Posted on

You’ve Received an SBA Paycheck Protection Loan: Now What?

Written by Jeffrey Markarian, CPA: Dedekian, George, Small & Markarian

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on the American economy, and agriculture has been especially hard hit.  To help provide economic relief, various federal legislation has been enacted, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  As part of the CARES Act, the Small Business Administration (SBA) received funding and authority to establish the “Paycheck Protection Program” (PPP).  The PPP is a forgivable loan program that was established as an incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on payroll during this financially difficult time.  As of June 5, 2020, the SBA had received total funding from Congress in the amount of $659 billion, and had approved 4,525,081 loans totaling approximately $511 billion.   

If you are one of the many small business owners in the agricultural industry that has received a forgivable PPP loan, you must apply for forgiveness of your PPP loan by submitting an SBA “Loan Forgiveness Application” to the lender servicing your PPP loan, as the loan is not automatically forgiven.  As a result, it is imperative that you plan now to maximize the forgiveness of your loan.  

The SBA has continued to provide additional guidance throughout the PPP in response to ongoing requests for assistance and clarity.  Also, on June 5, 2020, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (PPPFA) was enacted, which provides PPP loan recipients with increased flexibility in utilizing PPP loan proceeds.  Most significantly, The PPPFA has extended the period to use funds from eight weeks after the date of receipt of loan proceeds to twenty-four weeks.  Borrowers receiving PPP loan proceeds prior to June 5, 2020, retain the option to use an eight-week covered period if desired.  Please note that all of the following information includes the changes resulting from the PPPFA.

The original intention of the PPP was to keep employees paid for the eight-week period beginning with the date loan proceeds are received.  As mentioned above, recent legislation has extended this to a twenty-four-week period.  Expenses to be paid with loan proceeds include payroll costs and specific non-payroll costs. 

Payroll costs include the following:

  • Salary, wages, commissions, or tips (limited to $15,384.62 per employee for the covered period)
  • Employee benefits (including payments for vacation, parental, family, medical, or sick leave; allowance for dismissal or severance pay; group health care benefits; payment of retirement benefits; and state and local taxes assessed on compensation)

Non-payroll costs include the following:

  • Interest on mortgage incurred before February 15, 2020
  • Rent on lease agreement in force before February 15, 2020
  • Utilities (including electricity, gas, water, transportation, telephone or internet) for which service began before February 15, 2020

To be eligible for full loan forgiveness, at least 60% of the loan must be used for payroll costs and not more than 40% for allowable non-payroll costs.  If less than 60% of the loan is used for payroll costs, the borrower is still eligible for partial loan forgiveness.  The first iteration of the PPP required 75% of the funds to be used for payroll or only part of the loan would be forgiven, but the PPPFA decreased the required percentage.  

What happens if your PPP loan is not forgiven?  Any portion of your PPP loan that is not forgiven will be required to be paid back over a 2-year period at 1% interest, with payments deferred for ten months from the date of the PPP loan disbursement.  However, for PPP loans approved by the SBA on or after June 5, 2020, the PPP loan maturity is increased to 5-years.

Dynamic Coatings Inc.
Industrial and Commercial Flooring Solutions

On May 15, the SBA released its long-awaited PPP forgiveness form and instructions for borrowers to apply for forgiveness (please note that a modified forgiveness form is pending as a result of the PPPFA).   The form also provides detailed information related to the documentation required to be provided with your loan forgiveness application. It is important to review the documentation requirements; as extensive documentation may be required to be submitted depending upon your eligible expenses submitted for forgiveness.  Although the release of the form by the SBA brought with it significant changes to the interpretation of some components of forgiveness that were not previously known, additional guidance and clarity is still needed on some of the components of forgiveness.  Changes were made to the following components of the program based on the release of the form:

Covered payroll periods – Under original guidance, the covered payroll period began immediately after loan disbursement and lasted eight weeks. The PPPFA has increased the covered payroll period to twenty-four weeks.  For those with payroll schedules that did not align with the disbursement and covered period, this generated many questions and concerns. However, this latest guidance indicates that the eight-week period may begin starting with the borrower’s first payroll following disbursement, not necessarily on the day of disbursement. This alternative period only covers payroll costs, not other allowable expenses, although adjustments do exist for other allowable expenses.

