When members of Congress convene for a hearing on banking services for the marijuana industry next week, they’ll hear testimony from a state treasurer as well as individuals representing financial institutions, a drug policy reform organization and a medical cannabis dispensary, Marijuana Moment has learned.
The hearing is the first of the new Congress to address federal cannabis policy. It will cover the challenges that cannabis businesses face in securing accounts and credit lines from banks that are wary of taking on clients with ties to a federally banned substance.
The list of witnesses who will be called before the House has not yet been publicly released, though it was obtained by Marijuana Moment.
Among those who are scheduled to testify at the Wednesday event is Major Neill Franklin, a retired Maryland police officer who serves as the executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). LEAP opposes the criminalization of drug use and advocates for regulatory models that “balance personal freedom and responsibility with the public health risks of death, disease and addiction.”
Being able to share the group’s perspective before Congress “feels like vindication for the decades-long silent treatment received from many friends for taking an unpopular position on drug policy reform,” Franklin told Marijuana Moment, referring to colleagues in law enforcement who remain skeptical of legalization.
Corey Barnette, owner of the District Growers Cultivation Center and Metropolitan Wellness Center, which produce and sell medical cannabis in D.C., will also appear before the subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee.
Other witnesses include California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, who has advocated for financing reform at the state and federal levels to make it easier for marijuana businesses to open bank accounts, access credit and pay taxes electronically, rather than in cash.
The cannabis market “is the biggest underground economy we have, so we’re trying to bring them into the light, and having some kind of banking is important,” Ma said last year. “Paying your taxes with duffel bags full of cash isn’t safe or efficient for anyone involved.”
Rachel Pross, the chief risk officer at the Oregon-based Maps Credit Union, will testify on behalf of the Credit Union National Association. And Greg Deckard of State Bank Northwest in Washington State will represent The Independent Community Bankers of America.
While a 2014 guidance memo from the Obama administration was meant to provide clarity and comfort for banks working with marijuana businesses, many financial services providers have remained reluctant to take the risk. At the same time, however, the number of banks working with cannabis industry clients did increase by about 20 percent over the course of 2018, according to a federal report.
Earlier legislative attempts to institute laws explicitly shielding banks from punishment didn’t receive hearings or votes. This time around, the Democratic-controlled House is preparing to hold votes on a marijuana banking bill this session.
“Being on the right side of history feels really good,” Franklin said. “It feels like coming up for a breath after swimming four lengths of an Olympic size pool.”
This story was updated to include comment from Franklin.
Trump Says Marijuana Makes People “Lose IQ Points” In Secret Recording
President Trump could be heard saying that using marijuana makes people “lose IQ points” in a secretly recorded conversation released on Saturday.
“In Colorado they have more accidents,” the president said in the clip captured by Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump attorney Rudolph Giuliani, who is at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to the president’s impeachment. “It does cause an IQ problem.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of YouTube/White House.
Austin Police Chief Says Marijuana Arrests Will Continue Despite City Council Vote
Chief Brian Manley said he would continue to enforce marijuana laws the day after the city council unanimously approved stopping arrests and tickets for low-level cases.
The day after the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses, the police chief made clear he had no plans to do so.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Brian Manley said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Though cracking down on those in possession of small amounts of marijuana has never been a priority for the department, he said, police will continue to either issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest people if officers “come across it.”
The difference, according to City Council member and resolution sponsor Greg Casar, is that the council’s move now guarantees those actions will come with no penalty. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper and any arrests will result in a quick release with no charges accepted from prosecutors, he told The Texas Tribune after the news conference.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar said.
The move by the City Council came as a direct result from Texas’ new hemp law which complicated marijuana prosecution across the state. Last summer, when lawmakers legalized hemp, they also changed the definition of marijuana from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Many prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, now won’t accept pot cases based on look and smell alone, requiring lab testing to determine THC levels before accepting a case. Such testing is not yet available in public crime labs, though some counties and cities have spent money to obtain test results from private labs.
The council’s resolution prohibited using city funds or personnel to conduct such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directed the elimination, to the furthest extent possible, of arrests or citations for cannabis possession. As Manley also noted, the resolution clarifies it can’t technically decriminalize marijuana, since that is state law.
The resolution gave the city manager until May 1 to report back to the council on how police were trained in this new resolution, and Casar said he hopes Manley reviews his policies before then.
Manley said in the news conference that he would continue to review the resolution, as well as police policies.
But, he assured, “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.