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Wells Fargo Closes Florida Politician’s Account Due To Marijuana Donations

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It’s well known that many banks are reluctant to open accounts for marijuana businesses out of fear of running afoul of the U.S’s government’s continued criminalization of the drug.

But one major institution just took the financial services industry’s cannabis cash paranoia a step further, saying—in what appears to be a first—that it won’t do business with a political candidate because she has received donations from cannabis industry interests.

Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest bank in the U.S., fired Florida agriculture commissioner candidate Nikki Fried as a client this month because her campaign has received donations from “lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry,” according to copies of emails her campaign made public on Monday.

“As part of the onboarding of the client it was uncovered some information regarding the customers [sic] political platform and that they are advocating for expanding patient access to medical marijuana,” Antoinette Infante, a vice president and senior relationship manager at Wells Fargo, wrote in a July 11 email to the Fried campaign’s compliance officer.

Wells Fargo email

After the campaign confirmed in a reply that Fried has indeed received contributions from cannabis industry leaders—and had no intention of stopping—Wells Fargo confirmed the closure of the account in an August 3 letter.

“Periodically, we review our account relationships as part of our responsibility to oversee and manage banking risks,” the letter said. “As a result of a recent review of your account relationship, we determined that we need to discontinue our business relationship and close the account above within 30 days from the date of this letter.”

Wells Fargo letter

If the move represents a new companywide policy—whether or not it spreads to other banking institutions—it could have implications for dozens of members of Congress and other politicians who regularly accept campaign contributions from people involved in the marijuana industry.

It could also affect the bank accounts for campaign committees and nonprofit groups working to advocate for marijuana policy change through legislatures and via ballot measures.

“This is yet another clear signal to Congress that they need to address the banking issue for the cannabis industry,” Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a statement. “It is absurd enough that state-regulated businesses are being denied standard banking services, but it is absolutely ludicrous that political candidates and nonprofit advocacy organizations are also being affected. There is no rational reason for Congress to go another session without fixing this growing problem, which has serious societal implications.”

MPP itself had its account closed by PNC Bank last year.

Fried, a Democrat, held a press conference at the Florida capitol on Monday morning to “address this arbitrary, unprecedented action against the fundamental rights to speech of a candidate for public office, and call attention to the out of touch institutions, laws and politicians that allowed this transgression to occur in the first place,” according to a news advisory.

In an email on Monday afternoon, Michael H. Gray, a Wells Fargo assistant vice president for corporate communications defended the company’s move.

“It is Wells Fargo’s policy not to knowingly bank or provide services to marijuana businesses or for activities related to those businesses, based on federal laws under which the sale and use of marijuana is illegal even if state laws differ,” he said. “We continually review our banking relationships to ensure we adhere to strict regulatory and risk guidelines.”

When asked if that meant the company would be canceling the accounts of members of Congress who bank with Wells Fargo, Gray responded, “The policy applies to everyone.”

Because of ongoing federal marijuana prohibition, many banks have remained wary about working with marijuana businesses, even as a growing number of states move to legalize the drug for recreational or medical purposes.

But Wells Fargo’s move appears to be the first time a financial institution has denied banking services to a candidate for public office as a result of donations from the cannabis industry.

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in November 2016, but its implementation has been slow and contentious as advocates and state officials battle over issues such as a ban on smoking the drug.

While Fried would not have significant oversight of medical marijuana issues if elected as commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, she has regularly mentioned the issue during the course of her campaign.

“There is no clearer example of our broken government than medical marijuana,” she said in video announcing her candidacy.

https://twitter.com/nikkifried/status/1023569939519684608/

Fried herself was a medical cannabis lobbyist prior to running for office.

Despite the fears that many banks have about working with the marijuana industry, recent federal data shows that a growing number of financial institutions are actively opening and maintaining accounts for cannabis businesses.

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 15-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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California Governor Signs Marijuana Tax Fairness Bill But Vetoes Cannabis In Hospitals

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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.

But under AB 37, the state tax code will depart from Internal Revenue Service policy when it comes to 280E, allowing licensed state cannabis firms to take deductions just like other business.

Newsom, who campaigned for the state’s successful marijuana legalization measure that voters approved in 2016, also signed SB 34, which allows businesses to provide free medical cannabis to low-income patients, and exempts those products from state taxes.

Another bill signed by the governor, SB 153, directs state officials to develop and submit to the U.S. Department of Agriculture an industrial hemp program plan in accordance with the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized the crop and its derivatives—including CBD.

“The California hemp industry looks to become a significant force nationally thanks to” the bill, Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, said in a press release.

But Newsom “begrudgingly” vetoed legislation, SB 305, that would have required certain health care facilities to allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis on site.

“This bill would create significant conflicts between federal and state laws that cannot be taken lightly,” the governor wrote in a veto message that suggested facilities would be at risk of losing Medicare and Medicaid funds if they allowed use of federally illegal cannabis.

“It is inconceivable that the federal government continues to regard cannabis as having no medicinal value,” Newsom said, adding that its “ludicrous stance puts patients and those who care for them in an unconscionable position.”

California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said in an email that the group is “disappointed” with the governor’s veto, noting that the legislation had already been watered down from an initial version that covered more than just terminal patients.

“The bill even allowed exemptions in the case that federal agencies ruled or notified the facilities that they were violating the law,” he said.

Other legislation Newsom signed includes measures on marijuana testing laboratories, vape cartridge labeling, appellations and marketing, cultivation canopy sizes, industry labor peace agreements and equity license applicants.

He also signed the appropriately numbered AB 420, which expands cannabis-focused research.

Last week, Newsom signed a bill to allow parents to administer medical cannabis to students at schools.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.

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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Former Congressman Who Fought Marijuana Legalization Joins Cannabis Company Board

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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.”

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. 

Inside Mitch McConnell’s Private Lunch Meeting With The Marijuana Industry

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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Inventors File Patent Application For Scratch-And-Sniff Marijuana Packages

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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.”

Random Vaughn and Jonathan Tanzer via USPTO.

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.

Seth Rogen And Snoop Dogg Offer Marijuana Advice To First-Time Consumers

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