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Key Moments From The First Marijuana Hearing Of The New Congress

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The first marijuana hearing of the 116th Congress kicked off on Wednesday. A House financial subcommittee asked witnesses about how banking access can improve public safety, how operating on a cash-only basis inhibits transparency and, at one point, whether the cash at these businesses smells like cannabis.

“The absence of a broader, permanent regulatory framework continues to keep nearly all banks out of this growing industry despite a clear interest,” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), chair of the subcommittee, said at the start of the session. “Today’s hearing will allow us to begin consideration of draft legislation to bring transparency, accountability and address a major driver of violent crime in this space.”

Prior to the hearing, a bipartisan group of lawmakers circulated a draft bill that would shield banks from being penalized by federal financial regulators and affirm that profits from cannabis-related transactions “shall not be considered as proceeds from an unlawful activity.”

“Today, after six years, we finally have a hearing, and it comes too late,” Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA), who is a cosponsor of the the legislation, said in his opening remarks. “Too late to prevent dozens of armed robberies in my home state of Washington. Too late for Travis Mason… a 24-year-old Marine veteran in Aurora, Colorado, who reported for work as a security guard and Green Heart Dispensary on June 18, 2016, and was shot dead that night by an armed robber.”

“We have the power in this committee to prevent murders and armed robberies,” he said, referring to the fact that preventing marijuana businesses from accessing banks means that they must operate on an all-cash basis. “We must use it and we must use it now because we are already late.”

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), another bill cosponsor, said that if lawmakers oppose legalization, “that’s their business.”

“But the American voters have spoken, and continue to speak, and the fact is you can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he said. “Prohibition is over.”

Witnesses at the hearing included California State Treasurer Fiona Ma, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) Executive Director Major Neill Franklin, banking representatives, a D.C.-based medical marijuana dispensary owner and the chair of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).

“The Committee is undoubtedly aware that cannabis businesses are not alone in struggling to gain access to banking—even though theirs is the most difficult situation. Any business that handles significant amounts of currency is also subject to greater scrutiny by the financial services industry for all of the reasons that are well understood by members of this committee,” Ma said in written testimony.

She said “an effective safe harbor mechanism in federal law promotes the safety of the public, improves the efficiency of collecting the taxes and fees we use to regulate the industry, and does not allow the banks and credit unions to totally abdicate their responsibilities to know their customers and avoid illicit money laundering.”

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said he was glad to see Ma testify. Legal marijuana “is here to stay & entrepreneurs & consumers deserve safe banking options,” he wrote on Twitter.

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) echoed that point and said that Nevada “is proof that the era of marijuana prohibition is over” and that it’s “time for the federal government to start acting like it.”

Franklin, a retired Maryland police officer, said that current laws “encourage tax fraud, add expensive monitoring and bookkeeping expenses and—most importantly—leave legitimate businesses vulnerable to theft, robbery and the violence that accompany those crimes.”

“I’m not one for fear mongering—what I testify to here today is rooted in experience and research,” he said. “Any police officer who has worked the street, or investigated enough robberies, will testify to the same regarding any business forced to handle large amounts of cash.”

He told members of the subcommittee that the “safety of thousands of employees, business owners, security personnel, police officers and community members is in your hands.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), chair of the full House Financial Services Committee, thanked Meeks for making this the first subcommittee hearing of the session and called the issue “so important.”

“So many people have been waiting on it,” Waters said before the subcommittee broke for a recess. “I appreciate it so much.”

The hearing was well-attended, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) highlighted in a tweet showing a line of people holding places in line for lobbyists and “those who can afford it pay people to hold their spot.”

During the hearing, Ocasio-Cortez asked whether providing banking access to the marijuana industry would be “compounding the racial wealth gap right now,” giving an advantage to mostly white, wealthy business owners over individuals from communities disproportionately impacted by the drug war.

Corey Barnette, the DC marijuana business owner, said he agreed that the industry as it exists today is not reflective of society as a whole, but he also argued that banking access can provide even smaller prospective business owners with means “within reach” to start a cannabis company.

During one of the lighter moments in the hearing, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) asked Barnette whether the cash at his dispensary smelled like marijuana.

“I heard it’s true,” Tlaib said. “The money does smell, correct?”

“That has been the case in some instances,” Barnette replied.

While SAM board chair Jonathon Talcott was seldom addressed by members throughout the hearing, Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) asked the witness whether it was “a universally accepted fact that marijuana is not a gateway drug and has no negative negative impacts to public health.”

Talcott claimed that cannabis “is very clearly a gateway drug” and peddled anecdotes about “marijuana-induced psychosis” in states that have legalized.

Heck, one of the banking bill cosponsors, addressed what’s motivated him to be an advocate for legislation on financial services solutions for the marijuana industry. He said it was his brother, who died after being exposed to herbicides while serving in the Vietnam War.

“Toward the end of his life, the only relief he could find was from the illegal consumption of marijuana,” Heck said. “I’ve always thought and lived with the irony that the same nation that asked my brother to put on a uniform and put his life at risk—in an activity that eventually did in fact take his life—held him to be criminal when he found the relief in the only way he could.”

