Hemp legalization included in new farm bill could ‘open the floodgates’ on nascent industry

Damian Farris, co-owner of Colorado Cultivars Hemp Farm, looks at the crop before it is harvested on September 5, 2017 in Eaton, Colorado. 

RJ Sangosti | Denver Post | Getty Images
Damian Farris, co-owner of Colorado Cultivars Hemp Farm, looks at the crop before it is harvested on September 5, 2017 in Eaton, Colorado.

The final 2018 Farm Bill is expected to be voted on as early as next week. The bill would legalize hemp cultivation and could be a catalyst for explosive growth in a nascent industry that some forecast could top $20 billion by 2022.

The long-awaited bill would remove industrial hemp from the federal government’s list of controlled substances, making it a lawful agricultural commodity. The hemp legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., earlier this year also allows states to become the primary regulators of hemp cultivation, enables researchers to apply for federal grants and makes the crop eligible for crop insurance.

“This open the floodgates for this industry to grow very rapidly and scale on a national level,” said Bethany Gomez, director of research for Brightfield Group, a cannabis market researcher based in Chicago.

The lion’s share of the roughly $800 million U.S. hemp market today is for products that include the non-psychoactive compound CBD, cannabidiol. Products infused with CBD are used for a wide range of medical conditions, ranging from epilepsy and multiple sclerosis to arthritis and chronic pain. Laws involving CBD products differ in each state.

Investor interest

Up to now, industrial hemp production in the U.S. has been restricted to mostly research and pilot programs although imports from Canada, China and Europe have helped fill domestic demand for everything from hemp seeds to fibers. The legalization of hemp cultivation could boost investor interest across the sector.

“In the long run, it’s all going to be managed and controlled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just like corn, soybeans and everything else,” said Chris Boucher, CEO of Farmtiva, a California-based hemp cultivation company. “It will also become an agricultural commodity, which in turn will allow crop insurance and Wall Street will be able to invest institutional funds into the hemp industry.”

Damian Farris, co-owner of Colorado Cultivars Hemp Farm, looks at the crop before it is harvested on September 5, 2017 in Eaton, Colorado. 

RJ Sangosti | Denver Post | Getty Images
Damian Farris, co-owner of Colorado Cultivars Hemp Farm, looks at the crop before it is harvested on September 5, 2017 in Eaton, Colorado.

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told reporters Tuesday the farm bill could be passed as early as next week.

“With any luck it’ll be passed by the end of next week, but knowing how things go around here it may drag into the week after,” said Peterson, who is expected to become chairman of the House agriculture panel in the new Congress.

A day earlier, Peterson told Minnesota Public Radio he was considering becoming a hemp producer.

“I may grow some hemp on my farm,” he said. “I’m looking at it. There’s a big market for this stuff that we’ve been ceding to Canada and other places.”

Hemp is a cannabis cousin of marijuana but it contains low levels of THC, the chemical that produces a “high” for pot users. Industrial hemp is used to make everything from apparel, foods and pharmaceuticals to personal care products, car dashboards and building materials.

“The vast majority of the market right now is going for CBD products,” said Brightfield Group’s Gomez. “You can find some hemp seed-based beauty products or hemp in some cereals and things like that, and there’s such usage on the fibers for like clothes and other industrial purposes, but that’s really minimal right now.”

Brightfield Group estimates the domestic hemp market could reach $22 billion in the next four years. The estimate factors in the hemp amendment in the farm bill becoming law.

Edible marijuana infused products by Dixie are displayed at the Cannabis World Congress Conference on June 16, 2017 in New York City. 

Spencer Platt | Getty Images
Edible marijuana infused products by Dixie are displayed at the Cannabis World Congress Conference on June 16, 2017 in New York City.

Hemp Industry Daily projects the hemp-derived CBD retail market will reach between $2.5 billion and $3.1 billion by 2022, which assumes growth in retail penetration but a scenario of no major change in current federal policies concerning hemp.

