A bipartisan group of 34 members of Congress is calling on House leadership to include language in the next coronavirus stimulus bill to allow marijuana businesses to access federal disaster relief that is available to other industries.
“The state-legal cannabis industry is a major contributor to the U.S. economy and workforce, employing over 240,000 workers across 33 states and four territories, and generating $1.9 billion in state and local taxes in 2019,” the lawmakers wrote. “State-legal cannabis businesses need access to CARES Act programs to ensure they have the financial capacity to undertake the public health and worker-focused measures experts are urging businesses to take.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) led the effort to build support for the letter, which was released on Friday. A similar letter to Senate leadership, led by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), is also in the works and is expected to be released in the coming days.
As it stands, the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) maintains that cannabis companies—as well as those that “indirectly” work with the industry like accounting and law firms—are ineligible for its loan and lending programs, including those pegged to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Industry stakeholders and lawmakers have emphasized that while many cannabis shops remains open as state-designated essential services during the outbreak, the market is at economic risk as governments issue shelter-in-place orders and encourage social distancing. As a major sector of state economies that employ tens of thousands of workers, the marijuana industry needs SBA access during the crisis, they say.
“Like other businesses with continued operations, cannabis businesses have met the moment by preserving access to treatment for patients with chronic conditions, donating protective clothing, and manufacturing equipment for medical use. However, unlike other small businesses, cannabis businesses are not eligible for the CARES Act programs,” the lawmakers wrote, referring to a prior coronavirus aid package that was enacted last month.
“The COVID-19 outbreak is no time to permit federal policy to stand in the way of the reality that millions of Americans in states across the country face daily—that state-legal cannabis businesses are sources of economic growth and financial stability for thousands of workers and families, and need our support,” they said. “Given the nature of the epidemic, we must ensure that everyone has the capacity to carry out the recommended public health and worker-focused measures. Without doing that, we risk undercutting the public health efforts nationwide.”
Joining Blumenauer in leading the letter are Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Don Young (R-AK) and Tom McClintock (R-CA).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wants to see separate language increasing marijuana businesses’ access to banking services included in an upcoming COVID-19 bill, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said last week after presenting that issue before the Democratic caucus.
“Workers at state-legal cannabis businesses are no different from workers at any other small business—they show up to work every day, perform their duties, and most importantly, work to provide for their families,” the 34 lawmakers wrote to her and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Friday. “This lack of access will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary layoffs, reduced hours, pay cuts, and furloughs for the workers of cannabis businesses who need support the most.”
Rosen, whose pending Senate letter calling for SBA access for marijuana businesses is still being circulated for signatures, has long pushed the issue outside of the coronavirus pandemic, raising it during a committee hearing last year, for example.
The senator led a separate letter earlier this month, asking Appropriations Committee leadership to insert language extending SBA access to small marijuana businesses in upcoming annual spending legislation.
The new House letter makes clear that relief needs to come sooner, however.
“Cannabis businesses are essential to many communities around the country. We cannot be selective about which small businesses receive relief as the COVID-19 pandemic cripples our economy,” Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment. “This is yet another example of the federal government falling behind the states on cannabis. While we continue our fight to reform discriminatory, harmful, and out-of-touch cannabis policies, the fight for the state-legal cannabis industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of Americans, continues.”
In a letter to state treasurers that was delivered earlier this month, a coalition of marijuana industry associations urged the officials to pressure their congressional delegations to include SBA access for cannabis firms in future coronavirus legislation. They also want the states to explore providing separate loan and lending programs for the market.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) also recently sent a letter asking a congressman from his state to take up the issue with his colleagues and ensure SBA access for the cannabis industry.
Meanwhile, although hemp businesses are eligible for certain SBA programs since the crop was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, industry associations sent a letter to the head of the agency on Monday, urging SBA to extend access to a series of other coronavirus relief loans to farmers who cultivate hemp.
Lawmakers are also making a different kind of COVID-related cannabis push concerning veterans access to marijuana. In a letter led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) last week, members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation urged the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to allow its doctors to issue verbal recommendations for medical cannabis amid the pandemic.
Read the full text of the lawmakers’ letter below:
Image element courtesy of Tim Evanson.
New Initiative To Legalize Marijuana Sales Filed In D.C.
Activists recently filed a new proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana sales in Washington, D.C.