Incurred and/or paid expenses – The CARES Act originally indicated that, for costs to be covered under PPP, they would need to be incurred and paid during the eight-week period (increased to twenty-four weeks by the PPPFA). The latest guidance, however, forgives costs that are incurred, but not paid, as long as they are paid on or before regular billing date. This expansion applies to costs such as mortgage interest, rent, utilities, and payroll incurred during the loan period. Payroll costs incurred during the last payroll period but not paid during the covered or alternative periods (mentioned above) may be forgiven if those payroll costs are paid on or before the next regular payroll date. 

Full-time equivalent (FTE) employee counts and wages – The guidance also included several clarifications to the FTE employee count and wage calculations necessary for forgiveness including:

  • FTE calculation can be rounded to the nearest tenth – The formula to calculate an FTE is average number of hours paid per week per employee/40, rounded to nearest tenth (differs from Affordable Care Act calculation).
  • Wage reductions must be analyzed on a per employee annualized basis – Salary or hourly calculations should be done on an average annualized basis compared to period of Jan. 1, 2020, to March 31, 2020. If the average for the twenty-four week period is 25% less than first quarter of 2020, loan forgiveness will be reduced, unless the reduction is restored at equal to or greater levels by December 31, 2020, then forgiveness will not be reduced.
  • Safe harbor exists for borrowers who rehire lost employees by December 31, 2020, at the same level as of Feb. 15, 2020. Forgiveness will not be reduced. 
  • Safe harbor exists for borrowers who made good faith written offer to rehire employees who then refused. Forgiveness will not be reduced.
  • Safe harbor exists for borrowers who fired employees for cause, voluntarily resigned, or voluntarily requested and received reduction in hours. Forgiveness will not be reduced.

Here is a quick rundown of the changes made by the PPP Flexibility Act.

CriteriaPrior GuidanceCurrent Guidance
Covered Period*8 weeks from PPP loan disbursementThe earlier of 24 weeks from date of loan disbursement or Dec. 31, 2020
Usage of FundsMinimum of 75% of funds must be used for payroll to with a maximum of 25% for non-payroll costs to achieve forgivenessMinimum of 60% of funds must be used for payroll with a maximum of 40% used for non-payroll costs to achieve forgiveness. If 60% of loans are not used for payroll, forgiveness is calculated on a sliding scale.
Extension of Safe Harbor for Compensation & FTE ReductionsSalary or hourly wage reductions must be reinstated by June 30, 2020, to avoid reduced forgivenessSalary or hourly wage reductions have until Dec. 31, 2020, to be restored to avoid reduced forgiveness
Deferral of Loan Payments6 months from loan origination dateEarlier of 10 months after the last day of Covered Period or when SBA remits the loan forgiveness funds to lender
Loan Maturity2 yearsLoans originated after June 5, 20205 yearsLoans originated prior to June 5, 2020 – Borrowers and lenders may mutually agree to extend the maturity date of loans to 5 years
Safe Harbors Based on Employee Availability, Rehiring, New HiresNoneForgiveness would not be reduced if borrowers can document in good faith:-Inability to rehire individuals employed on Feb. 15, 2020-Inability to hire similarly qualified employees by Dec. 31, 2020
Safe Harbors Based on Employee Availability in Compliance with HHS, CDC, or OSHA guidelinesNoneForgiveness would not be reduced if borrowers can document in good faith the inability to return to same level of business activity as before Feb. 15, 2020, due to compliance with requirements issued by HHS, CDC, OSHA from the period of March 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020

Also of note:

  • *Borrowers may elect to stick with the 8-week covered period for loans originating prior to June 5, 2020. However, it is not clear if the June 30, 2020, safe harbor deadline still applies.
  • The amount of any Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) refinanced will be factored in when determining the percentage of proceeds for payroll costs.
  • It is unclear whether compensation limits formerly prorated based on 8 weeks now prorated based on 24 weeks.
  • It is unclear if the covered period may end prior to 24 weeks if funds have been used.

