SAFE Banking Act Reintroduced in the House with Broad Support

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

With the explicit support of the American Banking Association, and after passing in the House during the last congress, the SAFE Banking Act was reintroduced in the House on March 18, and a companion Act is expected to be introduced in the Senate next week. The proposed legislation would allow financial institutions to provide their services to cannabis – marijuana and hemp – clients without fear of federal sanctions. The proposed legislation enjoys bi-partisan support, and is in “position A” for passing in 2021.  

Given the billions of dollars of revenues, including tax dollars, generated by the industry, which are generated by cannabis companies and companies that provide services to the industry, cannabis banking is truly a public concern. The very laws that seek to create transparency as to the public fisc, such as the Bank Secrecy Act, have forced cannabis to be a cash business, which means not all of the cannabis dollars may be accounted for as in other industries, thereby undermining the objectives of those laws.  The SAFE Banking Act would resolve those concerns by allowing core and ancillary companies to utilize all of the electronic banking, checking, payroll, and accounting functionality that businesses in all other industries enjoy. There is no question the passage of this legislation would provide a game-changing boost to the cannabis space.

Bipartisan Adult-Use Bill To Be Introduced in Pennsylvania

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Senators Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) are introducing legislation that would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in Pennsylvania. This is the first time a republican senator has backed such a bill. The proposed legislation will attempt to generate revenue for the commonwealth and to promote social equity by way of increasing the number of licenses to operate, imposing a 6% sales tax, and imposing a 10% excise tax that would go toward a Cannabis Business Development Fund to provide aid, grants, and technical assistance to businesses and individuals in areas that have been disproportionately impacted by criminal prosecution for cannabis violations. Expungement of cannabis crimes would also be available.

Laughlin’s pragmatic views may encourage his republican colleagues in PA’s legislature to join him. As Laughlin stated during a press conference: “Our proposal prioritizes safety and social equity. And furthermore, it will let Pennsylvania’s robust agricultural industry participate in marijuana cultivation.” And both Laughlin and Street encouraged PA legislators to keep pace with lawmakers in New Jersey and New York, stating in their co-sponsorship memo: “This year our neighbors in New Jersey have signed adult use marijuana into law and our neighbors in New York are likely to legalize. It is our duty to taxpayers to seize the initiative and legalize marijuana concurrently with bordering states. Failure to do so risks permanently ceding hundreds of millions of dollars of new tax revenue as well as thousands of jobs at a time when taxpayers can least afford it.”

 

Merrick Garland’s Comments Suggest Return to Cole-like Prioritization

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

During his confirmation hearing on February 22, 2021, Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland’s comments hearkened back to the Obama-era de-prioritization of enforcement against marijuana-related crimes under the Cole memorandum, stating: “This is a question of the prioritization of our resources and prosecutorial discretion… It does not seem to me a useful use of limited resources that we have, to be pursuing prosecutions in states that have legalized and that are regulating the use of marijuana, either medically or otherwise. I don’t think that’s a useful use.”

In addition, Garland explained that social justice warranted such deprioritizing, acknowledging that people of color are arrested for non-violent marijuana-related crimes at far greater rates than white people.  According to Garland, the federal government should not be expending resources criminalizing non-violent marijuana related crimes, as doing so in the past “has disproportionately affected communities of color and damaged them after the original arrest because of the inability to get jobs.”

While proposed legislation such as the MORE Act and the SAFE Banking Act could provide greater certainty for the cannabis industry, until such time as laws like those are passed, the establishment of priorities regarding federal enforcement of state-legal cannabis would encourage greater participation in the cannabis industry, as the risks of federal enforcement would become more clear and thus easier to weigh against the rewards of entering the still emerging market.  The DOJ has been largely hands off of the state-legal cannabis market since the Cole memorandum, even though it was rescinded by AG Session, but clarity from Merrick Garland would nonetheless be very well-received by industry participants.

 

FTC Ratchets Up Enforcement Against “Spurious” CBD Health Claims

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

In connection with a crackdown on CBD manufacturers pursuant to its “Operation CBDeceit,” the FTC announced today settlements with six CBD-infused product manufacturers who, according to the FTC, allegedly made a “wide range of scientifically unsupported claims about their ability to treat serious health conditions, including cancer, heart disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, and others.” Under the settlements of the respective Complaints against them, each of the manufacturers will be required to pay a fine, and cease making “unsupported health claims” in connection with the marketing of their products.

In issuing its press release today the FTC attached the Consent Agreement and the FTC’s findings of violations of the FTC Act, which are set forth in a draft Complaint. These documents illustrate the FTC’s procedures in actions like these, and highlight the FTC’s concerns regarding allegedly misleading representations about CBD-containing products in violation of the FTC Act. Specifically, the FTC views health claims in connection with marketing such products to be misleading unless they “rely upon competent and reliable scientific evidence that is sufficient in quality and quantity based on standards generally accepted by experts in the relevant disease, condition, or function to which the representation relates, when considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence, to substantiate that the representation is true.”

