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Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act – A Legislative Update

By Steve Levine, Megan Herr, Meghan Brennan
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On Thursday April 23, 2020, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) introduced the “Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act” in the House. Blumenauer and Perlmutter have been influential in protecting state-legal cannabis businesses from federal interference, most recently under the 2020 federal appropriations rider.

If passed, the Act would allow state-legal medical and recreational cannabis businesses to take advantage of the multi-trillion dollar stimulus packages designed to help small businesses harmed by COVID-19.

As we previously discussed, cannabis businesses harmed by COVID-19 remain ineligible to receive federal financial assistance due to their engagement in “federally illegal” activities. Consequently, cannabis businesses cannot receive assistance from the Small Business Administration (SBA) thereby making them ineligible to receive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and other SBA financial assistance, including Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs), traditional 7(a) loans, 504 loans, and microloans.

To provide the industry with much needed economic relief, the legislation states that cannabis businesses would no longer be prohibited from (i) participating in the PPP, (ii) receiving EIDL loans, or (iii) receiving emergency EIDL grants purely on the basis that the business is a “cannabis-related legitimate business”1 or “service provider.”2

Additionally, the Act clarifies that the SBA and its officers, directors and employees would “not be held liable pursuant to any Federal law or regulation solely for providing a loan or a loan guarantee to a cannabis-related legitimate business or a service provider.”

Even though states have varied in their approach to continue medical and retail cannabis operations amid the coronavirus outbreak, a majority of states that allow some form of sale and consumption of cannabis have designated the cannabis industry as “essential” and open for operation.3 Some states have gone as far as allowing home delivery, curbside pick-up, and telemedicine consultations.

Nonetheless, despite the cannabis industry’s designation as “essential,” cannabis businesses (including those who service the cannabis industry) will continue to be precluded from receiving federal financial assistance until the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act, or similar legislation, is passed. It is important to note that, even if passed, the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act would likely provide little relief, as the majority of the funds to be administered by the SBA have already been accounted for.

What does this mean to you?

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for the heavily-taxed and financially burdened cannabis industry to receive assistance under the stimulus packages, the Act, even if passed by Congress, faces an uphill battle in the Republican-held Senate.


References

  1.  The term “cannabis-related legitimate business” means a manufacturer, producer, or any person that – (A) engages in any activity described in subparagraph (B) pursuant to a law established by a State or a political subdivision of a State, as determined by such State or political subdivision; and (B) participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling cannabis or cannabis products, including cultivating, producing, manufacturing, selling, transporting, displaying, dispensing, distributing, or purchasing cannabis or cannabis products.”
  2. The term “service provider” (A) means a business, organization, or other person that – (i) sells goods or services to a cannabis-related legitimate business; or (ii) provides any business services, including the sale or lease of real or any other property, legal or other licensed services, or any other ancillary service, relating to cannabis; and (B) does not include a business, organization, or other person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling cannabis or cannabis products, including cultivating, producing, manufacturing, selling, transporting, displaying, dispensing, distributing, or purchasing cannabis or cannabis products.”
  3. State-by-State COVID-19 Announcements Impacting Marijuana Businesses.

Bill Introduced to Make Cannabis Businesses Eligible for COVID-19 Relief Funds

By Aaron G. Biros
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Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) introduced legislation this week that would allow cannabis businesses to become eligible for federal assistance in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The bill, called the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act, would allow cannabis businesses, as well as business that provide services to cannabis businesses, to qualify for federal government relief funding through the Small Business Administration (SBA).

As of now, cannabis businesses and some companies that provide services to cannabis businesses are completely ineligible to receive any SBA funding, largely due to the Schedule I status of cannabis (excluding hemp). The SBA currently does not provide any financial assistance to small businesses “engaged in federally illegal activity,” which includes both the Paycheck Protection Program as well as the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.

Last week, Rep. Blumenauer and more than 30 of his colleagues sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, insisting that cannabis companies become eligible for federal funding. According to an NCIA press release, Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a similar letter to Senate leadership earlier this week.

Soapbox

Confront Poor Medicinal Cannabis Policies to Save Lives

By Dr. Jordan Zager
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For me, the opioid epidemic was never a theoretical crisis. The mounting lives lost to overdoses weren’t just numbers in news reports to me, but names. A high school lab partner, little league teammates, a cook at my first restaurant job and others in my hometown were lost to the epidemic. By the time I graduated high school, seven people in my life died due to complications arising from opioid use.

