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House Approves Marijuana Banking Protections For Third Time As Part Of New COVID Bill

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For the third time in just over a year, the House of Representatives has approved legislation that would protect banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

The text of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was included in a wide-ranging coronavirus relief bill that members approved on the floor on Thursday. This is the second time the House inserted the cannabis banking language in COVID-centric legislation that cleared the chamber after having previously passed it as a standalone bill. While the scope of the latest pandemic relief proposal was generally scaled back in an attempt to make it more palatable to the GOP-controlled Senate, the marijuana provisions remained intact.

The bill, known as The Heroes Act, was approved in a vote of 214-207.

Several Republicans—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Vice President Mike Pence—have criticized including marijuana components in coronavirus legislation, arguing that it is not germane to the issue at hand. McConnell has specifically targeted most of his criticism at a provision of the SAFE Banking Act that requires industry diversity reporting.

A day before Thursday’s vote, the majority leader took to the floor of his own chamber to complain that the House bill provides “special treatment to the marijuana industry,” stating that the legislation “mentions the word ‘cannabis’ more times than the words ‘job’ or ‘jobs.’”

The Senate did not add cannabis banking language to its own version of COVID relief legislation filed in July.

But Democratic leaders are evidently willing to keep up the fight, and they highlighted the diversity component in a summary of the legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in July that she agrees that the banking measure is an appropriate component of the bill.

Reform advocates view this as a positive development that could help mitigate the spread of the virus by ending the industry’s reliance on cash transactions. It could would also increase access to financial institutions in a way that could give small businesses access to needed capital, they say.

“The continued inclusion of my SAFE Banking Act in this package is important for the cannabis industry and its workers,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the lead sponsor of the standalone marijuana financial services legislation, said. “The industry faces an increased public safety risk and public health risk by being forced to make transactions in all-cash. The SAFE Banking Act, which already passed the House with a broad bipartisan vote, will take cash off the streets, enable better social distancing in transactions, and support good-paying jobs in communities across the country when we need them most.”

That said, there’s lingering frustration that House leadership is willing to stand up to GOP opposition for a measure considered industry friendly but decided to postpone a floor vote on a comprehensive legalization bill amid the objections of certain centrist Democratic members who worried about optics. Those legislators convinced leadership to delay the vote until later in fall, likely after the election.

In the past, some activists have made the case that lawmakers should’t approve the SAFE Banking Act until marijuana is descheduled and restorative justice policies are implemented.

In July, bipartisan treasurers from 15 states and one territory sent a letter to congressional leadership, urging the inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in any COVID-19 legislation that’s sent to the president’s desk. Following GOP attacks on the House proposal, a group of Democratic state treasurers renewed that call.

The House last year approved the standalone SAFE Banking Act. For months, the legislation has gone without action in the Senate Banking Committee, where negotiations have been ongoing.

Meanwhile, Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin and congressional leaders have been negotiating the details of a coronavirus aid package. It’s not clear if cannabis banking provisions stand a chance of earning the Trump administration’s support, but approval from the White House would likely help to get the Senate to go along.

This story has been updated to include comment from Perlmutter.

Marijuana Consumer Group Launches Nationwide Get-Out-The-Vote Campaign

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Former GOP House Speaker John Boehner Says He’s Open To Using Marijuana

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Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who joined the marijuana industry in a consulting capacity after leaving office, says he’s not yet a cannabis consumer himself—but he’s open to changing that.

In a new behind-the-scenes book that he released on Tuesday and in an interview with CBS, Boehner briefly discussed his own recreational drug preferences. He told the news station that “I drink red wine” but “if somebody wants to smoke a joint or eat a gummy, that’s really none of my business.”

The former congressional leader isn’t a marijuana consumer, however, despite joining the board of the major cannabis company Acreage Holdings in 2018. That move drew sharp criticism from reform advocates who quickly pointed out that Boehner declined to push for any sort of policy change while in power but is now profiting off the industry.