Tobacco states push hemp

“There are three words why we have hemp now, and those words are tobacco state Republicans,” said Kristin Nichols, editor at Denver-based Hemp Industry Daily, a publication owned by MJBizDaily. “There’s been strong support from lawmakers and politicians up and down in former tobacco states looking for a replacement crop.”

The hemp provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill were in the Senate version of the legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader McConnell. The Kentucky Republican put himself on the joint Senate-House conference committee formed to hammer out the details of the final farm bill.

“I know there are farming communities all over the country who are interested in this,” McConnell said in June when discussing the hemp legalization legislation before the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Mine are particularly interested in it, and the reason for that is — as all of you know — our No. 1 cash crop used to be something that’s really not good for you: tobacco. And that has declined significantly, as it should, given the public health concerns.

According to Nichols, cannabis generally grows well in areas where tobacco production once thrived, such as Kentucky and North Carolina. In the case of Kentucky, the state received over $2 billion in Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement funds and is using some of money to invest in growing its hemp industry.

Both chambers of Congress passed the farm bill in June but major differences between the bills caused a delay in finalizing an agreement. An agreement in principle on the bill was reached in late November.

Hemp legalization is just one element of the wide-ranging farm bill. The legislation also covers farm subsidies and food stamps as well as trade and rural development policy.

The House’s version of the farm bill didn’t originally include hemp legalization amendment. But the final version expected to be filed Monday and be voted on as early as Wednesday or Thursday in the House includes McConnell’s amendment.

The farm bill is usually renewed every five years and the last one expired Sept. 30. The previous farm bill, from 2014, relaxed hemp laws and allowed farmers in a handful of states, including Kentucky, to grow the crop as part of research projects.

“This will open up a lot of new markets for retailers who have been cautious,” said Lex Pelger, science director for Bluebird Botanicals, a Colorado-based company producing hemp derived CBD products. “What we’re doing is already legal under the 2014 Farm Bill, but the power of the 2018 Farm Bill is that it clearly clears hemp for general commerce.”

Easy to grow crop

Pelger said hemp is growing in Colorado despite the state not having a reputation as a farming hub. “It grows really well in a large range of climates and a large range of soils,” he said.

More than 77,000 acres of hemp were planted in research and development programs this year, according to VoteHemp, an advocacy group. That is up sharply from 2017 when there were nearly 26,000 acres of hemp crops planted.

At least 40 states have legalized industrial hemp farming or done pilot programs, usually research through a university or state agriculture agency. The hemp legislation also allows states to become the primary regulators of hemp cultivation, allows researchers to apply for federal grants and makes the crop eligible for crop insurance.

California is the nation’s largest agricultural state but so far has lagged when it comes to hemp production. Hemp can be more profitable to grow than tobacco or even some other key crops.

“You can make $20,000, $40,000 or $50,000 an acre on hemp, depending on percentage of your CBD,” said Farmtiva’s Boucher. He said fiber and hemp seed crops will produce less on per-acre basis but still be “maybe twice as much as corn.”

In October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed state legislation allowing industrial hemp cultivation in the state starting in 2019. Given the favorable climate in parts of California, farmers can get up to two crops per year of hemp plants.

“California is the big agricultural monster and if these farmers really get into hemp, they could take a good chunk of the supply chain,” said Farmtiva’s Boucher. “Unfortunately, we’re three or four years behind Colorado, Kentucky and Oregon and so we have some catching up to do.”


Clutch Announces the Leading Web Design Agencies in the United States for 2018

 Clutch unveiled a list of the leading web design agencies across the United States today. These designers are experts in the latest design techniques and work closely with clients to ensure that their websites fit their unique style and business goals.

This report recognizes over 1,000 companies for their ability to deliver and commitment to client satisfaction.

“In today’s competitive digital landscape, having a unique and eye-catching design for your website is essential to stand out from the crowd,” Clutch Business Analyst DJ Fajana said. “These leaders have not only demonstrated creativity and a deep understanding of the industries they work in but also ensured that their clients are informed and happy throughout the entire design process.”

It’s free to get listed on Clutch, but only the most highly recommended companies are named as leaders in Clutch’s annual reports. These web designers have gone above and beyond to prove their industry expertise and ability to deliver.

