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Key Senate Chairman Lays Out Possible Marijuana Banking Bill Changes

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A powerful Senate committee chairman said on Wednesday the he opposes House-passed marijuana banking legislation and laid out potential changes he would like to see to the bill before he takes it up in his panel.

Among other amendments being floated for public feedback is a 2 percent THC potency limit on products in order for cannabis businesses to qualify to access financial services as well as blocking banking services for operators that sell high-potency vaping devices or edibles that could appeal to children.

“I remain firmly opposed to efforts to legalize marijuana on the federal level, and I am opposed to legalization in the State of Idaho,” Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), who chairs the Senate Banking Committee, said in a press release. “I also do not support the SAFE Banking Act that passed in the House of Representatives. I have significant concerns that the SAFE Banking Act does not address the high level potency of marijuana, marketing tactics to children, lack of research on marijuana’s effects, and the need to prevent bad actors and cartels from using the banks to disguise ill-gotten cash to launder money into the financial system. I welcome input from all interested parties on how to thoughtfully address these concerns.”

The Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would shield banks from being punished by federal regulators for working with state-legal marijuana businesses, passed the House in September with strong bipartisan support.

Crapo’s committee held a hearing on cannabis businesses’ access to financial services in July, though he had previously said that he did not support taking up the legislation in his panel while marijuana remains federally illegal. He then said he wanted to bring it up by the end of 2019, though later indicated in an interview with Marijuana Moment last month that impeachment could delay things. Now, he is taking the step of floating amendments to the House-passed proposal before moving forward with a vote.

The new document from the chairman largely tracks with comments he made in another Marijuana Moment interview in October in which he said laid out some areas of concern.

“The things we’re looking at are, first of all, to make sure we improve and clarify the interstate banking application of all of this,” Crapo said at the time. “Secondly, money laundering issues with regard to legacy cash to make sure how that is managed properly. [Financial Crimes Enforcement Network] issues and other related issues. And then finally the health and safety issues about what is going to be banked.”

“Take tobacco for example, every state I think has some kind of regulatory parameters around the utilization of tobacco, even if it’s just an age limit on who can purchase it or what have you and the types of products that are going to be allowed,” he continued. “That gets into a legal issue that I think the states need to be more engaged in, but it also impacts the question on what would be banked. Those kinds of issues—health and safety, interstate commerce and money laundering.”

Crapo is also floating new federal studies on marijuana and its effects, clarifying hemp businesses’ banking access and measures to deal with legacy cash and interstate commerce, among other areas for potential amendments. He also suggested that measures requiring studies on study on diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry be removed from the legislation.

“I appreciate Chairman Crapo’s concerns and willingness to work on this important issue. However, there is an urgent public safety risk facing the majority of communities and Americans today that needs to be resolved, and I believe our bill, which passed the House with 321 Democratic and Republican votes, responsibly addresses the conflict between state marijuana laws and federal banking laws,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who is the lead sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act in the House. “This issue requires a pragmatic approach that takes into the account the will of voters across the country. I look forward to working with Chairman Crapo and my colleagues in the Senate as we work to resolve these differences and enact legislation to protect businesses, residents and communities.”

Legalization advocates were not pleased with the proposals.

“These guidelines are essentially gutting the intention of this bill,” National Cannabis Industry Association Director of Government Relations Michael Correia told Marijuana Moment.

“While the chairman may oppose broader cannabis policy reform, he clearly recognizes the problems created by lack of access to banking services,” he said. “The SAFE Banking Act, which has already been passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the House, addresses many of the chairman’s concerns, particularly public safety and transparency. We’re happy to discuss these items with the Senate Banking Committee in a markup, but every day that goes by without addressing this particular issue results in small businesses suffering and unnecessarily puts people’s lives at risk.”

Financial services industry trade associations also reacted to the news.