CBS News reporter John Dickerson asked Boehner if he did any “first-hand research” to inform his shift in thinking about the medical potential of cannabis.

“No, I’m not a cannabis user,” he said.

“But you’re not ruling it out for yourself?” Dickerson asked.

“Hey, tomorrow is tomorrow,” Boehner joked. “Who knows?”

Watch Boehner discuss marijuana policy, around 7:50 into the video below: 

The former speaker more seriously expressed openness to smoking cannabis in the new book, “On The House: A Washington Memoir.”

In a chapter entitled “Smoke-Filled Rooms,” Boehner first discusses his well-known cigarette habit and then writes about how he ended up finding himself “in a very different sector of the smoking community when I joined the board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company.”

“But now, some people don’t believe me when I tell them I’ve never smoked a joint,” he said. “But I haven’t. I’m not ruling it out though.”

The former speaker’s entrance into the marijuana industry hasn’t been without controversy. Advocates have complained about his inaction on the issue while in office and opponents of legalization have accused him of being an opportunist who represents a profit-minded side of the market.

In 2019, social equity-focused cannabis advocates protested a keynote speech Boehner delivered at the festival South by Southwest.

The Equity First Alliance, a group that promotes racial and social justice in the cannabis industry, said that Boehner’s appearances at the event was a reflection of an ongoing trend where mostly white men are profiting off a market while people of color continue to disproportionately face criminalization for marijuana offenses.

On the flip side, Fox News personality Tucker Carlson said last year that “John Boehner is like a marijuana lobbyist now” and he takes “a paycheck getting your kids to smoke more weed.” The controversial host called the former speaker “disgusting” for his work in the cannabis space.

Illinois Gets More Tax Revenue From Marijuana Than Alcohol, State Says

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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Sixth Minnesota House Committee Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill On Its Path To The Floor

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A bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota is going through a thorough vetting process, with a sixth House committee on Wednesday giving the reform proposal a green light following a hearing.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

Days after a separate panel approved the legislation with amendments, the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee passed it in a 9-7 vote.

“The purpose of House File 600 is to eliminate the harm that cannabis has in our society,” Winkler said of the bill at the hearing. “The primary harm that cannabis poses in Minnesota is the prohibition and criminal enforcement of cannabis.”

“The goal of House File 600 is to shift in a legal marketplace that is policed and over-policed disproportionately and instead to create a policy of repair, an opportunity for those most adversely affected by the war on drugs,” he said.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee was the last body to approve the bill, on Monday, and members there adopted a number of changes to the proposal. For example, it now stipulates that members of a cannabis advisory council established under the bill could not serve as lobbyists while on the panel and for two years after they end their service.

Before that hearing, the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, the Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, the Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee each advanced the measure.

Its next stop is the State Government Finance and Elections Committee.

Winkler recently said that he expects the legislation to go through any remaining panels by the end of April, with a floor vote anticipated in May.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

After the New York legislature approved a recreational cannabis legalization bill—which the governor promptly signed into law—Winkler said that Minnesota is “falling behind a national movement towards progress.”

“MN has some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the country, and legalizing cannabis & expunging convictions is a first step towards fixing that,” he tweeted.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the legislation, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.

Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.

The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.

People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.

Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen.

The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Closer To Floor Vote With House Committee Action

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Alabama Medical Marijuana Bill Moves Closer To Floor Vote With House Committee Action

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An Alabama House committee on Wednesday amended a medical marijuana legalization bill that already passed the Senate. Members also took public testimony in advance of an expected Thursday vote to send the revised legislation to the House floor.

This hearing of the House Health Committee comes one week after a separate panel in the body amended and cleared the bill.

Sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R), the legislation would allow people with qualifying conditions to access cannabis for therapeutic purposes. The full Senate approved the bill last month.

“I just want to take [cannabis] to the patients that need it. I want to see people get relief,” the senator said at the meeting. He also made the case that allowing legal access can mitigate opioid overdose deaths.

Melson is the same lawmaker who sponsored similar legislation that was approved by the full Senate last year but which later died without any House votes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This latest proposal would establish an Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to implement regulations and oversee licensing.

