The House approved a coronavirus relief package on Friday that includes provisions that would protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. The vote was 208 to 199.
Advocates, stakeholders and lawmakers have been pushing for some form of cannabis reform to be inserted into COVID-19 legislation. The inclusion of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which was previously passed by the House as a standalone bill last year, represents a significant victory to that end. That said, it is unclear how the issue will fare in the Senate, whether as part of the COVID-19 response or otherwise.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the legislation that is being included in the new broad package, made the case in committee and on the floor this week that while some Republican lawmakers might argue that the cannabis language doesn’t belong in a coronavirus bill, the measure would actually protect public health by reducing the threat of spreading the virus through cash transactions.
“I’m encouraged that the House recognizes the urgency of this issue and has taken this strong and necessary position,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) said in a press release.
“Continuing to exclude the cannabis industry from accessing basic and essential financial services during this time will result in more harm than good,” he said. “Not only will it make the country’s economic recovery that much harder, but the provisions intended to help minority-owned businesses would continue to be absent within the industry.”
Several GOP members protested the banking legislation all the way up until Friday’s vote, arguing that it is not germane and is an example of irrelevant items included in a Democratic “wish list.” Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) specifically took issue with a requirement in the SAFE Banking Act to study diversity in the marijuana industry—though he’s declined to criticize the main point of the bill, which is banking access for the cannabis sector.
The Democrats’ supposed coronavirus bill includes taxpayer-funded studies to measure “diversity and inclusion” in the cannabis industry. It’s a parade of absurdities that can hardly be taken seriously. pic.twitter.com/2aCyOEnnAZ
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) May 15, 2020
This week Speaker Pelosi published an 1,800-page catalog of left-wing oddities & called it a coronavirus relief bill. It proposes tax hikes on small business, giveaways to blue-state millionaires, checks for illegal immigrants, and diversity detectives for the cannabis industry. pic.twitter.com/deEIYPEMSg
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) May 15, 2020
Here’s how other GOP committees and legislators are reacting:
This bill is a joke.
Instead of writing a bill that provides real relief Pelosi gave us a liberal wishlist that:
➡️ Uses the word cannabis more than jobs or hire
➡️ Gives tax breaks for wealthy blue-state donors
➡️ Changes election law
— Ways and Means GOP (@WaysandMeansGOP) May 15, 2020
Today Pelosi brings to the floor her wishlist that is wildly out of touch with the needs of the American people.
For example, the word cannabis is mentioned 68 times. That’s more than the word job or hire in a package that’s being sold as an economy recovery plan. pic.twitter.com/cX2oTHvGKR
— Ways and Means GOP (@WaysandMeansGOP) May 15, 2020
They are focused on ensuring illegal immigrants get a $1,200 check from the federal government and ensuring cannabis industry bankers meet certain diversity goals.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 16, 2020
One more time for @HouseDemocrats in the back: This bill will not pass the Senate.
It shouldn’t pass. Look what’s in it:
– Taxpayer $$ for illegal immigrants
– Tells states how to handle their elections
– 68 mentions of “cannabis”
What does any of that have to do with #COVID19?
— Senator John Thune (@SenJohnThune) May 15, 2020
"Somehow cannabis is mentioned 68 times. What in the world cannabis has to do with this crisis, I don't know."
— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) May 15, 2020
LaMalfa:Bill includes "Safe Banking Act which if enacted would financially green light marijuana industry..Marijuana is still illegal drug under fed schedule 1,yet this bill attempt to legitimize this criminal enterprise.What's next?Safe banking for whale oil or shark fin sales?"
— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) May 15, 2020
Democrats are continuing to take advantage of this crisis to move unrelated policies. Did you know: In Speaker Pelosi's bill, the word cannabis appears more times than the word job.
An emergency is no time to play political games.
— Financial Services GOP (@FinancialCmte) May 15, 2020
Given the seemingly coordinated messaging from GOP members of both chambers in opposition to the banking language, it seems likely that the provisions will face challenges when the Republican-controlled Senate receives the bill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said in a floor speech that the limited number of individuals involved in crafting the COVID-19 legislation is “why it ended up talking about cannabis more than it ever mentioned a job.”
“Yes, this bill is up in smoke and it should end that way,” he said. “But we should get back to what the American people expect of us.”
