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Brazil is on The Brink of Medical Cannabis Change

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Here is one truism about the cannabis revolution. It has tended (so far) to be virulently opposed by the extreme right wing—and in every country. No matter what one thinks of John Boehner’s record on the drug war, not to mention his current position on the board of Acreage, the company slated to merge with Canopy Growth when federal reform of cannabis happens in the U.S.), he is a pragmatist, with a long history of taking cash from the pharma lobby in the U.S.

Bill 399/15, legalizing the cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes, and now in front of the Brazilian House, is about to change all of that. It will be voted on in late November and is expected to pass, going on to the Senate, where it is also expected to do so.

The issue has been simmering at a federal level since this summer, with all kinds of politicking between proponents and those who oppose cannabis reform. It is especially politically delicate given the extreme anti-cannabis predilections of the current President Jair Bolsonaro. Indeed, as a way of placating naysayers, the idea is to also pass another law to regulate home education (a major political plank of the sitting president).

Here is how to understand how delicate all of this is politically. Earlier this year, Bolsonaro used a national security law dating from the period when the country was governed under military rule to detain and or investigate critics of his poor handling of the country’s COVID pandemic. In March, he detained people who called him “genocidal” and displaying a cartoon depicting him as a Nazi.

Common Sense (and the Agricultural Lobby) are Making a Difference

Here is the first compelling reason why sitting politicians in both houses are willing to defy the president, no matter how much Bolsonaro has made derogatory public statements including calling the bill “crap” and threatening to veto the same (which could in turn be overturned by Congress). Those who would be otherwise persuaded to continue with the status quo are being rather rapidly convinced that cannabis is powerful medicine.

Beyond this, the more compelling interest here is the agricultural lobby of the country, which of course is looking at business development projects not only in Latin America at this point (see Mexico if not Columbia) and moving with the global tide.

That said, cannabis with a THC content that divides it from hemp will have to be grown in strictly controlled conditions (such as a two-meter fence and biometric identification).

Sustainable Cannabis and Biodiversity in Brazil?

Given the conditions being laid down, there are two ways the industry could develop here. It could be just the thing this country, home to endangered rainforests and alarmingly decreasing biodiversity, needs. Best practices of cannabis cultivation is already a topic of interest in places like South Africa, where gold mining has created, literally, toxic land full of heavy metals and other runoff from poorly managed operations.

However, cannabis monoculture is a threat here. The capital for operations that meet both impending regulations and can be exported, will be inextricably tied to foreign corporations who will demand the same. EU-GMP cannabis, for example, must be grown inside man-made greenhouses. That does not spell good news for an already beleaguered country—at least from the ecology perspective. So far, tragically, the industry has tended to adopt the cheapest practices, rather than the most sustainable. See the history, so far at least, of the larger public Canadian firms (who are of course also circling).

That said, issues of a warming and increasingly less biologically diverse planet cannot be entirely ignored, even in this industry. If landrace cannabis is given priority here, perhaps a call for preserving the rapidly shrinking rainforests and the country’s biodiversity might take hold. There have been several attempts, in fact, to create cannabis cultivations that preserve the existing biodiversity of their immediate environs and even attach carbon credits to the same. So far, the market has not broadly responded, but this too may change.

Ethically aware and sensitive cannabis is already a trend in countries in Africa. There is no reason that this might not also happen in Brazil.

However, given Bolsonaro’s current predilections, if not immediate past history on such issues, including seizing land from native tribes two years ago, the immediate future, at least, is not bright.

Beyond biodiversity, however, perhaps it is a small comfort to those whose sole interest is cannabis reform to understand that the right wing can, in highly limited circumstances, be forced to accept reform.

The question will be in Brazil, at least, will it be worth it?

Original Source: hightimes.com

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Rhode Island Rakes In $1.6 Million in First Week of Recreational Pot Sales

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Rhode Island’s new adult-use cannabis market opened for business earlier this month, and so far, business is good. 

Local news station WPRI, citing the state’s Department of Business Regulation, reported this week that “Rhode Island’s six marijuana dispensaries — five of which are currently authorized to sell to recreational customers — collectively sold just over $1.63 million worth of marijuana from Dec. 1 to Dec. 7.” 

