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Politics & policy

House approves inclusion of SAFE Banking Act in must-pass NDAA

The bill has now been approved to be included in the “must-pass” National Defense Authorization Act.

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House approves inclusion of SAFE Banking Act in must-pass NDAA

The US House of Representatives has included provisions for the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

An amendment to the NDAA to include the SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1996) that will enable banks in the US to lawfully deal with legitimate cannabis-related businesses was approved by vote last week.

As cannabis is not legal at the federal level, state cannabis businesses struggle to use banking services including accessing loans and paying taxes, forcing them to work with cash. If the bill is successful it will prohibit federal banking regulators from prosecuting institutions for providing banking services to legitimate businesses in the industry, protecting them and ancillary businesses from penalties such as asset forfeiture or the termination of an institution’s deposit insurance, as any cannabis business obeying the laws would be exempt from money anti-laundering laws.

The SAFE Banking Act was approved with an overwhelming majority by the house of Representatives in 2019 – marking the first time in history a standalone cannabis reform bill was brought before the house. The House approved the language of the act a further three times before the most recent vote, twice as part of relief packages for the COVID-19 pandemic and again in April.

The bill’s approval to be included in the “must-pass” NDAA, some believe, will allow for easier passage through to the Senate.

The non-profit National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), advocating for the reform of US cannabis laws for medical and non-medical use, is encouraging federal lawmakers to vote for approval of the act. 

Commenting on the development, NORML Political Director Justin Strekal, said: “Enactment of the SAFE Banking Act would improve public safety and business efficiency in the 36 states that currently permit some form of retail marijuana sales. The Senate should ensure this provision remains in the final version of this funding package and approve it swiftly.

“The SAFE Banking Act is only the first step toward making sure that state-legal marijuana markets operate safely and efficiently. The sad reality is that those who own or patronize these currently unbanked businesses would still be recognized as criminals in the eyes of the federal government and by federal law. This situation can only be rectified by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances.”

The development is welcome news for the industry, which has long been anticipating cannabis legalisation at the federal level.

Chairman of the UK’s Cannabis Industry Council, which is working to improve standards, quality and access in the industry, Professor Mike Barnes, commented: “I think this is good news for the global industry. It is clearly a step in the right direction towards federal legalisation. 

“That in turn is good for the worldwide cannabis industry as it will help the US industry spread its knowledgeable wings and bring more products and delivery mechanisms into play globally.”

The bill will have to make it through conference before embarking on its final passage to the Senate.

Politics & policy

Cannabis regulation changes across Switzerland and Luxembourg

It is hoped that the changes will move consumers away from the black market.

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Sweeping cannabis regulation changes across Switzerland and Luxembourg

This week both Switzerland and Luxembourg have announced changes to cannabis regulation.

Both Switzerland and Luxembourg have been signaling that legislation changes surrounding cannabis would be implemented but have delayed implementation up until this week, when Switzerland announced recreational and medical cannabis will be legalised, and Luxembourg announced it would allow home cultivation.

The moves have been catalysed by the desire to protect youth and move consumers away from the black market.

Changes in Switzerland

In Switzerland, the Social Security and Public Health Commission of the Council of States (CSSS-E) has said it is lifting the ban on cannabis and reviewing regulations relating to cannabis cultivation, production, trade and consumption.

The changes were approved by nine votes to two, with the CSSS-E supporting the initiative saying that it will be “regulating the cannabis market to better protect young people and consumers”, enabling legislative work to begin to create a regulated market. It aims to stem the black market and ensure that only cannabis which has been checked for quality is available.

The CSSS-E has said it is essential that the National Council takes into account the results of the pilot projects underway on the non-medical use of cannabis, citing that “the international context must also be taken into account.”

Changes in Luxemburg 

Luxembourg announced plans to legalise recreational cannabis three years ago but has delayed on the matter. However, the country made the announcement on Friday (22 October) that citizens would be able to cultivate cannabis at home for personal use.

The deal struck in 2018 set the stage for legislation of recreational cannabis to be drawn up with the goal of impunity or legalisation regarding production in the country, as well consumption of cannabis for personal use, and for a national production and sales chain to be introduced under state control, with product quality assurance.

The deal said that the revenues from cannabis sales would be given priority into prevention, education and healthcare, and invested in the field of addiction.

The new announcement set out that citizens would be able to grow up to four plants, and that seed trade would be allowed, however, public consumption of cannabis remains illegal. 

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Politics & policy

Malta’s Minister Bonnici presents first reading on cannabis reform

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Malta's Minister Bonnici presents first reading on cannabis reform

Malta’s Minister for Reform, Owen Bonnici has tabled the first reading of the government’s proposed cannabis reforms.

In a tweet, Malta’s Minister Owen Bonnici said the bill would ‘establish a new legal framework governing responsible use of cannabis. The government is proposing full decriminalisation for adults in possession of 7g or less for personal use. It would also mean proceedings would take place in front of the Commissioner for Justice rather than the criminal court for those with more than 7g but less than 28g.

Those proceedings may lead to fines between €50 to €100.

The white paper allows the cultivation of up to four plants per household and the expungement of cannabis-related criminal records. It would also mean the establishment of a Cannabis Authority.

Malta’s commitment to change

Bonnici said the ‘important reform’ would show ‘unwavering and determined commitment’ to progressive change within the country.

The bill has not yet been published, but it stands as an upshot of a white paper. The cannabis reform white paper had more than 350 submissions from the public and organisations when the public consultation closed in May 2020.

