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美国国会审议新银行法案,有望激活大麻产业

Rey Mashayekhi 2019年04月27日

目前大麻行业依然受到金融方面的限制,这一局面有望改变。

美国大麻行业进入了繁荣期。目前已经有10个州和华盛顿将娱乐用大麻合法化,大量含有大麻二酚的产品也出现在美国各地的店铺中,比如添加大麻二酚的护肤霜、蛋白棒和红茶菌饮料。

但说到大多数公司都习以为常的金融服务,大麻相关企业就会发现自己仍然被排除在主流之外。按照美国法律,大麻依然是一级管制药品,这就意味着在为大麻公司提供资金方面,大多数银行仍然会小心翼翼,以免触犯联邦法规(一个很好的例子就是,本周有消息称加拿大主要大麻企业Canopy Growth已经就收购美国大麻公司Acerage Holdings达成协议,收购价为34亿美元。前提条件是:只有在美国将大麻合法化以后,此项交易才能付诸实施)。

实际上,在企业贷款、支薪服务和电子支付方式(包括信用卡,大多数药房都不接受信用卡付款)等诸多方面,大麻行业依然受到限制。不光是直接接触大麻的企业,与大麻行业有关的辅助型公司也是如此,大麻相关收入有可能使其被银行拒之门外。

科罗拉多州大麻二酚产品公司Cannovia的首席执行官布莱恩·鲍姆表示:“金融服务业真的不愿意在这个领域冒任何风险,无论是传统银行账户还是贸易服务,甚至包括保险。”他回忆说,Cannovia在购买董事和高管责任保险时就遇到了困难。他们接触了23家保险公司,“其中21家甚至拒绝就此报价”。

在大麻的诸多用途已经变得合法的州,一些大麻公司转而找上了愿意帮助它们的政府特许信用合作社,以此取代大型全国性银行和金融机构。如若不然,许多大麻公司就会发现自己不得不靠现金运转,同时又坐拥大量纸币。这种情况显然存在安全风险和不便之处。

但美国国会正在审议的两项法案有望扭转上述局面,而且有可能让金融机构向急需银行服务的大麻公司敞开大门。

上个月,众议院金融服务委员会在最近的一次审议中批准了《安全和公平执法银行法案》。该法案六年前问世,现已获得民主、共和两党议员的广泛支持,看来有望在众议院进行投票。众议院审议的这项法案和本周在参议院提出的相应法案旨在为大麻合法化的州中跟大麻公司打交道的金融机构提供“安全港”,以免它们因为接受这种联邦政府禁止且管制的药品带来的交易所得而遭到联邦政府部门起诉。美国财政部部长史蒂文·努钦等人已经对该法案表示支持。

与此同时,最近重新提出的《委托州政府以强化第十修正案法案》,简称《STATES法案》正打算从另一个角度来解决同样的问题。《STATES法案》也得到了两党议员的广泛支持,其目的是修订1970年通过的药物管制法。该管制法将大麻列为一级管制药品,《STATES法案》则是要限制联邦政府机构针对大麻已合法化的州中的个人和企业执行1970年药物管制法的能力。

司法部部长威廉·巴尔上周在参议院某个分委员会发言时表示,他将支持允许各州“自行作出决定”的措施。他还说,自己更喜欢“《STATES法案》提出的方法,而不是现行措施”。

仍有污名

当然,上述两项法案均未实现大多数大麻行业观察人士和参与者的愿望,那就是不再将大麻列为联邦政府一类管制药品(两位民主党总统候选人——参议员科里·布克和众议员图尔西·贾巴德今年均以此为目的提出了各自的议案)。但这两项法案均从法律角度阐明了金融机构担心触犯联邦法规的问题,从而有望改善合法大麻企业运营能力受到制约的现状。

AmeriCann拥有并经营着大麻种植园和大麻加工厂,该公司的首席执行官蒂姆·基奥认为:“联邦禁令带来的不确定性让银行态度谨慎,它们担心的不是大麻,而是那条禁令。我们和传统银行人士沟通过,他们不反对大麻……[让他们敬而远之的]是州法令和联邦法规之间的冲突。”

到目前为止,银行业一直对国会调整相关监管法规的工作显得很热心。美国银行家协会在写给国会的信中表示该组织支持这两项法案。该协会的总裁兼首席执行官罗伯·尼古拉斯将众议院金融服务委员会上个月通过《安全和公平执法银行法案》的消息称为“重要的一步,其作用是向州和联邦大麻法规冲突所困扰的金融机构阐明监管和法律问题”。

但并不是所有和大麻行业有关的人都看好上述法案获得国会批准的前景及其成为法律后的效果。为大麻公司安排金融服务的中介机构FINCANN的首席执行官纳撒尼尔·古里安说,他认为《安全和公平执法银行法案》“今年获得批准的几率可能不到50%。也就是说明年该法案没有任何机会”,因为2020年大选前“政治热度将上升”。

此外,古里安还认为,许多金融机构的董事会偏保守而且风险意识强,此项法案无法消除大麻话题在他们眼中的污名。他说,有可能促使其转变观念的唯一措施是“不再将大麻列为一类管制药品”。

洛杉矶律师事务所Snell & Wilmer的一位律师乔希·施奈德曼为大麻行业客户提供咨询服务,他也指出,当前对《安全和公平执法银行法案》的审议仍未触及众多灰色地带,比如说,如果银行没有药房等大麻相关业务的经营牌照,它们是否可以取消某类抵押品的赎回权。

同时,如果联邦政府不对大麻重新归类,美国大麻公司就依然无法像加拿大Tilray等外国同类企业那样利用公开资本市场。Tilray于去年7月完成了价值1.53亿美元的IPO,成为第一家在美国证交所上市的大麻企业。

不过,对一个目前被掐断最基本金融服务供应的行业来说,几乎可以肯定上述法案朝着正确的方向迈出了一步。正如施奈德曼所说:“现在我的大多数客户都没有银行账户。”

如果能顺利获得此类服务,美国大麻公司的地位就有可能上升到前所未有的水平。(财富中文网)

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

These are high times for the American cannabis industry. Recreational marijuana is now legalized in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and myriad products containing non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD)—think CBD-infused skin creams, protein bars and kombucha—have found their way to storefronts across the nation.

