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House Committee Takes Aim At Public Welfare In Marijuana Dispensaries

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Low-income families receiving federal financial assistance would be barred from withdrawing those funds at stores that sell marijuana under a bill approved by a key House committee.

The JOBS for Success Act is a broader piece of welfare reform legislation, but included inside the bill is a provision that would expand the list of federally prohibited services for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients. The language is similar to that of previous standalone bills that have been proposed and one that was introduced earlier this month by Rep. David Reichert (R-WA).

The House Committee On Ways and Means approved the bill in a markup session Thursday by a vote of 22-14. It will now more to the full House before potential Senate consideration.

The cannabis provision would prohibit “cash benefits from being accessed electronically at stores that sell marijuana, amending the current restriction on casinos, liquor stores, and strip clubs,” according to a summary.

H.R. 5861 by KyleJaeger on Scribd

During Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) said the so-called “needs not weed” provision was another example of the intentional stigmatization of the poor, rather than a practical, fiscal attempt to reform TANF.

Lawmakers who pushed for strip club and dispensary bans for TANF recipients often consider these individuals the “idle poor,” “takers not makers” and “deadbeats,” Doggett said.

“We get a little flavor of that in this bill,” he said, referencing the marijuana provision. He later said “their goal was to stigmatize the disadvantaged” when lawmakers passed the strip club prohibition in 2012.

“Imagine how much good these Republicans would have done if they would have had the foresight to extend that strip show loophole to the White House,” Doggett said. “And with all of the crazy tweets that have been coming out of the White House these days, it certainly feels to me like someone’s been smoking something strange on Pennsylvania Avenue.”

The Democratic lawmaker was then scolded by Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) for an alleged personal attack on the president.

The functionality of the provision

The need for the provision is questionable. Records obtained by the National Review in 2014 showed that TANF recipients in Colorado used EBT cards to take out cash at cannabis dispensaries just 64 times, amounting to a total of “$5,475 in public benefits.” Nonetheless, Republican lawmakers moved quickly to impose a statewide ban on the withdrawal of TANF benefits at dispensaries.

And as Americans for Safe Access (ASA) noted when the House voted on a similar bill in 2014, the efficacy of the proposed rule is also dubious.

“Even if passed into law, the value of the legislation would be minimal in terms of blocking the use of public assistance funds for medical marijuana,” ASA wrote. “By preventing the ability of TANF recipients to access funds from ATMs in medical marijuana dispensaries, the practical impact would only harm those with financial hardship and mobility issues, because TANF recipients could still make financial withdrawals from other nearby ATMs.”

Marijuana Business Owners Rally On Capitol Hill As Cannabis Bills Gain Momentum

See below for the full text of the marijuana provision of the committee-approved legislation:

SEC. 13. WELFARE FOR NEEDS NOT WEED.

(a) PROHIBITION.—Section 408(a)(12)(A) (42 U.S.C. 608(a)(12)(A)) is amended—

(1) by striking ‘‘or’’ at the end of clause (ii);

(2) by striking the period at the end of clause (iii) and inserting ‘‘; or’’; and

(3) by adding at the end the following: ‘‘(iv) any establishment that offers marihuana (as defined in section 102(16) of the Controlled Substances Act) for sale.’’.

(b) EFFECTIVE DATE.—The amendments made by subsection (a) shall take effect on the date that is 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week

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A key Senate committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss hemp production, featuring witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In the months since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s been strong interest in developing USDA and FDA regulations for the crop and its compounds such as CBD, and lawmakers have repeatedly pressed the agencies to speed up the rulemaking process to unlock the industry’s potential.

While the hearing notice doesn’t go into detail about what will be discussed, the meeting’s title—”Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill”—and list of witnesses indicate that the conversation will revolve around the development of federal guidelines for hemp businesses.

USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach, USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy and EPA Assistant Administrator of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dunn will appear before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on July 25.

Other invited witnesses include Kentucky farmer Brian Furnish, National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.

The Senate Agriculture Committee meeting will mark the chamber’s second cannabis-related hearing of the week. The Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs announced on Tuesday that it will meet to discuss marijuana banking issues on July 23.

FDA and USDA have both recently signaled that they were cognizant of widespread interest in creating regulatory pathways for hemp and its derivatives, with USDA stating that it planned to release an interim final rule on the products in August and FDA’s Abernethy writing that the agency is “expediting” its rulemaking process. FDA added that it hoped to release a report on its progress by early fall.

That said, heads of the departments have also tried to temper expectations. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that USDA wouldn’t be expediting regulatory developments but that he expected them to be issued ahead of the 2020 planting seasons.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, meanwhile, cited policy complications that would make it difficult for the agency to create an alternative regulatory pathway for hemp-derived CBD products to be lawfully marketed as food items or dietary supplements. He said that without congressional action, it may take FDA years to establish those rules.

Separately, officials from both FDA and USDA will participate in hemp conferences in August, where they’re also expected to update stakeholders on their progress.

Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.

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As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.

More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.

NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.

State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.

That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.

It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.

For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.

The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.

Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.

Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”

“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.

DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”

At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.

Legalizing Marijuana Leads To Fewer Illegal Grow Sites In National Forests, Study Finds

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access

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In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.

The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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