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.
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.