New FinCEN Due Diligence Guidance for Hemp-Related Businesses

On June 29, 2020 (“June Guidance”), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued additional guidance for financial institutions providing, or considering providing, financial services for hemp-related businesses. The June Guidance supplements the interagency statement issued on December 3, 2019, and provides clarity on what steps a financial institution can take to conduct due diligence on hemp-related businesses in order to comply with BSA requirements. The new guidance is detailed enough that FinCEN should easily accomplish its goal of making transparent financial services readily available to hemp-related businesses.

Specifically, FinCEN directed financial institutions to conduct customer due diligence (“CDD”) of hemp-related businesses in accordance with their current risk-based policies and procedures, including those that apply to ongoing account monitoring. Rather than mandate specific due diligence requirements, FinCEN said that the information sought by a financial institution should depend on the risk attributed to each type of customer after conducting an appropriate risk assessment. Nevertheless, FinCEN did provide several examples of types of information that may be gathered to help ensure that a financial institution knows its hemp-related business customers and that it can identify and report suspicious activity, including those red-flag activities outlined in the June Guidance.

Notably, the June … Keep reading

Increasing Lawsuits Against Cannabis-Related Businesses Places Spotlight on Adequacy of Disclosures

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Class action lawsuits against publicly traded cannabis-related companies more than doubled from 2018 to 2019, with 13 class action cases filed in 2019 compared to 6 class action cases filed in 2018 – a staggering 116% increase. Lawsuits against cannabis-related businesses continue to grow concurrently with the expanding industry growth and mostly focus on disclosure issues. Such lawsuits are ordinarily filed by shareholders in an attempt to recover investment losses, often after a company’s stock price decreases, and are asserted, in the event that the company allegedly made false and misleading statements or omissions in connection with a securities offering, under the Securities Act of 1933 or the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 for public company disclosures.

For example, on January 16, 2020, Aurora Cannabis Inc. (TSX: ACB), in Warren v. Aurora Cannabis Inc., et al., No. 20-cv-00555, received claims for allegedly making false and misleading statements and/or failing to disclose adverse information regarding Aurora’s business and prospects. Claims against Aurora were brought under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 after the company announced disappointing results for Q1 2020 (reporting a 25% sales decline) and that the company was halting construction on its operating facilities in various regions – … Keep reading

FDIC Chairwoman McWilliams Remains Consistent Regarding Cannabis Banking

Financial institutions considering implementing cannabis banking programs should take comfort in recent comments made by FDIC Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams during virtual meetings held with bankers in Michigan and Arizona. While McWilliams said she could not “give blanket immunity” to banks or “bless them and say ‘go ahead and do it’” because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, McWilliams stated that she thought bankers would be “OK” with regulators if they conduct due diligence that ensures licensed entities comply with state regulations and follow the 2014 FinCEN guidelines, including the filing of suspicious activity reports (SARs).

The direction provided by McWilliams and the FDIC remains consistent and echoes that of other regulatory agencies that continue to await comprehensive marijuana reform, or the passage of the SAFE Banking Act that stalled in the Senate after passing in the House last year. Despite not sharing any new insights, McWilliams’ unchanged position, coupled with FDIC efforts to support cannabis banking by educating its examiners, may mean that entering the cannabis banking space now is the least risky it has ever been, or will be, until the federal government changes its marijuana policy. Likewise, acting now may create business opportunities that will … Keep reading

A Message From Our Editors: Black Lives Matter

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black American, lost his life to police brutality. The senseless killing of Mr. Floyd at the hands of police, while he was being arrested for a nonviolent crime, was a racist act. For nearly nine minutes, the arresting officer knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck and ignored his victim’s impassioned pleas that he could not breathe. Three other officers either assisted in restraining Mr. Floyd or watched and did nothing as he took his last breath. All four officers were eventually fired, one has since been charged with second-degree murder, and the three others have been charged with aiding and abetting. Over the past several weeks, outcry over the systemic racism and institutionalized harassment of people of color has been heard at protests across our country and the world.

Institutional racism casts a shadow on all areas of our society and is glaringly evident in the newly legalized cannabis industry. The origin of the prohibition of marijuana lies in the racist history of this country. Some historians claim that the beginnings of this policy originated from the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 when Mexicans began to immigrate to the United States … Keep reading

Raising Money Under Rule 506

Private companies raising money in private offerings of securities often rely upon an exemption under Rule 506 of Regulation D.  In fact, Rule 506 is undoubtedly the most popular safe harbor from the registration requirements under Section 4(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933. This is due in no small part because an offering conducted under Rule 506 affords a company the ability to raise an unlimited amount of money.  Rule 506 provides two distinct exemptions: Rule 506(b) and (c).  Unlike Rule 506(b), an issuer relying on Rule 506(c) can engage in general solicitation when marketing its offering.  Certainly, there are traps for the unwary when proceeding under either exemption, as some cannabis companies have unfortunately discovered in recent years.

When is general solicitation available to issuers? Rule 506(c) allows a company to broadly solicit and generally advertise the offering. However, companies relying on Rule 506(b) are prohibited from engaging in general solicitation or advertising to market the offering.  Generally, as a practical matter, this means that companies raising capital under Rule 506(b) must have a pre-existing, substantive relationship with prospective investors.