“The House Democrats, who are not here but who, remarkably, from afar have evidently put together this fantasy wish list of things they would like to see accomplished—if you can imagine an 1,815-page bill, they mention ‘cannabis’ way more times than they mention ‘jobs,'” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said on the Senate floor.
In Pelosi's "Heroes Act" the word cannabis is mentioned more than jobs. This isn't a bill written to help the American people. It's a bill written for special interest groups and dedicated to the Speaker's personal far-left priorities. @realDonaldTrump is right to veto this bill.
— Rep. Doug Lamborn (@RepDLamborn) May 15, 2020
Today we will vote on a bill that @SpeakerPelosi claims helps American workers. Instead, the bill uses the word "cannabis" more times than the word "jobs". Just another example of how Democrats prioritize their liberal policies over helping American workers.
— U.S. Representative Bill Flores (@RepBillFlores) May 15, 2020
GOP @RepBuddyCarter: "This package mentions 'cannabis' more than it mentions 'jobs!'"
— Ben Siegel (@benyc) May 15, 2020
Fact: Cannabis is mentioned on the bill more times than jobs!
— RepRossSpano (@RepRossSpano) May 15, 2020
Nancy Pelosi's liberal wishlist uses the word "cannabis" more than "jobs" and "hire." Legitimate question: Was the staff responsible for this legislation high when they wrote it? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/8e9k1mN6FV
— Rep. Mike Johnson (@RepMikeJohnson) May 15, 2020
I voted against this bill because it’s an irresponsible non-starter, filled with anti-work provisions, incentives for illegal immigrants, wholesale election law changes, expansion of marijuana businesses' banking abilities, and comes with a 3 trillion dollar price tag.
— U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (@boblatta) May 16, 2020
Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA), on the other hand, described the marijuana banking provision as “smart-capitalism.”
If my colleagues find the inclusion of smart-capitalism provisions like giving cannabis companies access to banking reprehensible — they can bring their concerns to the bargaining table instead of walking away. (4/x)
— Rep. Harley Rouda (@RepHarley) May 15, 2020
A summary of the legislation says the banking section would “allow cannabis-related legitimate businesses, that in many states have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential services, along with their service providers, to access banking services and products, as well as insurance.”
“This section also requires reports to Congress on access to financial services and barriers to marketplace entry for potential and existing minority-owned cannabis-related legitimate businesses,” it continues.
The House passed the SAFE Banking Act last year and it’s since sat in limbo in the Senate Banking Committee. Negotiations over the bill have been ongoing, with the Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) recommending a series of changes, but Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) saying a deal was “close.”
Don Murphy, director of federal policies at MPP, said that given “the public health and public safety benefits of this specific change in policy, the Senate has good reason to pass this language into law.”
“This is a change in policy that the banks are asking for even more than the cannabis companies,” he said. “We urge the Senate Banking Committee to adopt the SAFE Banking provisions to ensure financial institutions can provide basic banking services to businesses that are compliant with state law.”
Advocates have also been asking lawmakers to add language extending access to federal Small Business Administration (SBA) relief programs to cannabis businesses in coronavirus legislation. That didn’t pan out in this package, however.
Currently, SBA specifically prevents marijuana businesses from receiving COVID-related relief due to federal prohibition. That also includes companies that work indirectly with the industry, such as accounting and legal firms.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill last month that would fix that, calling for SBA access 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.
The new coronavirus bill does include a section that could help people with prior convictions to become eligible for SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
It stipulates that the agency’s lending service “shall include a statement that an applicant is not ineligible for assistance under this paragraph solely because of the applicant’s involvement in the criminal justice system.’’
That provision seems responsive to a request that Reps. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) and Joyce Beatty (D-OH) made in a letter to leadership last month. The pair stressed that the current policy renders even those with cannabis possession convictions ineligible for PPP.
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.
Senator Files New Bill To Federally Legalize Marijuana And Regulate It Like Tobacco
A Democratic senator filed a new bill to federally legalize marijuana on Thursday, creating yet another potential avenue through which Congress could enact the policy change.
This piece of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and direct several federal agencies to develop regulations for the plant.
Titled the “Substance Regulation and Safety Act,” the bill would deschedule cannabis, require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop rules that treat marijuana the same as tobacco, create a national research institute to evaluate the risks and benefits of cannabis, require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to impose quality control standards and mandate that the Department of Transportation study methods for detecting THC-impaired driving.