“Less than half of those sales were for recreational marijuana, at about $786,000. The rest, about $845,400, were sales to medical marijuana patients,” the station reported. “For comparison, during the last week of October — the most recent full week available prior to recreational sales — the dispensaries collectively sold $1 million worth of medical marijuana.”

Rhode Island legalized recreational cannabis use in May, when Gov. Dan McKee signed a bill that was passed by lawmakers in the state General Assembly

The law made it legal for adults aged 21 and older to cultivate and possess marijuana, while also establishing the regulatory framework for cannabis sales. 

“This bill successfully incorporates our priorities of making sure cannabis legalization is equitable, controlled, and safe,” McKee, a Democrat, said in a statement at the time. “In addition, it creates a process for the automatic expungement of past cannabis convictions. My Administration’s original legalization plan also included such a provision and I am thrilled that the Assembly recognized the importance of this particular issue. The end result is a win for our state both socially and economically.”

Additionally, the law “will give courts until July 1, 2024, to automatically expunge past convictions, and those who want their expungement sooner may request it,” the governor’s office explained in a press release at the time.

Late last month, McKee and the state’s Department of Business Regulation’s Office of Cannabis Regulation announced that “five licensed medical marijuana compassion centers have received state approval to begin selling adult use marijuana on or after December 1.”

The five “compassion centers” that were given approval to begin adult-use sales are: Aura of Rhode Island (Central Falls); Thomas C. Slater Center (Providence); Mother Earth Wellness (Pawtucket); Greenleaf Compassionate Care Center (Portsmouth); and RISE Warwick (Warwick).

“This milestone is the result of a carefully executed process to ensure that our state’s entry into this emerging market was done in a safe, controlled and equitable manner,” McKee said last month. “It is also a win for our statewide economy and our strong, locally based cannabis supply chain, which consists of nearly 70 licensed cultivators, processors and manufacturers in addition to our licensed compassion centers. Finally, I thank the leadership of the General Assembly for passing this practical implementation framework in the Rhode Island Cannabis Act and I look forward to continuing our work together on this issue.”

Matt Santacroce, who is serving as interim deputy director of the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, said last month that the state was “pleased with the quality and comprehensiveness of the applications we received from the state’s compassion centers, and we are proud to launch adult use sales in Rhode Island just six months after the Cannabis Act was signed into law, marking the Northeast’s fastest implementation period.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with the state’s cannabis business community to ensure this critical economic sector scales in compliance with the rules and regulations put forward by state regulators,” Santacroce said. 

The launch of recreational sales on December 1 was only one change to Rhode Island’s existing marijuana policy to arrive this month. 

WPRI reported that, on the same day, “the state also stopped charging medical patients to obtain or renew their medical marijuana cards,” adding that “there is an expected revenue loss from the pending plan to expunge marijuana possession charges, which will eliminate court fees from those crimes.”

The post Rhode Island Rakes In $1.6 Million in First Week of Recreational Pot Sales appeared first on High Times.

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D.C. Council Approves Cannabis Bill To Promote Equity, Provide Tax Relief And Eliminate Medical Marijuana License Caps

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On Tuesday, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., approved a bill that would significantly alter the city’s medical marijuana program. The bill would, among other things, remove licensing caps on cannabis businesses, reduce taxes for operators, increase efforts to promote social equity, and establish new categories of regulated businesses, such as on-site consumption facilities and cannabis cooking classes.

Additionally, it would allow current “gifting” operators, who sell non-cannabis items in exchange for “free” marijuana products, to transition into the permitted market while granting authorities the ability to crack down on those who continue to operate unlawfully.

The measure, which had been revised by the Committee of the Whole earlier in the day, was passed by the full D.C. Council by a vote of 7 to 4. 

A second reading vote by the Council is still required before it can be sent to the mayor’s office.

Pro-reform lawmakers have voiced concerns that the bill’s most recent iteration may have unintended consequences for social fairness by granting preferential treatment to already established medical cannabis outlets.

Legally, adults would be able to selfcertify their medical marijuana use according to the Medical Cannabis Amendment Act. 

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) introduced the legislation on behalf of Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).

A note prepared for the hearing by the Committee of the Whole states that the most recent print “retains a majority of the adjustments and additions made by” the Committee on Business and Economic Development (CBED), which passed the measure last week. 

It had progressed out of a different panel before.

