South Dakota Seeks Changes to Medical Rules

Finally, medical cannabis is legal in South Dakota, a state that legalized in 2020 before facing numerous hurdles in order to make medical pot official. And still, the state’s dispensaries haven’t started distributing it. The next step to make that happen is a change in regulations, which is currently in the works behind the scenes. 

In South Dakota, medical cannabis is overseen by The South Dakota Department of Health. They recently held a public hearing to go over proposed changes and how things could move forward in the state if approved. Despite the hearing taking place on June 21, there is still time to submit written comments on the changes. Comments will be accepted through July 1, either by email or snail mail. 

Once the final comments are received, the department will make a decision. The changes must first be analyzed by the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee, which will make a decision on those proposed changes at their July 19 meeting. 

These changes are separate from those already approved that take place on July 1, the Legislature’s code counsel, John McCullough, pointed out. The other changes referenced are those that were approved by Senate Bill 4 when it passed during the most recent legislative session.

These already approved changes include a major milestone for healthcare providers. According to this change, a physician no longer is required to state that the patient will be likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefits from medical cannabis in the case that it is prescribed. Instead, they only have to state that the patient has a debilitating medical condition, not that it is likely to be treated successfully by cannabis. This takes a lot of weight off of the physicians when it comes to new types of treatment like legal weed. 

Originally, under Measure 26, which was approved by voters in the 2020 election, when cannabis was legalized. The South Dakota State Medical Association opposed that wording, as it essentially forced prescribing doctors to say that cannabis would help, not just that it was an option. 

Currently, debilitating conditions approved to be treated with medical cannabis in South Dakota include: 

  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Cancer associated with severe or chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Epilepsy and seizures
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

To add other conditions, there is currently an application process to see if more qualified conditions will be approved in the future. These were all approved last year in September, and through a final hearing round in October of 2021. 

So far, there seems to be a big desire for medical cannabis in South Dakota based on how well a tribal dispensary is serving its community, and the fact that the state hit over 1,000 medical cards given out. The flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe currently operates a dispensary legally on their property, which is north of Sioux Falls. Their data shows that more than 10,000 people have registered with the tribe for medical cards since July 1 of last year. The state department of health reported 1,121 patient cards as of June 13. 

It remains to be seen exactly what changes will be requested by the community during the comment period, but it’s clear that the community is hungry and ready for legal cannabis in their state after a long wait since legalization. In the meantime, the community will be getting comments together to try and build a better medical cannabis community in South Dakota. 

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Ecuador Kicks Off Medical Cannabis Production

Ecuador is not the first country that comes to mind when one thinks about cannabis reform, either regionally or internationally. However, the country is clearly moving into the global medical cannabis market in an organized way. 

This week, on Tuesday, AYA Natural and Medical Products of Ecuador became the first manufacturing plant in the country to begin regulated, GMP production.

The inauguration was auspicious, attended by officials from the company as well as from the ministries of Production, Foreign Trade, Investment and Fisheries, the National Institute of Popular and Solidarity Economy, and the Deputy Minister of Production and Industries. No matter who else may take notice, this is clearly a coordinated effort and senior governmental decision to support a domestic medical cannabis industry and further one with global aspirations.

It is hardly surprising, given the fact that their neighbors, including both Columbia and Peru, are in the regional if not international supply chain business already.

The Status of Cannabis Reform in Ecuador

This little country on the left coast of South America, bordered by Columbia to the north, Peru to the south, Brazil to the east, and the Pacific to the west, has quietly moved forward on cannabis reform in an interesting way. In 2008, the constitution of the country, “drug” consumption, including cannabis, is not a criminal but rather a public health issue. As a result, cannabis is legal here for personal consumption with a limit of 10 grams. The sale, however, of cannabis is still prohibited unless it is for medical purposes. 