What’s not lost on me now, after earning my PhD in plant biochemistry and founding a startup focused on bringing consistency and scientific credibility to the cannabis industry, is how a stigma around medicinal cannabis seems like such a contributing factor in their deaths.

Cannabis, although fully illegal in only eight U.S. states, still qualifies as a Schedule 1 drug on the federal level, legally equivalent to LSD or heroin. Crystal methamphetamine and cocaine as Schedule 2 drugs have lower penalties and even have federally approved medical applications. This is where we’ve failed as a broader scientific community.

The reason is this: Medicinal cannabis produced from the same genetic replicates, but grown in separate locations, or even different seasons, will possess different bioactive compounds. In short, their effect on patients will be different depending on the various bioactive compounds produced by the plant. Prescription medications do not come with that major caveat.

Dr. Jordan Zager, CEO and co-founder of Dewey Scientific

There’s a quality assurance problem, compounded by a lack of science that’s been shackled by the criminalization of cannabis since 1937.

We do know that the primary benefits of cannabis are three-fold: First, there’s pain management, as 28 well conducted randomized clinical trials (RCTs) have documented that cannabinoid agents are effective analgesics for chronic pain. Second, while potentially psychologically addictive, so people may desire the “high” produced by cannabis, THC is not chemically addictive and does not create a biological desire for the drug, much like the craving induced by the absence of, say, cocaine or heroin has on regular users. And finally, patients cannot overdose.

As a scientific community, there are three things we need to start doing today to change the narrative around medicinal cannabis and help bring this safer alternative therapy to more people. We need to provide a larger body of evidence about the benefits. We need to drive increased consistency in cannabis products themselves. And we need to confront stigmas rooted in misinformation. The sooner we can succeed here, the sooner we can hope for a day when we see fewer devastating opioid overdoses and deaths.

I am driven by a vision for a future when people can have access to safe, trusted and consistent cannabis for their medical and recreational uses, and we as a society are able to fully realize the therapeutic benefits of this amazing plant. As scientists, my colleagues and I are committed to doing our part to bring the credibility and advancements that will help this vision become a reality.

Using tools rooted in science–including functional genomics and secondary metabolite pathway expression profiling–cultivators can learn to fully “know” the plants they grow and hone in on producing the same bioactive compounds and in the same ratios that show medicinal promise. Cultivators can learn the genetic effect that their facility has on their genetics and why those genetics lead to a different chemical profile when grown elsewhere. Together, we can identify the driving factors of what makes a variety help with whatever ailment you are trying to treat.

I’m buoyed by data that shows states that have legalized and provided access to recreational cannabis have between 20% and 35% fewer reported opioid deaths, and lower rates of opioid prescriptions. But more needs to be done. I plan to become a more vocal voice, advocate for sound science, consistency in medical cannabis and better access to natural plant-based medicines without the stigma of yesteryear.

The time has come for our policy makers to step up. We cannot afford to just be observers when the cost of remaining on the sideline is measured in lives.

UN Votes to Delay Rescheduling of Cannabis for Second Time in Two Years

By Marguerite Arnold
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For the second time in two years, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has delayed a critical vote on the reclassification of cannabis. The CND met in Vienna, Austria from March 2-6. The vote is now expected to happen in December 2020. The discussion about reclassification of the plant, however, has been going on for a little longer than that.

WHO Recommendations

There are several recommendations that are on the table (even if far from perfect). See the full text of the recommendation here.

  1. Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol should be added to Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
  2. Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol should be removed from the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
  3. The six isomers of tetrahydrocannabinol chemically similar to Delta 9 THC should be classified similarly to Delta 9.
  4. Extracts and tinctures made from cannabis should be removed from Schedule I of the 1961 Single Convention but that they should also be classified per the act. In other words, extracts with THC should be considered narcotics with medical purpose and all dealt with per a single rule.
  5. Cannabidiol products containing no more than 0.2% of Delta 9 THC should not be under international control.
  6. Preparations with THC that are made as pharmaceutical products should be reclassified as Schedule III drugs per the 1961 Convention. (Note – Dronabinol is already classified this way in the United States and has been since 2010).

What Does This Really Mean?

Given the impending lockdown of whole industries right now, but a wartime footing for certain pharmaceutical drugs and medical equipment makers, on one hand, this seems like the obvious and safest thing to do. The world needs a vaccine and direct treatments and to focus research, manpower and money in that direction.

Further, and this should hopefully galvanize the industry internationally, what this also does is keep the consumption of the plant itself basically illegal while putting the focus on professionally prepared pharmaceutical drugs.