Further rules and guidance are expected to be issued from the SBA, including a modified borrower application form, and a modified loan forgiveness application that will included the changes resulting from the recently enacted PPPFA; however, please do not hesitate to contact us for further assistance with your PPP loan questions and help maximizing your loan forgiveness.  

Dedekian, George, Small & Markarian Accountancy Corporation
8080 North Palm Avenue, Suite 201
Fresno, California 93711-5797
P: 559.431.5500 
Cpaplus.com

Advertise with us in print and digital versions–select ad sizes gain sponsorship mention on our online show.
Go to wcismag.com/advertise for more information about options and their benefits.
Posted on

The New “Business as Usual” with COVID-19

Written by Tara Sweeney

Food & Facilities Episode on The New “Business as Usual” with COVID-19

The COVID-19 virus is forcing businesses in critical industries, like food processing and manufacturing, to make many changes very quickly. Closures and new operating procedures are popping up throughout all of commerce, and new information is constantly emerging. Updated versions of this article will be available through our website. This article contains current COVID-19 information that will help you and your company adapt to this shifting business landscape. To help you adapt to the temporary, new normal created by the COVID-19 outbreak, this article contains the following: 

  • WHO Symptoms for COVID-19
  • If You Contract COVID-19
  • Facts About COVID-19 that the CDC is Emphasizing
  • FEMA Factchecks
  • How COVID-19 Could Affect Workplaces
  • Jobs and Exposure Risk
  • Federal Critical Infrastructure Sectors
    • Manufacturing
    • Food & Agriculture
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) 
  • Assistance for Small Businesses During the Outbreak

The Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that spreads from person to person through close contact (within 6 feet) and respiratory droplets from an infected person through coughing or sneezing. The first US case was reported on January 21, 2020.

WHO Symptoms for COVID-19

It is essential to understand that the COVID-19 virus affects different people in different ways.  It is a respiratory disease and most infected people will develop mild to moderate symptoms and recover without requiring special treatment.  However, people who have underlying medical conditions and those over 60 years old have a higher risk of developing severe disease and death. The WHO has outlined what the typical symptoms are, along with additional, less common symptoms.

Common Symptoms Include:

  • fever
  • tiredness
  • dry cough

Other Symptoms Include:

  • shortness of breath
  • aches and pains
  • sore throat
  • and very few people will report diarrhoea, nausea or a runny nose.

Lowering your chances of contracting Covid-19 is simple: avoiding contact with persons who are sick; avoiding touching your face (eyes, nose, mouth); washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. However, the CDC has outlined steps to take if you do contract COVID-19 despite taking precautions.

If you contract COVID-19:

  1. People with mild symptoms who are otherwise healthy should self-isolate and contact their medical provider or a COVID-19 information line for advice on testing and referral.
  2. People with fever, cough or difficulty breathing should call their doctor and seek medical attention.
  3. Call ahead before visiting your doctor.
  4. Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.
  5. Avoid sharing personal household items.
  6. Wear a face mask.
  7. Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow.
  8. Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds.
  9. Clean all “high-touch” surfaces (phones, doorknobs, steering wheels, etc.) daily.
  10. Monitor your symptoms.

With these precautions if you contract COVID-19, it is also important to recognize misinformation taking footholds during the uncertainty of this crisis. Both the CDC and FEMA have responded to some of the most common misconceptions that have been circulating.