In 2016, lawmakers first proposed formalizing and legalizing the industry nationally. Ecuador’s National Assembly subsequently legalized medical use late in 2018 by a majority of 83-23. However it was not until late 2019 when the Organic Law Reforming the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code was published and in June 2020 when the reform of the Organic Law for the Comprehensive Prevention of the Socioeconomic Phenomenon of Drugs, and Regulation and Control of the Use of Listed Substances Subject to Control Acts passed that the industry finally had a legal leg to stand on. 

At that point, the initial attention locally was on establishing a hemp rather than high THC industry but, like other places, reform has come, and has shifted yet again. Obviously, COVID has also played a role in delaying developments, but this period seems to be coming to a decisive end.

Like many of its Central and South American neighbors, the climate here is advantageous for outdoor cultivation. This is due in large part to its proximity to the equator. The extensive coastline has long been an advantage for exporting commodity crops if not manufactured cannabis products elsewhere. This includes North America, but it may increasingly include Central and South America as the cross-border trade begins to open up between countries as legalization takes hold across the continent. Europe, rather obviously, is also in the sights of the government, but so are countries like Australia, which are beginning to import medical cannabis from elsewhere.

The news also comes as Costa Rica moves forward on regulating its own hemp and medical cannabis industry (literally on the same day) and as Zimbabwe opens its own first cannabis processing facility.

The race is certainly on to cultivate, produce, and distribute medical grade cannabis and the medicines that come from it.

The New Developing World Commodity Crop?

As more and more countries get the legalization bug, particularly in a search for economic redevelopment that is also sustainable and worth a significant amount as a medical product for export, expect to see not only global gluts in medical production, but also, finally, price reductions in target destinations, including those in Europe (France and Germany in particular) but also places like the UK.

How and where Central and South American cannabis production will fall in all of this is another matter, particularly in competition with Africa (particularly for European and Israeli markets) but the region is clearly putting the last century’s War on Drugs behind it and opening itself up to new possibilities with a cannabis-scented odor. 

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Washington Wants Harsher Penalties for Dispensary Robbers

A proposal in Washington to impose harsher penalties for robbing cannabis retailers was approved by lawmakers in the state Senate last week. 

The legislation, Senate Bill 5927, would tack on a year to the prison sentence of an individual convicted of first or second degree robbery of a cannabis shop—which, as local television station KING 5 noted, is “the same sentence that is given to someone who robs a pharmacy.”

The sponsor of the bill, Republican state Senator Jim Honeyford, invoked a notorious 20th century American bank robber to convey the urgency behind the proposal.

“When people would ask the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, Sutton simply replied, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ Well, that’s why people rob marijuana retailers,” Honeyford said, as quoted by KING 5. “Due to federal banking rules, these businesses are almost entirely cash-only operations, making them a target for robberies and a magnet for criminals.

“The number of robberies of cannabis stores is on the rise, and this bill would make improvements for not just the benefit of the retailers themselves, but for the public safety of the community as a whole,” Honeyford added.

The bill has now been referred to the state House for further debate.

According to a summary of the bill, cannabis retailers in Washington “have been suffering from an increasing number of, often violent, thefts which are frequently committed by retail crime rings,” a spike in theft that leads to “increased cost to the businesses and lost tax revenues for the state.”

“This bill is one prong in a multi-prong approach needed to combat retail theft and protect public safety. The bill provides a deterrent to would-be criminals and a tool for prosecutors in seeking convictions for this type of crime. Often, this type of crime does not get reported on by the media,” the bill summary reads. “This crime is a big problem, and everyone in the industry is worried about the chance that they could be the next victim. This bill represents one piece of a robust legislative strategy to deal with this issue. This is a cash business which makes retailers an attractive target for crime.”

The summary says there have been more than 35 robberies at cannabis retailers since New Year’s Day.

A spokesperson for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board told KING 5 that it “has been working to communicate safety guidelines with business owners,” including the following: “hire armed security guards, make frequent cash deposits so there isn’t much cash available in shops, post signs in businesses explaining that staff don’t have access to much cash, clearly communicate safety guidelines with staff so they know what to do in the event of a robbery.”

