From marijuana legalization in Illinois to decriminalization in New Mexico, 2019 has been a banner year for the cannabis reform movement, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) said in a mid-year progress report published on Monday.
The document outlines the top 10 “marijuana policy wins” of the year and provides a status update on developments across Congress and state legislatures, many of which have adjourned until 2020.
MPP counts cannabis legalization in Illinois as the number one policy achievement, noting that the state was the first to approve a tax-and-regulate model through an act of the legislature as opposed to via a voter initiative on the ballot. That’s followed by the passage of a congressional budget rider in the House that protects all state-legal marijuana programs from federal interference.
Here are the rest of the cannabis feats that have occurred so far this year:
—New Mexico decriminalized possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana, making such an offense punishable by a $50 fine and no jail time.
—Georgia’s governor signed a bill in April that provides for state-run medical cannabis production facilities. While possession of low-THC cannabis oil has been legal in the state, there was previously no legal means to obtain it.
—North Dakota decriminalized low-level marijuana possession, removing the threat of jail time for possession of up to a half ounce of cannabis.
—Hawaii became the 26th state to decriminalize marijuana possession, though advocates expressed frustration that it only covers possession of three grams or less.
—New Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) proved much amenable to the cannabis industry than his predecessor, signing legislation that allows for marijuana home delivery and on-site consumption as licensed facilities.
—Employers who enforce drug testing policies cannot discriminate against marijuana consumers in Nevada after the governor approved a historic bill in June.
—Guam was the first U.S. jurisdiction of the year to legalize cannabis.
The report notes that at least 27 legislatures considered marijuana legalization bills this year.
“Virtually every legislature in the country is taking a close look at its marijuana policies, and many have adopted significant reforms in 2019,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at MPP and lead author of the report, said in a press release. “Not a single legislature moved to repeal or roll back a medical cannabis or legalization law.”
“Particularly with the first-of-its-kind legalization victory in Illinois, 2019 has been a milestone year for MPP and our movement,” she said.
On the other side of the coin, however, the report singles out South Dakota as “the only state where there has been no forward progress on marijuana policies in 2019.” It has no decriminalization, legalization or medical cannabis law, and Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoed a hemp bill this year.
Beyond the states, of course, there were several significant congressional advancements. Besides extending longstanding protections against federal enforcement actions in states with medical cannabis systems, the House also passed an amendment to a spending bill that prohibits the Justice Department from using funds to interfere in any marijuana program in states, U.S. territories or Washington, D.C.
A rider that blocks D.C. from spending its local taxpayer dollars from implementing a legal cannabis program was stripped from appropriations legislation, and its sponsor Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) didn’t attempt to reinsert the language.
A bipartisan bill that would provide protections for banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March. The Senate Banking Committee is scheduled to discuss the legislation during a meeting on Tuesday—a somewhat surprising development considering that Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) previously said he wouldn’t commit to scheduling time for the bill as long as marijuana remained federally illegal.
MPP also pointed to this month’s House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition—a first-of-its-kind meeting that involved an entirely pro-legalization panel of witnesses—as another example of a major cannabis policy victory in 2019.
“Our strategy of building pressure on Congress is working, and we’ve seen historic progress in 2019,” Don Murphy, director of federal policies at MPP, said. “Leaders in both parties are talking about the need for reform and giving this issue the attention it deserves.”
“The House’s decision to protect states’ legalization policies is a very encouraging sign,” he said. “It’s possible that we’ll see the end of federal prohibition before the 2020 election.”
Read MPP”s full report on 2019 marijuana victories below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
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.