“We respect Chairman Crapo’s request for additional public input on the SAFE Banking Act, and we look forward to providing the Senate Banking Committee with the information it needs,” James Ballentine, the executive vice president of congressional relations for the American Bankers Association, said in a statement. “ABA, like many other stakeholders, has already provided the committee relevant information on several of the issues identified by the chairman including legacy cash, interstate commerce and ‘Operation Chokepoint.’ We continue to believe that the SAFE Banking Act responsibly addresses the current legal limbo over cannabis banking, and a strong bipartisan majority in the House shares that view. We urge the committee to gather this information in a timely manner so the Senate can follow the House’s lead and pass legislation that will help protect communities across the country from an increasing public safety threat.”

Ryan Donovan, chief advocacy officer for the Credit Union National Association, said that his group “appreciate[s]” Crapo sharing his concerns.

“America’s credit unions are eager to continue engaging with the chairman as he seeks a solution that enhances community safety through access to mainstream financial services,” he said.

Crapo is asking interested parties to send feedback on the new proposals to [email protected]banking.senate.gov, though his office did not list a date by which responses are requested.

Read Crapo’s full statement on marijuana banking below:

Chairman Crapo Outlines Concerns with Cannabis Banking Legislation

Requests feedback on potential changes to address public health and safety

WASHINGTON – Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is inviting public feedback on ways to address public health and money laundering concerns with cannabis banking. Input is also requested on “Operation Choke Point,” an Obama-era initiative in which federal agencies devised and relied upon a list of politically disfavored merchant categories (e.g., firearm manufacturers, payday lenders, etc.) with the intent of “choking-off” these merchants’ access to payment systems and banking services.

“I remain firmly opposed to efforts to legalize marijuana on the federal level, and I am opposed to legalization in the State of Idaho,” said Chairman Crapo. “I also do not support the SAFE Banking Act that passed in the House of Representatives. I have significant concerns that the SAFE Banking Act does not address the high level potency of marijuana, marketing tactics to children, lack of research on marijuana’s effects, and the need to prevent bad actors and cartels from using the banks to disguise ill-gotten cash to launder money into the financial system. I welcome input from all interested parties on how to thoughtfully address these concerns.”

Currently, 33 states have some form of legal marijuana for a variety of uses. This has created challenges for businesses in those states and has resulted in increased pressure for depository and financial institutions to provide financial services to both state-sanctioned businesses and ancillary services providers that may provide services to state-sanctioned businesses. The ancillary service providers offer a variety of services to state-sanctioned businesses, such as legal services, plumbing services, fertilizers and other agricultural supplies, real estate, and leasing, among many others. As a result, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) introduced S. 1200 on April 11, 2019. While marijuana would still be illegal at the federal level, this proposed legislation seeks to provide legal certainty for banks who wish to serve not only marijuana companies, but also the ancillary service providers, meaning that banks can accept cash from legally-operating state cannabis companies and related service providers without the fear of adverse actions being taken against them by federal financial regulators.

On July 23, 2019, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing titled, “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives.” At the hearing, Senator Crapo discussed his concerns with the public health and safety issues surrounding marijuana; legacy cash and money laundering; FinCEN guidance and rulemaking; interstate commerce and banking; and initiatives similar to “Operation Choke Point.”

Options for addressing these concerns include, but are not limited to, the following:

    1. Add public health and safety solutions as a requirement for banks to do business with legally-operating state cannabis companies. Options to consider include THC potency; clear and conspicuous disclosures on products; marketing; effects on minors, unborn children and pregnant women; and age restrictions, among other considerations.
    2. Prevent bad actors and cartels from using legacy cash and the financial system to disguise ill-gotten cash or launder money.
    3. Update 2014 FinCEN rulemaking and guidance regarding marijuana-related businesses, and ensure FinCEN has all of the necessary tools it needs to prosecute money launderers and promulgate rulemakings.
    4. Respect state rights in interstate commerce and banking for institutions who operate in multiple states with different state rules.
    5. Eliminate “Operation Choke Point” and preventing future “Operation Choke Point” Initiatives. Under fear of retribution, many banks have stopped providing financial services to members of lawful industries for no reason other than political pressure, which takes the guise of regulatory and enforcement scrutiny.