Honeyford’s bill says that the board’s “chief enforcement officer must regularly consult with the Washington state patrol to provide details of attempts or incidents of robbery in the first or second degree of a retail outlet and to discuss any evidence that indicates a pattern of, or coordinated effort by, a criminal enterprise.”

The bill isn’t the only change to Washington’s cannabis industry currently under consideration by the state legislature. Legislation currently before the state House would aim to “increase social equity and racial diversity in the cannabis trade,” according to the Seattle Times.

The bill would build on the recommendations of a task force to increase cannabis business ownership among people of color, creating “38 new retail and 25 new producer and processor licenses each year through 2029” while requiring “that these and any other new cannabis licenses may only be awarded to so-called social equity applicants until 2030, after which, 50 percent of licenses must be awarded to such applicants,” the newspaper reported.

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South African Government to Fast Track Cannabis Reform Regulations

Almost alone in a sea of naysayers (globally) right now, South Africa appears to be moving forwards, no holds barred, in creating a regulatory scheme for the burgeoning local cannabis industry. While this has been in the cards since 2019, it has just gotten a turbo boost—and from the president of the country itself.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his State of the Nation address on Thursday February 10, that the cannabis industry is on track to create 130,000 jobs domestically. As a result, creating a regulatory and policy framework for the functioning of the industry itself is now a priority. 

“We want to harness this,” he said. “We are going to fast-track policy and regulations for the use of cannabis for medical use, especially in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.”

The new focus on reform is an interesting turn of events here that many have predicted would pick up speed as the world emerges from COVID. The Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill has been making its way through Parliament since its introduction in September 2020 but it has been repeatedly stalled. Until now, that is.

The legislation specifies specific rules and guidelines for both cannabis users and those who wish to cultivate the plant. 

The draft bill states that adults may possess and cultivate cannabis in a private place as well as consume prescribed cannabis.

As Ramaphosa explained, he and his government are looking for ways to help promising new industries with high growth potential and find a good business climate in the country. 

“We are therefore streamlining the regulatory processes so that the hemp and cannabis sector can thrive like it is in other countries such as Lesotho.”

The move is long in coming, but it is clearly a shot in the arm for the burgeoning industry in South Africa. As of 2018, the country’s constitutional court ruled that private citizens could not be prevented from consuming and cultivating cannabis at home. The decision also gave lawmakers two years to pass legislation—a timetable that has clearly been blown.

As in Mexico, the combination of legislative foot dragging, and COVID has now pushed this move out another two years. That delay appears to have just come to an end.

A Big Step Forward or a Confusing Mess?

So far, the legislation has been broadly criticized for its confusing rules and strict penalties. Even though the bill expunges minor offences, it does not specify a groundwork for commercialization (which has largely stalled the industry so far) and does not clarify what law enforcement may or may not do. For example, people who smoke in public can be imprisoned for two years. If people smoke in front of children, they face four years in prison.

Advocates have also criticized the legislation because it only benefits those who have space to grow and consume cannabis in private. Steep penalties put the pressure on the poor and vulnerable communities who do not have this luxury. Developments like cannabis clubs have also existed on tenuous ground.

In response to the criticism, the South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) came up with a “cannabis master plan” last summer to create momentum behind the passage of the legislation. Their additions also create incentives for farmers and to create not just an export only, but local market. However, despite the enthusiasm, the bill has stalled since last September.

It is clear that Ramaphosa is not just reacting to global cannabis reform, but rather internal pressure that includes the dire need to create support for an ailing economy and to quell social unrest in the country, including the regions now targeted for cannabis reform. Indeed, the President appeared at the State of the Union address wearing clothes and shoes manufactured in the country. 

“We are engaged in a battle for the soul of the country, and we will not be defeated,” he said. 

Rather ironically, given the country’s long and troubled history, for the first time, anywhere in the world, cannabis reform seems to be a big part of bringing peace if not prosperity to South Africa.

