Marijuana reform advocates scored two victories on Tuesday after a key congressional committee approved a spending bill that included a cannabis banking provision and excluded another rider that previously impeded legalization in the nation’s capital. The moves came in spite of impassioned objections from a handful of Republican lawmakers.
For the first time ever, the House Appropriations Committee passed spending legislation that would provide protections for banks that service marijuana businesses. And a longstanding provision prohibiting Washington, D.C. from using its own local tax dollars to implement a legal cannabis sales system was not included in the bill.
The banking provision states that no funds distributed through the legislation “may be used to penalize a financial institution solely because the institution provides financial services to an entity that is a manufacturer, a producer, or a person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana, marijuana products, or marijuana proceeds” in a jurisdiction where it’s legal.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) introduced an amendment at the meeting that would have limited the banking protection to the medical cannabis market only, but following extensive pushback from a bipartisan coalition of members, he ultimately withdrew the amendment before forcing a losing vote.
The congressman said that he supports medical cannabis, which voters in his state legalized last year, but felt providing a safeguard for businesses operating in compliance with broader state recreational marijuana laws sends the wrong message from the federal government. He went so far as to say that he didn’t mind if these businesses and their employees are at risk of robberies because they’re operating on a largely cash basis.
“I guess I’m just willing to say a company that’s selling recreational marijuana to our youth and to others, I don’t really care if they have a threat of cash sitting in their basement, if they’re paying their employees in cash,” Stewart said. “I don’t want to make life easier for them. I want to make it more difficult.”
Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Tom Graves (R-GA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) and David Joyce (R-OH) all voiced opposition to the amendment.
Graves and McCollum argued that excluding the adult-use market from the banking provision would create even more confusion and uncertainty in the financial sector. How would banks be able to differentiate revenue derived from medical versus recreational cannabis sales at shops that sell both, they asked, for example.
“This really isn’t about the issue of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana. The issue is more about states’ rights, quite frankly,” Graves said. “It’s really, really important in my viewpoint that we eliminate some gray space—that we make sure that the rules are defined.”
“It becomes very complicated very fast,” McCollum said of the proposed amendment. “What we want to have is transparency, accountability and confidence in our tax system and our banking system.”
Reps. Harold Rogers (R-KY) and Andy Harris (R-MD) said they supported the amendment, with both focusing on marijuana’s legal status under federal law and warning that approving the provision would encourage more usage.
“Bottom line is what we’re going to do here today is send a message: Is recreational marijuana a thing that the federal government should be promoting?” Harris said.
“There is no state where it’s legal under federal law. It is a gateway drug,” he said. “This is a huge money-making industry. This is Big Cannabis.”
While more financial institutions have been willing to accept cannabis business accounts, many banks still fear being penalized by federal regulators given the lack of clarity on the issue. In 2014, a similar amendment addressing the issue was approved in a House floor vote but it was never enacted into law. The Appropriations Committee rejected a marijuana banking amendment after it was introduced before the panel last year.
Bipartisan legislation that cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March would resolve the problem, but that bill represents a permanent fix whereas this appropriations provision must be annually renewed.
The standalone Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is expected to go before the full House in coming weeks. It currently has 206 cosponsors—nearly half of the chamber.
“Today’s small victories demonstrate an appetite for greater protections of the reform movements progress,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Our staying power is undeniable in the effort to end federal prohibition and criminalization.”
Reform advocates secured another victory with the bill’s passage: A provision that has blocked the District of Columbia from spending local taxpayer dollars to legalize and regulate cannabis was excluded from the legislation.
Earlier years’ versions of the bill stipulated that D.C. couldn’t use appropriated funds “to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.”
Voters in Washington, D.C. legalized marijuana possession and cultivation in 2014, but the congressional provision left lawmakers with their hands tied when it came to regulating the plant.
Harris, who first introduced the provision, was expected to introduce an amendment get his language back into the spending legislation during Tuesday’s committee markup, but instead focused on introducing amendments to block the decriminalization of sex work in D.C. and creating regulatory exceptions for private schools in the District, while declining to mention the cannabis provision. The panel rejected both of his D.C. proposals.
“The man who has unapologetically been offering up this rider and fighting for it for years didn’t even bother to introduce the amendment,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance. “He knew it was going to lose and lose badly. His waving white flag gives us optimism on our ability to secure this win and free D.C. to implement legalization through a racial justice lens the way D.C. residents intended.”
Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that the cannabis rider’s removal from the bill is “a win for the voters of the District, and although it may be low hanging fruit, it sure tastes sweet.”
The appropriations process—which has historically been the only vehicle through which Congress has enacted marijuana policy changes—is being leveraged to address a wide range of cannabis reform proposals this session.