And if creating a safeguard for banks makes it easier for marijuana businesses to provide that relief to patients, then that’s reason enough to fight for reform, Heck said.

“Congress has an opportunity to make a simple policy change that will greatly benefit communities and small businesses by approving cannabis banking reform,” Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a press release. “Representatives Perlmutter and Heck should be commended for pushing for this hearing so that this issue can get the attention it deserves and we can move toward a sensible policy that will increase public safety and transparency in this burgeoning industry.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who released a blueprint outlining the legislative path to marijuana legalization, said in a press release that tackling “the access to banking issue” is “one of the first dominos that should fall.”

The hearing shows that Congress is “finally making progress toward addressing the irrational, unfair, and unsafe denial of regular banking services for state-legal marijuana businesses around the country,” he said.

“Today’s hearing was a big deal for the thousands of employees, businesses and communities across this country who have been put at risk because they have been forced to deal in piles of cash while Congress sticks its head in the sand,” Perlmutter, the other bill cosponsor, said in a press release. “The American voters have spoken and continue to speak, and the fact is you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The SAFE Banking Act is focused solely on taking cash off the streets and making our communities safer, and only Congress can take these steps to provide this certainty for businesses and financial institutions across the country.”

“We listened to hours of testimony today about the dangerous position we put store owners and employees in by forcing them to do all of their business in cash. We can fix this. We don’t have to force them to operate in a way that makes it difficult to secure and track their funds,” Heck added. “Regardless of our views of marijuana use, the voters have decided in states all over this country that they want recreational and medicinal markets. To continue to do nothing to protect public safety would be negligence.”

This Is The Marijuana Banking Bill Democrats Plan To Pass In 2019: Draft Text Released

Photo courtesy of the House Financial Services Committee/YouTube.

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.

Culture

Postal Service Unveils ‘Drug Free USA Forever’ Stamp Commemorating 1980s Anti-Drug Program

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The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is rolling out a new stamp design that pays tribute to 1980s-era drug prevention programs and promotes a “drug-free USA.”

The stamps, which will go on sale starting in October 2020, were announced at the conclusion of this year’s Red Ribbon Week last month, an annual occurrence first launched under the Reagan administration.

“This Drug Free USA Forever stamp will help further raise awareness about the dangers of drug abuse, and the toll it is taking on families and communities around our country,” Robert Duncan, chairman of the USPS Board of Governors, said in a press release. “The Postal Service is glad to do its part in marking Red Ribbon Week, and renewing our commitment to helping these efforts to educate youth about the dangers of illegal drugs.”

Via USPS.

USPS explained that Red Ribbon Week originated after a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent was tortured and killed in Mexico while investigating drug traffickers in 1985.

“I am very pleased that the U.S. Postal Service will issue a stamp affirming our commitment to a drug-free America,” DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon said. “This stamp will help raise awareness of the fight against drug addiction and honor those who have dedicated their lives to that cause.”

A description of the design states that the stamp “features a white star with lines of red, light blue and blue radiating from one side of each of the star’s five points, suggesting the unity necessary at all levels to effectively address drug abuse.”

USPS isn’t applying anti-drug messaging to the cannabis component CBD anymore, however. In September, the agency clarified that hemp-derived CBD products can be mailed under certain circumstances since the crop and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

For those with mailing needs who aren’t interested in supporting the notion of a “Drug Free USA,” USPS does have another stamp that recognizes the 50-year anniversary of the drug-fueled 1969 counterculture music festival Woodstock.

Via USPS.

The stamp “features an image of a dove along with the words ‘3 DAYS OF PEACE AND MUSIC,’ evoking the original promotional poster for the festival,” USPS says.

Another option is a John Lennon Forever stamp, celebrating the iconic Beatles member and marijuana enthusiast who famously got “high with a little help” from his friends.

Via USPS.

“Still beloved around the world, Lennon’s music remains an anchor of pop radio and continues to speak for truth and peace,” USPS wrote.

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Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

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New Congressional Resolution Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Drug Expungements

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Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) released a congressional resolution on Thursday that calls for a fundamental reshaping of the criminal justice system, in part by legalizing marijuana and expunging all drug-related convictions.

The congresswoman’s “People’s Justice Guarantee” resolution outlines “a bold, new vision for justice in the American criminal legal system” that’s designed to “transform the U.S. criminal legal system to one that meets America’s foundational yet unfilled promise of justice for all.”

The ultimate goal of the measure is to reduce mass incarceration in the country through a series of reform steps that includes ending for-profit prisons, decriminalizing certain non-violent offenses, imposing caps on criminal sentences, abolishing the death penalty, expanding access to mental health services in prisons and reinvesting in communities that have been most impacted by “tough of crime” criminal policies.

Some have characterized the resolution as the “Green New Deal” of criminal justice reform, comparable in scope and ambition to the climate change plan championed by fellow “Squad” member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

Drug policy reform isn’t the main feature of the resolution, but it does call for “decriminalizing addiction, homelessness, poverty, HIV status, and disabilities, including mental health diagnosis, by legalizing marijuana and overdose prevention sites, declining to criminally prosecute low-level offenses such as loitering and theft of necessity goods, and expunging the records of individuals for all drug-related offenses.”