Cannabis Reform in Africa

The entire enchilada has moved steadily forward over the last several years throughout the entire southern African region. Lesotho became the first country in Africa to export to Europe last year. In the meantime, other countries, such as Uganda (exporting to both Israel and now Germany) as well as Zimbabwe have moved forward on attracting investors and enabling cultivation and export of both the plant and products made from the same. Further north Morocco is also moving forward too.

For African nations, the export of this plant represents a high dollar commodity crop that promises to bring in much-needed foreign exchange to a part of the world struggling with economic development generally, beyond the Pandemic induced crisis. 

Yet in South Africa, there is clearly also strong support growing for a domestic industry, beyond just high dollar exports.

Politically, in other words, pot may have just become a handy political go-to for a leader facing both economic and social unrest. And where South Africa treads, the rest of the world may, finally, be willing to follow.

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Wisconsin Governor Vetoes Troubling Cannabis Penalties

Calling it “another step in the wrong direction,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers last week vetoed legislation that would have created new, stiff penalties for certain cannabis convictions. 

The first-term Democrat vetoed a Republican-supported bill on Friday that would have established harsher and separate penalties for manufacturing and distributing cannabis or resin by butane extraction.

“I am vetoing this bill in its entirety because I object to creating additional criminal offenses or penalties related to marijuana use,” Evers said in a statement

 Evers cited “state after state” that has enacted cannabis reform in recent years––from the end of pot prohibition to decriminalization––as well as a 2019 poll that found almost 60 percent of Wisconsinites in favor of legalizing cannabis for recreational use.

“It is widely accepted, and, indeed, research over the course of the last decade confirms, that marijuana criminalization has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially in Wisconsin where have long-standing racial disparities in incarceration rates,” Evers said, pointing to a 2020 report issued by the American Civil Liberties Union that showed Wisconsin is one of the worst in the United States when it comes to racial disparities stemming from cannabis possession.

“State across our country—both Democrat and Republican-controlled alike—have and are taking meaningful steps to address increased incarceration rates and reduce racial disparities by investing in substance use treatment, community reentry programming, alternatives to incarceration, rehabilitation and other data-driven, evidence-based practices we know are essential solutions to reforming our justice system,” the governor continued regarding the issue. “The data and the science are clear on this issue, and I welcome the Legislature to start having meaningful conversations around justice reform in Wisconsin.”

The bill was passed by Wisconsin lawmakers late last month. It would have instituted a maximum $1,000 fine or six months in prison for the butane-extracted weed. 

Republican lawmakers in the Badger State began discussing the proposal last year. One of the bill’s supporters, GOP Representative Jesse James said the legislation was about safety.

“Growing marijuana in your home is not going to cause an explosion,” James said in testimony supporting the bill. “It could cause a fire if you don’t properly take care of your lamps and everything like that. But this process in and of itself, it’s almost similar to a meth lab.”

But others, like Democratic Representative Kristina Shelton, wondered if the bill would present problems down the line in Wisconsin. 

“My concern is, if and when we—and I will say when because I believe that we will eventually legalize marijuana, I know not everyone agrees with me, but I’m going to say when. …When we legalize marijuana, if we were to pass this bill… would this bill prohibit a closed-loop system that would be considered safe by professionals, using professional-grade equipment?” Shelton said last year.

In his veto statement last week, Evers claimed that the legislation “would simply be another step in the wrong direction.”

The veto was hardly a surprise, given Evers’ support for medical and recreational cannabis—both of which are illegal in Wisconsin. A year ago, his office announced its intention to include a recreational cannabis proposal in its budget for 2021 through 2023. 

“The majority of Wisconsinites agree: it’s time our state legalized marijuana,” Evers said on Twitter at the time. “In my #BadgerBounceback agenda, I’m calling for our state to join states across the nation in legalizing marijuana—a step that would generate more than $165M annually starting in 2023.”

Evers said in a statement last year that states “across the country have moved forward with legalization, and there’s no reason Wisconsin should be left behind.” 

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Mississippi Governor Signs Off on Medical Cannabis Legislation

Medical cannabis is officially, finally, legal in Mississippi. 