Public feedback is requested on the following issues that include potential options for addressing concerns and questions outlined below. Interested parties may submit proposals to Committee staff at [email protected]

Issue 1: Options for addressing public health and safety concerns.

There is a lack of federal research evaluating marijuana and its effects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that marijuana use significantly impairs a user’s judgment, motor skills and reaction time. Other studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability. Additionally, the Surgeon General released an advisory on Marijuana’s Damaging Effects on the Developing Brain, noting that THC binds to receptors in the brain, producing a euphoria and a variety of harmful effects, including intoxication, and memory and motor impairments. The Surgeon General also noted the harmful effects of THC use during pregnancy and on young developing brains. Surgeon General Adams also released an Advisory on e-cigarette use among youth, and the recent surge in the market, which he states is a cause for great concern.

The appropriate federal agencies shall conduct a national study on the effects of marijuana and publicly report on considerations related to public health and safety of cannabis, cannabis products and their delivery mechanisms, including as it pertains to the marketing and varying potency of cannabis and cannabis products, particularly, but not limited to, minors, pregnant women and effects on unborn children. The federal government agencies, within the study, should also make recommendations on the manufacturing and marketing practices of the cannabis industry to minimize their appeal to minors and harm to minors, pregnant women and unborn children.

The studies shall include the following:

a. The types and delivery mechanisms (e.g., smoking, vaping, edibles, drinking, etc.) for all cannabis and cannabis products currently available or under development in the marketplace;

b. The potency of the cannabis and cannabis products, available in their final form, and how the potency has changed over time, including how it impacts addiction;

c. How various potencies and serving sizes may impact individuals’ health and safety, and whether different potencies and serving sizes are harmful to individuals’ health and safety, including how human physiology affects impairment, particularly as it relates to minors and pregnant women;

d. How different types of products and delivery mechanisms have affected minors’ access to cannabis and cannabis products, and how it impacts purchasing decisions over an individual’s lifetime;

e. The degree to which different levels of potency, serving sizes or consumption impair individuals’ judgment or cognitive reasoning, and trends of the prevalence of individuals operating a vehicle or machinery under the influence of cannabis; and

f. The extent to which other jurisdictions with various levels of cannabis legalization have made determinations, as reflected in law or public policy, on the health and safety effects of cannabis or cannabis products, require disclosure of potency or serving sizes, and have restricted or otherwise limited the potency of cannabis cultivated, sold, or purchased in their respective jurisdictions.

Question: Are there any other additional health considerations, other than those explicitly stated in the outline, that should be considered, and which federal agencies are most appropriate to be involved in the aforementioned study?

Considerations for addressing health and safety concerns associated with financial institutions who provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses:

a. Each state must implement clear and conspicuous disclosure of THC potency of cannabis and cannabis products (on a percentage and milligram basis in final products) through a label on the final packaged products at the point of sale. Among the contents of any state labeling requirements should be proper warnings, contaminants, potency and serving sizes, and ingredients;
b. A potency threshold of 2 percent THC content on a percentage and milligram basis in the final product;
c. The 2 percent threshold will apply until each state legislature affirmatively determines the appropriate level of THC potency for cannabis and cannabis products (on a percentage and milligram basis in final products) that appropriately addresses the health and safety risks to its citizens;
d. Preventing distribution to anyone under the age of 21;
e. Preventing the banking of edibles that are in many kid-friendly forms like candies and gummies; and
f. Preventing the banking of high potency THC vape and e-cigarette products.

Question: Are there any other additional health considerations that should be attached to the safe harbor?

Issues 2, 3: Options for addressing legacy cash and money laundering.

FinCEN Rulemaking and Guidance: Amend the Act to direct FinCEN to promulgate a rulemaking within a specified period of time, after enactment of this Act, to address issues pertaining to the provision of financial services to the marijuana industry and ancillary businesses, including Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and dealing with legacy cash.

