Jeff Sessions just made it harder for California’s legal marijuana businesses to deposit their cash

California’s burgeoning cannabis industry, already heavily reliant on cash and detached from banks, could face even more barriers to the mainstream after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama era guidelines, known as the Cole memo, which eased federal regulation of marijuana.

Sessions’ decision has left California’s state government and the legal pot industry scrambling for ways to handle all the cash that will come flowing in.

Moving to a more regulated market should, in theory, encourage financial institutions to bank cannabis businesses, but Sessions’ actions on Jan. 4 — just days after recreational adult marijuana use became legal in California — put a freeze on bank activities, leaving businesses and the financial institutions that look to support them in an even murkier state of affairs.

“The withdrawal of the Cole memo really couldn’t have come at a worse time, because now is the time that the types of banks and credit unions that are willing to take on more risk would have been entering the market,” said Robert McVay, partner at Harris Bricken, a Seattle-based law firm with a practice group dedicated to cannabis law. …

Click here to read the full article from CNBC

California predicts 1M pounds of marijuana sales in first year

SACRAMENTO — Before California voters passed a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) warned of the dangers of importing Colorado’s “Rocky Mountain high.” But as Brown prepares to leave office, his constituents apparently had no such qualms.

The state Department of Finance expects Californians to purchase nearly 1 million pounds of marijuana over the first full budget year of legalization, between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019.

That would amount to $3.4 billion in recreational retail sales in the first full year, and $643 million in tax revenue for the state.

If California is like the other states where recreational marijuana use is legal, those estimates are likely to be lower than actual sales and revenue.

Finance staffers consulted with their counterparts in Colorado, Washington and other states where marijuana is already legal to arrive at their estimates, said H.D. Palmer, a department spokesman. Those states almost all underestimated the amount of marijuana businesses would sell in initial months.

And California’s Finance Department estimates project slower growth in the recreational market than other states experienced. Colorado’s recreational market grew by 40 percent per year over the first three years of legalization, and Washington’s grew by 50 percent. The Finance Department estimated California’s recreational market would grow by 22 percent per year. …

Click here to read the full article from the Hill

 

Trump Administration Takes Step That Could Threaten California Marijuana Legalization

The viability of the multibillion-dollar marijuana legalization movement was thrown into new doubt on Thursday when the Trump administration freed prosecutors to more aggressively enforce federal laws against the drug in states that have decriminalized its production and sale, most recently California.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, long a vocal opponent of the legalization of marijuana, rescinded an Obama-era policy that discouraged federal prosecutors in most cases from bringing charges wherever the drug is legal under state laws.

“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law,” he said in a statement. In his memo to United States attorneys, he called the earlier policy “unnecessary” and pointed to federal laws that “reflect Congress’s determination that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.”

Democrats and some Republicans condemned the move. Senator Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, threatened to retaliate by holding up Justice Department appointments that required Senate approval. Gavin Newsom, the Democratic lieutenant governor of California, vowed to encourage cooperation among states that have legalized marijuana. …

Click here to read the full story from the New York Times

Historic day as recreational cannabis sales begin in California

Celebrating a major shift in cultural attitudes about cannabis — or just looking to enjoy the right to get high without legal entanglements — Californians lined up at dispensaries up and down the state Monday morning to be among the first to purchase recreational marijuana, more than a year after the state’s voters passed Proposition 64.

In the pre-dawn darkness at KindPeoples collective in Santa Cruz, a line of 80 people snaked around the building before doors opened. The first sale – a eighth of a gram of indica flower called ‘Nine Pound Hammer’ – was made to resounding applause to Craig Reinarman, a 69-year-old UC-Santa Cruz professor emeritus of sociology and legal studies whose research has focused on drug policy in America.

“It feels great. It is long overdue,” Reinarman said. “Cannabis prohibition was conceived in fraud, spread by racist fears full of misinformation and myths. And now the law is finally catching up with the culture and people.”

Jeff Deakin, 66, lined up outside Harborside, a dispensary in Oakland, about 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to be one of the first people to legally purchase recreational marijuana on the first day sales became legal to adults 21 and older. He was the first of a line of several hundred people of all ages and backgrounds eager to buy recreational cannabis. …

Click here to read the full article from the Cannifornian

California looks to Trump administration for help on marijuana banking

Buds are removed from a container at the "Oregon's Finest" medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon April 8, 2014. Over 20 Oregon cities and counties are moving to temporarily ban medical marijuana dispensaries ahead of a May deadline, reflecting a divide between liberal Portland and more conservative rural areas wary about allowing medical weed. Portland, Oregon's largest city, already has a number of medical marijuana clinics and has not moved to ban them. Picture taken April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR3KMHE

With the legal sale of recreational marijuana a week away, local governments across California have adopted policies on where and when permitted legal sellers can operate, following the ground rules set up by Proposition 64 – the November 2016 state ballot measure legalizing pot for recreational use beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

But despite more than 13 months of lead time, state officials still haven’t figured out how to deal with a crucial problem: the fact that federally regulated banks can’t accept deposits or have any financial relationship with marijuana vendors or growers, given that pot sales and consumption remain illegal under federal law.