The state’s Republican governor, Tate Reeves, signed legislation on Wednesday that will allow qualifying patients to receive the treatment, ending a long and drawn-out struggle that dates back to the 2020 election, when a huge majority of Mississippi voters passed a ballot initiative. 

“The ‘medical marijuana bill’ has consumed an enormous amount of space on the front pages of the legacy media outlets across Mississippi over the last three-plus years,” Reeves said in a statement that he posted on Twitter.

“There is no doubt that there are individuals in our state who could do significantly better if they had access to medically prescribed doses of cannabis. There are also those who really want a recreational marijuana program that could lead to more people smoking and less people working, with all of the societal and family ills that that brings.”

After voters approved the initiative to legalize medical cannabis in 2020, it didn’t take long for the measure to unravel. The state Supreme Court struck it down last year, ruling that the initiative was unconstitutional based on a technicality. 

Ever since then, Reeves and lawmakers have been engaged in a back-and-forth surrounding a legislation to replace the one nullified by the court. Despite being opposed to the initiative, Reeves said that he would honor “the will of voters.” But getting a bill on his desk proved to be difficult. 

In the fall, Mississippi legislators produced a bill, but Reeves did not call a special session, citing objections with the legislation as it was drawn up.

“I am confident we will have a special session of the Legislature if we get the specifics of a couple of items that are left outstanding,” Reeves said in October. “Again, we have made great progress working with our legislative leaders.”

The chief dispute between Reeves and lawmakers centered around the amount of cannabis a patient could purchase. Reeves had said he wanted the limit to be set at 2.7 grams per day.

Last week, members of the Mississippi state House and Senate finally reached an agreement on a bill that will allow qualifying patients to purchase up to 3.5 grams as many as six times per week.

The bill passed the legislature with a veto-proof majority.

“I have made it clear that the bill on my desk is not the one that I would have written,” Reeves said in his statement on Wednesday. “But it is a fact that the legislators who wrote the final version of the bill (the 45th or 46th draft) made significant improvements to get us towards accomplishing the ultimate goal.”

Reeves went on to rattle off a host of changes made to the final bill that he said marked improvements to the law.

“1. Reduces the total amount that any one individual can receive to 3 oz. per month. This one change will reduce the total amount by 40 percent from the original version (I asked for 50 percent). Said differently, there will be hundreds of millions of fewer joints on the streets because of this improvement,” Reeves said in his statement.

“2. The medical professional can only prescribe within the scope of his/her practice. And they have to have a relationship with the patient. And it requires an in-person visit by the patient to the medical professional. 

“3. Only an MD or DO can prescribe for kids under 18 and only with the consent of a parent/legal guardian. 4. An MD or DO must prescribe for young adults between the ages of 18-25. 5. The MSDH will promulgate rules regarding packaging and advertising, and I have confidence they will do so in a way that limits the impact on our young people. 6. Prohibits any incentives for the Industry from the Mississippi Development Authority. 7. Protects our churches and schools from having a marijuana dispensary within fewer than 1,000 feet of their location.”

“I thank all of the legislators for their efforts on these improvements and all of their hard work. I am most grateful to all of you: Mississippians who made your voice heard,” he added. “Now, hopefully, we can put this issue behind us and move on to other pressing matters facing our state.”

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Illinois Judge Rules Weed Odor is Not Probable Cause For Searches

An Illinois judge ruled last week that the odor of raw cannabis is not sufficient grounds for police to search a vehicle without a warrant during a traffic stop.

Daniel J. Dalton, Associate Judge of the 14th Judicial Circuit, issued the ruling in response to a motion to suppress evidence in the case of Vincent Molina, a medicinal cannabis patient arrested for marijuana possession last year.

In December 2020, Molina was a passenger in a vehicle traveling on Interstate 88 in Whiteside County, a rural area of northwestern Illinois, when it was pulled over for speeding by a state trooper. After claiming that he smelled raw cannabis, the trooper performed a search of the vehicle and arrested Molina for misdemeanor cannabis possession after discovering 2.6 grams of flower.

