Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Banking and Vaping


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The U.S House of Representatives will vote later this month on a bipartisan bill designed to allow cannabis businesses access to the federal banking system, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has told multiple media outlets.

The legislation — known as the SAFE Banking Act — would lift long-standing federal rules that prohibit banking institutions from working with cannabis businesses, which would in turn allow businesses to bank their profits, write payroll checks and qualify for loans. The vote will come amid a growing sentiment in Washington, D.C., that — with a healthy majority of states having legalized cannabis in some form — the current situation is untenable, putting people and businesses at risk, while hamstringing a legal multi-billion-dollar industry.

But it's long been expected that the Democrat-controlled House would push the legislation forward this session. The real news this week came from the Senate and outside the walls of Congress.

You may recall back in July we reported that the high-powered U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs held a landmark hearing July 23 on a Senate version of the bill, with experts, industry executives and advocates lined up to testify. The problem was that none of the 12 Republicans on the committee other than Chair Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) showed up ("No Show," July 25), which seemed to foreshadow the bill's fate. Well, not so fast.

Crapo announced last week that he plans to get the bill to a committee vote by the end of the year. His announcement dovetailed with news the Senate bill had picked up another co-sponsor, bringing the tally to 33. Now, even if it passes the committee, there's a legitimate question as to whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) would allow it to proceed to the floor for a vote, as McConnell has blocked just about every cannabis bill in his tenure from coming to a Senatewide vote, save, of course, the legalization of hemp in last year's farm bill, which stood to bring an economic windfall to his state.

Despite No-Marijuana Mitch's shadow over the process, more room for optimism came Sept. 16, when the Independent Bankers of America and 43 state banking associations sent a letter urging Congress to pass the bill "as soon as possible." The IBA has plenty of company, joining the ranks of the National Association of State Treasurers, a majority of state attorneys general and 20 governors in pushing the bill's passage.

As the Journal went to press Sept. 17, news broke that the nation had recorded its seventh vaping-related death ("Vapers Beware," Sept. 12). The central California man's death "related to severe pulmonary injury associated with vaping," according to Tulare County Public Health Officer Karen Haught, is one of nearly 400 cases of lung illness associated with cannabis vaping and e-cigarette use across 36 states.

On Sept. 16, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order putting $20 million toward a public awareness campaign designed to warn of the dangers of vaping cannabis and nicotine products, and urged lawmakers to pass a bill banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

Some cannabis testing laboratories, meanwhile, are scrambling to develop testing for the additive vitamin E acetate, which health officials have identified as a possible cause of the rash of lung illnesses. The additive is not currently one of the litany of substances California laboratories are required to test for under state regulations, but companies could choose to have the tests done to aid in the marketing of their products amid a national climate of alarm.

If you've been growing weed in Humboldt for years but haven't applied for a permit, the clock is ticking.

The Humboldt County Planning Department recently sent out a press release reminding that folks with grows that were in place prior to Dec. 31, 2015, have until the end of the year to apply for county permits to become legal.

"Applications submitted for pre-existing cultivation between now and the end of this year may qualify for permitting at 50 percent of the documented existing cultivation area," the release notes, adding that no applications for pre-existing sites will be accepted as of Jan. 1.


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