Reports that have been released by the Appropriations Committee this year include calls for medical cannabis research expansion, implementing hemp regulations, establishing regulations for CBD, preventing impaired driving and protecting benefits for military benefits.
On Monday, the panel also published a report urging the federal government to reconsider its employment policies as it concerns federal workers who use cannabis in compliance with state law.
The same day, the House Rules Committee, another powerful panel, cleared an amendment for floor consideration that was introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), eliminating a rider prohibiting the use of federal funds for “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I.”
The purpose of the legislation is to remove barriers to research into the potential therapeutic use of such substances, including cannabis, psilocybin and MDMA, the congresswoman said.
But the panel declined to advance a separate amendment from Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) that would have barred the Department of Education from denying or limiting “any funding or assistance to institutions of higher education” where the use or possession of cannabis is permitted.
The committee chairman, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), told Marijuana Moment the amendment wasn’t made in order for procedural reasons and that he will “continue to welcome and encourage debate on marijuana policy.”
The spending bill covering the Treasury Department and funding for Washington, D.C. that was approved the the appropriations panel next heads to the Rules Committee, which will decide which further amendments, potentially including cannabis-related ones, can be considered on the floor.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Marijuana Industry Groups Ask States For Coronavirus Relief Loans That Feds Won’t Provide
A coalition of marijuana industry associations sent a letter to governors and state treasurers on Wednesday, asking them to help secure financial relief that cannabis businesses are being denied by the federal government amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The letter emphasizes that marijuana companies are providing jobs and essential services during the pandemic, and some are producing needed medical supplies like hand sanitizer. Despite this, the cannabis industry is specifically ineligible for federal disaster loans and other relief programs due to their product’s ongoing status as an illegal controlled substance. The groups said the treasurers could provide assistance to that end.
“Like all essential businesses, cannabis businesses are facing significant uncertainty and costs to provide for our employees and to maintain the medical supply chain during this pandemic,” the groups said. “Yet, unlike every other essential business, there is an underlying federal-state tension which puts our businesses in a uniquely vulnerable and dire operational and financial position. This is particularly true of our small and minority-owned businesses.”
They made two requests to the state officials: 1) encourage congressional delegations to insert language into future COVID-19 legislation that would enable marijuana companies to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) relief loans and disaster assistance, and 2) consider creating state-level lending programs for the industry to help fill the gap in the meantime.
“Although cannabis businesses operate in strict compliance with state law and comply with a broad range of federal mandates, including paying federal corporate taxes at a much higher effective rate than other businesses due to a quirk in the tax code, their activity is still considered illegal under federal law,” the letter states. “This creates all kinds of hardship, including this current prohibition on SBA assistance.”
“While the underlying federal issues with banking, taxes, and capital access remain, our businesses need access to some additional liquidity to ensure reliability in the medical supply chain for patient access and employee retention in these uncertain times,” they said.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), Marijuana Policy Project, Minority Cannabis Industry Association, Cannabis Trade Federation, National Cannabis Roundtable and Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce each signed the letter.
“The cannabis industry is under the same strains as many other industries in these difficult times, in addition to existing unduly burdensome regulatory and financial requirements,” Morgan Fox, NCIA media relations director, said on behalf of the groups in a statement to Marijuana Moment. “Given the increasing recognition of cannabis businesses as necessary components of healthcare and economic stability, it is absolutely vital that they can access relief loans to continue to provide services effectively.”
SBA has made clear that its services are not available to marijuana businesses, or even those that indirectly work with the industry. While eleven senators recently requested that a key committee approve spending bill language allowing SBA program access to cannabis companies, the request was targeted at future spending legislation in the works, rather than bills concerning the coronavirus outbreak that will likely be enacted in short order.
In a separate letter to governors and regulators in states with medical cannabis programs, another set of industry and advocacy organizations stressed the need to maintain access to medical cannabis for patients. They thanked the states for deeming dispensaries to be essential services and said, additionally, they should allow home deliveries, curbside pickup, recommendations via telemedicine and remove or reduce caregiver application fees, among other steps.
“On behalf of medical cannabis businesses, patients, and our communities, we again express our gratitude for your leadership and work to ensure continued access to safe and effective medicine,” the groups, which includes all of those in the aforementioned letter as well as Americans for Safe Access and NORML. “We welcome the opportunity to help identify and implement safe means to ensure continued access to medicine.”
Read the letter concerning financial relief below:
Read the letter concerning medical cannabis access below:
Lawmakers Mourn Loss Of Charlotte Figi, Whose Story Inspired National CBD Movement And Helped Change Policies
Advocates and lawmakers are mourning the loss of a young icon in the medical marijuana reform movement. Charlotte Figi, who showed the world how CBD can treat severe epilepsy, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 13 due to complications from a likely coronavirus infection.