Facts About COVID-19 that the CDC is Emphasizing:

  1. Diseases can make anyone sick, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
  2. Some people are at increased risk of getting COVID-19. (Above 60 years of age and those with pre-existing conditions.)
  3. Someone who has completed quarantine or who has been released from isolation does not pose a risk of infection to other people.
  4. You can help stop COVID-19 by knowing the signs and symptoms.
  5. Using protective precautions to keep yourself and others safe is simple.

Visit the CDC website for the latest information: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov.

Where the CDC is emphasizing information directly related to the disease outbreak, FEMA has had to rebut disease tangential misinformation. It is important to check your primary information sources credibility and to not assume secondary information sources are factual. During times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to verify the source of the information.

FEMA Factchecks

  1. Hantavirus is not a new disease. Transmission from one human to another may occur, but is extremely rare. It is primarily contracted through touching waste products of infected rodents. Visit https://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus for more information.
  2. There is no national lockdown. It is being determined at the state and local levels. The fifteen day shelter in place suggestion is to minimize exposure and prevent the continued spread of the disease. The latest information and resources are available at www.coronavirus.gov
  3. FEMA does not have military assets. Like all emergencies, response is most successful when it is locally executed, state managed and federally supported.  Each state’s governor is responsible for response activities in their state, to include establishing curfews, deploying the National Guard if needed and any other restrictions or safety measures they deem necessary for the health and welfare of their citizens.
  4. Stockpiling groceries and supplies is not suggested. Food supplies are likely to spoil and you want to minimize chances of contact. Demand is high for grocery, household cleaning, and some healthcare products–stores need time to restock.
  5. The U.S. Government is not mailing checks in response to COVID-19 at this time. If you’re contacted about such a check, at the moment, it’s a scam. Keep an eye on the FTC website for more information about this and other common COVID-19 related scams. 
    1. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has passed both the house and Senate and been signed by President Trump on March 27th. Both  CNN and Fortune Magazine report that it could take five to six weeks for the federal government to cut checks and send them out. The $2 trillion package includes a provision to send checks directly to many Americans. The amount is based on annual income: individuals earning up to $75,000 and heads of household up to $112,500 will receive a $1,200 rebate from the federal government. Whereas, couples who earn up to $150,000 will receive $2,400. Above those income levels, the benefits are gradually reduced by $5 for every additional $100 income. This will be capped at $99,000 for individuals, $146,500 for heads of household, and $198,000 for couples. Parents are eligible for a $500 rebate per child.

With these foundational facts on the disease and clearing up tangential misinformation, it is also  imperative to take precautions in the workplace to prevent spreading the virus. OSHA has issued guidelines on how to prepare workplaces for COVID-19. It focuses on the need for employers to implement engineering, administrative, and work practice controls and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as considerations for doing so. Aside from safety compliance, the outbreak has affected which industries are still running and can affect the operations of those that are.

How COVID-19 Could Affect Workplaces

  • Absenteeism. Workers could be absent for many reasons: they are sick;  they are caregivers for sick family members; they are caregivers for children if schools or daycare centers are closed;  they have family members to at-risk people at home, such as immunocompromised; they are afraid to come to work because of fear of possible exposure.
  • Change in patterns of commerce. Consumer demand for items related to infection prevention (e.g., respirators) is likely to increase significantly, while consumer interest in other goods may decline. Consumers may also change shopping patterns because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Consumers may try to shop at off-peak hours to reduce contact with other people, show increased interest in home delivery services, or prefer other options, such as drive-through service, to reduce person-to-person contact.
  • Interrupted supply/delivery. Shipments of items from geographic areas severely affected by COVID-19 may be delayed or cancelled with or without notification.

The OSHA COVID-19 webpage offers information specifically for workers and employers: www.osha.gov/covid-19.

Jobs and Exposure Risk

OSHA outlines the different job industries and their risk of exposure to the virus by very high, high, medium, and low exposure levels. 

