The House of Representatives approved a bill last week to protect banks that service marijuana businesses. But remarkable as it was to see the first standalone piece of cannabis reform legislation clear the chamber, perhaps even more impressive was the extent to which it garnered bipartisan support.
Every single Democratic present on the floor except one (229 members) voted in favor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). And nearly half of all Republicans (91 members) joined them. While advocates anticipated that it would pass, the final tally, 321-103, exceeded many expectations.
What changed since the last time Congress voted on cannabis banking?
This was a first-of-its kind vote on standalone marijuana legislation in the chamber. But a useful comparison comes from 2014, when the House voted on a similar but more limited appropriations amendment aimed at preventing the Treasury Department from penalizing banks that service cannabis businesses.
That measure passed 231-192 (though it was not enacted into law after the Senate declined to consider the provision). Among Democrats, 186 approved the earlier amendment, while 12 opposed it. About half as many Republicans voted for the 2014 amendment (45 members) than supported the SAFE Banking Act last week, while 180 voted against it.
In other words, Democratic support for a marijuana banking fix increased by 43 votes, or 21 percent, from 2014 to 2019. Republican support grew by 46 votes, or 68 percent, during that time period.
Among those present for both votes (235 members), here’s who flipped from “no” to “yes”:
- Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY)
- Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)
- Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)
- Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK)
- Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA)
- Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX)
- Rep. Charles Fleischmann (R-TN)
- Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX)
- Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH)
- Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)
- Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
- Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)
- Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH)
- Rep. William Keating (D-MA)
- Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA)
- Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)
- Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL)
- Rep. Billy Long (R-MO)
- Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
- Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)
- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
- Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)
- Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX)
- Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA)
- Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN)
- Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY)
- Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN)
- Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)
- Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA)
- Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)
- Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH)
- Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA)
- Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO)
- Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
- Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR)
- Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL)
And “yes” to “no”:
- Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN)
- Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT)
All told, 44 members voted differently this year as compared to 2014, including 37 who flipped from “no” to “yes” and two who went in the other direction. Two lawmakers who previously voted “yes”—Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC)—were absent for this latest vote. One former “no” vote, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), was absent for this vote. And finally, two members who were absent in 2014 voted “no” this round, Reps. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) and Bradley Byrne (R-AL).
State marijuana action matters.
While support for letting banks service marijuana businesses isn’t necessarily indicative of support for legalization itself, it’s clear that the bill would benefit legal states, and Republican votes in favor of the legislation were significantly higher among those representing such states. Of GOP members representing states with either full adult-use or comprehensive medical cannabis programs, 41 opposed the SAFE Banking Act.
(The following analysis doesn’t include those states allowing CBD only.)
GOP members who voted “no” representing legal states:
- Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI)
- Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ)
- Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)
- Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL)
- Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO)
- Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA)
- Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)
- Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA)
- Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
- Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL)
- Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)
- Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT)
- Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ)
- Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA)
- Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO)
- Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD)
- Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)
- Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI)
- Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA)
- Rep. John Joyce (R-PA)
- Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL)
- Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA)
- Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
- Rep. Robert Latta (R-OH)
- Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ)
- Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK)
- Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI)
- Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK)
- Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)
- Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL)
- Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)
- Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL)
- Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
- Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO)
- Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT)
- Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH)
- Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO)
- Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI)
- Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL)
- Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH)
- Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR)
Though it’s not clear from this vote which members might be inclined to extend their support for modest marijuana banking reform to broader policy changes such as descheduling, those who voted “no” would in all likelihood not be supportive of comprehensive reform at this point.
It was easy to find the outlier among Democrats, as only one member defected and opposed the bill: Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), whose office did not respond to a request for comment about why the congresswoman voted against the legislation.
But there were also some notable votes in favor of the SAFE Banking Act that came from Republican leadership in the House.
The highest ranking Republican in the House, Minority Leader McCarthy, voted in favor of the bill, while the rest of the party’s leadership—Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Policy Committee Chair Gary Palmer (R-AL)—voted no. (McCarthy is the only one of the bunch representing a state with a legal cannabis market.)
Collins, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, which plays a key role in shaping federal drug laws, changed his vote to “yes” after having been opposed to the 2014 amendment.
Stivers, an original cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act who voted in favor of it on Wednesday, voted against the previous amendment with the narrower scope.
Barr of Kentucky flipped to a “yes” even after voting against the measure in the House Financial Services Committee earlier this year. It’s likely that a last-minute amendment clarifying that the banking protections also apply to hemp and CBD businesses was a factor in his decision.
Griffith, Perry and Roe each voted “yes” this round, possibly related to their more recent involvement in medical cannabis-related legislation.
Two Democrats who voted against the banking amendment in 2014 and who are now facing primary challenges from progressive opponents—Lipinski and Cuellar—opted to approve the SAFE Banking Act this time.
Finally, Wasserman Schultz, who has stood out among Democrats in her longstanding opposition to marijuana reform even as a former chair of the party, voted in favor of the bill on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s vote is the latest example of waning support for the status quo of prohibition in the most marijuana friendly Congress in history.
