In an April 28th letter authored by the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH) and the Policy Center for Public Health and Safety, 24 state-level cannabis trade associations from across the country called on Congress to end the Small Business Administration’s exclusion of cannabis businesses from COVID-19 federal funding relief.
Although a number of states have deemed medical marijuana companies- and in some cases adult use marijuana companies- “essential” businesses, the SBA has excluded them from the Economic Injury Disaster Loans because marijuana is still a prohibited Schedule 1 Controlled Substance. Even worse for the industry, SBA has included ancillary cannabis companies in its prohibition. The cannabis industry is also ineligible for the Paycheck Protection Program and the Employee Retention Credit.
This issue was first flagged by industry groups in early April when they wrote to governors asking them to fill the gap. The industry’s allies in Congress then took up the cause. Almost three dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to congressional leaders urging that cannabis companies be included in future federal relief packages aimed at stimulating the economy during the COVID-19 outbreak. A group of 10 U.S. senators followed on April 22nd with their own letter urging congressional leaders to include small, state-legal marijuana businesses and ancillary companies in any future coronavirus relief packages. On April 23rd, Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Ed Perlmutter introduced the Emergency Small Business Health and Safety Act which would make cannabis businesses eligible for the SBA programs.
The ATACH letter urges Congress to amend the CARES Act to make cannabis businesses eligible for all available loans tax credits and other pandemic-related assistance. The letter also suggests Congress authorize fixed block grants to each state for non-specific pandemic relief. This would leave it up to the stated to tailor relief efforts and a individual state could make funds available to cannabis businesses.
USDA has issued its first guidance since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. Because the Farm Bill removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, the importation of hemp seeds will now be regulated by USDA as an agricultural product, not DEA. USDA stated that by removing hemp from the CSA, the Act “removed hemp and hemp seeds from DEA authority for products containing THC levels not greater than 0.3 percent. Therefore, DEA no longer has authority to require hemp seed permits for import purposes.” Importation of hemp seeds from international sources will now be permitted if accompanied by the appropriate phytosanitary certification and will be subject to inspection by Customs and Border Patrol.
The reference to DEA authority is significant and confirms that DEA no longer has jurisdiction over hemp or products derived from hemp such as CBD oil. DEA needs to update its own guidance documents in light of the 2018 Farm Bill. USDA is working on regulations to implement the state cultivation program provisions of the Farm Bill. They are expected to be in place in time for the 2020 growing season.
A recent decision by a Federal Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Idaho upheld the seizure of an industrial hemp shipment in January after the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill.
On January 24, 2019, Big Sky, a Colorado-based company, shipped industrial hemp from Oregon thorough Idaho on its way to Colorado. The hemp was seized in Idaho and the driver arrested for illegal transportation of marijuana. The crime carries a 5 year mandatory sentence. Big Sky sued for a temporary restraining order to release the hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill. The Court found that because no plan from the State of Oregon had been approved by the Department of Agriculture, the seized hemp was not produced in accordance the 2018 Farm Bill. The Court held that at this point time, without USDA approval of a state hemp plan, the Interstate Commerce Clause provisions of the Farm Bill do not apply. A Temporary Restraining Order was denied on 2/2 and the Preliminary Injunction was denied on 2/20. Big Sky Scientific LLC v. Idaho State Police et al., No. 1:19-cv-00040-REB (D. Idaho, February 2, 2019). The case is on expedited appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Opening brief is due 3/20.
This decision is contrary to the intent, if not the letter, of the Farm Bill. It creates confusion about the what is permissible now, prior to USDA regs and approval of state plans.
Banking continues to be a challenge for the cannabis industry. But, Wells Fargo recently erected a new barrier: It closed the campaign bank account of Nikki Fried, candidate for Agriculture Commissioner of Florida. According to a report in the New York Times on August 21, 2018, the bank took notice of the candidate’s advocacy for better access to medical marijuana. It then asked the campaign whether it accepted contributions from lobbyists for the medical marijuana industry. When the campaign replied it accepted contributions from executives and employees in the industry, Wells Fargo closed the account. The campaign now banks at BB&T. Full New York Times Story