U.S. House Of Representatives Approves Cannabis Banking Reform In Larger COVID-19 Relief Package

Lawmakers voted 208-199 (23 not voting) in favor of coronavirus “HEROES” relief package

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: On Friday evening (5/15/20) lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives passed additional coronavirus relief legislation to provide continued economic and government support to the country. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act includes the language of the SAFE Banking Act, which would prevent federal financial regulators from punishing financial institutions that provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, cannabis businesses across the country have been deemed essential and continue to operate. However, many of these businesses still lack access to the same financial services that are granted to every other industry in the United States. Because it is possible that coronavirus can be transmitted on currency — placing private industry and government workers at risk when handling large amounts of cash — allowing the cannabis industry to access banking services is now more crucial than ever. This policy change would also ensure that small and minority-owned businesses can access the financial assistance designed for them in many state programs.

The HEROES Act, which includes provisions to allow banks and financial institutions to provide services to the cannabis industry without fear of criminal prosecution, will now head to the Senate for consideration. In September 2019, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act, but the legislation has since stalled in the Senate.

Statement from Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project:
“I’m encouraged that the House recognizes the urgency of this issue and has taken this strong and necessary position. We thank Chairwoman Maxine Waters and Rep. Ed Perlmutter for their leadership on the issue.

“Continuing to exclude the cannabis industry from accessing basic and essential financial services during this time will result in more harm than good. Not only will it make the country’s economic recovery that much harder, but the provisions intended to help minority-owned businesses would continue to be absent within the industry.”

Statement from Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project:
“In light of the public health and public safety benefits of this specific change in policy, the Senate has good reason to pass this language into law. This is a change in policy that the banks are asking for even more than the cannabis companies. We urge the Senate Banking Committee to adopt the SAFE Banking provisions to ensure financial institutions can provide basic banking services to businesses that are compliant with state law.”

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MPP Op-Ed: Our Neighbor to The North

On Wednesday, marijuana sales will begin nationwide in Canada, making it the second country in the world — following Uruguay — with a federally legal adult-use marijuana industry.  Each Canadian province has developed its own system for how marijuana will be sold to adults. This will include government stores, private retailers, online government sales with delivery, or a mix of those approaches.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., nine states have legalized marijuana for adults’ use (although sales are allowed in only eight of them) and 30 states have comprehensive medical marijuana laws. Two more adult-use states and two more medical states may come on board on Election Day. But all this progress exists under the cloud of federal illegality.

Businesses in the U.S. have to contend with a myriad of problems caused by federal prohibition. Even MPP — a nonprofit organization that works to end marijuana prohibition — was dumped by our bank (we now have a new one) and our retirement fund briefly planned to drop us. In addition to banking challenges, U.S. cannabis businesses typically can’t accept credit cards, products can’t ship to retailers in other states, and most alarmingly, there is still the possibility of federal prosecution.

In addition to overriding federal law context, here is a comparison between the Canadian adult-use program and common features of U.S. state legalization laws:

  • Age: In Canada, provinces set the drinking age at either 18 or 19. The age limit is mirrored for cannabis. Meanwhile, all legalization states have set the age at 21, mirroring U.S. alcohol laws.
  • Edibles: For the first year, no edibles will be allowed in Canada. Initially, reports indicate only flower will be available. In contrast, every adult-use legalization law in the U.S. allows edibles and a myriad of other products, albeit with regulations. (However in Oregon during a transitional period, existing medical businesses were initially allowed to sell flower only to adult-use consumers.)
  • Public consumption: Every U.S. state that legalized marijuana prohibits marijuana smoking in public, although some allow for on-site consumption at specific adults-only establishments. In Canada, some provinces will allow cannabis smoking in certain locations that are open to the general public, although most or all ban it in locations that appeal to children.
  • Possession limit: In Canada, adult will be allowed to possess just over an ounce of cannabis (30 grams) outside the home. Possession limits for outside the home in legalization states vary from one ounce to 2.5 ounces.
  • Home cultivation: Canada is allowing home cultivation of four plants. All of the adult-use states but Washington allow home cultivation, although in Nevada only those living at least 25 miles away from the nearest retailer may grow their own cannabis.
  • Government involvement: Due to federal illegality, thus far U.S. state government have not directly participated in selling, distributing, or growing adult-use marijuana (although two public universities in Louisiana are involved in marijuana cultivation, and Utah plans to dispense medical cannabis). In contrast, there will government distribution systems in Canada and government stores and deliveries in some provinces.
  • Import/export: At this time, Canadian law does not allow the import or export of cannabis, although it does allow hemp exports. In light of federal prohibition, all state marijuana laws are set up as intrastate programs — with retailers purchasing only from product manufacturers and growers in the same state.

