Alibi V.27 No.26 • June 28-July 4, 2018 

Baked Goods

Put Your Money … Wherever You Can

Cannabis banking amendment blocked by Senate

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Rob M.

One of the biggest problems in the cannabis industry is what to do with the loads of money flowing through all those cash registers. See: Dispensaries can't have bank accounts, because the feds could charge a bank with laundering if it knowingly handled cannabis funds.

This shitshow leads to a slew of problems. Dispensaries become targets for criminals looking for large sums of cash, making employees and the community as a whole less safe. Taxes become harder to collect, since lying about revenue is easier without a digital footprint. And with large sums of untraceable cash comes the potential for corruption.

With that in mind, an amendment that would shield financial institutions who handle cannabis businesses' funds was introduced to protect banks in states where cannabis is legal in some form. Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 21 to 10 to table the amendment. Bravo!

Some members of the Senate panel said they support giving cannabis businesses access to financial services but objected to the measure on procedural grounds.

A similar bill was struck down earlier this month by the House Appropriations Committee on a voice vote. That one would have blocked the US Department of Treasury from penalizing a financial institution solely because it “provides financial services to an entity that is a manufacturer, producer or a person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana or marijuana products.”

So despite seeming vocal support, it looks like it's going to be some time before the issue is resolved. In the meantime, just keep looking over your shoulder, I guess.

Advisory Board Looking for Recruits

The New Mexico Department of Health's Medical Cannabis Advisory Board canceled a meeting in May because the board doesn't have enough members. The meeting, which is held twice a year, is where the board discusses if any changes need to be made to the state's Medical Cannabis Program.

A statute requires that the board be made up of eight medical professionals representing the fields of neurology, pain management, medical oncology, psychiatry, infectious disease, family medicine and gynecology. But according to the Santa Fe New Mexican, there might never have been a complete board. As of now there are only two members on the panel, and three are required to meet the board's quorum.

In a statement to the Santa Fe New Mexican, former medical director for the DOH and former board member Steven Jenison expressed doubt that the advisory panel will be able to find enough members to continue. The board's main function is to provide recommendations to the health department concerning qualifying medical conditions for the cannabis program (based on meetings like the one that was canceled).

Jenison says the recommendations are rarely appreciated or followed by the state, however, which can frustrate current board members and turn off potential candidates. He told reporters that in his “significant experience,” Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher “seems to not respect the opinions of the medical advisory board.” Gallagher has yet to react to the recommendation given by the board last November to include opioid dependence in the list of qualifying conditions. And a similar recommendation given in 2016 was ignored by Gallagher for seven months before she rejected it.

Jenison also said that many petitions requesting the inclusion of new conditions submitted to the board are poorly researched and require board members to take time out of their own practice to investigate, making the job even less attractive.

The future of the advisory board is unclear.

DOH Penalty Declared Too Harsh

A judge recently ruled that a penalty meted out to Ultra Health by the DOH was too severe.

The case went back to the 2016 New Mexico State Fair, where Ultra Health had rented a vendor booth. Fair organizers gave them the boot on opening day when a three-foot cannabis plant on display at the booth led to complaints.

The health department sent a letter to Ultra Health following the incident saying that moving the plant to an off-site location constituted “a substantial change to the entity’s production plan.” The penalty for the infraction would be $100 and the suspension of “all sales and distribution” for 5 days.

Ultra Health appealed the decision and the case went before State District Judge David K. Thomson earlier this month. Thomson agreed that with the DOH that a violation had been committed, but said that the department's decision to suspend the company's sales for five days was “arbitrary, capricious and lacks foundation.” He said the ban would cost the company $100,000 to $150,000, which would be around 1,000 times that allowed under state rules for a first offense. Thomson ruled that the penalty would instead be a two-day suspension of sales and distribution.

The company has already met half their responsibility—they were closed Father's Day—and plans to finish by closing July 8.