Across social media, people are sending their support to the Figi family and sharing anecdotes about how Charlotte’s battle against Dravet syndrome—and the success she demonstrated in treating it with the cannabis compound—changed hearts and minds. Her impact has been felt across state legislatures and in Congress, where her story was often told as a clear example of why laws prohibiting access to cannabidiol needed to change.
The domino effect Charlotte’s story helped set off—with states, particularly conservative ones, passing modest reform bills for CBD access—paved the path for a successful congressional rider that ended up protecting more far-reaching medical cannabis programs across the U.S., advocates say.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who has become one of the leading GOP champions for broad marijuana reform on Capitol Hill, said he was personally influenced by Charlotte and, as a state lawmaker in 2014, her story motivated him to support legislation to reform Florida’s medical cannabis policies.
Charlotte lived a life of tremendous significance. Her story inspired me to completely change my views on medical cannabis and successfully pass legislation so that patients could get help in Florida.
I’m so sad she is gone, but the movement she has ignited will live forever. https://t.co/e0IO0BM6Bg
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) April 8, 2020
“Charlotte lived a life of tremendous significance. Her story inspired me to completely change my views on medical cannabis and successfully pass legislation so that patients could get help in Florida,” the congressman said. “I’m so sad she is gone, but the movement she has ignited will live forever.”
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), another top marijuana reform advocate who has raised the issue directly with President Trump on several occasions, wrote that Charlotte “made a positive and everlasting change in the world by the age of 13, and her inspirational courage will always be remembered.”
Charlotte changed the way the nation thinks about #CBD through her grace and advocacy. We should honor her by fixing our federal cannabis laws as soon as possible.
Rest in Peace, Charlotte.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) April 8, 2020
“Charlotte changed the way the nation thinks about CBD through her grace and advocacy,” he said. “We should honor her by fixing our federal cannabis laws as soon as possible.”
Florida state Rep. Rob Bradley (R) agreed with the sentiment, writing that “Charlotte Figi was a bright, beautiful light that changed how our state and country views cannabis. I am saddened to hear that this sweet soul has left us.”
Charlotte Figi was a bright, beautiful light that changed how our state and country views cannabis. I am saddened to hear that this sweet soul has left us. https://t.co/lg4tj2bcHn
— Rob Bradley (@Rob_Bradley) April 8, 2020
In Illinois, state Rep. Bob Morgan (D) said Charlotte, who is the namesake of one of the most well-known CBD brands, Charlotte’s Web, “singlehandedly transformed how the world viewed medical cannabis and children with epilepsy.”
Charlotte Figi singlehandedly transformed how the world viewed medical cannabis and children with epilepsy.
She suffered so much so that others would not have to. May her memory be a blessing. https://t.co/r4d0nHeR5C
— Bob Morgan (@RepBobMorgan) April 8, 2020
“She suffered so much so that others would not have to,” he said. “May her memory be a blessing.”
Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach (D) also said Charlotte “inspired me to get involved in the cannabis movement” and “showed the world that Cannabis is medicine and the trail she blazed has helped millions.”
This is incredibly sad. #CharlotteFigi journey inspired me to get involved in the #cannabis movement. She showed the world that Cannabis is medicine and the trail she blazed has helped millions. The world will miss you Charlotte. https://t.co/8uQ3Wehfjx
— Daylin Leach (@daylinleach) April 8, 2020
“The world lost a fighter,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who previously advocated for CBD reform as a state senator, said. “Charlotte Figi-who helped inspire passage of CBD Oil legislation for epilepsy treatment nationwide-passed away. I worked w/her mom/others in 14 in MO. My speech in the Senate was a tribute to her, June Jesse, my son & many others.”
The world lost a fighter. Charlotte Figi-who helped inspire passage of CBD Oil legislation for epilepsy treatment nationwide-passed away. I worked w/her mom/others in 14 in MO. My speech in the Senate was a tribute to her, June Jesse, my son & many others.https://t.co/LlMi8bOq0u
— Eric Schmitt (@Eric_Schmitt) April 8, 2020
Beyond championing a successful CBD bill in Florida, Charlotte’s family also captivated national audiences and became a household name in the reform movement. Her story was featured on a popular CNN documentary, “Weed,” hosted by Sanjay Gupta, that introduced people from diverging political ideologies to an issue that’s since become a focus of legislation across the country.
A bipartisan congressional bill named after her—the Charlotte’s Web Medical Access Act—was first introduced in 2015.
But while that standalone legislation didn’t advance, the growing number of state-level policy changes that were inspired by Charlotte and other young patients could help to explain why Congress, including members who oppose legalization, has consistently supported a budget rider that prohibits the Justice Department from interfering in state-legal medical cannabis programs. It was first approved in 2014—after repeatedly failing on the House floor—and has been renewed each year since.