Clutch’s research is ongoing. For a chance to be listed on Clutch’s 2019 report, apply now. It’s a free, two-step process that takes less than 20 minutes


Walgreens launches next-day prescription delivery with FedEx to compete with Amazon

Pedestrians walk past a Walgreens store in New York. 

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past a Walgreens store in New York.

Walgreens is working with FedEx to launch a nationwide next-day delivery service for prescription drugs as the top pharmacy chains gear up to compete with Amazon.

Amazon bought online pharmacy PillPack in June, but the deal has not closed yet, giving Walgreens and its rivals the chance to head off a possible disruption in the pharmacy space.

Even before the e-commerce giant announced the acquisition, pharmacies had anticipated that Amazon would branch out into delivering prescription drugs. Competitor CVS rolled out its own delivery service for prescription drugs in June, just days before the deal.

Walgreens already offers same-day delivery in select markets, and the pharmacy chain will continue to expand that program next year.

The delivery service is part of Walgreens Express, which also lets customers preview the cost of their prescriptions and prepay for those that are eligible. Patients can pay $4.99 to have their qualifying prescription drug delivered as early as the next day or choose to pick it up in stores, checking out in a special express line.

“Next-day prescription home delivery is another convenience-driver, alongside our industry-leading number of extended hours pharmacies and one of the most downloaded digital apps in the category, designed to put care in the hands of our patients,” Richard Ashworth, president of operations for Walgreens, said in a statement.

Walgreens and FedEx have already partnered to let customers pick up and drop off packages at almost 8,000 pharmacies nationwide.


Police raids were not the fault of Deutsche Bank management, CFO says


Money laundering investigation not connected to current management: Deutsche Bank CFO

Investigation not connected to current management: Deutsche Bank CFO   16 Hours Ago | 03:05

Police raids on Deutsche Bank’s offices in Frankfurt last week were not the fault of the current management team, according to the firm’s chief financial officer (CFO).

Two Deutsche Bank staff members are suspected of helping clients set up off-shore businesses to launder money gained from criminal activity.

The wrongdoing is alleged to have continued through to 2018 but the bank’s financial chief, James von Moltke, told CNBC’s Annette Weisbach Thursday that current executives shouldn’t shoulder the blame.

“To date, we are not aware of any wrongdoing on our part, so we will await the conclusion of the prosecutors,” Von Moltke said.

James von Moltke, chief financial officer of Deutsche Bank AG, speaks during a fourth quarter results news conference in Frankfurt, Germany, on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. 

Andreas Arnold | Bloomberg | Getty Images
James von Moltke, chief financial officer of Deutsche Bank AG, speaks during a fourth quarter results news conference in Frankfurt, Germany, on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018.

Following the comments, Deutsche Bank shares pared losses slightly, but remained around 3 percent lower for the session amid a wider sell-off in global markets.

The public prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt said an evaluation of data from the Panama Papers had triggered suspicion that the bank may have helped customers create offshore companies in tax havens around the world.

In 2016 alone, more than 900 customers with a business volume of 311 million euros ($353.6 million) were thought to have been cared for by a Deutsche Bank subsidiary based in the British Virgin Islands, the prosecutor said.

Von Moltke rejected the suggestion that Deutsche Bank’s present board had been weakened by the raid, adding that the current management team had made “enormous efforts” to improve controls on its system to better understand clients.

Shares of the bank slipped heavily following news of the

e police action and the firm’s corporate bond value also fell.


Why the US government is so suspicious of Huawei

A man walking past a Huawei P20 smartphone advertisement is reflected in a glass door in front of a Huawei logo, at a shopping mall in Shanghai, China December 6, 2018. 

Aly Song | Reuters
A man walking past a Huawei P20 smartphone advertisement is reflected in a glass door in front of a Huawei logo, at a shopping mall in Shanghai, China December 6, 2018.

The arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada for possible Iran sanctions violations yesterday has deeper roots in a difficult legal history between the hardware giant and U.S. regulators and intelligence agencies.