To qualify for the program, patients would have to be diagnosed with one of about 20 conditions, including anxiety, sleep disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. Regulators would not be able to independently add additional conditions, leaving that decision up to lawmakers.

The House Judiciary Committee approved 10 amendments to the legislation during last week’s hearing. For example, members agreed to scrap provisions providing reciprocity for out-of-state patients and reducing the percentage of marijuana tax revenue that would go to cannabis research from 30 to 15 percent.

Those amendments were integrated into a new substitute version of the bill adopted by the Health panel, with additional revisions such as removing anxiety and adding depression and Parkinson’s disease as qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. The committee voted to accept the substitute version for consideration before going into testimony.

Time was evenly divided between supporters and opponents. By and large, the conversation revolved around personal anecdotes about the medical benefits and risks of marijuana.

More amendments were added following the testimony. One change would add an annual registration fee for physicians who recommend cannabis. Another would give the state attorney general’s office access to a patient registry database.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 900 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.

Members further approved an amendment to remove fibromyalgia and menopause from the list of qualifying conditions and another to expand the number of institutions that are eligible for grants to research marijuana. A revision to develop a uniform flavor for all cannabis products was also accepted.

Additionally, an amendment was approved to require dispensaries to have 24-hour security cameras operating in their facilities. These changes are all being added to a new substitute that the panel will take up and vote on Thursday.

Because the proposal has been amended, it would go back to the Senate for final consideration if it’s passed in the House before being sent to the governor’s desk.

Advocates say they’re encouraged that medical cannabis reform is advancing in Alabama, but they’ve raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill.

One problematic provision, advocates say, is that patients with chronic or intractable pain could only be recommended medical marijuana in cases where “conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective.”

The bill also prohibits raw cannabis, smoking, vaping and candy or baked good products. Patients would instead be allowed to purchase capsules, lozenges, oils, suppositories and topical patches.

Patients would be allowed to purchase and possess up to “70 daily dosages of medical cannabis.” Under an amendment approved on the Senate floor, the maximum daily dose was reduced from 75 to 50 milligrams. However, the amendment’s sponsor said it could be increased to 75 milligrams in some circumstances.

The revision also calls for a label on marijuana products to indicate that cannabis can cause drowsiness.

It also calls for a nine percent gross proceeds tax on medical marijuana sales.

Patients, caregivers and and medical cannabis businesses would receive legal protections under the proposal, preventing them from being penalized for activities authorized by the state.

For physicians to be able to recommend cannabis to patients, they would have to complete a four-hour continuing education course and pass an exam. The course would cost upwards of $500 and doctors would also be required to take refresher classes every two years.

Under the bill, regulators would be tasked with developing restrictions on advertising and setting quality control standards. Seed-to-sale tracking and laboratory testing would be mandated.

Other changes approved in the Senate would add language to stipulate that gelatinous cannabis products cannot be sugar coated and insert provisions promoting good manufacturing practices and tamper-evident packaging.

Applications for cannabis business licenses would have to be accepted starting September 1, 2022 and then proceeded within 60 days.

The commission would be required to approve at least four cultivators, up to four processors, up to four dispensaries for the first year of implementation (more could be approved after that point depending on demand) and as many as five vertically integrated operators.

This bill’s reintroduction has been greatly anticipated by advocates. The Senate approved a separate medical cannabis bill in 2019, but the House later severely compromised it. The legislation as enacted would not have legalized patient access; rather, it set up a study commission to explore the issue and make recommendations.

The commission came back with its report in December 2019, with members recommending that medical marijuana be legalized.

There could be additional pressure on the legislature to enact legalization given that voters in neighboring Mississippi approved a medical cannabis reform initiative during the November election.

Separately, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill last month to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of cannabis, making it punishable by a $250 fine without the threat of jail time.

Majority Of Connecticut Residents Back Marijuana Legalization And Expungements, Poll Finds As Reform Bills Advance

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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