The government also promised that there will be a legal course of procurement however this has not been clarified. Minister Bonnici was in charge of the 2015 decriminalisation bill which saw possession of 3.5g for personal use depenalised.

The Prime Minister had also promised that it will include a legal course of procurement, but it has not been clarified what it would be as yet. Malta’s Labour party stressed they wanted people to not resort to having contact with criminals but suggested the establishment of regulated cannabis social clubs similar to Barcelona where it is legal to consume cannabis. They also suggested an outlet where it is legal to buy seeds.

Malta’s ADPD, the green party, called for a more humane drug policy stating that the war on drugs has been a failure that has ruined people’s lives.

They stated: “Regulating cannabis, which is different from other substances, makes more sense than panic and control over thousands of people who use this substance.

“It should be possible for cannabis and seeds to be purchased legally, under reasonable controls, from shops specially licensed for this purpose. Processed products should be subject to the same taxation as other processed ‘smoked’ products such as cigarettes and tobacco.”

They are also in favour of a Spanish-style social club for cannabis users.

Malta’s cannabis opposition

The government anti-addiction agency, Sedqa opposes the legalisation of any psychoactive substances. They said that the government may as well consider legalisation if they allow the cultivation of cannabis plants at home.

Caritas, Oasi and the Malta Psychiatric Association issued a joint statement stating that the paper ran the risk of normalising the use of cannabis and further harming the island. They encouraged the government to adopt a ‘harm reduction approach that focuses on prevention, education and treatment.’

By Caroline Barry

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Politics & policy

Transforming London’s cannabis expertise into a world-leading industry

In this article, Hamish Stewart, Chair of the London Cannabis Legalisation Commission, explores three steps London can take to transform its medical cannabis expertise into a world-leading industry.

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Transforming London’s cannabis expertise into a world-leading industry

Three steps to transform London’s cannabis expertise into a world-leading industry.

London’s medical cannabis research capabilities and cannabis investment advisory services are both world-class. It is time to turn the focus of this impressive expertise onto developing legal production and retail markets for London.

The UK is among the world’s largest growers of medical-grade cannabis, with centres of research excellence at Imperial College and King’s College, among other institutions. This year, the Mayor of London has a unique opportunity to work with these academic partners and legal experts to establish and promote simple and transparent laboratory standards for a new local cannabis production and retail industry. This is one of 20 recommendations contained in the London Cannabis Legalisation Commission study, submitted to the Mayor and London Assembly members this week.

The international experience with legal cannabis production and retail shows that laboratory testing is essential to support the public health and safety aims of legalisation, and will be important to ensure the integrity of the London cannabis labelling system. Specifically, mandatory product testing supported by medical cannabis experts at Imperial College combined with clear labelling would minimise the risk of contaminated products entering the London cannabis market. The Commission recommends that the Mayor of London publish a model cannabis regulation that can then be adopted by interested London councils to pilot legal cannabis production and retail. The model regulation would include a process for quality control and laboratory testing.

Drawing on the existing capacity within London’s research university network including Imperial’s Medical Cannabis Research Group would help local consumers and market regulators make informed decisions. London is in the fortunate position of having laboratory standards for cannabis as part of the existing medical cannabis programme and these skills and expertise can support the scaling up of pilot production and retail programmes.

In addition to bringing medical cannabis expertise to bear on supporting quality control in a new legal industry, it will be important for the Mayor and London councils to act swiftly to build additional capacity. The Mayor should communicate an accelerated plan to:

  1. Start cannabis industry training programmes for youth in advance of launching London councils cannabis production and retail pilots in 2022. There are significant opportunities for formal employment in the London cannabis industry, with the growing, retail, processing and distribution segments all having high job creation potential. A formalised job training programme for London cannabis business sub-sectors would benefit businesses looking for skilled workers. Cannabis vocational training would also boost progress on the Mayor’s social equity goals, and this is one goal of our London Cannabis Academy. Those who will be enforcing the new cannabis regulatory regime, mostly London councils, and the police where necessary, will also need proper training to fulfil these new roles in a legal cannabis market. While all London councils will be involved in training officials within their respective jurisdictions, the Mayor of London’s model cannabis regulation should establish guidelines and develop standardised content for in-person and digital training.

The illicit cannabis industry is already well developed in London, so shifting this supply chain into the legal market should be a priority. Tracking this progress will require baseline information. The Mayor of London and his team should:

  1. Monitor and evaluate the new legal cannabis industry from the beginning. Data will be needed to track the evolution of the new system to understand if it is successfully displacing illicit supply, helping to dampen youth violence, and generate employment and local business opportunities. Analysis that compares data gathered under the new system against baseline data will help regulators determine whether London is on track to achieve the goal of reducing profits of the illicit industry and associated youth violence, and build a world-class cannabis industry that empowers Londoners. Timely data collection, evaluation and reporting of results on a pan-London basis will be key to the successful development of London councils pilot programmes.

  2. The Mayor should proactively communicate London’s leadership plans. Clear communication is necessary to provide Londoners with the information they need to understand the regulated system and the intended contents of a model regulation. London First and the Mayor’s office should prepare to provide all Londoners with the facts about cannabis and its effects, alongside specific information and guidance to the different groups involved in the regulated cannabis market. Beyond London, the Mayor’s office should have a communications strategy to update the international community and global city networks on the content and timeline for implementation of cannabis pilot programmes and the model London cannabis regulation.

Access the full London Cannabis Study here and register for the global launch roundtable here.

Hamish Stewart
Chair
London Cannabis Legalisation Commission

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