With CBD-only states included on an enumerated list of those that would be protected from legal action, it became increasingly difficult for lawmakers to defend voting against a measure to prevent federal harassment of their own constituents. Support from more conservative-minded Democrats and a handful of Republicans, including those from states that had recently enacted or were debating their own CBD laws, allowed the amendment to narrowly advance for the first time when it had been handily defeated two years earlier.
Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and South Carolina stand out as examples of states where cannabis reform came online between those votes and where support for the measure also increased among their congressional delegations.
The measure as approved by Congress and first signed into law law President Obama, has given explicit protection from federal prosecution not just to people complying with limited CBD-focused state laws but also medical cannabis growers, processors and retailers in states with more robust policies such as California and Colorado (though it does not protect recreational marijuana businesses or consumers).
“Charlotte Figi personalized this issue in a way that few others have, and her story humanized the medical cannabis fight to such a degree that many politicians could no longer ignore it,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “There is little doubt that Charlotte’s story, arguably more than any other, paved the way for politicians in several southern and midwestern states to finally move forward to recognize the need for CBD, and in some cases, whole-plant cannabis access.”
Don Murphy, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said even opponents of cannabis legalization “can’t say ‘no’ to young mothers pushing sick kids in strollers,” referencing the many other patient advocates who helped usher the reform to victory.
“There’s no doubt it helped move the debate in our direction,” he said. “Truth is, I was once told that CBD hurt our effort [for broader reform]. I don’t think so.”
A person writing on behalf of the family on Tuesday said that “Charlotte is no longer suffering” and will be forever seizure-free.
Image element courtesy of Paige Figi.
FBI Policy On CBD Use By Agents Is ‘Under Review’
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is apparently looking into changing internal policy when it comes to the use of CBD products by its agents and other employees, the agency said on Tuesday.
While workers are prohibited from using marijuana—and applicants can be disqualified for consuming cannabis within the past three years—it seems FBI is open to loosening rules for the non-intoxicating cannabis compound, which has become more widely available since hemp was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, creating a massive market for its derivatives.
During a Q&A on Twitter, FBI’s Newark office was asked two marijuana-related questions. One person wanted to know why the agency says “you cannot use marijuana within 3 years of applying, even with a medical card/prescription.”
“The policy regarding CBD oil is currently under review,” FBI replied. “Check the other eligibility requirements.”
Q8: Why does the FBI state you cannot use marijuana within 3 years of applying, even with a medical card/prescription?
A8: The policy regarding CBD oil is currently under review. Check the other eligibility requirements.
— FBI Newark (@FBINewark) April 7, 2020
The overall thread was about questions people had about the process of becoming a special agent, so it’s not clear if the CBD policy is being reevaluated for applicants only regarding past use, or if any change would cover active agents as well. Marijuana Moment reached out to FBI and its Newark division for clarification, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.
Another person asked whether the three-year cannabis abstinence requirement applies to positions other than special agents and FBI said: “Yes, that policy applies to all positions within the FBI.”
Q24: Is it 3 years of no marijuana use for other positions other than Special Agents too?
A24: Yes, that policy applies to all positions within the FBI.
— FBI Newark (@FBINewark) April 7, 2020
The simple fact that FBI fielded multiple marijuana questions while promoting recruitment seems to speak to a point that the agency’s former director, James Comey, made in 2014. He suggested that he wanted to loosen the agency’s employment policies as it concerns marijuana, as potential skilled workers were being passed over due to the requirement.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.
Last year, FBI said it wanted the public to send tips on illicit activity in state-legal marijuana markets, stating that restrictive licensing policies could open the door to corruption.
While FBI’s CBD policy is in review, other federal agencies—particularly for within the military—have strongly discouraged or outright banned its use.
The Department of Defense made clear that CBD is off limits for service members.
The Navy told its ranks that they’re barred from using CBD regardless of its legal status.
And the Coast Guard said last year that sailors can’t use marijuana or visit state-legal dispensaries.
Meanwhile, NASA said that CBD products could contain unauthorized THC concentrations that could jeopardize jobs if employees fail a drug test.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued guidance to federal agency drug program coordinators last year, expressing concern about excess THC in CBD products, which seems to have prompted the various departments to clarify their rules.
The Department of Transportation took a different approach in February, stating in a notice that it would not be testing drivers for CBD.
While much of the CBD found in markets across the U.S. is largely unregulated, as the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of developing rules for the compound, a CBD-based prescription medication for epilepsy was entirely removed from the Controlled Substances Act this week, which should lead to easier access for patients.
Photo by Kimzy Nanney.