FinCEN will retain meaningful oversight authority of the activities between cannabis-related legitimate businesses (CRLBs) and their financial institutions. FinCEN will be required to promulgate rulemakings and update their guidance pertaining to Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) expectations for marijuana-related businesses to address the following:

a. Requiring thorough customer due diligence standards;
b. Thorough processes and procedures to ensure funds from cannabis-related businesses and service providers are not associated with illicit activities;
c. Clearly delineating the BSA obligations of financial institutions when engaging in business with cannabis-related businesses or individuals who engage with cannabis-related businesses, including for indirect relationships such as ancillary businesses;
d. Requiring the filing of SARs in a manner that preserves FinCEN’s ability to address illicit activity; and
e. Clarifying the treatment of hemp.

Additionally, Section 7 of S. 1200 should be amended to ensure that the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) must consult with FinCEN on its development of uniform guidance and examination procedures for depository institutions as they relate to CRLBs and service providers.

Suspicious Activity Reports: Amend Section 6 of the Act regarding FinCEN’s guidance to ensure the guidance does not impair the ability of FinCEN to deter illicit activity, consistent with the rulemaking described above.

Question: In such a rulemaking, what additional requirements are needed for financial services firms to ensure that bad actors are not accessing the financial system, the sources of cash entering the financial system are fully understood and validated, Suspicious Activity Reports continue to be appropriately filed, and expectations for indirect relationships are clear commensurate with their risk?

Issue 4: Options for addressing interstate commerce and banking.

Interstate Commerce: Amend the Act to clarify that financial institutions must comply with all applicable laws related to cannabis and cannabis products in each respective state in which they operate, and ensure that nothing in the Act would facilitate interstate commerce of cannabis.

Additionally, given the tension between the state legality of cannabis and federal illegality, it should be made clear that the federal banking regulators should consult with state regulators ahead of any implementation, or give some notice.

Question: Does the bill, as drafted, facilitate interstate commerce? Should there be an explicit statement in the bill clarifying that the bill does not permit interstate commerce of marijuana?

Issue 5: Options for addressing hemp provisions and “Operation Choke Point.”

Add the following new provisions:

a. House hemp provision; and
b. The Financial Institution Customer Protection Act language included in the House-passed version of H.R. 1595, but with the following additional amendments: (1) change the term “may” to “shall”; and amend to reflect and add the following:
(1)An appropriate Federal banking agency shall not formally or informally request or order a depository institution to terminate a specific account or group of customer accounts or to otherwise restrict or discourage a depository institution from entering into or maintaining a banking relationship with a specific customer or group of customers unless –
(A) the institution is engaging in unsafe or unsound practices or violating a rule, law, regulation or other condition imposed in writing due to its relationship with the specific customer.
(B) an appropriate Federal banking agency shall not take any action under (A) with respect to a group or category of customers and shall only take action under (A) after it has made a determination in writing with respect to specific customer that the conditions set forth under (A) are satisfied.
(C) for purposes of (A), reputational risk shall constitute neither an unsafe or unsound practice nor a violation of rule, law, regulation or other condition imposed in writing.

Under (b) Notice Requirement, amend (2) to reflect the following: (2) Justification Requirement – A justification described under paragraph 1(A) should only be based on if the institution engaged in an unsafe or unsound practice or violated a rule, law, regulation or other condition imposed in writing.

Under (c) Customer Notice, add the following: (2) In the written notice and determination, the depository institution shall also provide the determination and justification for why the termination is needed, including any specific laws or regulations, or unsafe and unsound practices, the depository institution believes are being violated by the customer or group of customers.

Question: Do the proposed amendments to the Financial Institution Customer Protection Act, as passed in the House, adequately curb potential future choke point scenarios?

Additional amendments for consideration:

Studies: Strike Sections 8, 9 and 10 directing studies. Section 8 of S. 1200 requires the Federal banking regulators to issue an annual report to congress on diversity and inclusion; Section 9 of S. 1200 requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on diversity and inclusion; and Section 10 requires the GAO to conduct a study on the effectiveness of reports on suspicious transactions filed.