Interestingly, an earlier draft of the measure reportedly contained language specifying that law enforcement should “use civil citations instead of arrests for drug possession,” according to a paraphrase by a reporter with The Appeal who reviewed the document but later updated her story to reflect the version that was actually filed. A call for an 80 percent reduction in the prison population was also removed from the text.

It’s not clear if the provision on “decriminalizing addiction” in the final resolution would involve all drug possession offenses, or why Pressley apparently decided to scale back the scope of the measure from the draft her staff circulated to reporters. Marijuana Moment reached out to the congresswoman’s office for clarification but a representative was not immediately available.

The ACLU, Color of Change and National Immigrant Law Center are among several civil rights groups that have endorsed the resolution, which was created in concert with advocates from the National Immigration Law Center, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Immigrant Defense Project, UndocuBlack Network and others.

“You cannot have a government for and by the people if it is not represented by all of the people,” Pressley said in a press release. “For far too long, those closest to the pain have not been closest to the power, resulting in a racist, xenophobic, rogue, and fundamentally flawed criminal legal system.”

“The People’s Justice Guarantee is the product of a symbiotic partnership with over 20 grassroots organizations and people impacted by the discriminatory policies of our legal system,” she said. “Our resolution calls for a bold transformation of the status quo—devoted to dismantling injustices so that the system is smaller, safer, less punitive, and more humane.”

While the freshman congresswoman declined to endorse a 2016 marijuana legalization measure that was ultimately approved by Massachusetts voters, she’s since positioned herself as a champion for reform, including by voting against an amendment barring people with drug convictions from working in child care services with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

She also voted in favor of amendments to protect all state marijuana programs from federal intervention and another introduced by Ocasio-Cortez to remove a budget rider that she argued inhibited research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.

In addition, Pressley has cosponsored bills concerning marijuana descheduling, research on the benefits of medical cannabis for military veterans and banking access by state-legal businesses.

Read the full text of Pressley’s justice reform resolution below: 

Pressley_The People’s J… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Kamala Harris Jokes About CBD Body Rubs To Make A Serious Point On The Marijuana Industry

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Support For Marijuana Legalization Increased Again In 2019, Pew Poll Finds

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Support for legalizing marijuana grew again this year, with just over two-thirds of Americans in favor of the policy, according to a Pew Research Center poll that was released on Thursday.

The survey, which involved phone interviews with about 9,900 adults from September 3-15, found that 67 percent of respondents think cannabis should be legal. That’s five percentage points higher than Pew’s last poll on the issue in 2018, and it closely reflects the percent support for legalization that Gallup reported (66 percent) in a survey released last month.

According to the results of a new question Pew asked for the first time that gave respondents multiple policy options to choose from, 91 percent of Americans said that marijuana should be legal for either medical or recreational purposes: Fifty nine percent said both forms should be legal and 32 percent said it should only be legal for medical use.

Just 8 percent want cannabis to remain illegal across the board.

That’s a notable finding, as some prohibitionists have argued that polls showing growing support for broad legalization are misleading because people would be less inclined to voice support for outright legalization if given more options. In fact, a sizable majority remains in favor of full legalization, according to Pew.

The poll also affirms that marijuana reform is an increasingly bipartisan issue, with a majority of Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP (55 percent) saying cannabis should be legal, compared to 78 percent of Democrats and those who lean toward the party.

Last year, the survey showed that only 45 percent of Republicans favored legalization, versus 69 percent of Democrats. Unlike the prior Pew poll, however, this latest version combines responses from party members and individuals who said they lean toward one party or the other. The previous survey distinguished those two groups and reported support separately.

“The percentage of the public who favors adult-use marijuana legalization has skyrocketed over the past three decades and shows no signs of abating,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said. “As more and more states have moved forward with their own marijuana liberalization policies in recent years, public support has only grown stronger. At a time when the political divide is larger than ever, the issue of marijuana legalization is one of the few policy issues upon which most Americans agree.”

There is majority support in the new survey for ending cannabis prohibition among both men and women, and across racial demographics.

Expect the upward trend in support to continue. The only age group where there isn’t majority support for legalizing marijuana is the Silent Generation (35 percent). Boomers and Generation X support the policy, 63 percent and 65 percent, respectively. But an overwhelming majority of Millennials (76 percent) back legalization.

The partisan gap for that generation is significantly narrower than the overall divide, with 71 percent of Millennial Republicans and 78 percent of Millennial Democrats saying cannabis should be legal.

 

“Two-thirds of Americans say the use of marijuana should be legal, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade,” Pew said. “The share of U.S. adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52 percent in 2010 to 32 percent today.”

“The growth in public support for legal marijuana has come as a growing number of jurisdictions have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational purposes,” the report states.

As Pew noted, numerous Democratic presidential candidates are in favor of cannabis legalization—with the notable exception of former Vice President Joe Biden—and the survey results suggest it’s a valuable policy position to have both in primaries and general elections.

Vaping Injury Outbreak Hasn’t Hurt Marijuana Legalization Support, Gallup Poll Shows

This story was updated to include comment from NORML.

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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