The U.S. government has spent the better part of the last decade taking issue with the company over topics including the firm’s alleged espionage ties to the Chinese government and allegations of a long history of intellectual property theft. Huawei is one of China’s largest companies, with a reported $100 billion in revenue in 2018 and 180,000 employees across 170 global offices.

Starting around 2010, U.S. intelligence officials began warning agencies, and then private companies, of what it said were clear-cut cases of the company serving as a proxy for espionage conducted by the Chinese government, a claim frequently made publicly by former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden.

In 2012, the U.S. House Intelligence Committee released a report which followed an investigation into the company and its competitor ZTE.

“The Committee received almost no information on the role of Chinese Communist Party Committee within Huawei or specifics about how Huawei interacts in formal channels with the Chinese government,” the report said. “Huawei refused to provide details about its business operations in the United States, failed to disclose details of its dealings with the Chinese military or intelligence services and would not provide clear answers on the firm’s decision-making processes.”

At that time, the Intelligence Committee also called into question the company’s dealings in Iran, which Huawei had pledged to scale back in accordance with international sanctions.

“Huawei refused to provide any internal documents relating to its decision to scale-back operations in Iran or otherwise ensure compliance with U.S. laws,” the report said.

Huawei has also had trouble breaking into the U.S. market because of the U.S. intelligence reports. In 2011, the company tried to acquire 3Leaf, a deal that was nixed after government pressure.

The company’s equipment has been banned by several different agencies because of the espionage and security fears, and those bans ramped up in 2018, when President Trump disallowed U.S. government use of Huawei products and those made by ZTE, following a CIA and NSA warning in February. In January, AT&T abandoned its plans to launch a new flagship phone from Hauwei.

Huawei was also heavily rumored to be behind Trump’s decision to stop the Broadcom/Qualcomm merger. Also this year, a start-up backed by Microsoft and Dell, sued Huawei for alleged widespread IP theft. Most recently, the FCC also banned Huawei equipment from small and regional carriers earlier this year.

Huawei has strongly denied the claims made against it. Donald Purdy, both a Huawei executive and the former top cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security, said in an op-ed in Fortune in June that the moves would hurt development expansion of 5G service in the U.S.

“Policymakers should bear in mind that overreaching or poorly targeted regulations usually have unintended consequences, such as those that will surely result from the FCC’s proposal to force rural carriers to remove China-sourced equipment from their networks,” he said. “In many cases, Huawei’s is the only equipment that America’s small, independent carriers can afford.”


Lyft files to go public, signalling it could be the first major tech IPO of 2019

A Lyft Amp with driver and passenger on January 31, 2017 in San Francisco, California.

Kelly Sullivan | Getty Images
A Lyft Amp with driver and passenger on January 31, 2017 in San Francisco, California.

Ride-hailing company Lyft on Thursday confidentially filed a statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering, signalling it could be the first major tech IPO of 2019.

Lyft and rival Uber have each teased 2019 public offerings. The companies have been adding offers and services practically in tandem in recent months as they get closer to a contest on the public markets.

Airbnb, Slack and data-mining firm Palantir are also reportedly eyeing IPOs next year.

Lyft did not specify the number of shares it was selling or the price range for the offering. The offering is likely to exceed the $15.1 billion valuation Lyft posted in June.

The IPO is expected to commence after the SEC completes its review process, Lyft said in its filing. CNBC reported in October that Lyft had selected J.P. Morgan Chase to lead the IPO effort. Credit Suisse and Jefferies are also involved as underwriters in a more junior capacity, people familiar with the matter told CNBC at the time.


Cheesecake Factory’s free cheesecake promotion goes awry, one person arrested

Cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory

Source: The Cheesecake Factory
Cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory

A free cheesecake promotion celebrating Cheesecake Factory’s 40th anniversary turned ugly as orders and DoorDash delivery drivers flooded restaurants. A brawl broke out at one location, and one person was arrested.