Significantly, the FTC has not required the settling manufacturers to remove their products from the shelves and to cease selling them. They must, however, remove any unsupported health claims. Moreover, it would not be surprising if the announcement of these settlements spawns consumer fraud litigation against the manufacturers, which is often a much more serious concern to the business.

It is unclear how “Operation CBDeceit” will be implemented when the Biden administration takes over. For now, however, CBD manufacturers should continue to be mindful of their packaging, labeling and other marketing materials.

House Passes Bill To Legalize Marijuana at the Federal Level

Deanna Lucci

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Today, the House of Representatives passed the groundbreaking MORE Act – legalizing marijuana at the federal level.  The bill passed by a vote of 228 to 164. 

As we previously discussed in our November 10th and September 4th blog posts, the MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) legalizes marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates some cannabis criminal records.

While the bill represents a first step toward legalizing cannabis, states would need to adopt similar measures to fully decriminalize its use – currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized (or recently voted to legalize) cannabis for adult recreational use, and 35 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.

The bill also makes other changes, including:

  • Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
  • Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
  • Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
  • Makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
  • Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.

While Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), the Vice President-Elect, introduced a counterpart bill (S.2227) in the U.S. Senate, its passage in the chamber is unlikely this Congress as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to endorse the bill.

While this legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate this Congress, proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration.  And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections scheduled for January 5, 2021.  If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate, with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances.  While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes – he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states.  Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe this symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration that this is a Democratic priority.

Even though federal legalization may not be on the immediate horizon, the passage of the MORE Act in the House, and the legalization of adult-use and/or medical marijuana in five more states on November 3, 2020, could influence a Biden-appointed attorney general’s views on enforcement of marijuana related activities. While AG Sessions attempted to reverse the liberal Obama administration marijuana policies set forth in the Cole Memorandum, and AG Barr has reluctantly acknowledged that the Cole priorities have been relied on and should thus be followed, an AG appointed by Biden, given the current pro-legalization wave, Biden’s favoring of state’s rights on this issue, and Kamala Harris’s favoring of decriminalization, might endorse an approach consistent with, if not even more liberal than, the Cole priorities.   Thus, while the appointment of AG Sessions sent shockwaves through the cannabis industry, market participants and those who have been standing on the sidelines eager to get on the field seem to have a lot to look forward to.

 

 

 

Update: House to Vote on Historic MORE Act in December

As an update to our September 4th blog post, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the historic MORE Act on September 21.  However, days before that vote House Democrats postponed the vote indefinitely.  It was reported that moderate Democrats expressed concern about voting on the MORE Act before voting on a second Coronavirus relief package.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the bill’s sponsor, suggested the vote could be delayed until after the November elections. However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in an emailed statement that Democratic leaders were “committed” to scheduling a vote on the bill before the end of the year.

On Monday, November 9, Hoyer wrote in a letter to colleagues that the House would vote on the MORE Act in December.  Hoyer’s letter did not specify which week the vote will take place, but the House is scheduled to be in session Dec. 1-4 and Dec. 7-10.

As discussed previously on this blog, if enacted The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) would legalize marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate some cannabis criminal records.  As Hoyer wrote in his letter this week, the MORE would “decriminalize cannabis and expunge convictions for non-violent cannabis offenses that have prevented many Americans from getting jobs, applying for credit and loans, and accessing opportunities that make it possible to get ahead in our economy.”

While it is unlikely that this legislation would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate – ensuring it will die this Congress – proponents of cannabis legalization have hailed the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration. And whether the measure would be approved by the next Congress likely depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate runoff elections set to take place on January 5, 2021.  If both Democratic Senate candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, win the runoffs, then the Democrats will control both the House and Senate.

However, it is unclear if President-Elect Joe Biden would sign the bill since he has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts as opposed to removing it entirely from the list of scheduled substances.  While Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes, he has said he wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states.  Nonetheless, marijuana legalization advocates believe even a symbolic vote on the legislation could send a strong signal to the Biden administration.

 

 

 

 

 

State-Legal Marijuana a Clear Winner in 2020 Voting

Seth Goldberg
Seth A. Goldberg

Voters in the five states where the legalization of marijuana was on the ballot voted in favor.

In the populous states of New Jersey and Arizona, voters legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults over the age of 21. Given New Jersey’s proximity to New York and Pennsylvania, where medical marijuana programs have been popular, legalization in New Jersey could have a domino effect in the northeast, especially considering the tax revenue that will be gained by New Jersey from New York and Pennsylvania residents who travel there every day for work, the Jersey shore and casinos, and other reasons.

Voters in South Dakota and Montana also voted to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, South Dakota voters also approved medical marijuana, and voters in Mississippi voted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes to treat 22 qualifying health conditions.

