As the U.S. House of Representatives enters its third week without a speaker, more GOP lawmakers with varying records on marijuana policy are making their bids for the nomination—including a member who has been arrested for cannabis and another who co-chairs a congressional psychedelics caucus.
Most of the candidates in the leadership race have voted in favor of cannabis banking reform, even if they’ve been unsupportive of broader legalization.
After Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was ousted as speaker in a historic motion to vacate earlier this month—and the former conference nominees for the position, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), bowed out after failing to win a majority of votes on the House floor—the current cast of candidates includes nine Republican members who hope to receive their party’s nod before a potential floor vote this week.
Here’s a breakdown of key marijuana votes for each of the candidates running for speaker:
Y = yes vote; N = no vote; NV = not voting; X = not in Congress at time of vote
Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI)
Bergman has been a GOP leader on certain drug policy issues—serving as co-chair of the Congressional Psychedelics Advancing Clinical Treatments (PACT) Caucus alongside Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) and sponsoring kratom regulations legislation, for example—but he’s only more recently come to support modest cannabis reform measures like banking and has historically opposed legislation touching on the issue.
The congressman voted against the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in 2019, but he gave it his stamp of approval when it came back up in 2021. And he’s currently a cosponsor of the House version of the bill this session, as well as legislation to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to carry out studies into the therapeutic potential of marijuana for military veterans. However, he voted against measures to federally legalize cannabis in 2020 and 2022.
Having entered Congress in 2017, he didn’t have an opportunity to vote on multiple marijuana-related amendments on topics such as protecting state medical cannabis programs from federal intervention—but he did vote against spending bill amendments to extend those protections to all legal states in 2019 and 2020. Bergman also opposed a measure to prevent security clearance denials over past marijuana use alone last year. However, he did vote in favor of a bill to ease barriers to cannabis research that year.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL)
The congressman entered office in 2021, so he also has a more limited record on drug policy issues. However, he’s voted in favor of marijuana banking legislation, as well as a bill to reduce restrictions on carrying out cannabis research.
Donalds is also a cosponsor of a bill to protect gun rights for medical cannabis patients this session, and he’s twice cosponsored legislation to automatically seal criminal records for people convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses. The congressman himself was arrested on cannabis distribution charges in 1997, but the charges were dropped in 2000 as part of a pre-trial diversion program.
Despite having experienced a cannabis arrest himself, Donalds voted against an amendment to prevent people from being denied security clearances over prior marijuana use—even though he’s able to receive classified briefings as a member of Congress regardless of his own history with cannabis. The congressman also voted against a bill to legalize marijuana in 2022.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN)
While Emmer voted against the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to enact federal legalization, he’s said that he thinks cannabis laws should be left up to the states and he’s supported modest reform legislation, including industry banking protections.
“I don’t have a problem—in fact, I think it’s long overdue—with the idea that you leave the criminalization issue to the states. I mean, that’s what federalism is all about,” he said last year, adding that his opposition to the MORE Act came down to disagreements about the details of the expungements provisions.
He has cosponsored and voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act twice, though he’s not currently listed as a cosponsor of the latest version.
Emmer has further co-sponsored legislation to allow cannabis businesses to make federal tax deductions and voted for both the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act and the EQUAL Act to end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
Also, while in office, he’s backed amendments to protect various types of state cannabis programs from federal interference, though he opposed amendments to allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans.
Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK)
Hern has twice voted in favor of marijuana industry banking access legislation, though he has never taken the proactive step of signing on as a cosponsor of the legislation. He also notably supported appropriations amendments to protect all state cannabis programs in 2019 and 2021. However, he opposed a bill to federally legalize marijuana in 2020 and 2022—and he proactively sought to divert the House away from considering the legalization legislation last year, urging the chamber to instead focus on reducing dependence on foreign oil.
