Cash and Pot: Can’t take it to the bank, yet

While many rejoice that the Grateful Dead will play a tribute concert in July and that up to 20 states have provided some legalization for marijuana, running a marijuana business – even legally (under state law) has major problems. Having a banking relationship is impossible. See e.g. http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/1/5/states-find-you-cant-take-legal-marijuana-money-to-the-bank and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/05/marijuana-money_n_6416678.html and http://www.denverpost.com/marijuana/ci_27360883/oregon-bank-opens-doors-colorado-marijuana-businesses (Not any more though: they have since closed their doors). Despite state-laws that permit certain marijuana sales, Marijuana remains a Class 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, and illegal under Federal law. Federal banking laws prevent MOST bank from taking cash from any business that violates Federal law.  This post is a bit of a simple primer on the various pieces that one must understand to avoid banking violations: The players: 1) The Department of Treasury governs Federal banks.  In February 2014, the DOT issued guidelines (“FinCen”) that state that while the priority for marijuana related transactions should be lowered – because the Department of Justice lowered it’s priority – even the smell of marijuana on cash (or any activity that is suspected of violating Federal law) will trigger the filing of a SAR – suspicious activity report. 2) DOJ’s Cole Report asks law enforcement to prioritize their enforcement with goals of:

  • Preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors;
  • Preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels;
  • Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states;
  • Preventing state-authorized marijuana activity from being used as a cover or pretext for the trafficking of other illegal drugs or other illegal activity;
  • Preventing violence and the use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana;
  • Preventing drugged driving and the exacerbation of other adverse public health consequences associated with marijuana use;
  • Preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands; and
  • Preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

3) Banks are asked by FinCen “[a]s part of its customer due diligence, a financial institution should consider whether a marijuana-related business implicates one of the Cole Memo priorities or violates state law.” 4) Banks are to file SAR’s and a Currency Transaction Report (“CTR”), for any deposit or withdrawal in excess of $5k via the BSA. Specifically: “The obligation to file a SAR is unaffected by any state law that legalizes marijuana-related activity. A financial institution is required to file a SAR if, consistent with FinCEN regulations, the financial institution knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that a transaction conducted or attempted by, at, or through the financial institution: (i) involves funds derived from illegal activity or is an attempt to disguise funds derived from illegal activity; (ii) is designed to evade regulations promulgated under the BSA, or (iii) lacks a business or apparent lawful purpose.”  And because marijuana is illegal under Federal law, all marijuana related transactions trigger a SAR. 5) Marijuana Limited SARs: That said, banks are given permission to file limited SARs. “SAR should be limited to the following information: (i) identifying information of the subject and related parties; (ii) addresses of the subject and related parties; (iii) the fact that the filing institution is filing the SAR solely because the subject is engaged in a marijuana-related business; and (iv) the fact that no additional suspicious activity has been identified. Financial institutions should use the term “MARIJUANA LIMITED” in the narrative section.” 6) But FinCen also helps banks identify red-flags which would cause a bank to terminate its banking relationship or file a Marijuana Termination SAR. In sum, the banking world is scared shitless of Medical Marijuana businesses. Until the Federal government changes its classification, banking will continue to be difficult.

Branding Marijuana Extracts and Strains

Now that the Marley Family has come out with their own brand of Marijuana, says Rolling Stone Magazine, many growers and distributors want to brand their extracts and strains. Much has been written about the impossibility under current US Federal Law to obtain a US Federal Trademark for the actual bud or its progeny.   In this article by Kieran G. Doyle, the most significant take away is:

– Federal Trademarks that steer clear of the Controlled Substances Act can make it thru – (I provide a check list on how to do that in my post here) AND

– Go for State Trademark protection. After all, in the states that permit Marijiuana, a trademark can most likely be obtained.  So what are you waiting for?

California’s forms are here and

Colorado’s filing materials can be found here for example.

Although I am not a Colorado lawyer, I certainly can help you from here in Sunny California.

Maui Waui, Medical Marijuana and Trademarks

According to Jeff Spacoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”  

Upated: June 2014: Hershey sues edible marijuana company

If you run a medical marijuana dispensary or a manufacture or sell vapors, edibles, pens or product for a legal dispensary, you may also want a Federal trademark to be “FINE.” (See my other post on brand protection) The problem is, the Federal government is not just giving away trademarks – the exclusive right to use a word or mark in connection with a good or service – when connected to medical marijuana.

