulty gaining access to banking products and services” and that “businesses involved in the sale of hemp-derived cannabidiol (‘CBD’) products are particularly affected, due to confusion about their legal status.”

In order to address that problem, the legislation stipulates that financial regulators must issue guidance “confirming the legality of hemp, hemp-derived CBD products, and other hemp-derived cannabinoid products, and the legality of engaging in financial services with businesses selling hemp, hemp-derived CBD products, and other hemp-derived cannabinoid products, after the enactment of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.”

Regulators must also “provide recommended best practices for financial institutions to follow when providing financial services and merchant processing services to businesses involved in the sale of hemp, hemp-derived CBD products, and other hemp-derived cannabinoid products.”

The section that seems to aim to prevent actions such as the controversial Justice Department initiative known as “Operation Choke Point” targeting the gun industry states that federal banking agencies “may not formally or informally request or order a depository institution to terminate a specific customer account or group of customer accounts or to otherwise restrict or discourage a depository institution from entering into or maintaining a banking relationship with a specific customer or group of customers” unless there’s a valid reason.

Getting more Republicans on board will be critical as House leaders plan to advance the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act through an expedited process known as suspension of the rules, which requires two-thirds of the chamber of pass and does not provide opportunities for floor amendments.

The expanded version of the legislation will also likely fare better in the Republican-controlled Senate if it clears the House. Senate Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) said earlier this month that his panel will also hold a vote on the banking issue, ideally by the year’s end, but he didn’t commit specifically to a vote on the SAFE Banking Act as currently drafted.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who’s made clear that he’s no fan of marijuana, could presumably feel better about brining the bill to his chamber’s floor given his long-standing advocacy for hemp and CBD issues.

It’s not just the GOP that the bill’s supporters have to consider, however. While Democrats have capitalized on popular marijuana reform issues, the banking legislation has recently been a topic of contention among progressive advocates and lawmakers.

After House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) informed the Democratic Caucus of his intent to bring the bill to a floor vote by the end of the month, some groups such as the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance signed a letter urging leadership to delay a vote until comprehensive legalization legislation that addresses social equity is passed.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is a prominent example of a lawmaker who indicated she might not vote in favor of banking legislation without Congress first tackling the racial injustices of cannabis prohibition, with a staffer telling Marijuana Moment on Thursday that the congresswoman “feels strongly that addressing racial justice should be the first priority.”

Marijuana Moment spoke to a number of lawmakers about the internal Democratic caucus debate on Wednesday. House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA), whose panel passed the bill in March, said that she understands the groups’ perspective but that the issue is that Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has yet to hold a vote on his more wide-ranging legalization bill.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, made a similar point and stressed the need for action on any cannabis reform legislation regardless of its scale. Revising his bill signals that he’s not letting up on that goal, and it also bodes well for the prospects of getting a vote next week.

A vote has yet to be scheduled but a key signal will be whether the SAFE Banking Act is listed on a weekly floor schedule that Hoyer’s office will release on Friday.

Marijuana Moment’s Patreon supporters can read the full text of the revised banking bill below:

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Senate Committee Blocks DC Marijuana Legalization While Advancing Hemp Regulations

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Business

Marijuana Industry Groups Ask States For Coronavirus Relief Loans That Feds Won’t Provide

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A coalition of marijuana industry associations sent a letter to governors and state treasurers on Wednesday, asking them to help secure financial relief that cannabis businesses are being denied by the federal government amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The letter emphasizes that marijuana companies are providing jobs and essential services during the pandemic, and some are producing needed medical supplies like hand sanitizer. Despite this, the cannabis industry is specifically ineligible for federal disaster loans and other relief programs due to their product’s ongoing status as an illegal controlled substance. The groups said the treasurers could provide assistance to that end.

“Like all essential businesses, cannabis businesses are facing significant uncertainty and costs to provide for our employees and to maintain the medical supply chain during this pandemic,” the groups said. “Yet, unlike every other essential business, there is an underlying federal-state tension which puts our businesses in a uniquely vulnerable and dire operational and financial position. This is particularly true of our small and minority-owned businesses.”

They made two requests to the state officials: 1) encourage congressional delegations to insert language into future COVID-19 legislation that would enable marijuana companies to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) relief loans and disaster assistance, and 2) consider creating state-level lending programs for the industry to help fill the gap in the meantime.

“Although cannabis businesses operate in strict compliance with state law and comply with a broad range of federal mandates, including paying federal corporate taxes at a much higher effective rate than other businesses due to a quirk in the tax code, their activity is still considered illegal under federal law,” the letter states. “This creates all kinds of hardship, including this current prohibition on SBA assistance.”

“While the underlying federal issues with banking, taxes, and capital access remain, our businesses need access to some additional liquidity to ensure reliability in the medical supply chain for patient access and employee retention in these uncertain times,” they said.

