A powerful congressional committee has released a report that urges federal agencies to reconsider policies that result in the firing of employees who use marijuana legally in accordance with state law.
The House Appropriations Committee approved the report and related spending legislation on Tuesday, which separately includes a provision to provide protections for banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses and notably excludes a longstanding rider that has blocked Washington, D.C. from legalizing marijuana sales.
The employment language isn’t a part of the appropriations bill itself, but the directive included in the attached report expressing the views of the committee voices support for a recent Office of Personnel Management (OPM) memo to federal agencies that says admitting to past marijuana use should not automatically disqualify people from being employed in the federal government.
“The Committee supports the updated guidance on agencies’ consideration of how an individual’s marijuana use may or may not adversely affect the integrity or efficiency of the government and impact an individual’s suitability or fitness for a position,” the report attached to the annual Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) spending bill states.
It also calls on the federal government to further reevaluate employment policies that punish workers for cannabis conduct that is legal in their states.
“The Committee encourages OPM and the Suitability Executive Agent to continue to review these policies and guidelines regarding hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in states where that individual’s private use of marijuana is not prohibited under the law of the State,” it continues. “These policies should reflect updated changes to the law on marijuana usage and clearly state the impact of marijuana usage on Federal employment.”
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While not an explicit endorsement of loosening employment restrictions based on cannabis use, advocates view the call for reevaluation of currently strict policies as an implicit suggestion that federal agencies should revise their approaches to be more lenient toward workers or applicants who admit to consuming marijuana in legal states.
They are also happy about the banking- and D.C.-related provisions included in the spending bill itself.
“The FSGG appropriations package represents an opportunity to advance policies that promote cannabis freedom, economic justice and legal jobs by requesting the federal government to review their hiring guidelines, enabling cannabis banking and lifting the punitive D.C. Rider,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said.
The new language is similar to provisions included in reports approved by the Appropriations Committee in recent years.
Despite OPM’s updated guidance, published in February, the Biden administration came under criticism this year after it was reported that it had fired or otherwise punished dozens of staffers who admitted to prior marijuana use. That came after the White House instituted a policy of granting waivers to some staff who’ve used cannabis.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki subsequently said that nobody in the White House was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.” However, she’s consistently declined to speak to the extent to which staff have been suspended or placed in a remote work program because they were honest about their history with marijuana on a federal form that’s part of the background check process.
In any case, it’s unclear what impact the Appropriations report will have on future policy. Separate standalone legislation has been previously introduced by Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) to provide protections for federal workers who consume cannabis in compliance with state law, but it never received a hearing or a vote and has not been refiled so far this Congress.
$330m for Community Development Financial Institutions = $60m MORE for women- and minority-owned small biz, 1st time homebuyers, and sustainable development. Plus fairness for cannabis biz + vets and other feds. Good day at @AppropsDems ! pic.twitter.com/WpTvWIXeqa
— Congressman Charlie Crist (@RepCharlieCrist) June 30, 2021
“We are very grateful for Rep. Crist’s longstanding leadership to ensure that the government will one day have rational cannabis laws in place that respect responsible choices by its citizens,” NORML’s Strekal said.
Advocates are encouraged by the inclusion of the recommendation in the new report, but they’re more invested in ensuring that the actual standalone spending bill passes, as it provides key banking protections and upholds the District of Columbia’s right to regulate marijuana commerce.
Last week, the FSGG Subcommittee approved that legislation, which covers funding for various federal agencies and the District of Columbia for fiscal year 2022. It has now been approved by the full Appropriations Committee and next heads to the House floor.
Notably, the move by congressional Democrats to let the D.C. set its own marijuana policies is in contrast with a budget released last month by President Joe Biden, which proposed continuing the longstanding Republican-led rider that has prevented the city from spending its own money to regulate adult-use cannabis commerce.
After the Biden budget was released, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) told Marijuana Moment that she was “very disappointed” over the decision, especially considering that fact that he’s voiced support for D.C. statehood.
The exclusion of the D.C. provision from the Fiscal Year 2022 FSGG appropriations bill could set the stage for conflict between lawmakers and the president. The Biden administration has already disappointed advocates by declining to take meaningful action on cannabis reform as promised on the campaign trail, and his inclusion of the D.C. rider was seen as an outright hostile act.
The District’s mayor said in April that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational cannabis sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.
The ongoing blockade is the result of an amendment that was first added by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) when Republicans controlled the House and has since been continued in annual appropriations legislation. The House on several occasions has since passed spending bills that do not include the cannabis ban, but it has been included in final enacted legislation because the Senate under GOP control insisted on reinserting it.
The banking-related provision is less far-reaching than more robust standalone bills the House has passed on four occasions, but would still provide some protections to banks that work with state-legal marijuana operators.
“I’m very glad to see that this bill includes language that would prohibit any of the appropriated funds from being used to penalize financial institutions or providing financial services to businesses that participate in the legal marijuana industry in their state or locality,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said at the committee markup.
But Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) said he is “concerned” about the cannabis banking provision. “There are serious public health issues that need to be addressed if we’re changing these regulations,” he said.
The current House FSGG bill’s banking language reads:
“SEC. 629. None of the funds made available in this Act 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 hemp, hemp-derived cannabidiol products, other hemp-derived cannabinoid products, marijuana, marijuana products, or marijuana proceeds, and engages in such activity pursuant to a law established by a State, political subdivision of a State, or Indian Tribe. In this section, the term ‘State’ means each of the several States, the District of Columbia, and any territory or possession of the United States.”
The language would provide limited protections as compared to the more comprehensive standalone legislation on the topic, since it would need to be renewed annually and only applies to the Treasury Department. It provides no restrictions on the Department of Justice, which is covered under a separate appropriations bill, for example.
President Joe Biden did notably include a separate long-standing rider in his budget proposal that would prevent the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere with the implementation of medical cannabis laws in states, however. President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama each called for ending the policy as part of their budget proposals, but Congress has consistently upheld it regardless.
In 2019 and last year, the House approved an even more expansive amendment that would have provided protections for all state and territory marijuana programs, rather than just medical cannabis systems. But the Senate did not follow suit and the provision was not included in final spending bill sent to Trump’s desk.
On several occasions when Trump signed large-scale annual spending legislation, he attached a statement that said he is empowered to ignore the congressionally approved medical cannabis rider, stating that the administration “will treat this provision consistent with the President’s constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Biden’s budget did not propose gutting the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) as Trump did. The former president called for a roughly 90 percent cut in the agency’s budget in his proposals, but Congress did not follow suit. Biden helped to establish the drug czar’s office during his time in the Senate.
Biden’s budget also includes $17 million in funding to support industrial hemp production.
The FSGG measure is one of twelve separate appropriations bills that Congress will take up this year. Advocates will be watching to see how lawmakers in both the House and Senate address cannabis issues in forthcoming spending measures in the coming weeks.
Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.
Congressman Files New Marijuana Banking Reform Amendment To Large-Scale House Bill
The House sponsor of a bill to protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses announced on Friday that he is seeking to attach an amendment containing the reform to a broader bill dealing with research and innovation in the tech and manufacturing sectors.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, has expressed interest in finding another vehicle to pursue his proposal after it was stripped from a separate defense bill late last year. The congressman’s legislation has cleared the House in five forms at this point, only to stall in the Senate.
His latest attempt to get the reform enacted is by filing an amendment with the SAFE Banking language to the America COMPETES Act, which does not deal specifically with cannabis issues as drafted but was introduced in the House this week.
“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter, who is retiring from Congress after this session and committed to passing his bill first, said in a press release.
I have filed #SAFEBanking as an amendment to #AmericaCOMPETES b/c cannabis-related businesses – big and small – are in desperate need of access to capital & the banking system in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner & compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace.
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) January 28, 2022
“The SAFE Banking Act is the best opportunity to enact some type of federal cannabis reform this year and will serve as the first of many steps to help ensure cannabis businesses are treated the same as any other legal, legitimate business,” he said. “I will continue to pursue every possible avenue to get SAFE Banking over the finish line and signed into law.”
It remains to be seen whether the America COMPETES Act will serve as a more effective vehicle for the cannabis banking bill than the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), where the language was successfully attached on the House side but later removed amid bicameral negotiations. Perlmutter said at the time that Senate leadership, which is working on comprehensive legalization legislation, was to blame for the decision to remove his amendment from the proposal.
The new SAFE Banking Act amendment will still need to be made in order by the House Rules Committee in order to be formally be considered on the House floor when the body takes up the research and innovation package. The deadline to file amendments was Friday, and the panel is set to take them up starting on Tuesday.
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.
In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.
Ohio Lawmakers Will Be Forced To Consider Marijuana Legalization As State Validates Activist Signatures
Ohio activists have collected enough signatures to force the legislature to take up the issue of marijuana legalization, the secretary of state’s office confirmed on Friday.
This comes about two weeks after the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure. The petitions’ formal validation triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.
The legislature now has four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.
CTRMLA previously submitted petitions for the initiative but the state said they were short some 13,000 signatures, requiring activists to go back and make up the difference.
“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren said in a press release. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”
The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.
Activists suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.
A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.
There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.
After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.
Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.
Top Federal Drug Official Says Marijuana Use ‘Stable’ Among Youth At Prohibitionist-Hosted Panel Sponsored By D.A.R.E.
A top federal drug official participated in a panel hosted by a prohibitionist group and sponsored by D.A.R.E.—and she again reiterated that data shows youth marijuana use has remained stable “despite the legalization in many states.”
While National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow expressed concerns about certain cannabis trends related to potency, commercialization and use by pregnant women, she affirmed that surveys funded by her own federal agency have demonstrated that adolescent marijuana use is “stable,” despite repeated arguments from prohibitionists that legalization would lead more young people to experiment with cannabis.
The event was hosted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), an anti-legalization group. SAM President Kevin Sabet and the organization’s co-founder former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) led the discussion.
“The higher the content of THC, the greater the likelihood that you will become addicted to the drug… The content of THC has gone up at least 4-fold.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
Sabet said that data on youth use has showed varying results in states that have legalized cannabis and asked Volkow to weigh in on the issue. She replied that federal data “have not been able to see large differences in terms of prevalence” of cannabis consumption among young people in legal and non-legal states.
The official made similar comments in an interview with Marijuana Moment late last year.
That said, Volkow said that they have seen some differences when it comes to consumption rates among adolescents for edible cannabis products.
“But the effects are not large, and one of the things that also certainly surprised me [is] the rate overall, the prevalence rates of marijuana use among teenagers, have been stable despite the legalization in many states,” she said, adding that there are some concerns about increased frequency of use and limitations in data collection with respect to dosages being taken.
Volkow also commented on a recent federally funded survey that found illicit drug use by young people has taken a significant plunge in the last year, though she largely attributed that to the reduced social interaction resulting from COVID-19 policies across the country.
“Interestingly what we’ve observed during the COVID pandemic is, across schools in the United States, the prevalence of drug use has gone down,” she said, “which likely very much reflects the fact that kids don’t have the opportunity to interact with others, and drug taking at that stage is a peer pressure behavior.”
The official also briefly addressed the fact that she feels criminalizing people over drugs in the first place is the wrong policy approach—a point she’s made repeatedly in interviews and blog posts.
She said that “criminalization has created a system for that allows a structural racism to be implemented, you can control people, and that’s a horrible policy. This criminalization actually opens up our eyes that well, yes, we need to change that.”
However, she said that “liberalizing and making the drugs widely available, with no counter messaging,” is not the alternative she would recommend.
“We need to provide them [addicts] with treatment, so just to say ok we are going to liberalize everything… and not support treatment for those people under those conditions, I actually think it is quite irresponsible.”
– Dr. Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of NIDA
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) January 28, 2022
While the SAM-hosted event did not touch specifically on psychedelics policy, Volkow has also recently discussed that issues, especially as data has shown an increase in use of the substances among adults.
She 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.
Volkow also mentioned that NIDA 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.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.