Though not a vote on ending federal prohibition, the banking legislation represented what many advocates regard as the first step toward legalization, and the result proved promising for the prospects of broader reform. It’s less clear how the bill will fare in the Republican-controlled Senate, which officially received the SAFE Banking Act from the House on Friday, but the largely bipartisan nature of the vote could help push it forward in the other chamber.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID), whose panel already held a hearing on the issue earlier this year, said he wants to have a vote on cannabis banking legislation by the end of the year—a notable evolution from his previous criticism of advancing such a reform while marijuana remains federally illegal.
“The fact that it got nearly 100 percent of Dems and pretty close to 50 percent of Republican demonstrates how mainstream cannabis reform has come,” Michael Liszewski, senior regulatory affairs counsel at 4Front Ventures, told Marijuana Moment. “Even [Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)] couldn’t vote against. The fact that so many Republicans supported it shows that it can be successful in the Senate.”
“I won’t pretend to assume that we have a proportionate level of support for SAFE in the Senate, but even with a reasonable drop off, we can get to 60,” he said. “And now we can encourage all of the Republicans who voted in favor of SAFE to urge the senators from their states to cosponsor SAFE.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Idaho Medical Marijuana Activists ‘Likely’ To Seek Signature Gathering Relief After Court Ruling
A campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Idaho is preparing to potentially collect signatures again, as they are likely to seek the same relief that a federal court recently granted a separate campaign that found its petitioning efforts crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
The judge said activists behind Reclaim Idaho, which is pushing an initiative on school funding, can start collecting signatures in-person and electronically for 48 days starting July 9. While the Idaho Cannabis Coalition wasn’t involved in that case, they feel the ruling will apply to them and they’re actively monitoring the situation.
“We are in the process of working with the local medical marijuana campaign to assess whether Judge Winmill’s order provides a route for the medical marijuana initiative to still qualify for the November ballot,” Tamar Todd, legal director for the New Approach PAC, which is lending support to the state cannabis effort, told Marijuana Moment.
“The medical marijuana campaign is similarly situated to the Reclaim Idaho campaign and will likely ask for a similar extension of time and permission to collect signatures electronically from the Secretary of State, and if necessary, from the District Court,” she said. “I don’t know the exact timeline as there are a number of moving pieces but it will be quick.”
On June 23, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill gave the state two options: either allow electronic signature gathering for 48 days or simply place the Reclaim Idaho initiative on the ballot regardless of the signature requirement. The state chose neither and proceeded to request that the ruling be stayed.
The judge denied the state’s request to stay the order, so the signature gathering for the school funding campaign can proceed on July 9. The state has since filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to challenge the lower court’s ruling.
“The district court order severely and unquestionably disrupts Idaho’s election,” the state deputy attorney general wrote in the motion.
The deadline to submit 55,057 signatures to qualify the cannabis initiative passed on May 1, shortly after the group announced it was suspending petitioning activities because of the health crisis and the stay-at-home social distancing measures the state enacted. The cannabis campaign said it has about 45,000 raw signatures on hand at this point, and they’re confident that can fill the gap if they get the deadline extension and electronic petitioning option.
Under the proposed measure, patients with qualifying conditions could receive medical cannabis recommendations from physicians and then possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
While advocates say passing medical marijuana in one of the remaining states without such policies on the books would be a victory for patients in its own right, it could also have outsized federal implications. A House-passed bill to protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators is currently sitting in limbo in a Senate committee chaired by a senator who represents the state.
Creating a medical marijuana program in Idaho, which is one of small handful of states that don’t yet even have limited CBD laws, could put additional pressure on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) to move the financial services legislation in Congress.
Summer Dreams Of Marijuana-Infused Slushies Are Melted By Oklahoma Regulators
Bad news for Oklahoma medical marijuana patients trying to beat the summer heat with a marijuana-infused slushy: State regulators say the icy beverages “are unlikely to meet requirements set forth in Oklahoma statutes and rules” for cannabis products.
As the weather heats up, THC-infused slushy machines have been popping up at more and more Oklahoma dispensaries. Made by companies such as Glazees, which offers flavors such as watermelon and blue raspberry, the THC-infused drinks sell for about $12-$15.
But despite their popularity with some patients, regulators say the slushies fail to comply with a number of state rules, such as a requirement that products be packaged in child-resistant containers. Dispensaries themselves also “are not allowed to alter, package, or label products,” regulators said.
State rules further require that all medical marijuana products be tested in their final form. “In this instance, the finished product is the slushy mixture to be dispensed to patients/caregivers, not the syrup,” regulators said. “If water, ice, or any other substance is added to the product, additional testing is required to ensure the product is safe for consumption and final-product labeling is accurate.”