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Marijuana Policy Project, Minority Cannabis Industry Association, Cannabis Trade Federation, National Cannabis Roundtable and Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce each signed the letter.

“The cannabis industry is under the same strains as many other industries in these difficult times, in addition to existing unduly burdensome regulatory and financial requirements,” Morgan Fox, NCIA media relations director, said on behalf of the groups in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “Given the increasing recognition of cannabis businesses as necessary components of healthcare and economic stability, it is absolutely vital that they can access relief loans to continue to provide services effectively.”

SBA has made clear that its services are not available to marijuana businesses, or even those that indirectly work with the industry. While eleven senators recently requested that a key committee approve spending bill language allowing SBA program access to cannabis companies, the request was targeted at future spending legislation in the works, rather than bills concerning the coronavirus outbreak that will likely be enacted in short order.

In a separate letter to governors and regulators in states with medical cannabis programs, another set of industry and advocacy organizations stressed the need to maintain access to medical cannabis for patients. They thanked the states for deeming dispensaries to be essential services and said, additionally, they should allow home deliveries, curbside pickup, recommendations via telemedicine and remove or reduce caregiver application fees, among other steps.

“On behalf of medical cannabis businesses, patients, and our communities, we again express our gratitude for your leadership and work to ensure continued access to safe and effective medicine,” the groups, which includes all of those in the aforementioned letter as well as Americans for Safe Access and NORML. “We welcome the opportunity to help identify and implement safe means to ensure continued access to medicine.”

Read the letter concerning financial relief below:

Cannabis industry letter to… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Read the letter concerning medical cannabis access below: 

Industry group on medical c… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Lawmakers Mourn Loss Of Charlotte Figi, Whose Story Inspired National CBD Movement And Helped Change Policies

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Lawmakers Mourn Loss Of Charlotte Figi, Whose Story Inspired National CBD Movement And Helped Change Policies

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Advocates and lawmakers are mourning the loss of a young icon in the medical marijuana reform movement. Charlotte Figi, who showed the world how CBD can treat severe epilepsy, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 13 due to complications from a likely coronavirus infection.

Across social media, people are sending their support to the Figi family and sharing anecdotes about how Charlotte’s battle against Dravet syndrome—and the success she demonstrated in treating it with the cannabis compound—changed hearts and minds. Her impact has been felt across state legislatures and in Congress, where her story was often told as a clear example of why laws prohibiting access to cannabidiol needed to change.

The domino effect Charlotte’s story helped set off—with states, particularly conservative ones, passing modest reform bills for CBD access—paved the path for a successful congressional rider that ended up protecting more far-reaching medical cannabis programs across the U.S., advocates say.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who has become one of the leading GOP champions for broad marijuana reform on Capitol Hill, said he was personally influenced by Charlotte and, as a state lawmaker in 2014, her story motivated him to support legislation to reform Florida’s medical cannabis policies.

“Charlotte lived a life of tremendous significance. Her story inspired me to completely change my views on medical cannabis and successfully pass legislation so that patients could get help in Florida,” the congressman said. “I’m so sad she is gone, but the movement she has ignited will live forever.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), another top marijuana reform advocate who has raised the issue directly with President Trump on several occasions, wrote that Charlotte “made a positive and everlasting change in the world by the age of 13, and her inspirational courage will always be remembered.”

“Charlotte changed the way the nation thinks about CBD through her grace and advocacy,” he said. “We should honor her by fixing our federal cannabis laws as soon as possible.”

Florida state Rep. Rob Bradley (R) agreed with the sentiment, writing that “Charlotte Figi was a bright, beautiful light that changed how our state and country views cannabis. I am saddened to hear that this sweet soul has left us.”

In Illinois, state Rep. Bob Morgan (D) said Charlotte, who is the namesake of one of the most well-known CBD brands, Charlotte’s Web, “singlehandedly transformed how the world viewed medical cannabis and children with epilepsy.”

“She suffered so much so that others would not have to,” he said. “May her memory be a blessing.”

Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach (D) also said Charlotte “inspired me to get involved in the cannabis movement” and “showed the world that Cannabis is medicine and the trail she blazed has helped millions.”

“The world lost a fighter,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who previously advocated for CBD reform as a state senator, said. “Charlotte Figi-who helped inspire passage of CBD Oil legislation for epilepsy treatment nationwide-passed away. I worked w/her mom/others in 14 in MO. My speech in the Senate was a tribute to her, June Jesse, my son & many others.”

Beyond championing a successful CBD bill in Florida, Charlotte’s family also captivated national audiences and became a household name in the reform movement. Her story was featured on a popular CNN documentary, “Weed,” hosted by Sanjay Gupta, that introduced people from diverging political ideologies to an issue that’s since become a focus of legislation across the country.