Cash-only medical marijuana dispensaries authorized by a 1996 ballot measure have long been plagued by armed robberies. With recreational pot sales expected to be a multibillion-dollar industry, pot-related crime could skyrocket.

Two separate proposals have emerged after what state officials say are months of discussions.

One under consideration by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration seems a long shot given that it relies on the cooperation of the Trump administration – specifically Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has opposed individual states’ efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the state had met with 65 banks and credit unions, as well as with federal regulators, about having one bank in California established as a clearinghouse for all marijuana-related accounts of various banks throughout the state. The “central correspondent” bank would process all transactions involving pot dollars.

Seeking assist from federal government after suing it 24 times

Brown administration officials appeared hopeful that this concept would go over well with federal regulators because, at least in theory, it would make it easier to keep close track of marijuana industry finances, and to spot suspicious payments or transfers of funds.

The problem for California is that this proposal is built on the presumption that the federal government wants to help the state – which has already sued the Trump administration 24 times. While federal regulators have met with state officials on the pot-banking issue, the final decision on whether to cooperate is up to Sessions. At a Nov. 29 press conference, he said his office was taking a hard look at rolling back Obama administration rules that let states allow recreational marijuana after basic public safety and health standards were met.

“It’s my view that the use of marijuana is detrimental, and we should not give encouragement in any way to it, and it represents a federal violation, which is in the law and is subject to being enforced,” Sessions said, according to the McClatchy News Service. “We are working our way through to a rational policy, but I don’t want to suggest in any way that this department believes that marijuana is harmless and people should not avoid it.”

Chiang: Consider setting up a state bank for pot transactions

The second proposal – touted by state Treasurer John Chiang at a Nov. 7 news conference – is to have the state study the feasibility of opening its own bank to deal with marijuana financial transactions. That was based on the recommendations of Chiang’s cannabis bank working group.

The group’s 32-page report also suggested California work with other states in setting up a network of such institutions. But the report noted the many obstacles to establishing such a bank, including the likelihood that it ultimately would still be subject to federal regulation and thus to Sessions’ objections.

Chiang told reporters at his November news conference that “a definitive, bulletproof solution will remain elusive” without changes in federal banking laws.

But the 2018 gubernatorial candidate said that “is not an excuse for inaction.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California releases long-awaited cannabis regulations, will allow huge farms

marijuanaThere will be no cannabis cappuccinos or drone deliveries in California under the new pot rules state officials released Thursday that regulate everything from who can legally sell and deliver marijuana to how it must be packaged and transported.

The rules released by three licensing agencies — the Department of Health, Department of Food and Agriculture and the Bureau of Cannabis Control — offer the first glimpse of the future in which pot is legal throughout California.

Big farms will continue to thrive in Mendocino and Monterey. Small delivery services will finally operate legally. Pot won’t be transported in self-driving cars or on bicycles, and it isn’t allowed in strip clubs.

Those guidelines come amid mass confusion among cities that haven’t put together their own regulations for the sale of recreational marijuana, which will be legal Jan. 1. …

Click here to read the full story from the San Francisco Chronicle

California’s High Pot Taxes – A Teachable Moment

Buds are removed from a container at the "Oregon's Finest" medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon April 8, 2014. Over 20 Oregon cities and counties are moving to temporarily ban medical marijuana dispensaries ahead of a May deadline, reflecting a divide between liberal Portland and more conservative rural areas wary about allowing medical weed. Portland, Oregon's largest city, already has a number of medical marijuana clinics and has not moved to ban them. Picture taken April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR3KMHE

Do higher tax rates affect human behavior?

As the nation considers tax reform, according to a report, taxes on pot in California could reach as high as 45% for the consumer. Combined with the slew of regulations on the way, suddenly the libertarian fervor of buying and selling pot doesn’t seem so, well, free.

The question is: Will those pushing for the sale of pot and those buying, finally get a lesson in basic economics?

In 2016, California voters legalized the sale of recreational pot.  Many voters felt they were striking a blow for personal freedom with their vote. Since that day, all levels of the California governments have been coming to grips with how to implement the voter’s choice.  Of course, that really means how to regulate the sales and how to tax those sales.