The nationwide promotion, which kicked off at 11:30 a.m. local time Wednesday, offered 40,000 free slices of cheesecake to customers who ordered through the DoorDash app. The promotion comes at a time when more restaurants are adding delivery and digital ordering capabilities to meet growing consumer demand for fast and convenient access to food.

Within two hours, all free slices had been ordered, leading some disappointed respondents to complain on social media that they were not able to get their hands on a piece of cheesecake, or if they did, it arrived hours after it was ordered.

“Our Day of 40,000 Slices promotion had such a tremendous response from our guests that we extended it and delivered more than 60,000 complimentary slices,” a spokeswoman for Cheesecake Factory told CNBC. “We were truly humbled by the popularity of the offer and by how quickly our fans responded as all of the 60,000 complimentary slices were ordered within an hour of the promotion’s start time.”


Obamacare enrollment sinks 11% — historically low unemployment is at least partly to blame

Sign-up rates for Obamacare health coverage have fallen 11 percent from the same time last year, but at least part of the decline is being attributed to something good.

More Americans are getting their health insurance from employers thanks to the tightest U.S. labor market in nearly 50 years, health policy experts say. Low unemployment rates, at 3.7 percent in October, mean fewer people need to buy insurance on the federal Affordable Care Act exchanges, they say.

President Donald Trump’s changes to the ACA are still being blamed for a lot of the drop. It’s the first enrollment season since Congress repealed the so-called individual mandate, a key part of former President Barack Obama’s health-care law. The mandate imposed a tax on the uninsured to persuade people to buy insurance instead of paying a penalty.

The repeal of the federal mandate last December, along with Trump’s push for cheaper, less comprehensive short-term health plans and a substantial slash in outreach funding, was expected to damper ACA enrollment rates this year.

Consumers still have another week to sign up, so researchers can’t draw any hard conclusions until the final numbers are in.

Policy experts are also taking a close look at states such as New Jersey, which enacted its own individual mandate in May. As of Dec. 1, the Garden State saw enrollment numbers down 13 percent compared with the same time last year, according to figures released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Historically low unemployment

Regardless, the tight labor market is helping reduce dependence on the federal program, said Joel Cantor, the founding director of the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“The economy has increased employment rates and encouraged more firms to offer decent benefits in order to be competitive in labor markets,” he said.

While the ACA law doesn’t require small businesses to offer health coverage, more may now be doing so to attract and retain workers, he said.

The unemployment rate in New Jersey is at its lowest level since June 2001, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. It fell to 4.1 percent in October after remaining at 4.2 percent for three months. The national unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, its lowest level since 1969.

Chris Sloan, director at Avalere Health, said it’s too soon to quantify whether higher employment, the end of the mandate penalty or short-term plans are impacting overall exchange open enrollment. He notes that the exchange market is primarily a low-income market of people who receive subsidies.

“It’s way too early; we don’t have any way to quantify these effects yet,” he said.

Additionally, Sloan said he doesn’t think the end of the mandate is a big deal, because it was so easy to get out of it even during the Obama administration.

“The Obama administration, and subsequently the Trump administration, did not enforce it; and it’s hard to have a powerful mandate if the administration is giving millions of exemptions and creating really broad exemption categories, which the Obama administration did for political reasons,” Sloan said.

Cynthia Cox, director of the Program for the Study of Health Reform and Private Insurance at the Kaiser Family Foundation, agreed with Cantor’s assessment, adding the economy is improving and “when the economy improves, people have jobs and don’t have to get health-care coverage elsewhere.”

However, she added that the economic impacts on health coverage would vary by state.

Massachusetts, Vermont and the District of Columbia, which operate on locally run exchanges, have also passed laws restoring the individual mandate. As of Nov. 26, enrollment in Massachusetts is up 4 percent compared with last year. Massachusetts’ unemployment rate was 3.5 percent in October. Data isn’t yet available in Vermont and D.C.

Nearly 90,000 people have signed up for health coverage through New Jersey’s Obamacare marketplace so far this season, CMS data show, down from 104,142 this same time last year.

Meanwhile, Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has been pushing for public awareness on open enrollment. On Monday the governor warned residents they had 12 days left to sign up for coverage.