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The Marijuana Policy Project has been at the forefront of legalization among the states as well as decriminalization for possession of cannabis.  Our efforts have removed the threat of local prosecution for citizens in 21 states and the District of Columbia. But we cannot rest on yesterday. We have to continue to push today for a better tomorrow.  Last year, the NYPD was still arresting African American and Latino youth for marijuana possession at a rate 9 times greater than Caucasian youth.  Currently, we continue to house hundreds of thousands of people for cannabis possession, leading to devastating collateral consequences in their lives, such as job loss or denial of parental rights.

MPP plans to keep growing the number of U.S. states where marijuana is legal for adults. With sufficient funding, we believe we can more than double the number of adult-use states within just a few years. Meanwhile, we aren’t losing sight of the need to change federal law. It’s easy to get complacent when the DEA isn’t busting down cannabis business’ doors. But, recent comments from Colorado’s top federal prosecutor should remind us all that there is an urgent need to change federal law so that state-legal marijuana businesses are no longer a crime.  Most critically, we still have over a 500,000 marijuana-related arrests and convictions each year in the United States.  Canadian jails are used for a better purpose.  Visit www.mpp.orgto learn more and join our mission.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Introduces Bill To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced legislation Wednesday that would end the federal government’s prohibition of marijuana. The proposal is co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

The bill, titled the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, leaving its legal status to the states, while maintaining the federal government’s authority to prevent trafficking of marijuana from states that have legalized it to those that have not. It would also provide grants to state and local governments to develop or expand expungement or record-sealing programs for marijuana possession convictions, and it would direct marijuana tax money to the Small Business Administration to provide loans to marijuana businesses owned and controlled by women and socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. The proposal also allocates funds to marijuana-related public health and safety research. The full bill is available here.

Matt Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project commented, “This proposal is yet another sign that Congress is moving toward a major shift in U.S. marijuana policy. Senate leaders from both parties have now signaled their support for ending prohibition at the federal level and adopting a system that respects state laws regulating marijuana for medical and adult use. The debate is transitioning from whether marijuana should be legalized to how it should be legalized. There are still hurdles to overcome in Congress, just as there are for any other issue, but things are clearly headed in the right direction. A strong and growing majority of Americans think it is time to end marijuana prohibition, and states are moving quickly to develop their own marijuana policies. Members of Congress do not want to find themselves on the wrong side of history — or their constituents.”

Connecticut House Appropriations Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill

CONNECTICUT: The Joint Committee on Appropriations approved a bill that would legalize and regulate marijuana for adults in Connecticut on Thursday, potentially setting it up for floor consideration before the end of this year’s legislative session.

regulate marijuanaHB 5394, which was introduced by the committee, would task the commissioners of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Consumer Protection and Revenue Services with developing regulations for possession and retail sales of marijuana for adults 21 and older. More details will be added to the bill as it moves forward over the coming weeks.

“This committee vote reiterates what most Connecticut residents already know: it is time to make marijuana legal for adults,” said Becky Dansky, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The discussions that have taken place in the legislature this year have provided more than enough information to effectively move forward with legalization. Connecticut should stop punishing adults for using a substance that is safer than alcohol, and it has an opportunity to regulate marijuana before it starts losing tax revenue to other states in the region that have already started this process.”

There are nine states that have made marijuana legal for adults, as well as the District of Columbia. Neighboring Massachusetts is in the process of implementing its regulated marijuana market, and in nearby New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has made legalizing and regulating marijuana a priority this year.

poll conducted by Sacred Heart University in October 2017 showed that 71% of Connecticut residents support regulating and taxing marijuana for adults.

 

Cannabis Policy Reform Advocates Release Report Card Grading Candidates for Governor in Maryland

MARYLAND: The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) released a voter guide Monday that grades Maryland gubernatorial candidates strictly on their positions and statements about cannabis policy. The report contains letter grades for each person running in Maryland’s Democratic Primary for governor in June and is based on answers to a questionnaire MPP sent to candidates, bill sponsorship, and their public statements regarding cannabis. The full report can be viewed here.