Preserving Regulatory Actions: Amend the Act to clarify that federal banking regulators can still take certain actions, including enforcement actions, against depository institutions, such as those actions related to poor underwriting and engaging in unsafe or unsound practices.

###

This story was updated to include reaction from advocates.

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Marijuana Bill Up For House Vote Could ‘Reverse’ Federal-State Policy Gap, Congressional Research Service Says

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A bill to federally legalize marijuana that is scheduled for a House vote next week could “reverse” the current cannabis policy gap that exists between states and the federal government, a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report says.

In an analysis of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act that was published on Wednesday, CRS described the various complications resulting from ongoing federal prohibition as more states opt to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. The research agency said the legislation could inadvertently create a new schism where federal policy would be more progressive than those of certain states.

That’s because the bill does not require states to stop criminalizing cannabis, and so jurisdictions with prohibition still on the books could continue to punish people over marijuana even as such activity is legalized at the federal level.

“If the MORE Act became law, it could create a new divide between federal and state law—essentially the reverse of the current marijuana policy gap, since federal marijuana law would become less strict than some state laws,” CRS wrote. “The MORE Act could also highlight the inconsistency between marijuana laws in different U.S. jurisdictions by repealing the uniform federal prohibition and leaving in place a patchwork of varying state laws.”

The MORE Act, whose lead sponsor is Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a federal five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.

The legislation would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

“Congress may be content to allow states to experiment with varying approaches to marijuana regulation,” CRS said. “In the alternative, Congress might prefer a more uniform approach, whether that approach is to criminalize or decriminalize marijuana, or something in between. However, while Congress can pass legislation creating a uniform federal policy, there are limits to its ability to affect state law.”

The agency said that while lawmakers lack the “constitutional authority to alter state criminal law,” they could “preempt state law through Commerce Clause legislation” or “encourage states to change their laws through the use of the spending power.”

To that end, while the MORE Act does not create a federal regulatory structure for cannabis or force states to change their own laws, it does include provisions that incentivize the adoption certain local reform policies. For example, it offers federal funding for “eligible states” that take steps to expunge prior cannabis convictions and stop penalizing people on parole for marijuana-related offenses.

“Congress could also invoke its spending power to encourage states to regulate marijuana more stringently, and has previously used the spending power to shape drug policy in targeted ways,” CRS said.

These and other considerations will likely be the subject of significant debate when the House takes up the MORE Act next week.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced on Friday that the bill will be taken on the floor as soon as Wednesday.

He had previously said this summer that the chamber would vote on the legislation in September, but that plan was postponed following pushback from certain centrist Democrats who worried about the optics of advancing cannabis reform before passing another coronavirus relief package.

The bill cleared Nadler’s more than a year ago and has been awaiting floor action since.

Even if the far-reaching reform does pass in the Democratic-controlled chamber, as it’s expected to with some bipartisan support, it remains unlikely that the Senate will follow suit, at least during this Congress. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a champion of the hemp industry but staunchly opposes further marijuana reform.

Even so, a symbolic vote for legalization could send a strong signal to the incoming Biden administration. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lead Senate sponsor of the MORE Act, but she’s indicated she will not necessarily proactively push the former vice president to evolve further on cannabis reform.

Given Biden’s former approach to championing punitive anti-drug legislation as a senator and his ongoing obstinance on marijuana legalization at a time when polls show that a clear majority of Americans favor the policy change, there remains some skepticism about his willingness to make good on his campaign promises to achieve more modest reforms he has endorsed, such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records.

A transition document the incoming Biden-Harris administration released this month left out mention of those cannabis pledges.

That said, the president-elect has conceded that his work on punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in Congress was a “mistake.”

For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in August that “the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice would be a constructive player” in advancing legalization.

CRS, in its new report, also discussed broader drug policy reform efforts taking place at the state level and locally, such as Oregon’s recent vote to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs. The agency noted moves to decriminalize psychedelics specifically in Washington, D.C., too.

These “current trends suggest that there may be a broader movement toward decriminalizing controlled substances,” CRS said. “Comprehensively addressing such changes is outside the scope of the MORE Act, but Congress may wish to monitor developments in this area when considering future legislation.”