Molina was arrested despite the decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis in Illinois in 2019 with the passage of the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act. The law also legalized regulated sales of adult-use cannabis, which began in the state in January 2020.

Warrantless Search Ruled Unconstitutional

James Mertes, an attorney specializing in criminal and constitutional law who is representing Molina in the case, said in a telephone interview that his client was accused of possessing cannabis that “was not being transported in accordance with the law.”

Mertes argued in court that the search was unconstitutional because the trooper did not have probable cause to search based solely on the aroma of marijuana.

“In order to search a vehicle, of course, a police officer must have probable cause to believe that a crime is occurring,” he explained. “The odor of raw cannabis no longer provides that probable cause to believe a crime is occurring, because there is just as much probable cause to believe that no crime is occurring when the officer smells raw cannabis.”

The judge agreed, ruling in a decision handed down on Friday that “the court finds the odor of raw cannabis alone is insufficient to establish probable cause,” according to local media reports.

Dalton found that the law enforcement officer “did not indicate any other reason for his suspicions or his search other than the smell of raw cannabis” and noted that “Molina did provide a medical use license to (the trooper) prior to the search of the vehicle.”

“There are a number of wholly innocent reasons a person or the vehicle in which they are in may smell of raw cannabis,” he wrote in his decision.

Dalton added that to rule otherwise would subject “not only the defendant, but also any person in Illinois aged 21 or above, in a position where they could exercise their rights under The Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act only to forfeit their rights under the… United States Constitution and/or… the Illinois Constitution, even though they have acted wholly within the bounds of the law. The court declines to impose this untenable situation upon the defendant or any similarly situated person.”

“This was a momentous decision,” Mertes told reporters after Dalton handed down his ruling.

“It represents an important and necessary expansion of our constitutional protections,” Mertes added. “Today’s decision protects citizens from unreasonable searches based upon conduct that is no longer illegal.”

Although the state has the option of appealing Dalton’s decision, Mertes believes the ruling could set a precedent for similar cases.

“It does have significant impact in shaping the law and I think it’s a logical extension of the law in light of the fact that cannabis possession has been decriminalized in the state of Illinois,” he told High Times.

“The decision of whether to appeal today’s ruling belongs to the government,” Mertes said. “If the state does appeal, we will continue to vigorously defend the constitutional rights of our client at the appellate levels.”

After Dalton granted the motion to suppress the evidence, Molina said that he is “honored to have been part of such an important decision.” 

“This case was much more important than me,” he added. “It was about our right to be free from unreasonable searches for legal conduct. I am just grateful to have been a part of protecting that right.”

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Kansas Sheriff Seizes Cash from Legal Marijuana Sales

A Colorado logistics company is seeking the return of nearly $165,000 in cash seized by a Kansas sheriff’s department, arguing that the money is from legal marijuana sales and should not have been taken by law enforcement officers. The cash was seized from an employee of Empyreal Logistics during a traffic stop on May 18 in Dickinson County, Kansas after being collected by the employee from medical marijuana dispensaries in Missouri.

The U.S. Attorney’s office for Kansas filed a civil asset forfeiture case in the matter, claiming in court documents that the cash is subject to seizure because of alleged violations of federal laws against manufacturing and distributing drugs, according to media reports. The unidentified driver of the vehicle has not been charged with a crime, however.

Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Bryson Wheeler wrote in an affidavit filed in the forfeiture case that the approximately $165,620 was seized from a Ford Transit van owned by Denver-based Empyreal Logistics by Dickinson County Sheriff’s Deputy Kalen Robison during a traffic stop along I-70. Robison had also pulled the van over the day before for a minor traffic violation. 

During the first traffic stop, the driver told the deputy that she was collecting money from cannabis dispensaries in Kansas City, Missouri, and transporting the cash through Kansas to a credit union in Colorado. Missouri legalized medical marijuana in 2018 through a voter-approved constitutional amendment, but Kansas is one of the few remaining states that have no provisions for legal cannabis. 