But when it comes to receiving the kind of banking services that most businesses take for granted, pot-related business continue to find themselves cast adrift from the mainstream. The fact that marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under U.S. law means that most banks continue to be wary of financing the cannabis industry, lest they fall afoul of federal regulations. (Case in point: the news this week that Canada’s Canopy Growth had reached a deal to buy U.S. cannabis company Acerage Holdings for $3.4 billion. The catch? The deal will only go through if and when the U.S. legalizes marijuana.)

Indeed, the pot business remains handcuffed when it comes to accessing everything from business loans to payroll services to electronic payment methods (including credit cards, which aren’t accepted at most dispensaries). Not only does this apply to companies who directly “touch the plant” but also ancillary businesses indirectly associated with the industry, who risk being cut off by their banks for receiving cannabis-related revenue.

“There’s a real aversion by the financial services industry in taking any risk at all in this space—whether it’s traditional bank accounts, merchant services, even insurance” says Brian Baum, CEO of CBD product company Cannovia. He recalls the Colorado-based company’s difficult process in finding a directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance carrier; of the 23 different insurers Cannovia applied to, “21 declined to even bid on the policy.”

In lieu of major national banks and financial institutions, some cannabis businesses have resorted to state-chartered credit unions willing to serve them in states where various uses of marijuana are now legal. Otherwise, many companies find themselves having to operate as cash businesses sitting on large quantities of paper money—a situation that obviously comes with its share of safety risks and inconveniences.

But a pair of bills currently working their way through Congress promise to alleviate the situation, potentially opening the doors for financial institutions to provide cannabis companies with much-needed banking services.

Six years after it was first introduced, the most recent iteration of the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was approved last month by the House Financial Services Committee and, having secured widespread bipartisan support, appears poised for a floor vote by the House of Representatives. Both the House bill and a companion bill introduced in the Senate this week seek to provide a “safe harbor” for financial institutions working with cannabis-related businesses in states where they’re legal—protecting them from federal prosecution for accepting proceeds from transactions involving a federally prohibited, scheduled substance. The measure has already drawn support from the likes of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Meanwhile, the recently reintroduced Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act, better known as the STATES Act, tries to address the same problem from a different angle. That bill, which has also gained significant bipartisan support, would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970—which designated marijuana as a Schedule I substance—to restrict federal enforcement of the CSA against individuals and companies in states where cannabis is legal.

Speaking before a Senate subcommittee last week, Attorney General William Barr indicated that he would support such a measure allowing states to “make their own decisions”—noting that he would prefer “the approach taken by the STATES Act than where we currently are.”

Still A Stigma

Of course, neither bill does what most cannabis industry observers and participants would like to see: that is, lift the federal prohibition on marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. (Two Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, have each floated their own bills this year that would look to do just that.) But both measures promise to bring relief to a situation that has hindered the ability of legitimate cannabis businesses to operate, by providing legal clarity to financial institutions concerned about falling afoul of federal regulations.

“With the overhang of federal prohibition, banks are wary—not wary about cannabis, they’re wary about prohibition,” according to AmeriCann CEO Tim Keogh, whose company owns and operates marijuana cultivation and processing facilities. “We talk to traditional bankers and they’re not against cannabis…it’s the conflict between state and federal regulations [that keeps them away].”

So far, the banking industry has expressed enthusiasm for this regulatory push on Capitol Hill. The American Bankers Association (ABA) has written letters to lawmakers throwing the industry group’s support behind both the SAFE Banking and STATES acts. ABA president and CEO Rob Nichols greeted the news of the SAFE Banking Act’s passage through the House Financial Services Committee last month as “an important step forward in providing regulatory and legal clarity for financial institutions caught in the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws.”

But not everyone associated with the cannabis industry is bullish on the proposed legislation’s chances of making it through Congress, nor its effectiveness should it be passed into law. FINCANN CEO Nathaniel Gurien, whose firm acts as an intermediary in arranging financial services for cannabis companies, says he thinks the SAFE Banking Act “probably has a less than even chance of passing this year—which means it has no chance next year as things heat up politically” in advance of the 2020 elections.

In addition, Gurien argues, the law won’t dispel the stigma that the conservative-leaning, risk-minded boards of many financial institutions have toward the topic of marijuana. The only measure that could prompt such a shift in thinking, he says, is “de-scheduling cannabis as a Schedule I drug.”

Josh Schneiderman, an attorney at Los Angeles-based law firm Snell & Wilmer who advises clients in the cannabis industry, also notes that there are still numerous gray areas that the current iteration of the SAFE Banking bill does not address—such as whether banks would be in a position to foreclose on certain types of collateral if they don’t have a license to operate a marijuana-related business such as a dispensary.

And absent any federal rescheduling of marijuana, U.S.-based cannabis companies still won’t be able to tap the public capital markets like some of their foreign-based counterparts—such as Canada-based Tilray, which became the first cannabis company to make an initial public offering on a U.S. stock exchange after its $153 million IPO last July.

Still, the legislation will almost certainly be a step in the right direction for an industry currently choked off from the most basic of financial services. As Schneiderman notes, “Most of my clients these days don’t have a bank account.”

Should they succeed in gaining access to those kinds of services, American cannabis companies could get to a higher place than ever before.

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