The chair of a critical House committee said on Wednesday that his panel and the larger body will take up legislation to protect states with legal marijuana from federal intervention “in a relatively short time, within the next several weeks, and I think we will have a very strong vote.”
“We will guide it to the House floor for a vote, which I think it will pass with an overwhelming vote—Democrats and I think a lot of Republicans as well,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), whose Rules Committee decides how legislation is handled on the chamber’s floor. “If we have a strong bipartisan vote that will increase the pressure on the Senate to do something.”
In the interview with Boston Herald Radio, McGovern said he wasn’t familiar with President Trump’s position on cannabis.
“I hope he will sign whatever the House and Senate put together but I’m confident he will get a bill.” he said.
McGovern was answering a question about the the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which his home state colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) filed last year with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO). The legislation, which Trump has said he “really” supports, died at the end of the last Congress and has not yet been formally reintroduced this year. The bill would exempt state-legal marijuana activity from the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“Whether it’s the Warren-Gardner bill or another configuration I would expect something would happen this year,” McGovern said.
Listen to McGovern’s marijuana comments, about 15:30 into the audio clip below:
McGovern also pointed out how his Republican predecessor at the helm of the key committee had a different perspective on marijuana.
“The previous chair of the Rules committee [Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)] blocked everything cannabis-related. We’re in a new day,” he said. “We need to make sure that our federal laws don’t obstruct what states are doing, especially with regard to the banking issues, where everything now is being done in cash and this is not the way we want this to go. We need to make sure that the federal laws respect what the states are doing.”
Sessions lost his reelection bid in the November midterm elections, and Democrats took the House majority.
Now that he and his party are in charge of the chamber, McGovern is bullish about the prospects for marijuana reform.
“That’s going to happen, and I feel really confident that we’ll pass it in the House and I think that there is bipartisan support in the Senate on this as well,” he said.
Besides the Rules Committee, several other panels are expected to move on cannabis legislation soon.
The House Financial Services Committee, for example, is scheduled to vote on a marijuana banking bill on Wednesday.
On that topic, McGovern said it “doesn’t seem safe and it doesn’t seem sensible” to force marijuana businesses to use cash, which can make them targets for crime. He said people in Congress “don’t always deal with reality,” which is why it’s been slow to embrace legislation like the banking bill.
“My predecessor in the Rules committee I think had a moral objection to this and just wouldn’t let any amendments come to the floor to address this issue,” he said. “And I know former Attorney General [Jeff] Sessions was very much opposed to any legislation that would allow the federal government to respect state laws because he just had this—I don’t even quite even know what the objection was, but he just was against it.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said in January that his panel would also likely be voting on cannabis reform “fairly soon.”
In the radio interview, McGovern also spoke about how there’s “always a line of people” waiting to get into a marijuana retailer that is located close to his district office.
And his GOP counterpart’s prior blockade of cannabis legislation aside, the Democratic congressman argued that marijuana is not a partisan issue.
“I think that what we’re finding here is that the states that are moving forward on the issue of marijuana are not just Democratic blue states, they’re also Republican red states,” McGovern said. “You have liberal Democrats and you have conservative Republicans and you have everybody in between all understanding that it makes sense to update our laws.”
“I think there’s this consensus developing that the status quo is unacceptable,” he said.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.