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For Tulsi Gabbard, Marijuana Sits At Nexus Of Good Policy And Smart Politics

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) says that ending the federal prohibition of marijuana is smart policy and, on Thursday, she is introducing legislation in Congress to do just that.

The 2020 presidential candidate also appears to know that endorsing cannabis legalization is smart politics.

“The fact that marijuana’s still a Schedule I drug is unacceptable in the harm that it is causing to the people of our country and to taxpayers as well,” Gabbard said in a phone interview this week.

Gabbard and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) are teaming up to file two new cannabis bills. One would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act—a process known as descheduling—so that states can set their own laws without interference.

“The impact this has on individuals, potentially leading to criminal records that impact them, their families, their ability to get a job, housing, financial aid for college—the impacts of this are great,” she said of the hundreds of thousands of arrests for cannabis offenses that take place every year in the U.S. “That’s not to speak of the impact on states, small businesses and banks in those states that have legalized some level of marijuana.”

The other new House proposal from the bipartisan duo would require the federal government to study the impact of state marijuana legalization policies.

“There are still a lot of myths and outdated information and stigma that are being used as excuses to not push forward these very impactful policy changes,” Gabbard said.

The legislation, under which several federal agencies would be tasked with compiling information on the economic, health, criminal justice and employment effects of state cannabis laws, would generate “one central study providing facts on what the impacts have already proven to be in states that have legalized marijuana at one level or another,” the congresswoman said.

Gabbard, who during her presidential campaign launch speech last month criticized a system that “puts people in prison for smoking marijuana while allowing corporations like Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for the opioid-related deaths of thousands of people, to walk away scot-free with their coffers full,” shared her thoughts on the likelihood that someone who doesn’t support legalization could with the Democratic nomination.

“I think it would be very difficult, but obviously this is something that voters will have to contend with and a question I’m sure they’ll be asking in states across the country of those who are seeking that office,” she said.

“Regardless of who it is, this is a major issue I’m putting at the forefront of my campaign and continuing the work that I’ve been doing in Congress to bring about this change,” Gabbard said. “It’s something I’ve continued to bring up in bigger cities as well as small towns in New Hampshire and Iowa and other states, and it’s an issue that is very exciting to voters who believe, as I do, that we’ve got to make this happen.”

She said that “freedom of choice” is a key reason she has focused so much on cannabis during her time on Capitol Hill.

“I don’t smoke marijuana. I never have,” she said. “But I believe firmly in every person’s freedom to make their own choices, and that people should not be thrown in jail and incarcerated or made into criminals for choosing to smoke marijuana whether it be for medicinal and non-medicinal purposes.”

In the interview, the congresswoman also addressed her views on the broader war on drugs, saying that many of the arguments reform advocates make about marijuana can be applied to other substances as well.

“I think that there’s no question that this overall war on drugs has not only been a failure, it has created and exacerbated a number of other problems that continue to afflict people in this country,” she said, adding a teaser that “this is something that I’m working on on my presidential campaign that we will be rolling out a detailed policy position statement on.”

When it comes to marijuana, Gabbard believes that Congress is well-positioned to advance far-reaching reform bills this year, at least through one chamber.

“We are hopeful that there will be a great opportunity to pass pieces of legislation in the House of Representatives given that we have the majority,” she said, referring to Democrats. “We will have some more work to do to get these bill through the Senate. But if members of Congress, and leaders in Washington listen to the voices of the vast majority of Americans in this country, they will hear the calls for action that go beyond partisanship. We are long past time to bring about this kind of change.”

And she believes her home state of Hawaii—where a bill to legalize marijuana was approved by a legislative committee last month—is on track to end cannabis prohibition sooner rather than later.

“Momentum is moving in the right direction,” she said, but added that she’s “disappointed” the bill wasn’t approved by a second committee in time to advance further in the process this year.

“I think that we’re only going to continue to see more progress being made,” she said.

Gabbard also referenced incremental cannabis reform moves in the state, such as a bill that lawmakers approved last year to add opioid addiction as a medical marijuana qualifying condition. The measure was ultimately vetoed by Gov. David Ige (D), which she said left her and other supporters “not only disappointed but pretty pissed off.”

That setback is another reason to push her new congressional bill requiring the federal government to compile information on the impact of cannabis policies, she argued.

“Even in a state like Hawaii, if you look back to the governor’s statements about why he vetoed that bill, there are still a lot of myths and outdated information and stigma that are being used as excuses to not push forward these very impactful policy changes,” the congresswoman said. “So that is one of the main reasons that is spurring my bill, to be able to provide this from the National Academy of Sciences as an undisputed collection of data and studies saying you can’t dispute this. You can’t just pick and choose anecdotes that you want to talk about”.

Gabbard and Young, her Republican cosponsor for the two new cannabis bills, are actively seeking support from other lawmakers for the proposals.

“The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019 is our opportunity to remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances list and to allow our states the freedom to regulate marijuana as they choose, without federal inference,” they wrote in a letter asking colleagues to cosponsor the descheduling legislation.

“The purpose of this legislation is to collect and synthesize relevant data and to generate a federally recognized, neutral report regarding the impact of statewide marijuana legalization schemes,” they wrote in a separate letter about the second bill, which is called the Marijuana Data Collection Act. “Such a report will assure that federal discussions and policies specific to this issue are based upon the best and most reliable evidence available at this time.”

Prior versions of both bills filed during the last Congress did not receive hearings or votes.

But Gabbard said now is the time for action.

“We can’t afford to kick this can down the road given the devastating negative impact it is having on the people of this country,” she said, referring to marijuana prohibition.

Meanwhile, several senators who are also seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination joined together last week to file far-reaching legislation that would deschedule marijuana. That bill also contains provisions aimed at expungements and investment in communities previously harmed by the war on drugs.

A national poll released on Wednesday found that 60 percent of voters support legalizing marijuana.

This piece was first published by Forbes.

Photo element courtesy of Lorie Shaull.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Seattle City Council Takes First Step Toward Decriminalizing Psychedelic Plants And Fungi

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A Seattle City Council committee considered a resolution on Friday that would decriminalize a wide range of activities around psychedelic drugs, including cultivation and sharing with others, by declaring those activities among the city’s lowest law enforcement priorities.

The council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee heard comments from the proposal’s supporters, including Councilmember Andrew Lewis and the advocacy group Decrim Nature Seattle. While the panel did not vote on the draft resolution, Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the committee, said the full City Council will likely take up the measure in coming weeks.

“Hopefully the city—as tends to be the case on many impactful progressive issues in the state of Washington—can lead the way on setting the table for an important conversation many communities around the country are having,” Lewis, who introduced the measure, said at the meeting.

As introduced, the proposed resolution expresses the City Council’s support for what it calls “full decriminalization” around psychedelics used “in religious, spiritual, healing, or personal growth practices.” It would apply to plants or fungi that contain substances “including, but not limited to” psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, igoba and mescaline, though it would not include the peyote cactus.

If adopted, the resolution would declare “that the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of anyone engaging in entheogen-related activities…should be among The City of Seattle’s lowest enforcement priorities” and request that the Seattle Police Department “move towards the formal codification and adoption of that practice as departmental policy.”

It would further express the council’s intent to analyze the city’s municipal “to determine what changes would be necessary to protect from arrest or prosecution individuals who cultivate entheogens.” Those changes would be made through a subsequent city ordinance.

It’s already city policy neither to detain nor arrest individuals caught with psychedelics, nor to confiscate those substances, the resolution says—the result of a state Supreme Court decision earlier this year. But other activity, including cultivation and distribution, remain punishable by arrest and incarceration.

Supporters say there are compelling reasons to expand decriminalization beyond simple possession: The resolution points to the disproportionate impact of the drug war on people of color and low-income communities, calling decriminalization “an effort to begin to correcting the irreparable harm.” It also acknowledges the emerging potential of psychedelics, in conjunction with therapy, to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), end-of-life anxiety, substance use-disorder and others.

The resolution was inspired in part by the City Council’s interest in reducing opioid-related deaths. In June, Lewis Herbold formally asked a task force to examine “public policy governing psychedelic medicines” as a way to combat the overdose epidemic. Late last month, the task force came back with recommendations that the city decriminalize psychedelics and consider removing criminal penalties around all drugs.

At the same time, the advocacy group Decrim Nature Seattle (DNS) has been lobbying the council to make the policy change around plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics. The group began its work two years ago, and in May it submitted a draft ordinance to Lewis’s office at the councilmember’s request. Members have also appeared regularly at council meetings to urge the policy change.

Lewis told Marijuana Moment this month that it’s his “personal goal” to introduce an ordinance to decriminalize psychedelics by the end of this year. “And frankly, if there’s sort of a consensus and there’s lightning in a bottle, I don’t think it’s inconceivable that an ordinance could be passed this year,” he said. “I think it’s actually pretty reasonable.”

In an email to Marijuana Moment ahead of Friday’s committee meeting, Tatiana Luz Quintana, DNS’s co-director and co-chair of education and outreach, said the group expects the resolution “will prepare the council to spend time creating a work plan to address full decriminalization, meaning possession, cultivation, social sharing (non-monetary exchange) and community-based healing and ceremony.”

“The implications of this policy change would be long lasting,” Quintana said. “Within Seattle, after these reforms, many people who operate in the underground will be more free to advertise their services. Decriminalization will also promote a consciousness shift in the public, increasing exposure to conversations around psychedelics, helping to break the ice and break down stigmas, and create an environment ripe for integrating these substances into our culture.”

DNS said the change will allow Seattle to establish best practices, including around education and community-based healing. Advocates also presented to the City Council committee a sign-on letter in support of decriminalization signed by more than 40 area healthcare professionals.

The policy change would not apply to peyote, which is excluded from its definition of entheogens due to the cactus’s special cultural significance to certain Native American peoples and the ongoing effort to protect the plant. Peyote matures slowly and is currently categorized by conservationists as “vulnerable” after an uptick in illicit harvesting. The cactus, native to Mexico and parts of the American Southwest, has no federal protection in the U.S., while in Mexico it can be harvested legally only by Indigenous groups.

Both the city resolution and the opioid task force recommendations also call for psychedelics reform at the state level. The resolution says the city’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations add to its agenda for the 2022 legislative session “support for full decriminalization of entheogens at the state level, including the drafting of legislation that could be sponsored by a state legislative representative.”

Like much of the rest of the country, Washington State is contemplating major changes in how it treats drug use. Earlier this year, lawmakers considered legislation that would have removed all penalties for possession of relatively small, “personal use” amounts of drugs and instead invested in treatment and recovery services. While that bill died in committee, lawmakers from both parties acknowledged at the time that the state’s drug control apparatus was broken.

Shortly thereafter, the state Supreme Court overturned Washington’s felony law against drug possession completely, sending lawmakers scrambling to replace the law. Ultimately they approved a modest reform, reducing the state’s felony charge for drug possession to a misdemeanor and earmarking more money for treatment.

Earlier this month, advocates announced a push to put a measure on Washington’s 2022 ballot that would decriminalize all drugs and invest state money in treatment and recovery.

Jurisdictions across the country are increasingly removing or reducing penalties around drug possession and consumption, especially when it comes to psychedelics. Since Denver in 2019 became the first U.S. city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms, a number of states and municipalities have made similar changes to dismantle the drug war.

Oregon voters passed a pair of initiatives last November to legalize psilocybin therapy and decriminalize possession of all drugs. On the local level, activists in Portland are mounting a push to have local lawmakers pass a resolution decriminalizing the cultivation, gifting and ceremonial use of a wide range of psychedelics.

Washington, D.C. voters also approved a ballot measure last year to deprioritize enforcement of laws criminalizing psychedelics.

In California last week, activists were cleared to begin collecting signatures for a historic initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state. Oakland and Santa Cruz have already enacted psychedelics decriminalization.

Detroit currently stands to become one of the next major cities to decriminalize psychedelics, with the reform proposal making the local ballot for this November.

Elsewhere in Michigan, the Ann Arbor City Council has already elected to make enforcement of laws prohibition psychedelics like psilocybin, ayahuasca and DMT among the city’s lowest priorities—and lawmakers recently followed up by declaring September Entheogenic Plants and Fungi Awareness Month. Advocates have also introduced a reform resolution to the Grand Rapids City Council.

Massachusetts cities that have enacted the policy change include Northampton, Somerville and Cambridge. In July, state lawmakers heard testimony about a bill to create a task force charged with studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

The governor of Connecticut recently signed legislation recently that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

Texas also recently enacted a bill to require the state study the medical benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.

A New York lawmaker introduced a bill in June that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.

The Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill this year, but it later died in the Senate.

In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.

Meanwhile, Denver activists who successfully led the 2019 campaign to make the city the first in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin possession have set their eyes on broader reform, with plans in the works to end the criminalization of noncommercial gifting and communal use of the psychedelic.

In a setback for advocates, the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted against a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that would have removed a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine. However, it picked up considerably more votes this round than when the congresswoman first introduced it in 2019.

Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged NIDA to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.

There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense spending bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee this week.

Report provisions of separate, House-passed spending legislation also touch on the need to expand cannabis and psychedelics research. The panel urged NIDA to support expanded marijuana studies, for example. It further says that federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions.

NIDA also recently announced it’s funding a study into whether psilocybin can help people quit smoking cigarettes.

There was an attempt by a Republican congressman to attach language into a defense spending bill that would promote research into psychedelics therapy for active duty military members, but it was not made in order in the House Rules Committee this week.

In May, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.

Read the full Seattle psychedelics decriminalization resolution below:

Click to access seattle-pychedelics-decriminalization-resolution.pdf

House Committee Will Vote On Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Week, Days After Banking Reform Advances

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mädi.

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House Committee Will Vote On Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Next Week, Days After Banking Reform Advances

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A bill to federally legalize marijuana will be voted on by the House Judiciary Committee next week, the panel announced on Friday.

The development comes one day after the House voted in favor of a defense spending bill that includes an amendment that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act will receive a markup on Wednesday. The panel will consider a dozen pieces of legislation during the meeting, according to a press release. That includes his bill to “decriminalize marijuana federally and invest in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs,” Nadler said.

“Many of these bills were reported out of the committee and passed by the full House of Representatives last Congress, and I look forward to working with all my colleagues once again to get these bills through Congress and on to the president’s desk,” the chairman said.

Nadler’s cannabis legislation passed the House last year but did not advance in the Senate under GOP control. This time around, advocates are optimistic that something like the chairman’s bill could be enacted now that Democrats run both chambers and the White House, and as more states are moving to enact legalization.

The legislation would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), allow people with cannabis convictions to have their records expunged and create a federal tax on marijuana with the revenue going to support community reinvestment and other programs.

It also contains language to create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for cannabis offenses, protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over marijuana and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.

“We are excited to see Chairman Nadler and House leadership move forward once again with passing the MORE Act,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, said. “Public support and state-policy demand for repealing federal marijuana criminalization has never been higher and Congressional action on this legislation is long overdue. The days of federal marijuana prohibition are numbered.”

There’s been some contention between advocates and stakeholders on which reform should come first: the bipartisan banking legislation that’s cleared the House in some form five times now or the comprehensive legalization bill that passed the chamber for the first time late last year.

Legalization advocates do want to see legislation from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) become enacted, as there are public safety problems caused by all-cash businesses and it would take an important step toward normalizing the growing industry. But social equity-minded activists argue that advancing the incremental reform first would mainly benefit large marijuana businesses without addressing the harms of cannabis criminalization.

The fate of the banking proposal will likely be decided in conference with the Senate, which has not included the policy change in its National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and where key lawmakers have insisted that they will push for broader reform before allowing the incremental change to be enacted.

Separately, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (R-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are also leading the charge on a legalization bill in their chamber. But weeks after a public comment period on a draft version of the proposal closed, finalized text has yet to be formally filed—and it’s far from certain that Schumer will be able to find enough votes to advance the comprehensive reform through his chamber.

It should be noted that President Joe Biden remains firmly opposed to adult-use marijuana legalization. While he supports more modest reforms such as decriminalizing cannabis, expunging prior records and letting states set their own marijuana policies, there’s an open question about whether he would be moved to sign a broad bill like the MORE Act or the Senate legalization legislation should such a proposal reach his desk.

With respect to the MORE Act, the latest version does not include language that was added just before last year’s House floor vote that would have prevented people with previous cannabis convictions from obtaining federal permits to operate marijuana businesses. That was a contentious provision that appeared at the last minute and which advocates strongly opposed.

