Republicans might have held on to a majority in the House in last month’s midterm elections if they’d passed a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition, according to one GOP member of Congress.
In a phone interview with Marijuana Moment this week, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) said failing to vote on cannabis reform “was a huge missed opportunity for Republicans” and that states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation would’ve passed in the 115th Congress if GOP leaders hadn’t been so adamant about blocking such legislation from even being considered.
He also talked about hemp legalization and legislation he plans to introduce in the next Congress that would allow cannabis consumers to legally purchase firearms, something that is currently prohibited under federal law—even for medical marijuana patients in legalized states.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Marijuana Moment: Let’s start with your proposed legislation. For someone who isn’t familiar with the application process to buy a firearm, what’s the concern about the question asking applicants whether they use marijuana?
Thomas Massie: Contrary to some notions out there, almost everybody goes through a background check, and everybody who buys a firearm from a licensed [Federal Firearms License holder] has to fill out a form 4473. Well, the 4473 has a series of questions on it—it’s a series of questions where you basically self-report as to your eligibility to own a firearm. Form 4473 question 11e says “are you an unlawful user of or addicted to marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance?” Now, they added recently something else to this question, in bold. It says, “warning: the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medical or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”
What they’re doing there is trying to remove any ambiguity as to whether you think you can legally purchase a firearm if you use marijuana. Basically, they’re saying, for their purposes, any user of marijuana is an unlawful user of marijuana. And so if you use marijuana and you lie on this form, you’ve committed a crime. You’re lying to the federal government. And then if you complete the purchase—if your background check goes through and you buy a gun—you’ve committed another crime because you’re among the category of ineligible people.
MM: And you think we should do away with that question. Why?
TM: I think we’ve created millions of felons with this question. You can’t imagine that everybody in Colorado, who under Colorado state law is legally using marijuana, has never purchased a firearm. That would be completely illogical. Or vice versa. And by the way, whether you purchased it or whether it was a birthday gift, it doesn’t matter. Whether you fill out a form 4473 or not, it doesn’t matter. You’re still committing a crime by possessing a firearm or ammunition in your house if you use marijuana.
[The legislation] will take the question off the form, but my bill goes deeper than that. It makes it legal for marijuana users to also be gun owners, is what my bill does. So the question is, when people hear about the bill, “well, if you just take it off the form aren’t they still going to be criminals because you haven’t changed the underlying statute, which prevents a marijuana users from owning a gun?” But what my bill would do is fix the underlying statute. And I want to remind people that this is a problem for not just recreational users of marijuana, but medical marijuana recipients, according to the federal government, are felons if they possess a firearm. This is something that needs to be fixed.
MM: What turned you on to this issue?
TM: I’m always looking for issues that might be trans-partisan. In other words, I joke that I don’t identify with either party some days, so that makes me trans-partisan. Not always bipartisan but trans-partisan. I don’t love both parties, I just can’t identify with either. So this to me, I thought this is an interesting issue. Would Democrats be willing to join me in this effort?
MM: Have you found a Democratic co-sponsor for the bill since you tweeted about it in October?
I’ve drafted, but haven’t yet introduced, a bill to remove the marijuana question from ATF form 4473 — the question that requires anyone who uses marijuana (crime) to lie (crime) in order to purchase a gun (crime) from a gun dealer. Any Democrats who would support such a bill? https://t.co/5cAmsTPLoX
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) October 20, 2018
TM: I haven’t aggressively sought one, but when I sent the balloon up in October, I didn’t get any Democrat offices saying they want to jump on this bill. By the way, it might also be hard for some Republicans to get on this bill. I’m not convinced Jeff Sessions would be a fan of this bill.
MM: Any lawmakers you think might be inclined to join you?
TM: You know, we’re so close to the end of Congress that I have decided not to introduce it this Congress, but I will be looking for a co-sponsor next Congress, and I wouldn’t want to drop any names.
MM: The National Rifle Association (NRA) hasn’t weighed in on this particular issue. What do you make of that?
TM: I don’t know. The NRA gave me a ‘B’ not an ‘A’ because I got sideways with them when they supported a bill that I didn’t think followed due process, and so I came out against the bill called Fix NICS Act and they did robocalls against me in my district. The NRA has actually spent more money against me than they have for me. They sponsored my first opponent and then recently they ran robocalls against me. They’re not my gold standard for civil liberties, so I’m not really concerned with what they think.
MM: Shifting gears a bit, do you feel that outgoing Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who consistently blocked votes on cannabis reform legislation as House Rules chair, has been on the wrong side of history?
TM: He’s the chairman of a committee that’s called the Speaker’s committee. The Rules committee is called the Speaker’s committee. He is not chairman there, he doesn’t get a chance to exercise—frankly, he can exercise his opinion, but when it comes to actual votes or activity in the committee, he has to do what the Speaker of the House wants him to do. So I wouldn’t say he’s on the right side or the wrong side, I would say he’s on the speaker’s side, and the speaker is on the wrong side.