Mexico’s President Says Legal Marijuana Is About Freedom, As Legislation Advances In Congress

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Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Will Get A Congressional Vote Next Week, Leader Announces

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A bill to federally legalize marijuana will receive a full floor vote in the U.S. House of Representatives next week, a top Democratic leader in the chamber announced on Friday.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the chamber will take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act some time between Wednesday and Friday. The floor schedule announcement comes weeks after the leader first confirmed that the House would advance the proposal before the year’s end.

Early in the week, the bill is first expected to go before the House Rules Committee, which prepares legislation for floor action and decides which amendments can be made in order for consideration by the full body.

Hoyer previously said that the chamber would vote on the legislation in September, but that plan was postponed following pushback from certain centrist Democrats who worried about the optics of advancing cannabis reform before passing another coronavirus relief package. Several moderates ended up losing their reelection races this month on the same dat that voters in several red states approved legalization measures, however, raising questions about their strategic thinking on the politics of marijuana.

“I’ve been working on this issue longer than any politician in America and can confidently say that the MORE Act is the most comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation in U.S. history,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in a press release. “Our vote to pass it next week will come after people in five very different states reaffirmed the strong bipartisan support to reform the failed cannabis prohibition. National support for federal cannabis legalization is at an all-time high and almost 99 percent of Americans will soon live in states with some form of legal cannabis.”

“Congress must capitalize on this momentum and do our part to end the failed policy of prohibition that has resulted in a long and shameful period of selective enforcement against communities of color,” he said.

The House approving the bill during the presidential transition could also raise the pressure on President-elect Joe Biden to embrace legalization—a policy he’s declined to adopt despite supermajority support among Democratic voters.

As currently written, the MORE Act, whose lead sponsor is Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a federal five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.

The legislation would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

All of those provisions are subject to change through amendments over the coming week.

“This floor vote represents the first congressional roll call ever on the question of ending federal marijuana criminalization,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “By advancing the MORE Act, the House of Representatives sends an unmistakable signal that America is ready to close the book marijuana prohibition and end the senseless oppression and fear that this failed policy wreaks on otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

“Americans are ready to responsibly legalize and regulate marijuana, and this vote shows some lawmakers are finally listening,” he said.

The bill cleared Nadler’s more than a year ago and has been awaiting floor action since.

Even if the far-reaching reform does pass in the Democratic-controlled chamber, as it’s expected to with some bipartisan support, it remains unlikely that the Senate will follow suit, at least during this Congress. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a champion of the hemp industry but staunchly opposes further marijuana reform.

Even so, a symbolic vote for legalization could send a strong signal to the incoming Biden administration. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lead Senate sponsor of the MORE Act, but she’s indicated she will not necessarily proactively push the former vice president to evolve further on cannabis reform.

Given Biden’s former approach to championing punitive anti-drug legislation as a senator and his ongoing obstinance on marijuana legalization at a time when polls show that a clear majority of Americans favor the policy change, there remains some skepticism about his willingness to make good on his campaign promises to achieve more modest reforms he has endorsed, such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records.

A transition document the incoming Biden-Harris administration released this month left out mention of those cannabis pledges.

That said, the president-elect has conceded that his work on punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in Congress was a “mistake.”

For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in August that “the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice would be a constructive player” in advancing legalization.

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Two-Track Effort To Allow Psychedelic Mushrooms In Washington State Launches Amid Broader Drug Decrim Push

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Drug reform advocates won big in Oregon this year, with separate ballot measures to decriminalize possession of all drugs and legalize psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic use passing on Election Day. Now organizers are setting their sights on similar reforms next door in Washington State with two newly announced efforts.

One seeks to utilize existing administrative mechanisms to expand access to psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use by patients in end-of-life care. The other, a proposed ballot initiative on track for 2022, would put Washington on par with Oregon, decriminalizing small-scale possession of all drugs and legalizing mushrooms for broader therapeutic use.

