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.
American Medical Association Asks Mississippi Voters To Reject Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative
A medical marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on Mississippi’s November ballot is being targeted by two medical associations that are pushing voters to reject the policy change.
With weeks left until the vote, the Mississippi State Medical Association (MSMA) and American Medical Association (AMA) are circulating a sample ballot that instructs voters on how to reject the activist-led measure. For supporters and opponents alike, the way the ballot is structured can be confusing—a product of the legislature approving an alternative that appears alongside Initiative 65.
“The purpose is to defeat Initiative 65. Initiative 65A will allow the legislature to enact changes to the law, which would not be possible with Initiative 65,” the opposition campaign document states. “MSMA is asking for you to join us in educating and encouraging our population to vote against Initiative 65.”
This marks the latest obstacle that reform advocates are facing as they work to inform the electorate about how to fill out the ballot to pass their proposal. Despite polls that show support for medical cannabis legalization at 81 percent in Mississippi, opponents aren’t acquiescing to public opinion.
MSMA President Mark Horne told WLBT-TV last week that the organization was asked to review the initiative and that “it was immediately clear that this is an effort focused on generating profits for an industry that has no ties to the medical or health care community in Mississippi.”
But according to Jamie Grantham, communications director for Mississippians for Compassionate Care (MCC), that talking point has only recently been aired and the campaign didn’t receive that feedback until MSMA mounted this opposition push. She told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the group’s steering committee is composed of several physicians who also had a hand in drafting the measure’s language—and that includes doctors who are part of MSMA.
“Ultimately, it boils down to patients being able to have access to this through their physician. They need to be able to have that conversation with them,” she said. “If certain physicians don’t see a benefit to that, that’s fine. But lots of other physicians do, and that’s evidenced undeniably in the 34 other states with medical marijuana programs where patients are receiving relief.”
AMA President Susan Bailey argued that “amending a state constitution to legalize an unproven drug is the wrong approach,” adding that there are concerns about youth exposure and impaired driving.
That said, a scientific journal published by AMA has printed research showing the advantages of broad marijuana legalization, however, with one recent study showing that people in states where recreational cannabis is legal were significantly less likely to experience vaping-related lung injuries than those in states where it is prohibited.
The organization has long maintained an opposition to legalization but has called for a review of marijuana’s restrictive federal Schedule I status.
Marijuana Moment reached out to AMA for comment, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.
If the Mississippi campaign’s measure passes, it would allow patients with debilitating medical issues to legally obtain marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal includes 22 qualifying conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, and patients would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana per 14-day period.
In June, lawmakers introduced yet another medical cannabis alternative resolution that would’ve posed an additional threat to the activist-driven reform initiative. But, to advocates’ relief, the legislation didn’t advance before lawmakers went home for the summer.
Nebraska Activists Unveil New Medical Marijuana Initiative For 2022 Following Supreme Court Defeat
Nebraska activists on Monday announced they are filing a new medical marijuana ballot initiative after an earlier version got shot down by the state Supreme Court this month.
The previous proposal had already collected enough signatures from voters and qualified for this November’s ballot, but a local sheriff filed a challenge, arguing that it violated the state’s single-subject rule that prohibits measures that deal with multiple issues. The secretary of state’s office rejected that claim, but the case went to court and a majority of justices ultimately ruled that the proposal would be removed from the ballot.
While advocates are disappointed that the state won’t have the opportunity to enact the policy change this year, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana didn’t waste any time putting together a new initiative that they feel will pass the single-subject test and appear on the 2022 ballot.
Language of the new proposal simply states: “Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes.”
Of course, that simplified text might satisfy the ballot policy, but it leaves an open questions about what—if any—regulated market would provide people with access to cannabis. It also doesn’t define eligibility, so that right to marijuana would appear to be unrestricted as long as person purports to use it for therapeutic reasons.
Those questions, if they remain unanswered by the campaign, could prove to be a sticking point for voters who would otherwise support regulated access to medical cannabis but might be uncomfortable with what could be a “free-for-all” situation that opponents have locked activists into with the single-subject challenge.
That said, the advocacy group says it plans to follow up the new simple constitutional amendment with “trailing statutory initiatives to set up a safe and secure medical cannabis system in Nebraska” if lawmakers fail to pass any medical marijuana legislation over the next year. That’s similar to how casino gaming supporters are pursuing their issue with companion constitutional and statutory ballot measures.
Under this year’s blocked initiative, physicians would have been able to recommend cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions, and those patients would then have been allowed to possess, purchase and “discreetly” cultivate marijuana for personal use.
Sens. Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D), cochairs of Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, have tried for years to pass medical cannabis bills in the legislature only to be blocked by opposition from leadership.
Now, between the Supreme Court defeat and legislative inaction, they’re charting a new path.
“Families with loved ones suffering from conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s, and cancer have fought for years to make medical cannabis safely accessible in our state as it is in 33 other states,” Wishart said in a press release. “This year over 190,000 Nebraskans successfully petitioned our government during a pandemic for that right, and despite receiving qualification from the Secretary of State, our initiative was removed from the ballot by a 5-2 vote from Nebraska’s Supreme Court. We will not give up and intend to bring this fight to the legislature in January with a bill that I will introduce and to the ballot in 2022.”
Morfeld added that the “new petition language indisputably presents a single subject and makes medical cannabis a constitutional right.”
“Then following with several statutory initiatives, we will establish a safe and regulated medical cannabis system,” he said. “Nebraskans have a constitutional right to petition their government, and we will not stop until they can exercise their right and have their voices heard on medical cannabis.”
— Senator Adam Morfeld (@Adam_Morfeld) September 28, 2020
While the timing isn’t ideal as far as advocates are concerned, given that presidential election years are typically targeted by cannabis reform supporters because of relatively larger turnout by supporters as compared to midterm cycles, 2022 is the next option they’re left with. That said, it’s possible that the continuing momentum for reform via the ballot could spur legislators to take up the issue in the meantime.
For what it’s worth, Nebraska’s attorney general said in an opinion last year that efforts to legalize medical marijuana in the state would be preempted by federal law and “would be, therefore, unconstitutional.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Top Illinois And Michigan Officials Give Marijuana Legalization Advice To Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor
The lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan recently gave their counterpart in Pennsylvania some advice on how to approach marijuana legalization in his state.
At a virtual forum on Thursday, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) put several questions to Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton (D) and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist (D), asking for tips on how to navigate the policy change as legislators in his state consider his push to enact a legal cannabis system.
“What I hope that Pennsylvania can learn from Michigan is that you can do it right. You do not have to piecemeal this together,” Gilchrist said.
— Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (@FettermanLt) September 23, 2020
“When you do it in the right way, it sets you up to create the systems and infrastructure to truly support people as this comes online, to create opportunities for those who have been oppressed and cut out of opportunity because they’ve been incarcerated or criminalized in the system to be able to participate in the potential prosperity that adult-use cannabis can create for communities in a full and robust and inclusive way,” he said.
Fetterman said that, from his perspective, Illinois is “the gold standard of legalizing recreational cannabis” because of how it intentionally approached restorative justice and social equity through reform legislation.
Because Pennsylvania doesn’t have a process through which citizens can put initiatives on the ballot, he said he was especially interested in how Illinois crafted an effective cannabis system legislatively.
“We had looked at other states and what was happening in other states, when we did our homework, we realized that really none of the other states had really kind of approached this legislation or their efforts—I think we were the first to do it by legislation—with an intentional lens of equity,” Stratton, who purchased cannabis gummies at a dispensary on the state’s first day of legal sales, said. “As all of us know, if you’re not intentional about equity, it just doesn’t happen because of the systems and the systemic racism that we’ve talked about. It does not happen that you just end up with equity.”
“We are working towards making sure that those individuals that were from many of the communities most harmed by the war on drugs could have real opportunity. We’re working towards that,” she said. “We are repairing the harm of what generations of bad policy—including, again, the war on drugs—has done to these communities that are disproportionately black and brown.”
Stratton also emphasized that, under her state’s marijuana model, 25 percent of cannabis tax revenue goes toward restorative justice grants for disadvantaged communities. She also noted that Illinois has been consistently “breaking records with sales,” even during the coronavirus pandemic. That said, there have been some snags in implementing an equitable model of cannabis business licensing in the state, with several lawsuits filed over the results of a recent application scoring round.
Gilchrist jumped in to offer Fetterman another tip as Pennsylvania navigates through legalization legislation.
“There’s another element that I want to discuss that that perhaps is something that you should think about in Pennsylvania, and that is that kind of—I won’t call it consensus building per se—but that kind of real and robust and muscular set of community conversations and involvement in the design of implementation is really important,” he said.
He said it’s important to ensure that there’s “accessibility” to enter the industry and remove barriers that keep people from participating.
“You don’t want people to be designed out of these opportunities,” he said. “And sometimes that can happen, both unintentionally and intentionally.”
Fetterman ended the event by reflecting on the increasing bipartisan support around legalization, and both of his guests agreed that their experiences demonstrated as much.
He and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) have been regularly talking about the policy change in recent weeks. At a marijuana reform rally earlier this month, for example, both officials discussed their support for legalization and the need to stand up Pennsylvania’s market as more surrounding states pursue legal cannabis models.
Also this month, Wolf took a shot at the GOP-controlled legislature for failing to get the job done. He also floated the idea of passing a bill that would allow the state itself to sell the cannabis to consumers.
While Wolf initially opposed adult-use legalization, he came out in support of the policy change last year after Fetterman led a statewide listening tour last year to solicit public input on the issue.
Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the reform, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.