The descheduling provisions “are retroactive and shall apply to any offense committed, case pending, or conviction entered, and, in the case of a juvenile, any offense committed, case pending, or adjudication of juvenile delinquency entered, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act,” the text of the bill states.
HHS would have to come up with a “national strategy to prevent youth use and abuse of cannabis, with specific attention to youth vaping of cannabis products.” Further, text of the legislation states that the department would be required to “regulate cannabis products in the same manner, and to the same extent,” as it does with tobacco.
That includes “applying all labeling and advertising requirements that apply to tobacco products under such Act to cannabis products.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection would be tasked with working with other agencies to develop policies on allowing marijuana imports and exports.
The legislation further contains racial justice provisions. For example, HHS would have to consult with “consult with civil rights stakeholders” to determine “whether cannabis abuse prevention strategies and policies are likely to have racially disparate impacts” within 100 days of the bill’s enactment.
The Department of Transportation would similarly have to determine whether its impaired driving prevention policy “is likely to contribute to racially disparate impacts in the enforcement of traffic safety laws.”
Agencies charged with establishing these regulations would have one year following the bill’s enactment to finalize those rules.
A federal age requirement for marijuana sales would be set at 21 under the measure.
The short title of the bill as published on Congress’s website states that it would “decriminalize and reschedule cannabis.” However, the text of the legislation as introduced that was shared with Marijuana Moment says it would go beyond rescheduling by removing marijuana from the CSA entirely, a process known as descheduling. Representatives from Smith’s office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
This is the latest legalization bill to be introduced this Congress. In some ways, it appears to be a more modest reform compared to other pieces of legislation that reform advocates are backing such as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, which includes provisions beyond rescheduling to reinvest in communities most impacted by the war on drugs.
Sources recently told Marijuana Moment there are plans in motion to get a House floor vote on that bill in September, though it’s prospects in the Republican-controlled Senate are more dubious. It’s possible that this bill from Smith would be more palatable to GOP members given its more narrow focus.
“It’s terrific to see Senator Smith engage so substantively in the cannabis policy reform debate,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “We at NORML look forward to propelling many aspects of the new legislation into the broader conversation on the future of federal regulations in regards to a post-prohibition America.”
The introduction of this legislation comes one day after the House approved a spending bill amendment that would protect all state, territory and tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.
While Smith has only been in Congress since 2018, after she replaced Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) following his resignation, she has signed onto various pieces of cannabis reform legislation as a cosponsor, and she’s made several comments in favor of reform.
For example, the senator attached her name to bills to protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized from federal regulators and to legalize industrial hemp. She also cosponsored a resolution condemning “state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings” over drug crimes in the Philippines.
Smith also recently remarked racial disparities in drug enforcement in a Senate floor speech.
This bill is being introduced as Minnesota lawmakers push for state-level legalization, with a top legislator unveiling a comprehensive plan for legalizing cannabis for all adults 21 and older in May.
It also comes shortly after the Democratic National Committee rejected an amendment to adopt legalization as a 2020 party plank, with members opting instead to embrace more modest reforms. Advocates suspend that there may have been pressure for the panel not to formally embrace a policy change that is opposed to by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Read the new Senate marijuana legalization below:
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Louisiana Law Allowing Medical Marijuana For Any Debilitating Condition To Take Effect
A new Louisiana law significantly expanding the state’s medical marijuana program officially takes effect on Saturday.
This comes two months after the legislature approved the bill and Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed it. The legislation will allow physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any debilitating condition that they deem fit instead of from the limited list of maladies that’s used under current law.
Other new laws coming into force this weekend include ones to set hemp and CBD regulations, shield financial institutions that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by state regulators and provide legal protections for doctors who recommend medical cannabis and medical facilities that have marijuana patients in their care.
The medical marijuana expansion bill as introduced by its sponsor, Rep. Larry Bagley (R), initially only would have added traumatic brain injuries and concussions but was amended in committee to include several other conditions as well as language stipulating that cannabis can be recommended for any malady that a physician “considers debilitating to an individual patient.”
“I’m excited. I’m expecting it to be a pretty big day,” Bagley told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Thursday. “All the people out here tell me all the wonderful stories about how they were in terrible pain and then they took it and then they’ve gotten away from the pain.”