Here are some guidelines to help you entrepreneurs out there avoid wasting your money on trademark applications without any hope of obtaining protection.

The Controlled Substances Act:

  1. Is the product or service your running the “manufacturing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing certain controlled substances, including marijuana and marijuana-based preparations”? 
  2. If yes, you probably violate the Federal Controlled Substances Act and will be rejected.  See 21 U.S.C. §§812, 841(a)(1), 844(a); see also 21 U.S.C. §802(16) (defining “[marijuana]”).
  3. Is your business focused on “sale of, offer for sale, or use any facility of interstate commerce to transport drug paraphernalia”? This includes: ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body?
  4. And is the thing your selling medical marijuana?
  5. IF yes to 3 and 4, then, you probably violate the CSA too and will get rejected under 21 U.S.C. §863.

For example,

  • MAUI WAWI – REJECTED – as medical marijuana – because it is a controlled substance under Federal law.
  • MYST 5 – REJECTED – as Oral spray for absorption of medical marijuana – because a product that is inhaling a controlled substance violates Federal law.
  • PRIMORA – REJECTED – as medical marijuana – same as above.

Avoid the CSA:

  1. Your product must be lawful under Federal law – not state law – when applying for a US Trademark;
  2. If your services DO NOT involve the provision of marijuana, marijuana-based preparations, or marijuana extracts or derivatives or any other illegal controlled substances YOU ARE GOOD;
  3. If your services are merely an INFORMATION source for how to “obtain and/or grow marijuana, marijuana-based preparations, or marijuana extracts or derivatives or any other illegal controlled substances” you APPEAR TO BE GOOD;
  4. If your services involve POSSESSION or HANDLING OF, you are probably NOT GOOD to get registration.

Here a few goods and services that have achieved Federal registration:

  • IC 009. US 021 023 026 036 038. G & S: Downloadable computer software featuring a database of information regarding cannabis strains, indications and effects and cannabis dispensaries and their inventories and locations. 
  • IC 035. US 100 101 102. G & S: Providing consumer information in the field of medical marijuana dispensary inventories and locations; providing links to web sites of others featuring consumer information on medical marijuana inventories and locations; providing a web site featuring the ratings, reviews and recommendations on products and services for commercial purposes posted by users; providing consumer information regarding medical marijuana dispensaries, inventories and locations. FIRST USE: 20101024. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20101024
  • IC 039. US 100 105. G & S: Providing a web site and web site links to geographic information and map images in the field of medical marijuana dispensary businesses via interactive computer networks. FIRST USE: 20101024. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20101024
  • IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: Computer services, namely, creating an on-line community for registered users to participate in discussions, get feedback from their peers, form virtual communities, and engage in social networking in the field of medical marijuana; creating and maintaining blogs for others. 
  • IC 044. US 100 101. G & S: Providing health information in the field of medical marijuana, and regarding indications and effects of particular cannabis strains, and regarding medical marijuana dispensaries, inventories and locations. FIRST USE: 20101024. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20101024
  • IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: Computer services, namely, providing on-line non-downloadable web-based computer software for patient documentation and history, inventory control, and inventory management for use among medical marijuana centers, dispensaries, collectives, and patients. FIRST USE: 20100100. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20100100
  • IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: Organization and arrangement of educational and instructional seminars and conferences regarding legal, medical and political developments and societal attitudes about medical marijuana not including the provision or display of marijuana, marijuana-based preparations, or marijuana extracts or derivatives, synthetic marijuana, or other substances controlled by the Controlled Substances Act; organization and arrangement of exhibitions for educational, cultural and entertainment purposes regarding legal, medical, and political developments and societal attitudes about medical marijuana not including the provision or display of marijuana, marijuana-based preparations, or marijuana extracts or derivatives, synthetic marijuana, or other substances controlled under the Controlled Substances Act; organization and arrangement of musical exhibitions. FIRST USE: 20100222. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 20100222
  • IC 041. US 100 101 107. G & S: Education services, namely, providing seminars and classes in the field of medical marijuana; Entertainment, namely, live music concerts; Providing facilities for educational conventions.
  • Physician services; medical evaluation of individuals to determine whether a medical diagnosis or medical condition is present that may benefit from treatment with medical marijuana.

 

I would be happy to talk you through – or off the ledge – with regards to how best to protect your service or product that does not fall directly afoul of the CSA as well as discussing state and other approaches for what would surely end you up with a US Trademark rejection notice.  Give me a call if I can help 310-570-2399.