MM: Are you hopeful that marijuana reform will be accomplished in the next Congress?
TM: I think it was a huge missed opportunity for Republicans. I think if we had passed a bill that left this issue up to the states, I think we might still be in the majority. There are, believe it or not, there are one-issue voters out there and this is their issue for some of those voters. For some of them, it’s a secondary or tertiary issue. But it still affects which party they decide to vote for. I’ve polled constituents in my district—it’s a very conservative district—and whether or not they’re for outright legalization of marijuana, 75 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Democrats in my congressional district are in favor of leaving it up to the states. That’s the legislation we should’ve put on the floor. Frankly, it would’ve passed if it had gone on the floor, and we might still be in the majority. I think there could be movement in the next Congress on this issue.
MM: Can I get your reaction to the Senate passage of the Farm Bill as it concerns Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s provision to legalize hemp?
TM: Well, let’s go back to Pete Sessions then. There were three hemp amendments in the House offered for the Farm Bill from three Kentucky legislators. All of them were disallowed because a message had been sent from the Senate that this was not going to be happening in the House—that somebody wanted to make it happen in the Senate and we weren’t allowed to do it in the House. Now of course it’ll be in the conference committee, but… You probably don’t have time to put all that backstory in and I’m probably better off not telling you it, but anyways, I support the hemp provisions in the Farm Bill 100 percent.
MM: How are you planning to vote when it comes to House floor?
TM: I’ll be a “no.”
MM: Presumably not because of anything hemp-related.
TM: No, no. I support the hemp provision 100 percent.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
California Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Is A ‘Civil Rights’ Matter Amid Mass Protests Over Racial Injustice
The governor of California discussed systemic racism and injustice that is inspiring mass protests across the country in a Friday speech, and he touted the state’s legalization of marijuana as an example of how it has addressed racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a press conference that he’s “very proud of this state” for going beyond issues such as implicit bias in policing and the “deadly use of force.” California’s leadership helped advance “a conversation about broader criminal justice reform to address the issues of the war on drugs” and “race-based sentencing,” he said.
“That’s why the state was one of the early adopters of a new approach as it relates to cannabis reform. Legalization around adult-use of marijuana,” he said. “It was a civil rights call from our perspective.”
“I was proud to be out in front in those efforts,” he added. “It was about addressing the disparities. It was about addressing incarceration. It was about addressing the ills of this war on drugs.”
Newsom also discussed the racially discriminatory sentencing of crack versus powder cocaine and other mandatory minimum sentencing policies. While the federal disparity was reduced over time since Congress passed the sentencing provision—a policy presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden helped enacted during his time in the Senate and later sought to undo—California eliminated the distinction in terms of state sentencing in 2014.
Even so, the governor recognized that the reforms the state has enacted to date are “not enough” and more work needs to be done. He’s also not alone in drawing a connection between drug policy reform and racial justice.
Earlier this week, the governor of Virginia said that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also recently said racial disparities in marijuana criminalization is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.
Last week, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs. It now has 160 cosponsors.
The measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.
In New York, there’s a renewed push to pass a package of criminal justice reform legislation that includes a bill to legalize marijuana. Sen. Julia Salazar (D) told Marijuana Moment that “in this particular moment, I think what’s the important factor here is that [criminalization] disproportionately impacts black and brown New Yorkers.”
“Because of the criminalization of the use of marijuana, more black and brown New Yorkers have interactions with police than they need to,” she said. “More people end up in the criminal justice system in the first place than is necessary at all.”
Image element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
American Bar Association Says Firms Working ‘Indirectly’ With Marijuana Industry Should Get COVID Relief
The American Bar Association (ABA) sent a letter to the heads of the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) on Friday, urging them to end a current policy preventing law firms that service state-legal marijuana businesses from receiving federal coronavirus relief.
SBA has made clear that cannabis companies are ineligible for its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans—but its policy also bars those that work with marijuana businesses indirectly from getting the aid. ABA, which has nearly 200,000 dues-paying members, said it wants clarification or a formal policy change to make it so indirect businesses are not impacted.
“The ABA supports amending federal law to ensure that lawyers do not face the threat of criminal charges when they represent clients in states that have legalized marijuana,” the organization said. “Even before those changes are made to federal law, lawyers should also not be penalized for providing legal services to cannabis-related businesses that comply with state laws.”
ABA also argued that the policy is excessively broad in that it stipulates that companies that derive any revenue from servicing a cannabis business cannot receive relief during the pandemic. “Thus, a law firm where a single lawyer provided advice to a single marijuana business client on legal issues for a nominal fee would arguably be ineligible under this language for the SBA PPP loan program,” the organization wrote.
ABA’s letter further notes that 78 percent of firms are located in states where marijuana is legal in some form.
“We urge SBA to provide further guidance that it will not treat otherwise eligible businesses, including law firms, as disqualified from the PPP program based solely on having provided legal, financial/accounting, policy, or regulatory advice to a Direct Marijuana Business,” Judy Perry Martinez, ABA’s president, wrote.
