Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) is again making clear that he has no intention of advancing a bill to protect banks that work with marijuana businesses before the Senate approves his broader, newly unveiled measure to federally legalize cannabis.
The senator—who recently released a draft version of the legislation alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR)—solicited feedback on the proposal on Twitter. But of the dozens of comments, he chose to respond to four for now, and most of those concerned marijuana banking legislation.
Last week, @SenSchumer, @RonWyden & I announced a historic plan to legalize marijuana federally, expunge records & help communities hurt by the failed drug war. This afternoon I’d like to answer your questions about our plan—please ask them by tagging me or use #MarijuanaJustice.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
Booker has maintained a firm opposition to passing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act before advancing comprehensive reform. He reiterated that point last week, saying he “will lay myself down” to block the incremental policy change before full legalization is enacted.
“I’m telling you right now, if somebody tries in the Senate to do just a banking bill,” Booker said, it would only accomplish further enriching of people in a multi-billion industry without addressing the harms of the drug war.
The senator’s stance was cheered by some social justice advocates who worry that a banking-only bill will bolster the industry while leaving equity concerns unaddressed and jeered by others who say that if only the incremental reform is achievable now it should be pursued while broader efforts continue.
Booker responded to three questions about the controversy on Monday. The senator was pressed on the fact that there may not be enough votes in the Senate to approve a federal legalization bill, but the SAFE Banking Act has bipartisan support and a clearer pathway to passage.
“How can you block #SafeBanking when Safe is desperately needed to hurt black markets & be inclusive to minority communities + usher in social justice reforms?” cannabis investor Jason Spatafora asked. “Safe has GOP sponsors & there is an urgent need to protect small business owners being robbed for cash.”
Booker didn’t directly address the question but said lawmakers “can both address the pressing need for cannabis businesses to access financial institutions and provide real restorative justice for those harmed by the War on Drugs. This is not a zero-sum game.”
We can both address the pressing need for cannabis businesses to access financial institutions and provide real restorative justice for those harmed by the War on Drugs. This is not a zero-sum game. #MarijuanaJustice https://t.co/3xl8Dh2jsu
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
Another person said, “I feel that the [legalization] bill will not have enough votes to pass” and, “I think incremental steps may be the way forward such as expunging records, SAFE, elimination of [tax restrictions].”
“How do you see a path forward if it’s all or nothing?” he asked.
“By going comprehensive & setting up a post-legalization system we believe we can build support & make progress on this issue,” the senator replied. “SAFE Banking lacks critical restorative justice provisions & we must do more to help communities unfairly impacted by the War on Drugs.”
By going comprehensive & setting up a post-legalization system we believe we can build support & make progress on this issue. SAFE Banking lacks critical restorative justice provisions & we must do more to help communities unfairly impacted by the War on Drugs. #MarijuanaJustice https://t.co/QBHXnI9Cwm
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
In a third question, a person asked: “How is the middle class/poor folk supposed to invest in cannabis in States where it is legal if you won’t pass #safebanking? How are we supposed to get funded for retail stores or grow operations? How can we collect money from sales?”
Again, Booker made the case that ending prohibition “fixes the banking issue.”
Ending the federal marijuana prohibition fixes the banking issue. Additionally, our legislation would create a grant program to help small cannabis businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people. #MarijuanaJustice https://t.co/O9oHNNbYlz
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
“Additionally, our legislation would create a grant program to help small cannabis businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people,” he said.
But that’s not quite the point that the three Twitter users were making. The senator declined to address the elephant in the room: it’s quite possible that the wide-ranging legalization bill will not garner the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate, even while Democrats hold a narrow majority. The SAFE Banking Act, which has passed in some form in the House four times at this point, and enjoys bipartisan support, stands a significantly better chance at passage and could resolve certain issues while lawmakers continue to push for broader reform.
The new legalization legislation was not included as part of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that Senate Democrats agreed to last week. And Schumer recognized at the press conference that “we don’t have the votes necessary at this point” to pass cannabis legalization even with a reduced 50-vote threshold under the fiscal maneuver.
During Monday’s Twitter session, Booker did take a fourth, non-banking question.
“How can we establish a market that is equitable and allows businesses of all sizes to thrive?” the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR), a group backed by large alcohol and tobacco companies, asked.
“Establishing a market that is equitable is a central component of our bill,” Booker responded. “The bill would create a grant program run by the Small Business Administration to assist small marijuana businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.”
Establishing a market that is equitable is a central component of our bill. The bill would create a grant program run by the Small Business Administration to assist small marijuana businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. #MarijuanaJustice https://t.co/YPFI9MElIn
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
The senator encouraged Twitter users to continue to submit questions on the proposal and said he would continue to answer some throughout the week.
Thank you to everyone who asked questions about our plan to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. I’ll answer more of them this week—please continue to send any questions you have using #MarijuanaJustice.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) July 19, 2021
Other questions that Booker has not yet address touch on issues such as state control vs. national legalization, provisions allowing federal agencies to continue drug testing employees for marijuana and whether there is a plan to actually get the votes needed to pass the legislation.
Would you speak to why your bill allows states to continue prohibition instead of legalizing the possession of marijuana nationwide, or at least incentivizing it?
Thank you for your commitment to #MarijuanaJustice since day one and for standing up to CEOs last week, @CoryBooker! https://t.co/njocsDvQIh
— Parabola Center for Law and Policy (@ParabolaCenter) July 19, 2021
What’s your plan to eliminate employer based drug tests for marijuana? I’m a Purple Heart Recipient, with a medical marijuana card, yet, i could still be fired by my employer if they chose to drug test me. #MarijuanaJustice
— William Asquith Farnaby (@KevinMa04852547) July 19, 2021
What is the plan to get the necessary GOP votes to get this passed and end one of the worst and most embarrassing eras of US history? #MarijuanaJustice
— PA Patient Podcast (@PAPatient1) July 19, 2021
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, an extensive, 163-page document, would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions, allow people to petition for resentencing, maintain the authority of states to set their own marijuana policies and remove collateral consequences like immigration-related penalties for people who’ve been criminalized over the plant.
Under the senators’ legalization proposal, a gradual federal tax rate would be imposed on marijuana sales, starting at 10 percent for the first year after the bill’s enactment and the first, subsequent calendar year. It would then increase annually, rising from 15 percent to 20 percent to 25 percent. Starting in the fifth year post-enactment, the tax would be a “per-ounce or per-milligram of THC amount determined by the Secretary of the Treasury equal to 25 percent of the prevailing price of cannabis sold in the United States in the prior year.”
While that 25 percent tax rate might seem high, the legislation builds in significant federal credits for any company’s sales that are under $20 million a year.
The legislation immediately drew mixed reactions from advocates, other lawmakers and the White House.
Minutes after the senators’ press conference to unveil the bill, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked at her own daily briefing about the administration’s position on the legislation.
“Nothing has changed,” regarding President Joe Biden’s longstanding opposition to legalizing marijuana, “and there’s no new endorsements of legislation to report today,” she said.
The sponsors have made clear they are open to suggestions for how the draft proposal can be improved, and they are actively inviting public feedback. For example, they’re especially interested in hearing about measuring cannabis potency, coordinating federal and state law enforcement responsibilities and balancing efforts to reduce barriers to entry to the marijuana industry while mitigating the influence of illicit cannabis operators.
Interested parties are encouraged to submit comments on these and other issues to [email protected] by September 1.
The hope is that the public comment period will help build buy-in from stakeholders and lawmakers, getting them closer to the 60-vote threshold they need to pass the legislation in the Senate. By the looks of it, it’s going to be a tough battle that will require significant negotiations to push legalization across the finish line in the chamber.
The three senators formally started their efforts on the legalization bill by holding a meeting earlier this year with representatives from a variety of advocacy groups to gain feedback on the best approach to the reform.
Schumer made a point in March to say that it will specifically seek to restrict the ability of large alcohol and tobacco companies to overtake the industry. Instead, it will prioritize small businesses, particularly those owned by people from communities most impacted by prohibition, and focus on “justice, justice, justice—as well as freedom,” he said.
He also urged voters to reach out to their congressional representatives and tell them that “this is long overdue.”
Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.
The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act passed the House but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control. But this time around, advocates are optimistic that the policy change could be enacted now that Democrats run both chambers and the White House, and as more states are moving to enact legalization.
President Joe Biden, however, is an outlier within the Democratic Party, maintaining an opposition to adult-use legalization despite the widespread and increasingly bipartisan public popularity of the reform. It remains to be seen whether the president—who campaigned on more modest pledges to decriminalize cannabis possession, expunge prior records and respect state legalization laws—would stand in the way of a comprehensive policy change by threatening to veto the bill that’s ultimately produced.
Wyden, who under the chamber’s new Democratic majority assumed the top spot on the Senate Finance Committee—where the new legislation is likely to be referred once formally introduced—recently said his goal will be to “end the prohibition and come up with sensible tax and regulatory oversight at the federal level.”
He said in February that “it’s not enough in my view to just end cannabis prohibition,” and “I think we need to restore the lives of people who’ve been hurt most by the failed war on drugs and especially black Americans.”
All three senators—Schumer, Wyden and Booker—have in past years introduced marijuana legalization bills that never got hearings or votes.
Separately, a proposal to federally deschedule marijuana that does not include social equity components was recently filed by a pair of Republican congressmen.
Kansas Medical Marijuana Hearings Cancelled After Senate GOP Leader Reroutes House-Passed Bill
A House-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kansas seems to be in jeopardy, with GOP Senate leadership moving the legislation out of a committee and into a different panel where it may sit in legislative limbo, resulting in the cancellation of hearings that were scheduled to be held this week.
Advocates are concerned about the decision by Senate President Ty Masterson (R), who withdrew the cannabis reform legislation from the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee days before hearings were to be held on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was then re-referred to the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee, which Masterson chairs and where the bill’s fate is unclear.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that medical marijuana legalization is off the table for Kansas in 2022, but it does seem to signal that the reform might need to be enacted through another vehicle, either in the legislature or at the ballot, as top Democratic lawmakers in the state are pursuing.
“We certainly hope that this action is just making sure that this bill meets any concerns that Senate leadership may have concerning this historic legislation,” Kevin Caldwell, a legislative manager at Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana Moment. “This bill had widespread bipartisan support in the House last session. We hope Senate President Masterson quickly holds a committee hearing and advances this legislation.”
When the proposal was being advanced in the House last year during the first half of the two-year session, members amended an unrelated bill that previously cleared the Senate to make it the chamber’s vehicle for the policy change. Because of that, it was ruled “materially changed” last May and sent to the Senate for committee consideration.
Now there’s a question of whether lawmakers will be motivated to introduce another separate bill and try to move it through both chambers, requiring another House vote. The Senate president seemed to temper expectations in recent remarks, telling The Kansas City Star that “not a single member” of his caucus has expressed that the issue “was important to them.”
That’s not how Kansas Democrats feel, however. House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said this month that they will be introducing proposals to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state. At the time, Sawyer said he was “hopeful” that the legislature might separately advance the House-passed legalization measure.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
“The people of Kansas deserve to know if senators support the overwhelming majority of people who want to alleviate patients’ suffering with a medical cannabis program,” MPP’s Caldwell said. “Now is the time to show compassion to their fellow citizens and vote this bill out of committee.”
“Kansas is one of fourteen states left without a medical cannabis program,” he said. “We have faith that the Kansas Senate will pass this legislation this session and this is just another step in that process.”
Michael Pirner, Masterson’s communications director, told the Star that “medical marijuana legislation is not a priority of Senate leadership,” but did signal the issue may still be considered before the year is over.
“The subject matter has clearly matured and we expect it to be considered at some level this session,” he said. “There are many more pressing topics on the Senate agenda.”
The bill as drafted contains several significant restrictions, including a ban on smokeable cannabis. Members of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee did get a briefing on the issue at a meeting last week ahead of the expected, now-cancelled formal hearings before the panel.
Meanwhile, the constitutional amendment that the Democratic leaders are proposing would provide for a more comprehensive program that lawmakers would need to implement.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, wants to see medical cannabis legalization enacted, and she said at a briefing with reporters on Friday that she “absolutely” thinks the bill could pass if “everything else doesn’t take up all the oxygen.”
She previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.
Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
The governor also said in 2020 that while she wouldn’t personally advocate for adult-use legalization, she wouldn’t rule out signing the reform into law if a reform bill arrived on her desk.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Marijuana Banking Bill Sponsor Says He’s ‘Gonna Get That Darn Thing Passed’ Before Leaving Office
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is retiring from Congress at the end of this session, but he says that he’s going to work to pass his marijuana banking bill before his time on Capitol Hill comes to an end.
The congressman spoke to Colorado Public Radio last week about his decision not to run for reelection this November and his disappointment that, while the House has approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act five times now in some form, the Senate has failed to advance it under both Republican and Democratic leadership.
“That one still has me pretty irritated,” Perlmutter said, referring to the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has effectively blocked his bipartisan legislation. When there was a GOP Senate majority, he was told the bill was “too big and too broad.” Then with a Democratic majority, he’s told that it’s “too narrow and too limited.”
Schumer and his colleagues who are working on a federal legalization bill have repeatedly said that they do not want to see the SAFE Banking Act pass before comprehensive reform is enacted that addresses equity issues. Supporters of the banking bill argue that the incremental policy change is necessary for promote public safety and, importantly, it stands a much stronger chance of getting to the president’s desk with bipartisan support.
Nonetheless, Perlmutter said he plans to spend his remaining months in office pushing to get the job done.
“I have not given up on that one,” he said. “I’m gonna get that darn thing passed this year while I still serve out my term.”
Listen to Perlmutter discuss the marijuana banking legislation, starting around 10:24 into the audio below:
Asked whether he thinks President Joe Biden would be inclined to sign the measure if it did get to his desk, the congressman said “absolutely.”
“Treasury Secretary [Janet] Yellen is somebody who has been talking to me about this for years,” he said. “I feel very good that it would pass. We’re at 47 states that have some level of marijuana use, all the territories and District of Columbia, and they need to have legitimate banking services.”
“It’s just a no brainer in my opinion,” he said. “And yeah, I’m a little bit irritated, but we’re gonna keep working on it and get it passed this year.”
The last attempt that Perlmutter made to enact the reform was by adding its language to a must-pass defense bill, but it was ultimately sidelined following bicameral negotiations and did not make it into the final version. The congressman told Marijuana Moment last month that he sees other potential vehicles to advance the bill and has spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about it.
Even some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.
Top Federal Drug Official Says ‘Train Has Left The Station’ On Psychedelics As Reform Movement Spreads
A top federal drug official says the “train has left the station” on psychedelics.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow said people are going to keep using substances such as psilocybin—especially as the reform movement expands and there’s increased attention being drawn to the potential therapeutic benefits—and so researchers and regulators will need to keep up.
The comments came at a psychedelics workshop Volkow’s agency cohosted with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) last week.
The NIDA official said that, to an extent, it’s been overwhelming to address new drug trends in the psychedelics space. But at the same time, she sees “an incredible opportunity to also modify the way that we are doing things.”
“What is it that the [National Institutes of Health] can do to help accelerate research in this field so that we can truly understand what are the potentials, and ultimately the application, of interventions that are bought based on psychedelic drugs?” Volkow said.
The director separately told Marijuana Moment on Friday in an emailed statement that part of the challenge for the agency and researchers is the fact that psychedelics are strictly prohibited as Schedule I drugs under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“Researchers must obtain a Schedule I registration which, unlike obtaining registrations for Schedule II substances (which include fentanyl, methamphetamine, and cocaine), is administratively challenging and time consuming,” she said. “This process may deter some scientists from conducting research on Schedule I drugs.”
“In response to concerns from researchers, NIDA is involved in interagency discussions to facilitate research on Schedule I substances,” Volkow said, adding that the agency is “pleased” the Drug Enforcement Administration recently announced plans to significantly increase the quota of certain psychedelic drugs to be produced for use in research.
“It will also be important to streamline the process of obtaining Schedule I registrations to further the science on these substances, including examining their therapeutic potential,” she said.
At Thursday’s event, the official talked about how recent, federally funded surveys showed that fewer college-aged adults are drinking alcohol and are instead opting for psychedelics and marijuana. She discussed the findings in an earlier interview with Marijuana Moment as well.
Don't miss out on the @NIDAnews, @NIAAAnews, & @NIMHgov-sponsored virtual Workshop on Psychedelics as Therapeutics: Gaps, Challenges, and Opportunities, Jan. 12‒13, 2022. Learn more and register: https://t.co/S1zttkoYXq pic.twitter.com/C2Qrk6FN9a
— NIDAnews (@NIDAnews) January 10, 2022
“Let’s learn from history,” she said. “Let’s see what we have learned from the marijuana experience.”
While studies have found that marijuana use among young people has generally remained stable or decreased amid the legalization movement, there has been an increase in cannabis consumption among adults, she said. And “this is likely to happen [with psychedelics] as more and more attention is placed on these psychedelic drugs.”
“I think, to a certain extent, with all the attention that the psychedelic drugs have attracted, the train has left the station and that people are going to start to use it,” Volkow said. “People are going to start to use it whether [the Food and Drug Administration] approves or not.
There are numerous states and localities where psychedelics reform is being explored and pursued both legislatively and through ballot initiative processes.
On Wednesday—during the first part of the two-day federal event that saw nearly 4,000 registrants across 21 time zones—NIMH Director Joshua Gordon stressed that his agency has “been supporting research on psychedelics for some time.”
Tune in today and tomorrow for the @NIH workshop on Psychedelics as Therapeutics, which will examine findings on psychoplastogens for treating depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance and alcohol use disorders. https://t.co/Qzxte5xJt9
— Joshua A. Gordon (@NIMHDirector) January 12, 2022
“We can think of NIMH’s interests in studying psychedelics both in terms of proving that they work and also in terms of demonstrating the mechanism by which they work,” he said. “NIMH has a range of different funding opportunity announcements and other expressions that are priorities aimed at a mechanistic focus and mechanistic approach to drug development.”
Meanwhile, Volkow also made connections between psychedelics and the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. She said, for example, that survey data showing increased use of psychedelics “may be a way that people are using to try to escape” the situation.
But she also drew a metaphor, saying that just as how the pandemic “forced” federal health officials to accelerate the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines because of the “urgency of the situation,” one could argue that “actually there is an urgency to bring treatments [such as emerging psychedelic medicines] for people that are suffering from severe mental illness which can be devastating.”
But as Volkow has pointed out, the Schedule I classification of these substances under federal law inhibits such research and development.
The official has also repeatedly highlighted and criticized the racial disparities in drug criminalization enforcement overall.