By Bruce Barcott, First Published in Leafly on 25 April 2022
Does this spell the end of cannabis prohibition on social media platforms?
Elon Musk has been an outspoken opponent of prohibition. Now he owns Twitter.
What began as a fun what-if last week ended as a startling fait accompli this afternoon: Twitter has accepted Elon Musk’s $44 billion bid to buy the company.
In the cannabis world, that deal could have profound ramifications.
The Tesla founder has been famously outspoken about his belief in cannabis legalization. In late 2018, Musk lit up a joint on the Joe Rogan Experience, inhaled, and launched a million memes.
In the summer of 2020, Musk added his voice to the chorus of those working to free America’s cannabis prisoners.
“Selling weed literally went from major felony to essential business (open during pandemic) in much of America & yet many are still in prison,” he wrote. “Doesn’t make sense, isn’t right.”
Musk isn’t so much an advocate as an ally. He’s not the guy who’s bankrolling state legalization campaigns; he’s the uber-bro with massive cultural influence who says, loudly: Prohibition is stupid!
And now he owns Twitter. At a purchase price of $54.20 per share. Ahem.
Will that change things?
What needs changing?
Anyone who works in cannabis can tell you: Social media platforms do not play well with weed. The continued federal prohibition of marijuana makes the major platforms—Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok—extremely nervous. They often express that trepidation by blocking posts, enacting shadow bans, or deleting entire accounts.
It’s hard to find a cannabis company that hasn’t been blocked or banned from at least one social platform.
It’s hard to find a cannabis company that hasn’t been blocked or banned from at least one platform at one time or another.
Often the bans feel capricious. A post that seems utterly harmless can get flagged for violating a platform’s terms of service, while an edgier post can shine on with no trouble at all. ‘What did we do wrong? is an anguished cry that nearly every cannabis social media manager has shouted to the heavens.
These mysterious cannabis policies exist on a spectrum. On the far side of strictness sits TikTok, which allows no cannabis content whatsoever. Don’t even try. The Google-owned YouTube can be tricky, but it allows cannabis content within reason. Then there’s Instagram and Facebook, both owned by the parent company Meta. Because of the nature of the cannabis audience, Instagram is currently the most important and influential platform, and also the one that gives social media directors absolute fits when it comes to cannabis content.
Jungle Boys, one of the nation’s top cannabis brands, gave a wink to that situation earlier today:
Will Musk change Twitter’s cannabis rules?
The platform Musk just purchased has a reputation as being one of the most liberal in its treatment of cannabis. There’s upside and downside to that.
The upside is that Twitter is the best fit, culturally and temperamentally, with Musk himself. His public persona is much closer to that of the swashbuckling libertarian Jack Dorsey (Twitter’s founder) than to the aggressively flavorless Meta leader Mark Zuckerberg.
If anything, we should expect Twitter’s cannabis policies to relax even further under Elon Musk. Consider this tweet he put out upon the acceptance of his bid this afternoon:
Better gatekeeping, or an ugly free-for-all?
Musk’s championing of free speech could make Twitter the most 420-friendly platform—but it could also turn the entire Twitterverse into an ugly free-for-all of political propaganda, unchecked conspiracy theories, and hate speech.
One year from now Twitter could be the social platform most welcoming to cannabis companies and consumers. But will cannabis companies and consumers want to appear on Twitter one year from now?
It’s not just his company, it’s his voice
Beyond the changes he might enact at Twitter, Musk could change the environment for cannabis simply by virtue of his new role in the social media universe. After hearing about Musk’s bid over the weekend, I reached out to Arend Richard, the founder of WeedTube. Richard has been one of the leading advocates for social media freedom and fairness when it comes to cannabis. He founded WeedTube back in 2018 after finding himself blocked by YouTube for an innocuous cannabis post. Four years later the 420-friendly WeedTube is thriving, readying an ambitious new update to their app expected to launch later this summer.
“As a cannabis business owner and influencer, Twitter has been relatively easy to work with,” Richard told me. “But I want to get in touch with Elon, because we need him to help bring awareness to the situation with Meta” and their platforms.
Richard is currently gathering signatures on a petition demanding that Instagram reform its community guidelines “to treat all legally operating cannabis businesses equally.”
The heart of the grievance? Unequal enforcement, according to the petition:
“Instagram continues to suspend and delete the pages of licensed and legal cannabis companies for violation of their vague and outdated policy prohibiting “attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade” marijuana. This policy is not enforced equally, with large multi-state corporations being allowed to promote their products and locations, while smaller, independent operators lose access to their Instagram pages, which are essential marketing tools in 2022.”
Influence others by eating their lunch
Can Elon Musk demand a change in the policies of Instagram? Of course not. This is a situation where he could force a change, however, by simply opening his arms to cannabis companies and then gaining ground on Insta.
The Meta-owned giant has nearly ten times as many active monthly users as Twitter. Instagram is younger, hotter, and more hip. If a Musk-over of Twitter can change that perception and eat into that lead, Instagram could be forced to reconsider its stodgy and outdated cannabis policies. And that could lead to a change in the other Meta properties as well.
There are no guarantees, but it could work. Elon Musk alone couldn’t force GM and Ford to start making electric cars. The success of Tesla forced them to follow his lead or become obsolete. Let’s see what he can do with social media.
The post Now Musk’s Bought Twitter, Could This End The Cannabis Social Media Ban? appeared first on Cannabiz Africa.
Rhode Island Rakes In $1.6 Million in First Week of Recreational Pot Sales
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.”
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D.C. Council Approves Cannabis Bill To Promote Equity, Provide Tax Relief And Eliminate Medical Marijuana License Caps
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.
Dispensaries’ Cashless ATM Transactions Get The Ax
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.”
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