The driver was released and put under surveillance by DEA agents, who observed her “stopping at and entering multiple state marijuana dispensaries” in Missouri. The day after the initial traffic stop, Robison pulled the van over again along the interstate. The reason for the second traffic stop is not included in the affidavit, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

During the traffic stop on May 18, law enforcement officers seized five bags of cash, which the driver claimed were from cannabis dispensaries in Missouri. A police canine unit later “alerted to the odor of marijuana coming from the currency,” the DEA agent wrote, and “marijuana is a controlled substance and illegal under both federal and Kansas state law.”

Attorneys for Empyreal Logistics argued in court documents that the seized cash should be returned to the company, disputing claims from federal prosecutors that the money was related to drug trafficking and subject to forfeiture.

“Plaintiff’s claims should be barred as the conduct which generated the Defendant property was lawful under Missouri state law and tacitly or affirmatively allowed by the action of the United States Federal Government,” the company’s lawyers wrote.

Perils of a Cash-Based Industry

The Empyreal case illustrates the difficulties faced by state-legal cannabis businesses, which are forced to operate mainly in cash because of federal drug and money-laundering laws. On its website, the firm promises to address the challenges of operating in a cash-only industry with solutions including “low-profile, eco-conscious, armored vehicles.”

“With our state-of-the-art facilities, secure currency processing, and management services, we safely and securely manage the cash assets of hundreds of enterprises across multiple industries so they can concentrate on managing their operations,” the company wrote in a press release unrelated to the asset forfeiture case. “Empyreal uses data and intelligence tools to help maximize our cash solution, with the goal of changing the way clients think of secured transport.”

Arshad Lasi, the CEO of cannabis dispensary operator the Nirvana Group, says that many of the cash-handling issues faced by the cannabis industry could be solved with passage of the SAFE Banking Act, legislation that would allow financial institutions to provide traditional banking services to state-legal marijuana businesses. Provisions of the bill were included in a military spending bill passed by the House of Representatives in September, but the Senate has not yet approved the legislation.

“Providing licensed cannabis businesses with the opportunity to bank in a traditional manner and not be limited to dealing in cash is crucial,” Lasi wrote in an email. “Banking allows companies to remain compliant, helps them avoid liabilities, among other benefits including safety and security.”

“I’m hopeful that the SAFE Banking Act will pass in the Senate, as its passage will also boost the cannabis industry’s reputation as a legitimate and major player in states’ economies,” Lasi added.

Lex Corwin, founder and CEO of California cannabis cultivator Stone Road, said that forcing legal cannabis companies to operate on a cash-only basis is “ridiculous and harmful” and called on lawmakers to pass the legislation.

“The SAFE Banking Act would give an already legal industry the legitimacy it needs and that it’s honestly due, especially since the government has no issues collecting said cannabis businesses’ money in cash,” Corwin told High Times. “Cash dealings are also a huge liability and personal safety issue––the biggest instances of injury and death are around cash pickups and dropoffs, ultimately putting people trying to play within the legal system in harm’s way.” 

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Gale has set a scheduling hearing in the Empyreal asset forfeiture case for January 4. The DEA national public affairs office and a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Kansas declined to comment on the case to local media, citing the pending litigation.

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Episode 61 – How New York and New Jersey Are Legalizing Marijuana with Evan Nison

Activist and entrepreneur Evan Nison speaks with hosts Jordan Wellington and Andrew Livingston about how their home state of New Jersey as well as New York as legalizing marijuana, as well as some of the work he’s done and is doing through his PR company NisonCo. Produced by Shea Gunther.

Episode 58 – New Mexico’s Foray Into Legalization with Emily Kaltenbach

Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director of Resident States and New Mexico at the Drug Policy Alliance, joins host Jordan Wellington to talk about the growth and ongoing advancement of marijuana legalization in the state of New Mexico. Produced by Shea Gunther.