The congressman also opposed amendments to prevent security clearance denials over marijuana alone, as well as a bill to promote research into cannabis.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA)
Johnson, who serves as vice chair of the Republican conference, has consistently voted against cannabis-related legislation, including bills to safeguard banks that work with state-licensed marijuana businesses in 2019 and 2021.
He did, however, cosponsor a coronavirus relief bill in 2020 that included the text of the SAFE Banking Act—language that was vocally opposed by several of his GOP colleagues.
The congressman voted against a spending bill amendment to protect all state cannabis program from federal intervention in 2019, and then he did not vote on the measure in 2020. He also did not vote on legislation to federally legalize marijuana in 2020 and 2022.
Johnson voted against a bill to streamline cannabis research last year, and he did not participate in a vote on an amendment to prevent security clearance denials for people over past marijuana use alone.
Rep. Dan Meuser (R-PA)
Meuser is another GOP contender for the speakership who has twice voted in favor of marijuana banking reform, while twice opposing legislation to federally legalize cannabis. It does not appear that he’s cosponsored any marijuana-related measures.
The congressman additional voted against amendments to protect all state marijuana programs from federal intervention, and he opposed the cannabis security clearance legislation as well. However, he supported a bill to ease marijuana research restrictions.
Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL)
Of the current speaker candidates, Palmer has one of the most consistent and extensive records of opposing marijuana policy reform legislation, including votes against cannabis banking protections in 2019 and 2021.
He did not vote on a federal legalization bill in 2020 and voted against the proposal last year. And he has opposed amendments to protect state cannabis programs all three times that it’s come up—in 2015, 2019 and 2020. He also voted against protecting medical cannabis states in 2014, but he switched to a yes vote the following year. And he voted in favor of safeguarding state CBD programs in 2015.
The congressman voted against amendments to allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He also opposed measures to prevent security clearance denials due to past marijuana use, as well as a bill to promote cannabis research.
Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA)
Scott also has a relatively lengthy record of opposing marijuana policy reform measures, though he voted in favor of marijuana banking protections legislation in 2021 after previously opposing the bill in 2019. He did not vote on a federal legalization bill in 2020, and then he voted against it in 2022.
That said, Scott has cosponsored legislation three times that would legalize CBD and CBD-rich plants, while explicitly stating that none of the measures’ provisions prevent states from legalizing the use, production or distribution of marijuana.
While the congressman voted against appropriations amendments to protect medical marijuana states from federal interference in 2012, 2014 and 2015, he did support a measure to prevent federal interference in state CBD programs in 2015.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)
The former House Rules Committee chairman has developed a reputation in Congress as one of the most vociferous opponents of marijuana policy reform, in large part due to his direct role in blocking numerous cannabis measures from receiving floor consideration in his capacity as chair until he lost reelection in 2018. He returned to the House after winning election in a different district in 2020.
Sessions—who recently led a letter urging the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to “reject” the top federal health agency’s recommendation to reschedule marijuana and instead keep it in the most restrictive category under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)—has a record that clearly reflects his anti-cannabis ideology.
He voted against marijuana banking protections in 2014 and federal legalization in 2022. The congressman opposed both amendments to prevent federal intervention in all state marijuana programs, and he voted against more modest protections for medical cannabis states seven times from 2003 to 2015 (with one not voting exception in 2005). In 2015, he also rejected an amendment to protect state CBD programs.
The congressman additionally voted against amendments to allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in 2014, 2015 and 2016. And he also opposed measures to prevent security clearance denials due to past marijuana use, as well as a bill to streamline cannabis research.
Whether any of the candidates will earn the 217 votes required to ascend to speaker is yet to be seen. In the weeks since McCarthy was removed from the position, Republicans have been fragmented, with no clear path to victory for any one member. But for cannabis advocates and stakeholders, the stalemate has been a source of frustration, as no legislation can advance through the House without a speaker—and that means a Senate marijuana banking bill that cleared committee last month cannot be taken up in the opposite chamber for now even if it passes on the Senate floor.