And whereas the the prior version of the legislation contained language to help economically disadvantaged people enter the legal marijuana market, that language was revised to extend Small Business Administration (SBA) aid—such as loans, financial literacy programs and job training—to help people who have been harmed by the war on drugs pursue business opportunities in any industry, not just cannabis.

Advocates are encouraged by the new revisions to the bill, but there are still additional components they hope to see changed as it goes through the legislative process. For example, they also took issue with provisions added to the MORE Act prior to last year’s vote that would have stipulated that cannabis can still be included in drug testing programs for federal workers.

The current version of the MORE Act has 66 cosponsors, including seven lawmakers that signed on this week. All are Democrats.

Separately, a proposal to federally deschedule marijuana that does not include social equity components was filed by a pair of Republican congressmen in May.

Feds Fund Study Into Whether Psilocybin Can Help People Quit Smoking Cigarettes

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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More Banks Say They’re Working With Marijuana Businesses, Federal Report Shows As Lawmakers Advance Reform

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The number of banks and credit unions reporting that they work with marijuana businesses ticked up last quarter, according to new federal data.

As of June 30, there were 706 financial institutions that had filed requisite reports saying they were actively serving cannabis clients. Thats up from 689 in the previous quarter but still down from a peak of 747 in late 2019.

Via FinCEN.

The new figures released by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) come amid a congressional push to protect banks and credit unions that work with the cannabis industry from being penalized by federal regulators.

While there’s 2014 FinCEN guidance in place meant to help financial institutions navigate the space, lawmakers want to enact clear, statutory protections. And that would be accomplished through House-passed standalone legislation, or an amendment that was attached to a defense spending bill this week.

Until then, there’s still reluctance within the banking sector when it comes to servicing businesses that work with a Schedule I controlled substance, and that’s reflected in the relatively low number of depository institutions that actually follow the guidance and take on cannabis clients.

Last year saw a significant and consistent drop in the number of banks and credit unions that reported having marijuana accounts, but those figures began to stabilize this year.

“Short-term declines in the number of depository institutions actively providing banking services to marijuana-related businesses (MRBs) may be explained by filers exceeding the 90 day follow-on Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) filing timeframe,” FinCEN, which is part of the Treasury Department, said. “Several filers take 180 days or more to file a continuing activity report. After 90 days, a depository institution is no longer counted as providing banking services until a new guidance-related SAR is received.”

Past reports from the agency had noted that it stopped including hemp-only businesses in its quarterly reports since the crop was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, which could account for at least some of the drop depicted in earlier data, but that language does not appear in this latest report.

Also, FinCEN didn’t mention the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on marijuana banking trends this time.

As of the end of last quarter, there were 518 banks and 188 credit unions reporting active marijuana clients, according to the federal agency.

Via FinCEN.

When it comes to the prospects of enacting cannabis banking reform, stakeholders are encouraged by the inclusion of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and hope that will be the vehicle to finally provide safeguards to the financial sector.

But while the issue is bipartisan, the proposal will face challenges in the Senate, where key leaders have insisted that comprehensive legalization should advance first before lawmakers enact a policy change that’s viewed as principally favorable to the industry.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), for example, has said that he “will lay myself down” to block any other senators who seek to pass marijuana banking legislation before the body approves comprehensive cannabis reform like the federal legalization bill he unveiled alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR).


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 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.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, spoke with Marijuana Moment about the process moving forward in a phone interview on Wednesday. He said he is optimistic about the measure’s prospects with NDAA as the vehicle, though he conceded that he hadn’t spoken with Schumer or other key senators who are actively finalizing the legalization legislation.

“I think the fifth time is the charm,” he said. “I mean, obviously, we still have to do some work to make sure that it remains part of the NDAA as the House and the Senate go to conference. So we still have work to do with the Senate to make sure that it remains part of it. But I think that it will.”

“I mean, the fact that it deals with cartels and national security, on top of the need for the public safety piece of this thing, I think that we’ll be able to convince the conference committee and the conferees generally to keep it in,” he said. “But we still have work to do.”

Most Kansas City Government Workers Will No Longer Face Pre-Employment Marijuana Tests Following City Council Vote

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