“There are real differences among the Democratic candidates when it comes to marijuana policy, from making a plan for legalizing marijuana a significant part of their campaign platform to declining to declare support for legalization at all,” said Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “In gubernatorial and other races across the nation, candidates are increasingly realizing that regulating marijuana is a winning issue. We hope that this guide will help inform the voters as they make their choice here in the June 26 democratic primary or in the general election.”

Sixty-four percent of likely Maryland voters support making cannabis legal for adults, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland Poll conducted in September 2016.

In February, state lawmakers introduced bills to regulate cannabis for adults. If approved by 60% of both chambers of the Maryland Legislature, the bill would place a constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot that would make possession and home cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis legal for adults 21 years of age and older and require the state to establish regulations and taxation for a legal cannabis market, as well as to ensure diversity in the cannabis industry. The bill to refer the issue to the voters could not be vetoed by the governor.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have made cannabis possession legal for adults, and eight of those states regulate and tax cannabis similarly to alcohol. Bills to make cannabis legal have been introduced in 20 states this year, including Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Michigan voters will likely be able to support a similar initiative on the November 2018 ballot.

 

FBI Reports More Than 653,000 Arrests For Marijuana Offenses In 2016

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  An estimated 653,249 arrests were made nationwide for marijuana in 2016, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Crime In the United States (CIUS) report. This means one person was arrested for marijuana approximately every 48 seconds on average in the United States.

The full report is available here:  (Note: Marijuana-specific data was not published online but is available upon request.)

“Arresting and citing over half a million people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty,” said Morgan Fox, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested.”

There are currently eight states that regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol for adults, four of which voted to do so in November 2016. Marijuana possession is also legal for adults in the District of Columbia. Twenty-three states and D.C. considered legislation in 2017 to regulate marijuana, including in Vermont where the legislature approved such a measure before the governor vetoed it.

“Regulating marijuana for adults creates jobs, generates tax revenue, protects consumers, and takes money away from criminals,” Fox continued. “It is time for the federal government and the rest of the states to stop ruining peoples’ lives and enact sensible marijuana policies.”

Tennessee Organizes Medical Marijuana Committee

TENNESSEE: House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally formed a committee to study the potential impacts of legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee.

The committee will be chaired by Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, who has been a staunch advocate for medical marijuana in the Volunteer State.

Speaker Harwell has recently said she is “open” to considering a law allowing medical marijuana in Tennessee and has launched a House task force to fight the state’s ongoing opioid crisis.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that states with medical marijuana laws are associated with a significant reduction in mortality from opioid abuse; these states saw a 25% reduction in opioid overdose deaths, compared to states without such laws.

NY Department Of Health Proposes Regulations That Would Expand Medical Marijuana Program

NEW YORK: The Department of Health just announced the issuance of new proposed regulations that would make changes to the state’s medical marijuana program to improve access. Among other things, they would reduce some of the onerous security requirements for registered organizations, shorten the length of the medical marijuana course certifying practitioners must take from four hours to two, and allow additional types of medical marijuana products to be sold.

New York’s medical marijuana program has been criticized by the Marijuana Policy Project and patient advocates as unnecessarily restrictive, and initial patient registration numbers were very low compared to other state medical marijuana programs. The Department of Health has made several changes to the program since it issued a report in August 2016, including adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition and allowing registered nurses and physician’s assistants to recommended medical marijuana.

The proposed regulatory changes can be viewed here.

Lawmakers have also been working to improve the medical marijuana program this session. In June, the Legislature passed a bill to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a qualifying condition. Gov. Andrew Cuomo must still sign the bill in order for it to become law.

Canopy Accelerator Invests $1,000,000 in Cannabis Tech Startups in 2017

COLORADO:  The program is designed to spur business traction and prepare the companies to raise outside capital, while providing access to outside venture firms, key figures within the local entrepreneurial community, and exposure to early adopters and potential customers. After weeks of intensive pitch practice, refinement of business models, and miles logged meeting cannabis businesses around the country, the cohort “graduates” on Demo Day, where each company presents their business to an audience of potential investors, cannabis business professionals, media, and the local community.