A bipartisan congressional bill named after her—the Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act—was first introduced in 2015.

But while that standalone legislation didn’t advance, the growing number of state-level policy changes that were inspired by Charlotte and other young patients could help to explain why Congress, including members who oppose legalization, has consistently supported a budget rider that prohibits the Justice Department from interfering in state-legal medical cannabis programs. It was first approved in 2014—after repeatedly failing on the House floor—and has been renewed each year since.

With CBD-only states included on an enumerated list of those that would be protected from legal action, it became increasingly difficult for lawmakers to defend voting against a measure to prevent federal harassment of their own constituents. Support from more conservative-minded Democrats and a handful of Republicans, including those from states that had recently enacted or were debating their own CBD laws, allowed the amendment to narrowly advance for the first time when it had been handily defeated two years earlier.

Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and South Carolina stand out as examples of states where cannabis reform came online between those votes and where support for the measure also increased among their congressional delegations.

The measure as approved by Congress and first signed into law law President Obama, has given explicit protection from federal prosecution not just to people complying with limited CBD-focused state laws but also medical cannabis growers, processors and retailers in states with more robust policies such as California and Colorado (though it does not protect recreational marijuana businesses or consumers).

“Charlotte Figi personalized this issue in a way that few others have, and her story humanized the medical cannabis fight to such a degree that many politicians could no longer ignore it,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “There is little doubt that Charlotte’s story, arguably more than any other, paved the way for politicians in several southern and midwestern states to finally move forward to recognize the need for CBD, and in some cases, whole-plant cannabis access.”

Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said even opponents of cannabis legalization “can’t say ‘no’ to young mothers pushing sick kids in strollers,” referencing the many other patient advocates who helped usher the reform to victory.

“There’s no doubt it helped move the debate in our direction,” he said. “Truth is, I was once told that CBD hurt our effort [for broader reform]. I don’t think so.”

A person writing on behalf of the family on Tuesday said that “Charlotte is no longer suffering” and will be forever seizure-free.

CBD Prescription Drug Is No Longer A Federally Controlled Substance, DEA Says

Image element courtesy of Paige Figi.

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FBI Policy On CBD Use By Agents Is ‘Under Review’

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is apparently looking into changing internal policy when it comes to the use of CBD products by its agents and other employees, the agency said on Tuesday.

While workers are prohibited from using marijuana—and applicants can be disqualified for consuming cannabis within the past three years—it seems FBI is open to loosening rules for the non-intoxicating cannabis compound, which has become more widely available since hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, creating a massive market for its derivatives.

During a Q&A on Twitter, FBI’s Newark office was asked two marijuana-related questions. One person wanted to know why the agency says “you cannot use marijuana within 3 years of applying, even with a medical card/prescription.”

“The policy regarding CBD oil is currently under review,” FBI replied. “Check the other eligibility requirements.”

The overall thread was about questions people had about the process of becoming a special agent, so it’s not clear if the CBD policy is being reevaluated for applicants only regarding past use, or if any change would cover active agents as well. Marijuana Moment reached out to FBI and its Newark division for clarification, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.

Another person asked whether the three-year cannabis abstinence requirement applies to positions other than special agents and FBI said: “Yes, that policy applies to all positions within the FBI.”

The simple fact that FBI fielded multiple marijuana questions while promoting recruitment seems to speak to a point that the agency’s former director, James Comey, made in 2014. He suggested that he wanted to loosen the agency’s employment policies as it concerns marijuana, as potential skilled workers were being passed over due to the requirement.

“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.

Last year, FBI said it wanted the public to send tips on illicit activity in state-legal marijuana markets, stating that restrictive licensing policies could open the door to corruption.

While FBI’s CBD policy is in review, other federal agencies—particularly for within the military—have strongly discouraged or outright banned its use.

The Department of Defense made clear that CBD is off limits for service members.

The Air Force issued a notice last year stipulating that its members are prohibited from using the compound.

The Navy told its ranks that they’re barred from using CBD regardless of its legal status.

And the Coast Guard said last year that sailors can’t use marijuana or visit state-legal dispensaries.

Meanwhile, NASA said that CBD products could contain unauthorized THC concentrations that could jeopardize jobs if employees fail a drug test.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued guidance to federal agency drug program coordinators last year, expressing concern about excess THC in CBD products, which seems to have prompted the various departments to clarify their rules.

The Department of Transportation took a different approach in February, stating in a notice that it would not be testing drivers for CBD.

While much of the CBD found in markets across the U.S. is largely unregulated, as the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of developing rules for the compound, a CBD-based prescription medication for epilepsy was entirely removed from the Controlled Substances Act this week, which should lead to easier access for patients.

People Could Still Be Denied These Jobs Over Marijuana Use Under New York City Drug Testing Exemptions

Photo by Kimzy Nanney.

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