Seth Goldberg is a Team Lead of the Cannabis Industry Practice at Duane Morris

All in a day’s work at the PTAB: Post-grant review denied for psychedelic therapeutics patent-Schedule I status irrelevant

In 2019, the Patent and Trial Appeal Board (PTAB) of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a decision in the first inter partes review of a cannabis related patent (Insys Development Company, Inc. v. GW Pharma Limited and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., (IPR 2017-00503)) (“Insys”). That decision was of interest to stakeholders in the cannabis industry particularly for what was not stated in any of the proceedings. Because enforcement of patent rights is governed by federal law, the Schedule I status of cannabis has cast uncertainty over whether cannabis patent rights can actually be challenged or enforced. The Schedule I status of cannabis did not enter into the PTAB’s decision, which was based solely on the obviousness of the claims. The PTAB proceeding showed that just like any other patents, cannabis related patents can be challenged. (See the following link for more information: https://blogs.duanemorris.com/cannabis/2019/01/16/business-as-usual-at-the-patent-and-trial-appeal-board-the-first-cannabis-related-patent-and-trial-appeal-board-decision-at-the-united-states-patent-and-trademark-office/)

Now, in 2020 the PTAB has issued a decision denying a petition for post-grant review of a psychedelic therapeutics patent. (Kohn &  Associates, PLLC v.  Compass Pathways Limited, Pet. for Post-Grant Review, PGR2020-00030, filed February 21, 2020) (“Compass Pathways”). Post-grant review is a trial proceeding at the PTAB that permits a third party to challenge the validity of claims of a granted patent. The first step in the post-grant review process is the filing of a petition by the challenger requesting post-grant review. The challenger must convince the Board that it is “more likely than not” that at least one of the challenged claims is not patentable. If the Board is not persuaded by the challenger’s arguments, the petition is denied and no post-grant review will take place. This is what happened in Compass Pathways.

Similar to its decision in Insys, the PTAB’s decision on the psychedelic therapeutics patent in Compass Pathways had nothing to do with the Schedule I status of psychedelic therapeutics. This recent PTAB proceeding demonstrates that psychedelic therapeutics patents can be challenged and that the PTAB will consider that challenge in the same way that it considers challenges to patents on any other subject matter.

Continue reading “All in a day’s work at the PTAB: Post-grant review denied for psychedelic therapeutics patent-Schedule I status irrelevant”

House to Vote on Marijuana Legalization Bill This Month

For the first time ever, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote this month on legislation that if enacted would legalize marijuana and cannabis at the federal level, by removing them from the Controlled Substances Act and eliminate some cannabis criminal records.

The MORE Act (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019 – H.R. 3884) would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the list of scheduled substances under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and would further eliminate criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana.  While the bill represents a first step toward legalizing cannabis, states would need to adopt similar measures to fully decriminalize its use – currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adult recreational use, and 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis.

The bill also makes other changes, including:

  • Replaces statutory references to marijuana and marihuana with cannabis,
  • Requires the Bureau of Labor Statistics to regularly publish demographic data on cannabis business owners and employees,
  • Establishes a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs,
  • Imposes a 5% tax on cannabis products and requires revenues to be deposited into the trust fund,
  • Makes Small Business Administration loans and services available to entities that are cannabis-related legitimate businesses or service providers,
  • Prohibits the denial of federal public benefits to a person on the basis of certain cannabis-related conduct or convictions,
  • Prohibits the denial of benefits and protections under immigration laws on the basis of a cannabis-related event (e.g., conduct or a conviction), and
  • Establishes a process to expunge convictions and conduct sentencing review hearings related to federal cannabis offenses.

The bill, which is expected to be brought to the floor for a vote and pass sometime this month, was originally introduced last year by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. and approved by the House Judiciary Committee in November. While a counterpart bill (S.2227) has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) – the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee – its passage in the chamber is unlikely as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declined to endorse the bill, making its chances of successfully moving through committee and to the Senate floor for a vote virtually impossible. Without action in the Senate, the bill will die this Congress. However, proponents of cannabis legalization – as well as civil rights and civil liberties organizations, and criminal justice reform advocates – are still hailing the House vote as historic, and an important first step toward generating the momentum and support needed to favorably position the measure for future congressional consideration.

Prospects for the successful consideration and approval of the measure by the next Congress will likely hinge on the outcome of the November election.

Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has proposed rescheduling cannabis as a schedule II drug so researchers can study its positive and negative impacts.  Biden has expressed support for decriminalization of marijuana, expungement of prior cannabis use convictions, and legalizing cannabis use for medical purposes – but wants to leave decisions regarding adult recreational use to the individual states. If elected, Biden and Harris would likely seek to decriminalize cannabis but stop short of advocating for federal adult use legalization, allowing the individual states to decide.