Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to federal financial regulators on Monday, urging them to issue updated guidance to ensure that hemp businesses have access to banking services.
While hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, companies that manufacture and sell hemp products are still being denied credit lines and bank accounts due to ongoing uncertainty within the financial sector, Schumer said.
The senator sent his letter to heads of the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) on the same day that he visited a hemp farm in Cortland County, New York to discuss opportunities and challenges in the burgeoning industry.
Allan Gandelman, President of @ny_cgpa, welcomed @SenSchumer to his farm in Cortland today. Senator Schumer is urging federal regulators to quickly address banking and credit issues for hemp farmers. Thank you @SenSchumer! #hemp #cbd pic.twitter.com/RCT0LuPWo2
— NY Cannabis Growers & Processors Association (@ny_cgpa) August 12, 2019
“The industrial hemp industry is seeding and growing all over Upstate New York, with new businesses like Main Street Farms popping up left and right, which is why I fought so hard to strip the burdensome and outdated federal regulations from it by passing the Hemp Farming Act of 2018,” Schumer said in a press release. “However, if these businesses aren’t able to get financing from a bank or find a credit card processor that doesn’t charge them an arm and a leg, none of that matters all that much.”
“If the financial institutions aren’t given updated guidance by the major federal financial regulators clarifying the legality of industrial hemp, the industry in Central New York and producers like Main Street Farms will continue being tightly bound, prevented from growing and creating the good-paying jobs they’d otherwise be able to. That’s why I’m urging the FDIC, Federal Reserve and OCC to issue updated guidance to the financial institutions looking to provide services to industrial hemp-oriented businesses as soon as possible, to help growers, producers and industry harvest the massive potential of this versatile crop.”
In Cortland with Senator Chuck Schumer to talk about the hemp industry and its lack of access to traditional financial services. pic.twitter.com/tAFDcVuXTs
— Amanda Chin (@amandachintv) August 12, 2019
Schumer has placed an emphasis on his role in advancing hemp legalization and his support for the industry. He’s worked particularly closely with Canopy Growth Corp., which recently launched a first-of-its-kind industrial hemp park in New York that’s expected to generate 200 jobs in the region. When Canopy announced that it was ousting then-CEO Bruce Linton, Schumer personally called executives at the business to ensure that the park project would still move forward. At the groundbreaking event last month, the senator cut the ceremonial ribbon.
He also took credit for securing funding within the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the nation’s only hemp seed bank, which will be located in Geneva, New York.
This isn’t the first time that federal financial regulators have faced congressional pressure to provide clarity to banking institutions as it concerns hemp.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) sent a similar letter to the federal officials in June, requesting guidance on “how financial institutions can offer financial products and services to hemp farmers and processors.” And during a confirmation hearing earlier that month, a top Federal Reserve official told Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) that her agency “will try to clarify” that servicing hemp businesses is not illegal.
Schumer’s letter to regulators states that the “New York hemp industry has grown significantly, as new farms and businesses have emerged and existing ones have expanded,” which has “brought considerably more jobs and revenue to New York, making hemp an important part of the State’s agricultural industry.”
“As hemp farmers and businesses are exploring the full benefits of the 2018 Farm Bill, however, their growth has been hampered by regulatory uncertainty at financial institutions that has effectively led to a lack of access to financial products and services,” he wrote.
“Without access to traditional financial services, such as checking accounts and credit, many hemp businesses have been unable to effectively expand beyond their basic business operations. In order to alleviate these concerns, updated guidance would provide certainty for financial institutions to assess risk and make available a wider range of financial products to hemp cultivators and manufacturers.”
The letter notes that small hemp businesses and industry entrepreneurs are most impacted by the lack of regulatory clarity, and the press release says that Schumer’s office has even “heard stories from employees of hemp businesses being unable to access private loans due to the nature of their employment.”
“It is important that financial institutions recognize hemp as a legal agricultural industry as set forth in the 2018 Farm Bill,” the senator wrote. “I urge the FDIC, Federal Reserve, and OCC to provide guidance and best practices to the institutions under their authority that are looking to serve hemp farmers and businesses.”
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.