Keep in mind that, at the time of the vote, California already had the largest pot market in the country – although its size is disputed because most of the market is illegal sales. Some have said, that as of 2015, “California  . . . has the largest legal cannabis market in the U.S., at $1.3 billion.” On the other hand, others have reported that over $7 billion in illegal crop has been seized in California. Given the Feds think they seize only around 10% of the illegal crops, you can see how large the market could well be.

On the regulatory front, local governments are setting the bar for obtaining local licenses, while at the state level, something called the Bureau of Cannabis Control, claims it is “the lead agency in developing regulations for medical and adult-use cannabis in California. The Bureau is responsible for licensing retailers, distributors, testing labs and microbusinesses.”

Little wonder that Time reports that “Operators have complained about what they see as potential conflicts in various laws and rules, or seemingly contradictory plans.”

As for taxes, a Fitch Ratings report taxes on pot may reach as high as 45% in parts of the state.

“Consumers will pay a sales tax ranging from 22.25% to 24.25%, which includes the state excise tax of 15%, and additional state and local sales taxes ranging from 7.25% to 9.25%.” Beyond that, “Local businesses will have to pay a tax ranging from 1% to 20% of gross receipts, or $1 to $50 per square foot of marijuana plants, according to the Fitch report. In addition, farmers will be taxed $9.25 per ounce for flower, and $2.75 per ounce for leaves.”

Welcome to the freedom to smoke marijuana in California. It turns out that freedom isn’t free in route to the State’s desire to collect over $1 billion in taxes.

As this unfolds, the question remains whether California consumers, regulators and legislators will study the effects of the high taxes and costs of those regulations.

Let me help them. As Calvin Coolidge would say, high taxes are not paid – they are avoided.

The evidence of that is everywhere.  As my colleague at Forbes.com, Brian Domitrovic, recently wrote: “In the 1950s and early 1960s, IRS data was clear that the 91% marginal rate produced essentially no revenue, that about 80% of earners who should have been subject to it by ordinary definitions legally avoided it. Same thing for 70% in the 1970s and 50% in the early 1980s.”

Even the Democrats who oppose tax reform know that when they tell you that the current top corporate tax rate is meaningless because the “effective” corporate rate is lower.  Corporations that can avoid that high tax by taking legal deductions.*

But that is not the only way to avoid taxes.  There is also the black market.

According to that same Fitch Report, “California’s black markets for cannabis were well established long before its voters legalized cannabis in November 2016 and are expected to dominate post-legalization production.”

Will that black market continue?  Perhaps the 650 billion black market cigarettes sold around the world could be instructive. Here in the United States, according to the Tax Foundation:

“New York is the highest net importer of smuggled cigarettes, totaling 58.0 percent of the total cigarette market in the state (a slight increase since last year’s edition of the report). New York also has the highest state cigarette tax ($4.35 per pack), not counting the local New York City cigarette tax (an additional $1.50 per pack). Smuggling in New York has risen sharply since 2006 (+58 percent), as has the tax rate (+190 percent).”

Can you see through the smoke of it all?

High taxes are quite often avoided. The same will be true for the sale of marijuana in California. With such high taxes, the black market in pot in California will continue to thrive.

Please note two final points about irony in all of this. That Bureau of Cannabis Control that is regulating nearly every aspect of pot in California? Well, it is part of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Apparently, it is quite the affair to raise the price of pot for consumers in California.

Finally, in 2016 when Californians legalized recreational marijuana, they also raised the taxes on cigarettes – all in an effort to reduce people from smoking. A sin tax they call it. I wonder if in 2018, there will be a ballot measure to raise more taxes to stop people from smoking pot.

Of course, the real sin is that people don’t understand that simple economic law: the more something costs, the less of it you get. That includes the legal sales of pot, jobs and income.

One has to wonder whether there will be a tax reform effort for pot sales once consumers in California learn their lesson – and whether they will support tax reductions on income when they finally do understand that lesson.

Originally published at Forbes.

ormer chairman of the California Republican Party and current candidate for U.S. Senate.

Kern County bans all commercial marijuana production

As reported on Bakersfield.com:

Kern County banned commercial cannabis Tuesday.

Four of the five county supervisors said they did not want to be party to the permitting and regulation of an industry that wields such a destructive impact on the communities they represent.

“The vast majority of the pot shops in the greater Bakersfield area are in Oildale,” said Supervisor Mike Maggard.

He said his people, the residents and businesses in the poorest areas of his district, are being disproportionately impacted by marijuana dispensaries.

Maggard said suggesting that he allow an industry that has victimized his constituents for years to operate legally, simply for the money it might represent to county coffers, is offensive to him.

“I can’t turn my back on the neighborhoods I represent,” he said.