The measure—titled the “New Modern Day Cannabis Justice Reform Act”—would end prosecutions of cannabis cultivation, sales and consumption. It would also prevent marijuana from being the basis of police searches and provide for expungements of prior cannabis convictions.
District voters approved a measure to legalize low-level marijuana possession and home cultivation in 2014, but the city has been prevented from implementing a retail model due to a congressional rider barring it from using local tax dollars for such purposes. It stands to reason that the new proposal would run into the same problem, but activists say they plan to push ahead regardless.
Dawn Lee-Carty, executive director of the campaign behind this initiative, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview that the currently unregulated cannabis system that’s in place has failed to address the problem of racially disproportionate enforcement, with arrests still occurring and putting people at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
“Our goal is to push hard and—if we have to take it to Congress, whatever levels that we have to take—to ensure that it is a different cannabis climate for the safety of the patient, for the economy, for those who run a participate and want to be store owners for cannabis, we should have access just like big moneyed interests have access without being washed out,” she said.
Lee-Carty said that, ideally, the measure would appear on the November ballot this year. It’s fairly late in the process at this point, but the Board of Elections is scheduled to meet to determine whether the initiative meets the standards of relevant subject matter for initiatives on September 2.
To qualify for the ballot, activists would have to collect 24,835 valid signatures from registered voters—just as a separate campaign to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics successfully did. The marijuana campaign has not started formally gathering signatures, but it did circulate an independent petition that advocates say amassed about 40,000 signatures from individuals who would presumably be inclined to sign the official form.
“This initiative legalizes the possession, to the extent possible by current law the use, sale, and purchase of cannabis and CBD products for any person over the age of 21 or older,” text of the measure states. “Where not possible the initiative will make police enforcement and prosecution the lowest priority. Reverting to law automatically the soonest date possible in the future.”
The proposal also contains several noteworthy provisions such as requiring that, in order to obtain a marijuana business license, individuals must have resided in D.C. for at least two years. Those on parole would also be eligible, the measure states.
“We don’t want outsiders to come in and take over our business. It’s already happened. It’s already here,” Lee-Cary said, referring to the district’s existing medical cannabis program. “You have a lot of out-of-state, people that come in—big money interests that come in—and they sweep up the opportunities that people in our community could have.”
There’s also a ban on vertical integration included in the measure, preventing companies from multiple stages of production and sales so that the local industry would be more diverse and less at risk of monopolization.
Another unique provision would make it so police dogs “previously trained to detect cannabis will be retrained to detect explosives, weapons of mass destruction, and firearms so as to protect our schools, malls, mass gatherings, from foreign and domestic foreign terrorism.”
“Dogs are trained to sniff marijuana, but meanwhile we have bombs, we have school shootings, we have so many other things that are in play right now that I think that we should redirect the funding for dogs—once again removing police and all police-related things, including dogs—out of the cannabis industry or out of the cannabis climate if it’s legal,” Lee-Carty said.
Read the text of the proposed D.C. marijuana sales legalization measure below:
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
USDA Explains Why It’s Denying Hemp Farmers Access To Coronavirus Relief Benefits
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has explained its reasoning for denying hemp growers access to federal coronavirus relief.
In a notice set to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, the department said it was only providing benefits under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) for producers of commodities that experienced a five percent price decline between January and April. Their analysis found that hemp did not meet that threshold.
“While the national price did decrease during the first quarter of 2020, it was only a 1 percent decrease, which did not meet the 5 percent or greater decrease in price for CFAP eligibility,” USDA said.
“The national price is represented by the average of 5 regional published hemp biomass benchmark midpoints,” the notice states. “USDA has determined hemp is not eligible for CFAP due to not meeting the 5 percent or greater price decline, nationally.”
USDA first announced that hemp and several other crops would not be eligible for the program in May. While the agency initially maintained it was not even open to reevaluating that decision when it comes to hemp—a determination for only that crop and tobacco—it changed course after Marijuana Moment reported on the blanket exclusion. The department then said that it would at least accept evidence of price declines to reconsider eligibility.
USDA’s latest comments on hemp in the new Federal Register notice are part of a compilation of responses from the department to public feedback requesting aid for a variety of crops that were initially left out of the program.