  • Very high exposure risk jobs are those with high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of COVID-19 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures. 
  • High exposure risk jobs are often peripherally related to very high risk exposure jobs. 
  • Workers in the medium exposure risk category may be in contact with the general public (e.g., in schools, high-population-density work environments, and some high-volume retail settings). 
  • Low exposure risk groups do not require contact with people or are infrequently exposed to the general public.

OSHA also outlines five steps employers can take to responsibly prevent their workers from being exposed to COVID-19.

  1. Develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan
  2. Prepare to Implement Basic Infection Prevention Measures
  3. Develop Policies and Procedures for Prompt Identification and Isolation of Sick People, if Appropriate.
  4. Develop, Implement, and Communicate about Workplace Flexibilities and Protections
  5. Implement Workplace Controls
    1. Engineering Controls
    2. Administrative Controls
    3. Safe Work Practices
    4. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Despite the pandemic, many industries are considered too critical to close, and must remain in operation during closures with limitations.

Federal Critical Infrastructure Sectors

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has comprehensively outlined the specific sectors that the Federal Government has deemed critical. Two such sectors are manufacturing, along with food and agriculture.

Critical Manufacturing Sectors

Critical Manufacturing Industries with Sub Industries

Primary Metals ManufacturingIron/Steel Mills and FerroAlloy

 Alumina and Aluminum Production and Processing

Nonferrous Metal Production and Processing
Machinery ManufacturingEngine and Turbine

Power Transmission Equipment

Earth Moving, Mining, Agricultural, and Construction Equipment
Electrical Equipment, Appliance, and Component ManufacturingElectric Motor

Transformer

Generator
Transportation Equipment ManufacturingVehicles and Commercial Ships

Aerospace Products and Parts

Locomotives, Railroad and Transit Cars, and Rail Track Equipment

Products made by these industries are essential to many other critical infrastructure sectors. The Critical Manufacturing Sector focuses on the identification, assessment, prioritization, and protection of nationally significant manufacturing industries that may be susceptible to manmade and natural disasters. CISA has an existing plan from 2015. For more information, please contact the Sector-Specific Agency at criticalmanufacturing@hq.dhs.gov 

Critical Food and Agriculture Sectors

Homeland Security has recognized Agriculture as a critical industry. As such, these closures do not apply to this sector.  The Food and Agriculture Sector is almost entirely under private ownership and is composed of an estimated 2.1 million farms, 935,000 restaurants, and more than 200,000 registered food manufacturing, processing, and storage facilities. This sector accounts for roughly one-fifth of the nation’s economic activity.

The Food and Agriculture Sector is critically dependent on many sectors, but particularly with the following:

Water and Wastewater SystemsClean Irrigation and Processed Water
Transportation SystemsMovement of Products and Livestock
EnergyPower the Equipment Needed for: Agriculture Production and Food Processing
ChemicalFertilizers and Pesticides Used in the Production of Crops

For resources available to Food and Agriculture Sector partners, visit the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration websites.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

The Department of Labor is administering new paid leave requirements effective through December 31, 2020. Each covered employer must post in a conspicuous place on its premises a notice of FFCRA requirements. Employers may not discharge, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against any employee who takes paid sick leave under the FFCRA and files a complaint or institutes a proceeding under or related to the FFCRA. Employers in violation of the first two weeks’ paid sick time or unlawful termination provisions of the FFCRA will be subject to the penalties and enforcement (Sections 16 and 17 of the Fair Labor Standards Act. 29 U.S.C. 216; 217.)

FCRA Coverage and Qualifying for Leave

CoveredNot Covered
Certain public employers, and private employers with fewer than 500 employees.Most Federal employees are not covered by these expanded provisions for family and medical leave, but are covered by paid sick leave. 
Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption.