The OMMA has received multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries. Learn more here: https://t.co/3b6XFzYe2f pic.twitter.com/MPq4Z3PWft
— Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (@OMMAOK) July 2, 2020
Regulators didn’t specify how adding water or ice to cannabis products could affect consumer safety, however.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) issued the update on Thursday in what it called a “slushy-machine guidance” memo. The office said it had received “multiple inquiries regarding the processing and dispensing of marijuana-infused slushies on-site at medical marijuana dispensaries.”
It’s not the first obstacle encountered by Oklahoma marijuana businesses, which began popping up across the state voters passed a medical marijuana law in 2018.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a wide-ranging medical cannabis expansion bill, which would have allowed out-of-state residents to obtain temporary licenses, permitted licensed businesses to deliver marijuana to customers and eliminated jail time for for first-time possession convictions. But Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) then vetoed the bill, and lawmakers didn’t hold a vote to override the action.
Oklahoma activists also filed a proposed marijuana legalization ballot measure in December, but it’s unlikely the campaign can gather enough signatures to put the measure before voters this November. Their signature-gathering was largely delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and only last week did the state Supreme Court rule that the campaign could initiate petitioning. Supporters now have about 90 days to gather nearly 178,000 signatures from registered voters.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Virginia Lawmakers Announce Plans To Legalize Marijuana, One Day After Decriminalization Takes Effect
Only a day after a new marijuana decriminalization law took effect in Virginia, top state lawmakers are announcing that they’re already looking ahead to full legalization.
A group of Democratic legislators on Thursday announced plans to introduce a bill to legalize and regulate a commercial cannabis market in the state. While the measure isn’t set to be filed until next year, lawmakers framed legalization as necessary in the fight for social and racial justice.
“Decriminalizing marijuana is an important step in mitigating racial disparities in the criminal justice system, but there is still much work to do,” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) said in a press release. “While marijuana arrests across the nation have decreased, arrests in Virginia have increased.”
Other lawmakers backing the broader legalization push include Sens. Adam Ebbin (D) and Jennifer McClellan (D), as well as Del. Steve Heretick (D).
On Wednesday, the state’s new marijuana decriminalization policy took effect. The law, approved by lawmakers earlier this year and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), removes criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Under the change, having up to an ounce of cannabis is now punishable by a $25 fine and no threat of jail time or a criminal record.
Prior Virginia law punished simple marijuana possession with up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a long-term criminal record.
“This bill will prevent low-level offenders from receiving jail time for simple possession while we move toward legalization with a framework that addresses both public safety and racial equity in an emerging market,” Herring said of the new law, which she sponsored in the House of Delegates and Ebbin led in the Senate.
The decriminalization measure also contains a provision to study future legalization. It requires a bevy of executive agencies, including “the Secretaries of Agriculture and Forestry, Finance, Health and Human Resources, and Public Safety and Homeland Security,” to convene an expert working group to study the matter. That panel’s report is due in November.
A separate legislative agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), is also studying the impacts of possible legalization as the result of yet another resolution approved by lawmakers this year.
Lawmakers said on Thursday that the JLARC report, which is due in December, would inform how they shape legalization legislation they expect to file in 2021.
“Elements of the JLARC study include review of best practices from states such as Illinois that have developed a legal framework, testing and labelling recommendations, and measures to reduce illicit sales,” according to a press release from Ebbin’s office. “The study will also examine how best to provide redress and economic opportunity for communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition, and recommend programs and policies to reinvest in affected communities.”
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus doesn’t want to wait for the results of the two reviews, however, and is pushing fellow lawmakers to take up cannabis legalization during a special session in August. In addition, the caucus has said its members intend to file bills to implement automatic expungement, ban no-knock warrants, require courts to publish racial date on people charged with low-level offenses and enact other sweeping criminal justice reforms.
Jenn Michelle Pedini, development director for the legalization advocacy group NORML and executive director of the group’s Virginia chapter, said the organization, which has worked with lawmakers on past reforms, looks forward to continuing to bring evidence-based cannabis policy to Virginia.
“For far too long, young people, poor people, and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization, and Virginia must take immediate steps to right these past wrongs and undo the damage that prohibition has waged upon hundreds of thousands of Virginians,” Pedini said. “It is time to legalize and regulate the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the Commonwealth.”
Ebbin said that despite the meaningful step of decriminalization, the state still has a long way to go.
“Today Virginia is taking an important first step in reducing the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The prohibition of marijuana has failed and the consequence of this failure has been felt overwhelmingly by Virginians of color, but it has not ended. It will only end when it is replaced by a regulated adult-use market that emphasizes equity—making whole those who have been burdened most by making sure they have a seat at the table and access to the marketplace. We are looking forward to doing the hard work needed to get this right.”
In the meantime, the Senate Democratic Caucus has announced it will pursue a bill during the special session next month to end law enforcement searches of people or vehicles based solely on the smell of marijuana, which critics say is a recipe for discriminatory enforcement. The group also noted that the chamber approved legislation during the regular legislative session that would have expunged certain marijuana charges and convictions, but that those bills didn’t make it to the governor’s desk.