The eight companies included in the fall cohort include:

  • Virtugro is a Colorado-based team developing automated grow tech solutions for medium to large-scale cultivators. Founded by Mark Stratton of Silverthorne, CO and Russ Baker of Black Hawk, CO.
  • My THC Guide is developing chatbot solutions for the cannabis industry. Founded by Ebony Costain of Appamattox, VA and Jameson Bennett of Louisville, KY.
  • Cannabis Quality Group is Cloud-based integrated quality management system designed for licensed businesses to have transparency into their supply chains. Founded by Donavan Bennett of Roswell, Georgia and Joe Novalanyof Edison, New Jersey.
  • Serene encourages an outdoor, active lifestyle by leveraging technology. Founded by Ed Mcllory and Adam Bray, of London, England.
  • Redfield Proctor is a startup in stealth mode focused on efficiency in the cannabis industry.  Founded by Stephen Martin of Quechee, Vermont.
  • Dispenserly manages, monitors, and mines cannabis industry reviews to identify new opportunities and trends. Founded by Matt Cooke of Marion, OH.
  • DeepGreen is an optical recognition technology that identifies plant characteristics using AI and machine vision technology. Founded by an international team hailing from Germany and France – Maxime Clauss and Maximillian Unfried.
  • GreenScreens manages a network of digital flat screens in dispensaries across the country that rotate menu information and advertising to inform and target customers in the store. Founded by Ryan Sterling, a native of Turner, ME, and Martin DeFrance of Jackson, MS.

“The cannabis industry in Colorado has shifted from just keeping up with demand to competing and stealing market share from one another,” said Patrick Rea, co-founder and Managing Director of Canopy. “The result is increased interest in, and demand for the cannabis technology companies that Canopy is investing in. We expect this trend to continue nationwide as state markets mature.”

On August 2nd, starting at 5:30pm MT, CanopyBoulder will host a launch party for the kick-off of its Fall 2017 class. The event will be held in the new Canopy headquarters in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and will include networking with investors, mentors, and entrepreneurs from the Canopy ecosystem and other Denver/Boulder cannabis industry professionals. Food and drinks will be provided, with all ticket proceeds going to Marijuana Policy Project. Full details and tickets can be found here.

Delaware General Assembly Creates Task Force To Explore Regulating And Taxing Marijuana For Adult Use

DELAWARE: The General Assembly recently passed a concurrent resolution to create a task force that will study regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use in Delaware.

The Adult Use Cannabis Task Force “shall study adoption of a model for regulation and taxation of adult-use cannabis in Delaware, including local authority and control, consumer safety and substance abuse prevention, packaging and labeling requirements, impaired driving and other criminal law concerns, and taxation, revenue, and banking issues.” It will hold its first meeting no later than September 7, 2017, and it must report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly by January 31, 2018.

“The General Assembly is ready to take a serious look at regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use,” said Maggie Ellinger-Locke, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This is an opportunity for a variety of stakeholders to come together and examine every aspect of this issue. We hope it will pave the way for the General Assembly to adopt a more thoughtful approach to cannabis next session. Lawmakers can see the direction the country is moving on this issue and they know most Delaware voters support making marijuana legal for adults.”

The 23-member task force will be co-chaired by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and Rep. Helene Keeley, Democrats who sponsored legislation this year to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol for adults 21 and older. It will also include:

•    a state senator and a state representative from the minority caucus, appointed by the Senate president and House speaker, respectively;
•    the Secretary of the Department of Finance;
•    the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control;
•    the Secretary of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security;
•    the Director of the Division of Public Health;
•    the Director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health;
•    the State bank commissioner;
•    the Attorney General;
•    the Chief Defender, Office of Defense Services;
•    the Mayor of the City of Wilmington;
•    the Chair of the Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee;
•    a marijuana policy reform advocate and a medical marijuana industry representative, both appointed by the Governor;
•    a physician with experience recommending treatment with medical marijuana, appointed by the Medical Society of Delaware
•    the President of the Delaware League of Local Governments;
•    the Chair of the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council;
•    the Chair of the Employer Advocacy Committee of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce;
•    a representative of AAA Mid-Atlantic; and
•    a pharmacist, appointed by the President of the Delaware Pharmacist Society.

More than 60% of Delaware voters support making marijuana legal, according to a September 2016 poll by the University of Delaware Center for Political Communication.