Qualifying for Leave

Full-TimePart-Time
Up to 80 hours paid sick leave.Paid sick leave equal to hours worked on average over a 2-week period.
If Workers are Unable to Work or Telework Due to:
1) Being subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
2) Being advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
3) Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
Employees taking leave shall be paid at either their regular rate or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period).
4) Caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2);
5) Experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury; or.
Employees taking leave shall be paid at 2/3 their regular rate or 2/3 the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period).
6) Caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19.,Full-time employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave at 40 hours a week

Part-time employees are eligible for leave for the number of hours that the employee is normally scheduled to work over that period. 

Employees taking leave shall be paid at 2/3 their regular rate or 2/3 the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $200 per day and $12,000 in the aggregate (over a 12-week period—two weeks of paid sick leave followed by up to 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave).

Assistance for Small Businesses During the Outbreak

Covered employers qualify for dollar-for-dollar reimbursement through tax credits for all qualifying wages paid under the FFCRA. Qualifying wages are those paid to an employee who takes leave under the Act for a qualifying reason, up to the appropriate per diem and aggregate payment caps. Applicable tax credits also extend to amounts paid or incurred to maintain health insurance coverage. For more information, please see the Department of the Treasury’s website.

Opportunities and resources for emergency funding outside of these tax credits are available through the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce (CACC). Their Business Triage Center has a dedicated team to help small businesses get access to capital by packaging their loans and providing credit enhancement services, supporting applications to Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Disaster Loans and the IBank’s Small Business Disaster Relief Loan Guarantee Program. They can also help direct applicants to one of their various lending institution partners.  Additionally, the CACC created a survey to determine how to best assist small businesses statewide. Your input will better enable them to prioritize your business needs during these uncertain times.

CalAsian Chamber of Commerce Business Triage Center contact information.

The U.S. SBA is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses in designated states or territories suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). SBA Disaster Loans are limited to federally declared disaster states or territories. Therefore, your State or Territory may not yet be eligible for assistance. However as of March 17, 2020 they have issued revised criteria that makes more businesses eligible for the loans.

Under newly revised criteria

  • States or territories are only required to certify that at least five small businesses within the state/territory have suffered substantial economic injury, regardless of where those businesses are located.
  • Disaster assistance loans will be available statewide following an economic injury declaration. This will apply to current and future disaster assistance declarations related to Coronavirus.

As of March 20, 2020, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, five territories and one tribe are working directly with FEMA under the Nationwide Emergency Declaration for COVID-19.

The USDA extended the application deadline for the Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) program and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to no later than April 15, 2020. Contact the Rural Development office for the RBDG deadline in your state. For additional information on the REAP deadline, see page 16925 of the March 25, 2020, Federal Register.

Knowing the symptoms and preventative measures is only the start. Businesses must take responsibility for their employees’ health by adapting their daily operations, and are required to provide sick leave when prevention is not enough. In light of these responsibilities, business owners are not without help: the Federal government will be providing tax breaks to employers for those companies impacted by the outbreak and Chambers of Commerce, like CalAsian Chamber of Commerce, are providing assistance in acquiring additional funding. Be sure to visit our website wcismag.com and social media to read real-time updates to this article, curated content from other industry information leaders, and share how COVID-19 is affecting your business.

Be sure to contact CACC or your local SBA office to see what assistance your company may qualify for. Email CACC with “COVID-19 IMPACT – Technical Assistance Needed” in the subject line. Cha Xiong: 916-389-7489, cxiong@calasiancc.org; Linda Thor: 916-389-7478, lthor@calasiancc.org

Posted on

Finance – Economics of Legalizing Cannabis – Pricing and Policing are Crucial

Written by: Alice Mesnard, Reader in Economics, University of London
Originally published in The Conversation
29 July 2019

Legalising cannabis can have major benefits for all citizens. If carried out correctly, everyone will benefit from less crime and stronger rule of law. Legalising the drug will especially help protect young people and may even lower their consumption of the drug. It is also a way of raising taxes for the state, instead of fuelling criminal organisations, which currently control the illegal market.