The lawmaker is particularly hopeful that providing this expanded access will help curb the opioid epidemic by providing patients with a safer alternative to prescription painkillers.
“The medical marijuana is not [like opioids] because not not addictive. No one’s ever died from it,” he said.
“I’m hopeful I think this is gonna be a big day. I’m really expecting this to be a game changer for Louisiana, for the state, for the pharmacies that are doing this,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a big moneymaker for state. At least I hope it is. And I think that everybody’s going to be really happy about it, but time will tell.”
Bagley had also introduced a House-passed bill to allow delivery services, but he voluntarily withdrew it from Senate committee consideration, telling Marijuana Moment at the time that he felt the debilitating condition bill would already allow cannabis products to be delivered to patients like other traditional pharmaceuticals.
The delivery bill would have required a government regulatory body to develop “procedures and regulations relative to delivery of dispensed marijuana to patients by designated employees or agents of the pharmacy.”
It remains to be seen if regulators will agree with Bagley’s interpretation, as doctors are still prohibited from “prescribing” cannabis, and marijuana products are not dispensed through traditional pharmacies. But regulators did move to temporarily authorize delivery services during the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s possible they will be amenable to extending the allowance on a permanent basis.
State lawmakers also passed a resolution in June to create “a task force to study and make recommendations relative to the cannabis industry projected workforce demands.” Text of the legislation, which does not require gubernatorial action, states that “there is a need to study the workforce demands and the skills necessary to supply the cannabis industry with a capable and compete workforce, including physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners.”
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Nancy Pelosi Says Marijuana Is A ‘Therapy That Has Proven Successful’ Amid Coronavirus Bill Debate
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Friday defended the decision to include marijuana banking protections in Democrats’ latest coronavirus relief bill.
The speaker was asked about various provisions of the legislation that Republicans had criticized as not germane to the health crisis, with a reporter citing the cannabis component in particular. Pelosi took issue with the suggestion and said there is a role for marijuana reform amid the pandemic.
“I don’t agree with you that cannabis is not related to this,” the top House Democrat said. “This is a therapy that has proven successful.”
It’s not clear whether the speaker was suggesting that marijuana has medical value for a coronavirus infection specifically or was more broadly referencing the plant’s therapeutic potential. The Food and Drug Administration has made clear that there’s currently no solid evidence that cannabinoids can treat COVID-19 and it’s warned companies that make that claim.
Several lawmakers have argued that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is relevant to the health crisis for a different reason, as protecting financial institutions that service cannabis businesses would mean fewer cash exchanges at dispensaries, thus minimizing the spread of the virus.
Marijuana Moment previously exclusively reported that Pelosi—who said in 2018 that doctors should prescribe medical cannabis and yoga more often instead of prescription opioids—supported attaching the banking language to the House’s coronavirus package prior to the legislation’s introduction.
That said, Senate leadership unveiled their latest round of coronavirus relief legislation on Monday, and it does not include the SAFE Banking Act provisions. It remains to be seen whether bicameral negotiators will be able to get it in the final bill sent to the president’s desk.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said in May that he felt there was a 50-50 chance the Senate would adopt it as part of their COVID-19 bill.
On Friday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) took to Twitter to slam Pelosi’s latest cannabis comments.
“Hey Nancy, let’s focus on the pandemic. Not pot,” he said.
Incredibly irresponsible—Pelosi just doubled down on her $3 trillion dollar cannabis legislation, falsely claiming that it's a proven therapy for coronavirus.
Hey Nancy, let's focus on the pandemic. Not pot. pic.twitter.com/Eo8pfwwZez
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) July 31, 2020
The Senate Republican Communications Center also chimed in.
“House Democrats are continuing to try and push unrelated COVID-19 wish-list items. All of them should be taken out,” the group tweeted.
PELOSI on cannabis provisions in House coronavirus bill:
"I don't agree that cannabis is not related to this.”
House Democrats are continuing to try and push unrelated COVID-19 wish-list items. All of them should be taken out. pic.twitter.com/3yYf8QSv0r
— Senate Republican Communications Center (@SRCC) July 31, 2020
Meanwhile, the standalone SAFE Banking Act has continued to sit in the Senate Banking Committee without action in the months since the House initially approved it.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.
In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.
Pelosi’s latest comments come one day after the House approved an amendment to protect state, territory and tribal marijuana laws from federal interference.