Steve Fox, strategic advisor at the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that it’s “wonderful to see an organization with the reputation and stature of the ABA engage on this issue.”
“As they note, the SBA guidance is overly broad and unjustly punishes companies and firms all across the country. In fact, in some states, the cannabis industry is so ingrained in the economy, you have many hundreds of companies providing goods or services to cannabis businesses,” he said. “According to the plain language of the SBA guidance, they are all, with very minor exceptions, ineligible for PPP loans.”
“We stand with the ABA in urging the Treasury and Small Business Administration to issue further guidance, clarifying that ‘indirect marijuana businesses’ are eligible for PPP loans. If they fail to do so, Congress should remedy this situation at the earliest possible opportunity,” he added.
In February, ABA’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill last month that would fix the COVID-19 relief access problem, calling for SBA eligibility for cannabis businesses and ancillary companies. That came after he led a letter with 34 bipartisan members of the House urging leadership to include the policy change in future coronavirus-related bills.
Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) made a similar request to Senate leaders in a separate letter.
Separately, the ABA-supported Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was included in a House-passed COVID-19 relief package last month.
A bipartisan coalition of 34 state and territory attorneys general asked Congress to pass the bill with that language, which would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said this week that marijuana business banking represents one of the most “challenging issues that I have encountered” at the agency.
Read ABA’s letter to the Treasury and SBA below:
Bermuda Government Releases Marijuana Legalization Bill For Public Feedback
The government of Bermuda released a draft bill on Wednesday to establish a legal marijuana market in the self-governing British overseas territory.
“Surprising for some, public attitudes have evolved apace with global legislative reforms and in recognition that opening up pathways for new economic opportunities and activity is needed,” Attorney General Kathy Simmons said in a video on the proposal.
Under the proposed legislation, adults 21 and older would be able to possess and purchase up to seven grams of cannabis from licensed retailers.
A regulatory body called the Cannabis Advisory Authority would be responsible for issuing licenses and regulating the market. There would be seven types of licenses available: cultivation, retail, research, import, export, transportation and manufacturing.
Individuals with prior marijuana convictions would not be barred from participating in the industry.
Fees for the licenses would be set in a way designed to both stimulate the territory’s economy while also ensuring that they are not prohibitively expensive for “underserved and marginalized communities,” a summary of the bill states.
People with convictions for possessing seven grams or less would be eligible for expungement.
The Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Senator the Hon. Kathy Lynn Simmons, JP has announced new regulations by the Government of #Bermuda to reform Cannabis laws.
— Bermuda Government (@BdaGovernment) June 4, 2020
Last year, Bermudan lawmakers unveiled draft legislation to create a medical cannabis program. Public feedback signaled that people felt the bill imposed excessive regulations and that the territory should more broadly legalize marijuana altogether for adult use.
Now that this new draft legislation has been released, the government is again asking for public input up until July 3. On its site, individuals are prompted with seven specific questions that feedback is being sought on. That includes queries about licensing requirements and penalties.
Premier David Burt, who pledged last year to introduce marijuana legalization legislation, also encouraged individuals to weigh in on the proposed regulations.
We want to hear from you! Share your thoughts by July 3rd.https://t.co/kkGtsuQ1ES
— Premier David Burt (@BermudaPremier) June 5, 2020
“The Government has made a commitment to progressively liberalize cannabis laws in Bermuda and to create economic opportunities for citizens wishing to participate in a regulated cannabis scheme,” the site states. “The Government again wishes to ‘take it to the people’ by commencing a one month public consultation exercise on the proposed scheme.”
The attorney general said in her video that the government plans to “move ahead with a more simplified, regulated cannabis scheme, which builds on the strength of the original medicinal cannabis policy and which embraces the public feedback.”
“The revised proposal with provide for a regulated cannabis program which has been hybridized to meet Bermuda’s requirements while modeling the best available legal provisions in Canada, both provincial and federal, and to a lesser degree, examples from the Caribbean,” she said.
Several Caribbean nations have started exploring marijuana reform in recent years. Importantly, in 2018, the heads of 19 Caribbean nations agreed to “review marijuana’s current status with a view to reclassification,” emphasizing “human and religious rights” issues stemming from criminalization as well as “the economic benefits to be derived” from legalization.
Since then, lawmakers in the dual-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis said they would be introducing legalization legislation. The government of Trinidad and Tobago brought two cannabis reform bills before Parliament last year—one to decriminalize low-level possession and another to legalize cannabis for medical and religious purposes.
Meanwhile, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands has been stressing the need to legalize marijuana in order to generate tax revenue for the U.S. territory’s fiscal recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Jamaican government also recently announced that it will be allowing medical cannabis patients to make marijuana purchases online for pickup at “herb houses” as a means to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
Read the draft bill to legalize marijuana in Bermuda below: