The distance between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the marijuana industry seems to be narrowing, albeit gradually.
Weeks after the House passed a bill to protect banks that service cannabis business from being penalized by federal regulators, McConnell held several private meetings with marijuana, hemp and CBD stakeholders over the course of a two-day trip this week to Southern California, where he also toured at least one cannabis business.
Marijuana Moment spoke with one attendee of a lunch meeting the majority leader held on Thursday that cannabis industry representatives participated in.
While the 90-minute gathering of about 20 people, held at the Newport Beach Country Club, wasn’t solely focused on marijuana, issues surrounding the plant were a key area of discussion.
The attendee, who did not wish to be named in order to candidly discuss the event, said that McConnell mostly listened as others spoke about challenges experienced by marijuana, hemp and CBD businesses under current federal laws.
“We put our best face forward,” the attendee said, adding that “we were strategic by not forcing him into a corner” by pressing him with pointed questions.
McConnell, in turn, made no legislative commitments but noted that cannabis is a “complicated issue” and in particular made clear he understands the industry’s problems with banking access.
“He recognizes the issues that need to be resolved,” the attendee said.
That the luncheon and other meetings even took place is significant given the majority leader’s longstanding opposition to marijuana reform. While he’s been a champion of hemp legalization, he’s taken pains to distinguish the crop from what he’s described as its “illicit cousin,” marijuana.
“These are two entirely separate plants,” McConnell said when asked about loosening federal marijuana laws last year. “There is a lot of confusion about what hemp is. It has an illicit cousin, which I choose not to embrace.”
It’s likely that the House passage of the cannabis banking bill has put added pressure on McConnell to decide whether he’s willing to allow a vote on the modest reform measure in his chamber.
Cannabis industry representatives—including a hemp farmer—made up about a third of attendees at the fundraising lunch, with other seats being taken by Orange County Republican donors.
Marijuana Moment reached out to McConnell’s office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
Besides marijuana, other issues discussed over wedge salad with steak included impeachment proceedings, Turkey and the role of the Senate in confirming judicial nominees.
Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.