The past two weeks saw a number of significant legislative developments at both the state and national levels. A bill to increase banking access for marijuana businesses died in the Senate, while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer introduced his long-awaited cannabis reform bill. Maine, Massachusetts and Oklahoma also made strides in their reform efforts. Find out more in our weekly Marijuana Legislative Roundup.
On Thursday, June 21, the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21-10 to reject an amendment to provide access to banking for state-legal marijuana businesses. The legislation is designed to shield banks from federal regulatory penalties and criminal prosecution for providing financial services to licensed marijuana businesses operating in compliance with state law. While access to financial services has improved somewhat in recent years, many banks remain unwilling to serve cannabis businesses for fear of running afoul of federal regulators, forcing many legal producers, distributors, and retailers to operate exclusively in cash and leaving them vulnerable to robbery. The move follows the defeat of companion legislation in the House Appropriations Committee the prior week.
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New York Senator Charles Schumer introduced a bill Wednesday that would effectively legalize marijuana at the federal level and provide small loans for some marijuana businesses. The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act would remove cannabis from scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act, while dedicating an unspecified amount of income tax revenue derived from marijuana businesses to small loans to marijuana businesses owned by women and minorities. The bill faces little chance of coming to a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate before the November midterm elections.
On Tuesday, Oklahoma voters approved a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana. The law will create one of the least-restrictive medical cannabis programs in the country; it contains no restriction on the number of marijuana business licenses and physicians will be allowed to prescribe cannabis for any ailment. Governor Mary Fallon announced that she will call a special session of the Legislature – which has the power to modify laws passed by ballot referendum – to construct a regulatory system. As a result, the final law could be quite different from the one passed by voters, as happened with recreational cannabis in Maine and Massachusetts.
On Friday, June 22, an amendment was introduced in the Maine legislature that would allow municipalities to exercise more control over medical marijuana businesses within their jurisdiction, attempting to reign in the dozens of “caregiver shops” that have sprung up around the state to circumvent the limit of eight medical cannabis dispensaries allowed under state law. The measure comes as Maine seeks to overhaul its medical marijuana laws to align more closely with the new recreational legal framework.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission outlined a preliminary proposal for the creation of a “social equity” program to provide training and resources for communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the so-called “War on Drugs” to participate in the state’s new legal marijuana industry. The program will provide eligible individuals and businesses with job training for management and employees, assistance in creating a business plan and raising funds, and instruction in industry best practices, accounting, sales forecasting, and tax and legal compliance. To be eligible, a person must have been convicted of a drug offense or had a spouse or parent with such a conviction, or they must have lived in a community with a disproportionately high number of arrests for five of the prior 10 years. The state is also granting priority marijuana business licensing to applicants that meet similar criteria. The program, which voters approved as a component of the legalization ballot referendum, will be the first of its kind to be implemented on a statewide basis in the nation.