Federal securities regulators recently obtained judgments in two enforcement actions brought in federal court in California and Illinois involving cannabis-related businesses raising capital. At a high level, the recent trend we have observed in these recent securities enforcement actions is the general emphasis, as we would expect, on (i) accuracy and completeness of material disclosures to investors, (ii) investor solicitation activities, including use of unregistered broker-dealers by issuers, and (iii) properly conducting compliant securities offerings.
1. SEC v. Geoffrey J. Thompson, No. 1:20-cv-05205 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 20, 2021)
Geoffrey Thompson, a repeat securities law violator, and his company Covalent Collective, Inc., a supposed cannabis company, allegedly conducted numerous offerings of unregistered securities from 2014 to 2019, ultimately raising more than $19 million from approximately 500 investors. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleged that Thompson diverted over $2.7 million of funds from investors while serving as CEO of Covalent Collective, a Canadian corporation operating out of Longmont, Colorado.
Among other allegations, the SEC alleged that investors were lured in by Covalent’s use of unregistered broker-dealers; an investor relations firm; a call center maintained by Fortress Legacy LLC, another of Thompson’s companies; and other fraudulent investor-facing solicitations, including audio updates … Keep reading
On March 24, 2021, Defendants Hamid (Ray) Akhavan and Ruben Weigand were found guilty of defrauding banks as part of a scheme they had set up to help cannabis company Eaze accept credit card payments for marijuana purchases. During the trial, former Eaze CEO James Patterson testified that he and other Eaze employees, Eaze board members, and even the dispensaries they served, knew that they were disguising the payments to appear as if they originated from non-cannabis businesses because banks and the major credit card networks did not allow credit cards to be used for marijuana. The Defendants argued that although banks may claim that they do not want nor allow marijuana transactions, they, in fact, know they are facilitating marijuana-related payments and profit from doing so.
Although a prosecution witness from Bank of America testified that the bank’s policies strictly prohibit doing business with cannabis-related companies, he also admitted that Bank of America profits from marijuana credit card purchases when customers maintain balances on their cards. Bank of America stated that it monitors for cannabis-related transactions by screening merchant names and if an investigation reveals that a merchant is a cannabis-related business, it reports the merchant to Visa … Keep reading
In December, President Trump signed a 5000+ omnibus bill into law titled the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA). The bill was highly publicized for extending certain COVID-relief measures to small businesses, such as revitalizing the Paycheck Protection Program. Another facet of the CAA was a provision which bans the United States Postal Service (USPS) from shipping Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS).
Cannabis vaporizers are captured in the CAA’s broad and vague definition of ENDS, which are defined as “any electronic device that through an aerosolized solution, delivers nicotine, flavor, or any other substance to users inhaling from the device.” The definition includes a component, liquid, part or accessory of the vaporizer device, without regard to whether the component, liquid, part or accessory is sold separately.
The CAA provided that the USPS must develop regulations within 120 days on how it will implement its ban on shipping and handling ENDS.
The USPS released its proposed rule on February 19, 2021 titled “Treatment of E-Cigarettes in the Mail.”
Currently, shipping cigarettes and smokeless tobacco through the USPS is prohibited unless, as set forth in the exceptions, they are mailed between authorized tobacco businesses or are small shipments between individuals … Keep reading
Early this week, two special committees in the lower house of the Mexican Congress signed off on a draft bill to decriminalize cannabis nationally. Members of the chamber’s Health and Justice committees approved the cannabis bill in a combined vote of 34-11, with 12 abstentions.
The bill – which has been revised significantly since its passage in the Senate last November – will now be sent to the full chamber for a vote. After a 2018 Supreme Court ruling held that the prohibition on cultivation and personal possession of marijuana was unconstitutional, lawmakers were tasked with implementing a decriminalization policy, though Congress has repeatedly postponed its deadlines. If passed, the legislature will be close to establishing one of the world’s largest cannabis markets. The floor vote is expected to take place this week.
With support from the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the bill marks what many hope might be a watershed moment in the history of a country long plagued by violence among competing drug cartels. Until now, the failed war on drugs has continued to fuel a massive cannabis black market. This new legislation is considered by many to be a solution: legalize, tax and … Keep reading
This week, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York will try their case against Defendants Ruben Weigand and Hamid “Ray” Akhavan for one count each of bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349 related to the purchase of marijuana through Eaze, a California cannabis delivery platform. Specifically, the indictment alleges that Defendants Weigand and Akhavan – along with co-conspirators – created a transaction laundering scheme that facilitated over $100 million of credit and debit card payments to licensed cannabis operators by disguising the transactions to appear as if they were unrelated to cannabis. Prosecutors allege that the scheme was executed due to the fact that most banks are unwilling to facilitate electronic payment transactions related to cannabis, even if those transactions are legal under state law.
Weigand and Akhavan have pleaded not guilty and are set to begin trial on March 1, 2021. However, on February 19, 2021, the former CEO of Eaze Technologies, LLC, James Patterson – who resigned from Eaze in 2019 – pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and agreed to assist prosecutors with their case against Weigand and Akhavan. In doing so, Patterson told the court … Keep reading
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