These efforts come after advocates already announced a separate plan to lobby lawmakers to pass a bill decriminalizing all drugs in 2021.

A healthcare professional is behind the first new psilocybin push via the administrative route. Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Seattle physician who specializes in end-of-life care, is hoping to win permission from state and federal regulators to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms and use them to treat patients.

“We know that it’s a naturally occurring substance that we can cultivate safely, we know how to dose it, and there’s really good reason to believe it can help,” Aggarwal said of psilocybin, the main active ingredient in entheogenic mushrooms.

Aggarwal and his clinic, the Advanced Integrative Medical Science Institute, hope to secure legal access to psilocybin for end-of-life patients under state and federal laws that allow patients with terminal diseases to try investigational medications that haven’t been generally approved.

In 2018, President Donald Trump signed the federal “Right to Try Act,” which would give certain patients access to drugs that have not yet been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for broad use. Psilocybin, along with marijuana and MDMA, appears to fit the criteria for the law, including having completed a phase 1 clinical trial and being under active development. Washington State adopted a similar law in 2017.

Aggarwal applied this month to the Washington State Department of Health’s Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission for a license to grow psilocybin mushrooms with the eventual goal of using them to treat patients in palliative care. The state commission has yet to review the application, Kaiser Health News reported this week.

Aggarwal would also need to obtain approval from the federal government, namely the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “We’re still working on formulating an application to them,” he told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview, adding that his team is consulting with lawyers for guidance.

As for a timeline on the applications? “I wish I could tell you,” Aggarwal said. “There’s really no way to know. This has never been tried before that we’re aware of.”

Meanwhile, more sweeping statewide reform could come in the form of a 2022 ballot question. A top backer of both of Oregon’s successful drug-reform initiatives recently said Washington is the next state on his list.

David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s soap company, has long bankrolled drug reform campaigns. In Oregon last election, he gave $3.4 million to Measure 109, which legalized psilocybin for therapeutic use, and $1 million to Measure 110, which decriminalized all drugs.

Bronner recently told the Daily Beast that he’d like to see Washington voters pass both reforms—medical psilocybin and broader drug decriminalization—in a single initiative on the state’s 2022 ballot.

“It’s moving faster than I would’ve thought,” he said. “I would not have thought we’d be ready for the kind of reforms we’re seeing, and it’s gratifying. I just think we can go further in 2022 and 2024.”

Bronner added that he hopes to team up with other drug-reform funders, such as Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros, to maximize their policy impact. “If we all line up as one grand coalition, we can run twice as many ballot measures in a given cycle,” he told the Daily Beast. “We’re working hard on figuring that out.”

In the meantime, another group of activists in the state are continuing their push for drug decriminalization. Treatment First Washington hopes to see lawmakers take up a proposed decriminalization measure next year that closely resembles Oregon’s Measure 110.

The group originally planned to qualify the Washington measure for the 2020 election, but organizers stopped collecting signatures in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As with Oregon’s recently passed decriminalization measure, Treatment First Washington’s proposal would remove criminal penalties for drug possession, expand treatment for substance misuse and pay for that treatment with tax revenue from the state’s legal cannabis industry.

Aggarwal, the Seattle doctor applying to cultivate mushrooms, said that any of the reform efforts would likely help expand access for his patients.

“This effort would definitely be a lot easier if we had decriminalization,” he said, explaining that treatment could work similarly to how the clinic currently deals with marijuana.

“We kind of do this with cannabis in our office already,” he said. “People can do cannabis-assisted therapy sessions where they bring their own, and there’s a vaporizer and they can have a session with a decriminalized drug.”

Aggarwal said he filed the application because dying patients can’t wait for broader reform through the legislature or the ballot box.

“We just don’t have time to wait for that for patients who are sick now,” he said. “These are patients that really have exhausted legally available psychedelic-assisted therapy, which is ketamine, and I think there’s still a need for more… They need help now and not in 2022.”

Marijuana Legalization Opponents Ask Courts To Overturn Voters’ Will In Several States

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman

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