These benefits are increasingly recognised by the public. Crucial to seeing these benefits come about, is the way legalising cannabis is done and how the drug is priced once it is made legal. These are the findings from research I’ve carried out with colleagues in France. There must be a combination of getting the price level right and cracking down on illegal activities to reach the right balance between reducing criminality and avoiding increases in cannabis consumption following legalisation.

To fight the black market, the price of legal cannabis has to be relatively low. For example, it could be set around or slightly below the current illegal price. This will attract current users of the drug away from their existing dealers.

But if nothing else is done, this will not be enough to eradicate the black market. Dealers will simply lower their prices to attract customers back. They are able to do this because there is currently a high markup in the illegal market.

There is a large range of prices and cannabis products sold illegally but the average price of high-quality cannabis is roughly US$300 per ounce in London, according to the crowd-sourced website priceofweed.com. This is up to three times as high as production costs based on evidence from the US market.

Controlling consumption

The increased competition that the legal market would bring would likely substantially increase consumption – not something most policy makers want. So as well as implementing a legal market, there needs to be a mix of policies to control consumption, including sanctions that are enforced against illegal activities. This would allow a government to price out dealers, while keeping the price of legal cannabis relatively high.

The reasoning is simple: if production or distribution costs of illegal cannabis increase, it is easier to drive criminals out of business by selling legal cannabis. My research shows that the harsher the punishments you put in place against people selling cannabis illegally, the higher you can set the price of legal cannabis to price out dealers. We call this the “eviction price”.

Other instruments governments can use to increase the eviction price are to deter consumers from buying illegal cannabis through enforced sanctions or warning them against the dangers of using illegal cannabis compared to high-quality, safe products supplied on the legal market.

Viable alternatives

It’s also important to introduce incentives for illegal cannabis producers and sellers to turn their activity toward the legal sector. So as well as investment in law enforcement to crack down on criminal activity, it’s important that former cannabis dealers are given viable job alternatives. Otherwise they may just switch to selling alternative illegal drugs or close substitutes.

Dealers often live in deprived neighbourhoods and are trapped in vicious cycles of crime where low aspirations and job prospects push them into illegal businesses. Investment in these communities is therefore needed to support and train those that make a living from drug dealing.

The money that will be generated by selling and taxing legal cannabis should be largely redistributed towards these kinds of initiatives. Plus, legalising cannabis may enable the police to reallocate their efforts towards other crimes, improving police effectiveness against class-A drugs and non-drug crimes. This was found in the London borough of Lambeth after penalties were reduced in 2001 for those holding small amounts of cannabis.

History also shows that prohibition increases violent crimes. Famous gangsters such as Al Capone in Chicago in the 1920s profited from the imbalance between demand and supply of alcohol by establishing organised crime to supply and serve alcohol illegally in speakeasies. In illegal markets, violence is often seen as the only way to resolve conflicts and secure market power.

Our research was inspired by recent examples of cannabis legalisation in Canada and Uruguay. The stated objectives in both countries was to combat drug-related crime. It is too early to evaluate the overall effects of these policies but evidence from Canada suggests that illegal transactions linked to the black market shrunk as a result of legalisation. And we also learnt from what did not work so well there: a shortage of legal supply helped the illegal market persist. So it’s important to avoid making the same mistakes and propose more effective policies to control the overall consumption of cannabis.

Posted on

Finance – Get Ready: Blockchain Will Transform the Legal Industry

Andries Verschelden 

Originally published on Armanino
13 June 2019

What if someone told you that a new technology would significantly impact every law firm within the next 10 years—and would influence how your firm gets paid, the types of services it offers, and everything in between?

Consider this a wake-up call for a future that looks very different than today, thanks to the technology called blockchain. While still a nascent trend, blockchain is already proving to be a transformational force, changing how people and businesses around the world transact with each other by enhancing the trust, accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness of those transactions.

