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Hope for cannabis growers

Jamaica to lobby US on correspondent banking rules

Friday, May 31, 2019

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Jamaica is to lobby the United States on the issue of legitimising licensed cannabis growers and processors under correspondent banking rules.

Audley Shaw — Jamaica's minister of industry, commerce, agriculture, and fisheries — raised the matter in his address on plant medicine and cannabis at the Global Health Catalyst Summit at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, last weekend.

Shaw noted that financial institutions in Jamaica and many international jurisdictions do not allow banking transactions for legally licensed medical cannabis companies because of the restrictions imposed by United States banks in their correspondent banking arrangements.

“Without an ability to adequately address this matter, investment in the banking sector will not be advanced at the desired rate, and lost opportunities for growth in the cannabis industry will persist,” Shaw told his audience.

“This is a grave concern to Jamaica and international stakeholders, as the refusal to bank entities within the sector forces retailers to engage in mostly cash transactions to facilitate business. This poses not only a danger to business operators, but also stifles business linkages, as associated companies also refuse to engage with cannabis businesses to avoid conflict in their relationships with their respective banks,” he added.

Shaw said that the Harvard Summit, which cited the fast growth of the medicinal cannabis sector, combined with the listing of at least six medicinal cannabis companies on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ, as well as a recent call by 31 governors in the United States, provides a compelling basis on which the US Federal Government needs to urgently review its rules on correspondent banking for this critical emerging sector.

Last month, America's top financial regulators in 25 states and US territories urged Congress to pass legislation allowing marijuana businesses to keep their profits in banks.

“It is incumbent on Congress to resolve the conflict between state cannabis programmes and federal statutes that effectively create unnecessary risk for banks seeking to operate in this space,” the regulators said in a letter. “The looming threat of civil actions, forfeiture of assets, reputational risk, and criminal penalties is not conducive to a legal, regulated marketplace.”

“We urge Congress to consider legislation that creates a safe harbour for financial institutions to serve a state-compliant business or entrusts sovereign states with the full oversight and jurisdiction of marijuana-related activity. Establishing a safe harbour for banks to serve these entities would help reduce the risk associated with large cash-and-carry operations and bring the safeguards, activities, and sales associated with this business into the regulatory reporting compliance framework,” the regulators added.

In his Harvard address, Shaw noted that Jamaica continues to monitor the progress of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, more popularly referred to as the SAFE Banking Act, as it progresses through the US Congress.

He said that with this required banking accessibility, transparency in transactional agreements can be made.

“Scientists can further their research unencumbered, and tax authorities may properly collect taxes for the products and services of the medicinal cannabis industry,” he argued.

Minister Shaw also pointed to an observation by Dr Julius Garvey — son of Jamaica's first National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey, who also spoke at the conference — that there is now more than ample evidence that medicinal cannabis offers a clear and credible alternative to the approximately 50,000 people dying each year in the United States from opioid overdose.


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