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Dispensaries’ Cashless ATM Transactions Get The Ax

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Cannabis dispensaries in several states were left scrambling to find ways to process transactions without cash when a popular workaround to federal banking regulations known as cashless ATMs stopped working for many retailers beginning last week. Cashless ATMs, also known as “point of banking” systems, allow customers to use bank cards instead of cash at cannabis dispensaries, giving retailers and their patrons alike more flexibility when processing transactions for marijuana purchases.

But beginning last week, some of the biggest ATM transaction processors including NCR Corp.’s Columbus Data Services have shut down the ability of cashless ATM transaction processors to use their service, according to unidentified sources cited by Bloomberg. NCR declined to comment on the situation, according to the report.

“This is a pivotal point in cannabis banking,” Ryan Hamlin, chief executive officer of payment technology provider Posabit Systems Corp., told Bloomberg about the cashless ATM shutdowns.

Notice Given Last Year

Late last year, international payment processing giant Visa announced in a memo to retailers that it “was aware of a scheme where POS devices marketed as ‘Cashless ATMs’ are being deployed at merchant outlets.” 

The system worked by rounding up purchases, often to multiples of $20, to make the transaction appear to be cash disbursements. Instead, only the change from the transaction would be returned to the customer, and the dispensary would keep the rest to cover the payment for the purchase.

“Cashless ATMs are POS devices driven by payment applications that mimic standalone ATMs. However, no cash disbursements are made to cardholders,” the December 2021 memo continues. “Instead, the devices are used for purchase transactions, which are miscoded as ATM cash disbursements. Purchase amounts are often rounded up to create the appearance of a cash disbursement.

In April, Bloomberg reported that cashless ATM transactions were able to be processed because they were disguised by listing an address of a nearby business such as a fast food restaurant instead of the actual dispensary address. An estimate put the portion of cannabis sales processed through cashless ATM transactions at 25% of the $25 billion in projected annual dispensary sales.

“Those sales could generate more than $500 million in fees for payment processors, based on average purchase sizes,” Bloomberg reported.

Banking Laws Hinder Legitimate Cannabis Businesses

The popularity of cashless ATM transactions is indicative of the difficulty federal regulations pose for cannabis businesses, even those operating legally under state law. Federal banking and money laundering laws put restrictions on the banking industry, making it difficult for financial institutions to provide traditional services such as credit card processing, loans, and deposit and payroll accounts. But cashless ATMs fail to pass muster with the federal regulations.

“The cashless ATM trend is damaging to investors, dispensaries, and consumers, as when it comes down to it, it’s blatant money laundering,” CannaTrac CEO Tom Gavin told High Times. “Instead of creating loopholes and using a cashless ATM, dispensaries should take advantage of other solutions currently on the market that are safe, legal, and transparent. A proper financial solution should be registered with FinCEN and have a money transmitter license, or be the agent of a sponsor or bank with a money transmitter license in their state.”

Hamlin of Posabit said that signs of the cashless ATM shutdown began to appear in November and increased last week. He estimated that by the end of the weekend, only about 20% of the cannabis industry was still able to use cashless ATM payments.

Cannabis dispensaries in Arizona, California, and Massachusetts have reportedly been affected by the shutdown of cashless ATM transactions, with employees at those shops recommending that they pay for their purchases with cash instead. Curaleaf Holdings, one of the largest cannabis retailers in the United States, reported in April that approximately one-third of the company’s dispensary transactions were processed through cashless ATMs.

“It’s left merchants in the lurch because it happened overnight, but the writing has been on the wall for a while now,” said Peter Su, a senior vice president at Green Check Verified, a consulting and software company that specializes in cannabis and banking.

Sahar Ayinehsazian, a partner at Vicente Sederberg LLP and co-chair of the law firm’s Banking and Financial Services Access Group, said that the shutdown of the cashless ATM system illustrates the need for the passage of legislation now pending before Congress that would allow legal cannabis businesses access to banking services.

“This shutdown further underscores the ongoing need for banking and financial reform for cannabis businesses and the passage of the SAFE Act,” Ayinehsazian wrote in an email to High Times. “While there can be no guarantee that the Act will open up payment processing for cannabis operators, the industry is very optimistic that its passage will facilitate access to legal and legitimate cashless payment options for cannabis operators.”

The post Dispensaries’ Cashless ATM Transactions Get The Ax appeared first on High Times.

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