This is short-sighted. Cannabis is unlike other medications. Further, the high cost of pharmaceutical drugs makes wider treatment policy options extremely expensive to implement.

Further, this approach continues to define cannabis – specifically Delta 9 and THC – as a narcotic.

While it is undeniably true that for recreational users, there are narcotic effects, most long term patients do not react to the drug this way – particularly if they suffer from chronic pain due to neurological issues (including movement disorders), inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and those that destroy the body’s immune response, like HIV.

There is a need for regulation, normalization of supply chains globally and of course, medical trials.The definitions of this plant, in other words, need to change. And not just for the benefit of pharmaceutical companies, but for patients as well.

Further, in a world that is quickly headed for a global recession unseen since the Great Depression, highly priced medications are not the best Rx.

As the German government responded to President Donald Trump recently, as he tried to offer a German company a billion dollars to only develop a vaccine for use on Americans, there are clearly limits to capitalism.

The Good News

It is highly unlikely by December, nine months into a global public health crisis which is widely expected to last for at least the next two years, that the UN will delay the vote again come December. There is a need for regulation, normalization of supply chains globally and of course, medical trials.

Beyond that, recreational reform also looms at a federal level in many countries and regions.

However, given the discussions so far, it is also clear that beyond the redefinition of cannabis, there will be greater legal opportunities to expand an industry too long stigmatized by old fashioned understandings and definitions of what cannabinoids are.

NCIA Releases Guidelines for Federal Cannabis Regulation

By Aaron G. Biros
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On Tuesday, October 1, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) announced the release of their whitepaper, which provides guidance to the federal government on how cannabis could be regulated at the federal level. “The paper highlights the need to have a clearly defined regulatory approach and structure prepared as the nation moves closer to making cannabis legal for adults, and identifies the existing agencies best suited to regulate the wide variety of cannabis products available in state-regulated legal cannabis markets,” according to a press release.

To view the full white paper and see how the NCIA Policy Council envisions a federal regulatory framework, click here.

The whitepaper was released on October 1. On October 2, Andrew Kline, director of public policy at NCIA, delivered the keynote presentation at the Cannabis Quality Conference in Illinois. His keynote delved into a number of issues related to the progress that cannabis legalization has made on Capitol Hill.

Andrew Kline, at the Cannabis Quality Conference, discussing the NCIA white paper.

Importantly, Kline also discussed the white paper and its four-lane approach to regulating cannabis at the federal level. “We believe rescheduling is bad public policy,” Kline mentioned during his keynote. Their stance is that cannabis should be rescheduled and regulated in a couple of different approaches. “We believe cannabis should be a public health issue and the FDA and the Department of Treasury should regulate cannabis much like they do alcohol.” Kline went into great depth later in the talk, discussing the four-lane plan for regulation, a state of affairs for cannabis bills in Congress and how members of the cannabis industry can get involved. “Right now, there is an unsustainable federalism clash, with cannabis as an illegal schedule I narcotic, while 33 states have legalized it, which leaves a lot of confusion in the marketplace and little protections for consumers; and we need to fix it.”

Lane 1 refers to pharmaceutical drugs, such as Epidiolex, where cannabis drugs can go through the new drug approval process, giving the FDA ultimate regulatory authority in this area. Lane 2 applies to ingested, inhaled or topically applied products with THC. This generally applies to all products containing THC. This lane gives regulatory authority to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), essentially regulating cannabis like alcohol or cigarettes. Lane 3 is for ingested and inhaled products with less than 0.3% THC. These would be regulated like dietary supplements and food ingredients, giving the FDA regulatory oversight here as well. Lane 4 applies only to topical products with less than 0.3% THC, regulating them much like the FDA does with cosmetic products.

The above summary is not thorough or detailed. We highly encourage our readers to read the full whitepaper to understand how cannabis could be regulated at the federal level and how the NCIA thinks the government should do so.

“As a country, we are starting to move past whether we should end cannabis prohibition, and need to put serious consideration into how we do that and what a post-legalization world looks like in terms of federal regulatory policy,” says Aaron Smith, executive director at NCIA, in a press release. “The recommendations outlined in this report build on successful methodologies by assigning regulatory duties to existing agencies, while avoiding restrictions that would not be appropriate for cannabis as well as some of the missteps that have occurred with other products. We look forward to working with Congress to overturn our outdated federal marijuana laws and begin implementing this structure to help ensure public safety and displace the illicit cannabis market.”