Looking ahead to enrollment deadline

Open enrollment began Nov. 1 and runs until Dec. 15 in most states. People who do not sign up for an Obamacare plan by the end of open enrollment will not be able to obtain coverage until the fall of 2019, unless they have a so-called qualifying life event such as getting married or having a child.

Cox of Kaiser said it’s worth considering whether New Jersey residents know the state enacted its own individual mandate and assessing how big the New Jersey governor’s outreach was. Cox also said it’s worth seeing whether the newly created jobs in New Jersey provided health coverage.

Judy Solomon, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank, said the tighter labor market could possibly be playing a factor in lower enrollment but qualified that it would likely vary by state.

Solomon said it’s worth waiting until the Dec. 15 deadline before reaching any conclusions.

“I’m not sure the mandate [in New Jersey] itself would drive enrollment, because there isn’t a lot of knowledge about repeal and likely about N.J. adopting its own,” Solomon added. “We’ve been worried about the impact of cuts in outreach and enrollment assistance but seems like N.J. is doing at least some outreach on its own and the state has seen decreases in premiums.”

Most policy experts expect to see a surge in enrollment as states near the mid-December deadline.


Microsoft is making its first web browser for the Mac in 15 years

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at a company event in New York in May 2017.

Source: Jason DeCrow, AP Images | Microsoft
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at a company event in New York in May 2017.

Microsoft’s web browsing technology is coming back to the Mac.

On Thursday Microsoft said that its Edge browser, which was introduced in 2015 as part of Windows 10, will be coming to the Mac as part of a broader rethinking of the company’s browser strategy.

Edge was one of the biggest new features of Windows 10 when it became available in mid-2015. But it hasn’t taken off, despite Microsoft’s attempts to promote it in its own properties, like the Bing search engine. Google’s Chrome had around 62 percent share in November, while Edge had about 2 percent, according to StatCounter. Apple’s Safari had 15 percent, and Microsoft’s old browser, Internet Explorer, had 3 percent share.

In the past few years, under the leadership of Satya Nadella, Microsoft has come to embrace open-source technologies more openly. It has added broader support for Linux in Windows and in the cloud, for example. Now, after depending heavily on its own browsing engine technology, Microsoft will make Chromium, the open-source heart of Google’s Chrome browser, a key part of Edge, essentially acknowledging that Google’s technology has become dominant.

Microsoft will also become a major contributor to the Chromium project as it looks to make Edge even more widely available.

“Microsoft Edge will now be delivered and updated for all supported versions of Windows and on a more frequent cadence,” Microsoft Windows corporate vice president Joe Belfiore wrote in a blog post on Thursday. That language implies Edge will become available for Windows 7, for one thing.

One report previously suggested that the company would release a browser to replace Edge. Instead, the company is refining Edge to benefit multiple constituencies.

“People using Microsoft Edge (and potentially other browsers) will experience improved compatibility with all web sites, while getting the best-possible battery life and hardware integration on all kinds of Windows devices,” Belfiore wrote in the blog post.

“Web developers will have a less-fragmented web platform to test their sites against, ensuring that there are fewer problems and increased satisfaction for users of their sites; and because we’ll continue to provide the Microsoft Edge service-driven understanding of legacy IE-only sites, Corporate IT will have improved compatibility for both old and new web apps in the browser that comes with Windows.”

This isn’t the first time Microsoft is building for the Mac, and it certainly isn’t the first time Microsoft is packaging up a browser for Apple’s Mac operating system. Apple offered Internet Explorer for the Mac but said it would stop coming out with new versions of the software in 2003.

Microsoft expects to have a preview build for developers to try in early 2019, Belfiore wrote.


Southwest Airlines flight overruns runway in Burbank

A Southwest Boeing 737 lands at Los Angeles International Airport on May 24, 2018. 

Hollywood Burbank Airport remains open. All Terminal B gates remain open and Terminal A Gates A1-A5 remain open. Runway 8/26 has been closed due to the incident. Runway 15/33 remains operational. Please check your flight status with your airline.