04 Aug 2021

Leading cannabis lawyer joins regulatory and compliance specialist Simplifya

Katrina Skinner moves back in-house to help tackle booming sector’s ‘incredibly complex’ legal issues

Leading cannabis lawyer Katrina Skinner is joining specialist regulatory and compliance firm Simplifya as its general counsel and chief banking officer to help it accelerate its expansion into the fast-growing – but legally complex – sector.

She is moving back in house after a year-and-half at Boston-based Burns & Levinson, where she was a partner in its cannabis business and law advisory group. She joined the firm from cannabis banking services firm Safe Harbor Services, where she was general counsel.

Skinner is credited as being one of a handful of lawyers who pioneered cannabis law in the US, which took off in 2012 when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalise its recreational use.

Among her contributions to the sector was serving on the Colorado Hemp Advancement & Management Plan, which helped create Colorado's hemp laws.

In her new role, Skinner will report to Simplifya CEO and co-founder Marion Mariathasan with a brief to ‘help bring to market additional services and solutions designed to assist cannabis businesses and cannabis-related banking and financial institutions with remaining compliant under FinCEN [Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] Cannabis Banking Guidance'.

She said: “Despite the majority of states legalising cannabis, the financial services industry has been reluctant to bank in the industry due to the risks associated with anti-money laundering and bank secrecy act regulations.”

Mariathasan added: “I can’t think of a more trusted strategic thinker who grasps these incredibly complex issues or appreciates the potential advanced technologies and software solutions can play in reshaping cannabis’ compliance landscape forever.”

At Burns & Levinson Skinner represented financial institutions that provide services to cannabis related businesses, as well as licensed cannabis operators and companies servicing the sector. She also provided regulatory reviews for cannabis companies as part of the merger and acquisition process. 

In July, New Mexico, Connecticut and Virginia became the latest US states to allow recreational use of cannabis boosting the number of states where it is legal to 18, plus Washington DC.

However, it remains illegal at the federal level, where it is classed as a  Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, leading to a host of highly complex legal and compliance issues for a sector which generated sales of $17.5bn last year.

One example of these challenges was given at June’s Anticounterfeiting World Law Summit, which was hosted by GLP. Because it is impossible to register Cannabis-related trademarks at a federal level, companies instead seek to register clothing and other merchandise.

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat, unveiled draft legislation that would legalise cannabis at the federal level, however any immediate move to legalise it seems unlikely. President Joe Biden supports decriminalising marijuana, but not legalising it.

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