Who can invest in a Rule 506 offering?  Under a 506(b) offering, a company may sell its … Keep reading

Now More Than Ever, Local Communities Need Cannabis Banking

Change and the discomfort that often accompanies it is inevitable, and it is difficult to remember a recent time that has brought as many changes as the world has experienced in 2020. As of this writing, our society is reeling from the effects of COVID-19 as well as nationwide protests spurred by the killing of George Floyd (and many others). Mr. Floyd’s death underscored the racial and economic disparity that continues to exist within our society as well as the cannabis industry, but more and more people are engaging in conversations that may offer new solutions to some of our most persistent problems. While these solutions may be homegrown, they need community backing to take hold and make a lasting difference, and local financial institutions are well-positioned to do their part in support of these grassroots efforts by providing financial services to local cannabis-related businesses (“CRBs”).

The cannabis industry has long been tied to social justice, and although efforts to repair the damage done to communities that have been disproportionately affected by failed drug policy through marijuana legalization have begun, they have a long way to go before they can be considered successful. The protests and renewed calls for … Keep reading

Massachusetts’ Adult-Use Cannabis Returns Amid Uncertain Economic Forecast

On Monday, Massachusetts adult-use cannabis retailers resumed sales after two months of lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Adult-use retailers are among the first “nonessential” businesses to return to operations under strict guidelines, pursuant to the Governor’s order.

Back in March, Governor Baker deemed adult-use cannabis retailers “nonessential,” which was a departure from the adult-use industry’s classification in other states where cannabis has been legalized. However, the Governor’s order permitted medical cannabis dispensaries to remain open, with the admonishment that sales be conducted in a manner that would to limit contact between employees and patients (curbside pickup, social-distancing, etc.) The disparate treatment between medical and adult-use retailers was subsequently challenged in court. On April 16, the Massachusetts Suffolk Superior Court, denied the plaintiffs’ plea for an emergency preliminary injunction in their suit against the Governor, the aim of which was to have recreational marijuana establishments added to the list of “essential” businesses.

Nonetheless, the commencement of phase one with respect to adult-use cannabis retailers could not have come sooner. Like other consumer-facing retailers, the adult-use cannabis industry has felt the economic strain of COVID-19. Obligations to pay rent, lost sales, and other business expenses dealt a blow … Keep reading

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The Weedmaps Subpoena: An Industry Wakeup Call

Weedmaps”, which has been called the cannabis industry’s largest technology company, was given a fright on Halloween of last year.  Weedmaps’ parent holding company, “Ghost Management Group, LLC”, received a subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury and provide certain documents and information to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California.  The wide range of records and other items contained in the request spooked the cannabis industry, as Weedmaps was asked to share materials regarding at least 30 marijuana plant-touching companies that it does business with.  Being the so-called “Yelp of cannabis”, Weedmaps is uniquely situated in having access to a significant amount of data for a large number of retail marijuana enterprises across the country, both medical and recreational.  While the public became aware of the subpoena in early March of this year, it wasn’t until just recently that a copy of the order was made generally available, revealing the broad scope of the information being requested and containing the names of several household-name cannabis companies.

The U.S Justice Department has, since the time of the Cole Memorandum, taken a limited approach in pursing legal action against state-law compliant marijuana enterprises, instead concentrating … Keep reading

United Cannabis Chapter 11 Bankruptcy: Plant-Touching Litmus Test

United Cannabis Corporation (“United Cannabis”) and its wholly-owned subsidiary, UC Colorado Corporation, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado on April 20, 2020. United Cannabis’ primary line of business is operating extraction facilities to convert compounds of industrial hemp flower into finished CBD products, while also deriving a limited amount of revenue from licensing its IP to plant touching businesses. The United Cannabis bankruptcy proceeding could be a unique test case for the cannabis industry.  Here is what you need to know:

Cannabis:  How Much is Too Much? What makes this case so fascinating is that, following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, certain hemp/CBD companies are now able to file for federal bankruptcy protection, which relief was denied to plant-touching and, for the most part, ancillary businesses.   United Cannabis’ business generates nearly all of its revenue from CBD product sales, with only (at most) a de minimis amount of revenue derived from IP licensing fees to medical and recreational marijuana businesses. According to the company’s recent SEC filings, the United Cannabis reported substantially all of its revenues – nearly $13 million – were derived from the sale … Keep reading

COVID-19 Stalls Pending Recreational Efforts but Spurs Long-Term Industry Optimism

Cannabis legalization and program launches have been stalled as states have turned their focus to addressing the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. As was recently discussed on the CannaBusiness Advisory, the State of New York was gearing up to become the 12th state to legalize recreational cannabis in 2020 and had hoped to accomplish this by April 1st by including it in the state’s new budget bill that had to be adopted on such date. However, given the COVID-19 outbreak in New York, lawmakers fell under pressure to adopt a new budget while also dealing with the ongoing crisis. In that climate, with lawmakers unlikely to have come to a resolution on the topic, Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that the state would not include recreational cannabis in its budget bill in an announcement on March 31st. Despite the delay, experts believe recreational cannabis in New York has a good chance of passage as a stand-alone bill prior to the end of 2020.

In Maine, the state’s Office of Marijuana Policy announced on April 10 that it would be postponing its long-anticipated spring 2020 launch of recreational cannabis sales in the state due to the ongoing COVID-19 … Keep reading

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