Don’t assume that blockchain is only for cryptocurrency enthusiasts and specialists. It’s poised to make rapid inroads into all types of industries across many different use cases beyond cryptocurrency. As such, clients will need expertise and guidance for the proper legal frameworks for using blockchain. Law firms that don’t want to get left behind need to pay attention, and start gaining experience and planning their blockchain strategies now.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is iStock-953499010.jpg
An abstract digital structure showing the concept of blockchain technology with hexadecimal hash data inside each block. This image represents a conceptual design in the domain of IT, cyberspace, cyber security, cryptocurrency or similar industry sectors. The image is a made up 3D concept render.

Defining blockchain simply

Let’s start with what blockchain is not. It is not software that you can buy from a vendor nor is it “owned” by any one company. No one group or country controls it, and anyone, anywhere in the world can use it. While these characteristics can make blockchain seem complex and nebulous, when you think about it, the Internet has the very same characteristics. We don’t have to understand the technical details of the Internet to know it has tremendous impact on our lives and livelihoods.

So, what is blockchain? It’s open source technology that enables the creation and management of a global, autonomous network where information is secured in an immutable and transparent ledger. There are already thousands of networks in use, both publicly and privately. What’s special about a blockchain network is that it gives everyone who uses it access to the same information in a way that ensures the information can be trusted.

Changing the legal industry

Because it’s somewhat early days in the blockchain evolution, innovators are still identifying all the ways it can be used. Perhaps the most common application right now is for peer-to-peer transactions that transfer digital value between two parties in a trusted way without a third party involved.

However, blockchain is also being envisioned and tested to make supply chains more efficient, give artists greater control over digital ownership rights, streamline real estate transactions, manage Internet of Things networks and much more.

Because it changes the way people and businesses transact and communicate with each other, blockchain will begin to impact and evolve the way legal services such as contracts, escrow account management, transactions and much more are handled. Here are some ways blockchain is already poised to reshape how law firms work:

  • Smart contracts: Instead of being traditional, static documents (whether digital or paper-based), contracts will evolve to be programmatic components of a blockchain network, where the terms and conditions of the contract are automatically applied.
  • Automated securities settlement: Many of the routine change of ownership transactions handled today by law firms will be automated within blockchain networks in the future, such as transferring real estate or ownership shares in a business. Compliance and restrictions all happen automatically, as they are built into the blockchain protocol code.
  • Payments via digital assets: As clients adapt digital assets such as cryptocurrency, it will be increasingly important to be able to accept these types of payments.
  • Escrow accounts: Smart contracts can automatically release funds into a digital wallet at the completion of some pre-determined criteria, eliminating the need for escrow accounts in many transactions.

Establishing an essential role in the blockchain evolution

For forward-thinking law firms that have embraced the changes on the horizon with blockchain, it’s already opening up new practice areas and service opportunities, which can eventually replace those that will shrink and go away. Sharp legal minds are required right now to help organizations understand the appropriate legal framework for using various blockchain networks for different use cases. There is much to do to move from physical assets to digital ones, and the legal industry must be a vital part of the effort.

Lawyers who understand the concept of smart contracts will be in high demand as more businesses begin moving to blockchain. By combining understanding of how blockchain networks function with deep legal knowledge, firms can create blockchain practices that provide legal guidance to organizations of all kinds as they both create and participate in blockchain networks.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 6-2019-expo-ad.jpg

Taking the first step

As the world evolves towards transferring assets and information digitally using blockchain, your firm must be ready to both adopt blockchain and provide legal counsel on how your clients can adopt it as well. One way to ease into the world of blockchain is to begin accepting digital assets as payment for legal services rendered. Unless you already have blockchain expertise on staff, turning to a trusted service provider can expedite your implementation while helping your firm avoid missteps.

In any case, you need to begin understanding blockchain now. If clients aren’t already asking about it, they will be soon, which means you need to start establishing blockchain expertise before your competitors beat you to it.

For more information contact Andries Verschelden or Terri Oppelt