Merrill Lynch weighs in on marijuana industry; Fourth Corner Credit Union fights in court 


Bulls and buds

Early last month, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management sent out a 45-page investment report on the medical marijuana industry, which it estimates as being worth $2.9 billion nationwide. Merrill Lynch's conclusions fall especially "bullish on the cannabis testing market," which ML conservatively forecasts could grow to between $50 million and $100 million by 2020 as more states legalize.

That's not a huge surprise. ML's report dedicates a fair amount of space to potential cannabis-based medicines that treat illnesses without getting people high. The report name-drops Charlotte's Web, the nearly THC-free Colorado cultivar and CNN darling that helped legitimize marijuana as medicine across the nation.

The equipment needed to hold cannabis to the degree of precision seen in the larger pharmaceuticals industry is expensive. ML specifically mentions three multi-billion-dollar companies as "key providers of cannabis [quality control] tools": Agilent Technologies, Thermo Fisher Scientific and the Waters Corporation.

Investing in a well-established tech or biotech company carries less risk than other areas of the MMJ industry, due in part to investment regulations. With the high initial investment required to start a testing lab (in both equipment and personnel costs), cannabis-testing businesses aren't likely to attract the number of entrepreneurs the rest of the industry has seen.

But for all its bullish bluster, the report is guardedly optimistic, noting that "due to rapidly evolving and potentially conflicting legislation enacted on a state-by-state basis, the cannabis-testing industry is subject to disruptive changes."

Canna-banking in court

Last week, Fourth Corner Credit Union had its day in court when Judge R. Brooke Jackson of the District Court of Colorado heard arguments in Fourth Corner's suit against the U.S. Federal Reserve. Earlier this year, the Fed denied Fourth Corner, the first marijuana-focused banking institution, a master account — essentially, a bank's connection to the Fed's financial oversight system — citing the fact that marijuana is still federally illegal and asking the court to throw out Fourth Corner's suit. Fourth Corner Vice President Mark Goldfogel told the International Business Times he could not find any past instances of the Fed denying a state-sanctioned bank its master account.

"The Federal Reserve is not the enforcer of drug laws," Fourth Corner attorney Mark Mason told IBT. "We need to get [the marijuana industry] right. And if we are not going to have banking ... and have millions and millions of dollars on the streets where bad things can happen, that is not responsible."

Jackson hinted that he will not need much time to deliberate. Keep an eye on here for word on his decision.

  • CannaBiz


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