Supervisor Mick Gleason also supported the ban, but cautioned people not to expect that it will remove marijuana from Kern County. …

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California’s marijuana black market could remain huge

Buds are removed from a container at the "Oregon's Finest" medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon April 8, 2014. Over 20 Oregon cities and counties are moving to temporarily ban medical marijuana dispensaries ahead of a May deadline, reflecting a divide between liberal Portland and more conservative rural areas wary about allowing medical weed. Portland, Oregon's largest city, already has a number of medical marijuana clinics and has not moved to ban them. Picture taken April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR3KMHE

Legalizing marijuana, California voters were told last year, would create a “safe, legal and comprehensive system” allowing adults to consume the drug while keeping it out of the hands of children. Marijuana would be sold in highly regulated stores, the Proposition 64 campaign promised, and California would gain new tax revenue by bringing the cannabis marketplace “out into the open.”

Voters overwhelmingly bought the message, with 57 percent approving Proposition 64. But as state regulators prepare to begin offering licenses to marijuana businesses on Jan. 1, it turns out that a huge portion of the state’s weed is likely to remain on the black market.

That’s because California grows a lot more pot than its residents consume, and Prop. 64 only makes marijuana legal within the state’s borders. It also didn’t give an automatic seal of approval to every cannabis grower. Those who want to sell legally must be licensed by the state and comply with detailed rules that require testing plants, labeling packages and tracking marijuana as it moves from farm to bong.

Exactly how much cannabis circulates in California is unknown because most marijuana grows — and purchases — have been illegal for so long. But economists hired by the state government estimate that California farms produce about 13.5 million pounds of cannabis each year, while state residents annually consume about 2.5 million pounds. That leaves 11 million pounds of pot that likely flows out of California illegally, according to the economic report commissioned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which regulates cannabis farmers. Other analyses have similarly found that roughly 80 percent of California-grown marijuana leaves the state.

Even the 2.5 million pounds of marijuana consumed within California won’t all be purchased through state-sanctioned shops when they open; the economists predict about half of it will probably be sold illegally.

“Those sales opportunities will still be there,” said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, which represents more than 1,000 marijuana businesses in the state.

Allen surveyed his members recently and found that 85 percent hope to get a license to sell marijuana legally under Prop. 64. But many fear they won’t be able to because some local governments will limit or ban pot businesses, or because prices could drop too low in the regulated market. And if they can’t sell weed legally, 40 percent of the respondents to Allen’s survey said they would continue operating the way they always have: on the black market.

Some long-time cannabis growers will likely go out of business, Allen said. But, “at the end of the day, a lot of businesses in general may stay outside of the regulated market.”

That means that despite the passage of Prop. 64, California cops will still have plenty of work going after illicit cannabis operations.

“You’re going to see robust enforcement efforts to prevent California from becoming the staging area for drug trafficking nationwide,” said John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Narcotics Officers Association, which opposed the ballot measure.

A spokesman for the Prop. 64 campaign said the measure wasn’t intended to abolish all criminalization of marijuana but instead to allow opportunities for “operators who want to be responsible and compliant.”

“No one ever promised to completely eliminate the black market — that’s like promising security cameras will completely eliminate shoplifting — but it will be significantly reduced,” spokesman Jason Kinney said by email.

He added that the state’s estimates of marijuana supply and demand are unreliable because the legal marketplace created by Prop. 64 won’t begin to roll out until next year. And he pointed out that some of the tax dollars generated by legal marijuana sales will go toward cracking down on illicit operations.

State officials said they are encouraging marijuana businesses to follow the rules and become part of the regulated system, while also planning how to go after those that remain in the black market.

“We are developing a formal complaint system that will allow anyone to report illegal grows or other concerns, and then we will forward those potential issues to the appropriate (law enforcement) agencies,” said Rebecca Forée, a spokeswoman for the state’s cannabis cultivation licensing office within the Department of Food and Agriculture.

Lori Ajax, chief of the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, said her agency is trying to entice marijuana businesses to go legit by crafting rules that aren’t too difficult for them to live by.

“It’s making sure those people who want to be in the regulated market, that we have made a path for them, we’re not making our regulations so difficult and hard to comply with that you’re discouraging people,” Ajax said.

“First, we’ve got to get those folks in there and… then see what comes after that with enforcement.”

eporter for CALmatters

California could become a sanctuary state for marijuana

As reported by CNN Money:

California lawmakers are trying to protect the marijuana industry by establishing California as a sanctuary state for pot.

A bill moving through the state legislature would prohibit state and local police from assisting federal agents who target marijuana businesses that are legal according to state law, unless those agents have a court order.

“The reason for this is because the present administration in Washington is very unpredictable,” Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat from Los Angeles and the author of the bill, told CNNMoney. “This is protecting the rights of Californians.”

The bill passed the state Assembly 41-33 last week. Most Democrats supported the bill, and most Republicans opposed it. …

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