CFAP is a $19 billion immediate relief program that “includes direct support to agricultural producers.” It was established as part of the first approved COVID-19 package passed by Congress.
Hemp industry advocates have expressed disappointment over USDA’s action, arguing that like any other industry, the hemp market is experiencing unique challenges amid the pandemic and shouldn’t be written off from this program.
They say because hemp is a newly legal crop, it’s more difficult to assess price declines based on traditional benchmarks.
The hemp exclusion by from USDA seemed unusual given that the department has seemingly made a significant effort to demonstrate that it is supportive of the industry and is actively working to ensure that the market has the resources it needs to expand since the crop’s federal legalization in 2018.
In the meantime, USDA is facing pressure from the top Democrat in the Senate and industry stakeholders to delay issuing final regulations for hemp until 2022, citing concerns about the challenges of state compliance that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The minority leader isn’t alone in requesting an extension; state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA this week.
USDA has since approved numerous state, territory and tribal plans—most recently for Maryland and an Indian tribe last week.
Two senators representing Oregon recently expressed concerns that USDA appears positioned to reinstate two particular provisions of its interim final rule that stakeholders view as especially problematic. Those requirements, which the department temporarily suspended enforcement of, mandate that labs that test hemp be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration and that law enforcement be involved in disposal of the crop if it contains excess THC.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
Trump, Asked About Harris’s Marijuana Record, Says ‘She Lied’
President Trump weighed in on Sen. Kamala Harris’s (D-CA) prior comments on marijuana shortly after she was announced as Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate on Tuesday.
While the president declined to explicitly discuss the senator’s cannabis policy positions after being pressed by New York Post reporter Steve Nelson, he said “she lied” and “said things that were untrue” when presented with details about an interview she gave last year in which she discussed smoking marijuana in college.
Harris, a former California prosecutor who has been widely criticized by advocates over he role in convicting people over marijuana and past dismissive comments about reform efforts, told The Breakfast Club that during her college days, she consumed cannabis and listened to rappers Tupac and Snoop Dogg. But as some quickly pointed out, the timeline didn’t match, as those artists hadn’t yet released their debut albums while she was in school.
President Trump, in his first remarks on Kamala Harris as Joe Biden's VP pick, tells me about her past remarks on marijuana:
'Well, she lied. I mean, she said things that were untrue. She is a person that's told many, many stories that weren't true.'https://t.co/VhKjB9G4yM
— Steven Nelson (@stevennelson10) August 11, 2020
Harris later conceded that she “definitely was not clear about what I was listening to” while consuming cannabis.
Nelson asked the president at a White House press briefing if he felt Harris’s “past on marijuana” is “a liability.”
“Well, she lied. I mean, she said things that were untrue. She is a person that’s told many, many stories that weren’t true,” Trump said before pivoting to criticism about her position on topics like taxes, fracking, military funding and health care.
The reporter followed up to ask whether “supporters of marijuana legalization should vote for you rather than her because she convicted so many people in the past.”
“I can’t tell you what she’s voting for. I don’t think she knows what. I think Joe knows even less than she does,” the president said without directly addressing the question.
It’s somewhat rare for Trump to comment on marijuana issues, but it’s notable that when presented with the opportunity to seize on Harris’s criminal justice record, he declined. It’s especially interesting given that his reelection campaign has been attacking Biden as an “architect” of the drug war who authored punitive laws during his time in the Senate and framing the incumbent president as the criminal justice reform candidate.
A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, which makes it all the more curious that neither Trump nor Biden have sought to embrace the issue. Harris, for her part, is now the lead sponsor of a bill to federally legalize cannabis.
In any case, Nelson, the New York Post reporter, has made a habit of pressing Trump on cannabis policy. Last year, he cited studies about reduced opioid overdoses in states with legalization on the books and the president replied that “right now we are allowing states to make that decision” with regard to cannabis policy.
And when the reporter previously asked about Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) legislation to allow states to set their own marijuana policies, the president voiced tentative support, saying “I really do” favor the proposal.
“I know exactly what he’s doing. We’re looking at it,” he said at the time. “But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”
Both Trump and Biden are in favor of medical cannabis. And Biden has put forward plans to decriminalize marijuana possession, modestly reschedule the plant and facilitate expungements for prior cannabis convictions.
It remains to be seen whether Harris will push the former vice president to adopt a pro-legalization stance.