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Marijuana Amendments Cleared For House Floor Votes

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A key congressional committee advanced a series of marijuana-related amendments on Tuesday, including a rider seeking to block the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering in all state-legal cannabis programs. The measures, which also include proposals shielding tribal marijuana laws and allowing military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from government doctors, will now move to the House floor for consideration.

More than a dozen drug policy amendments came before the House Rules Committee, with the panel approving several for potential attachment to a large-scale bill funding parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2020.

Reform advocates were most interested in ensuring that the proposal seeking to prohibit DOJ agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from using funds to intervene in state-legal marijuana activities advanced. The committee didn’t disappoint, ruling it in order for a vote by the full House.

Advocates are optimistic that the measure, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), will be approved because a similar amendment came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the House floor in 2015. Since then, the number of states with legalization has more than doubled, meaning that there are a lot more lawmakers who now represent constituents who would be covered by the proposal’s protections than was the case at the time of the prior vote.

State medical cannabis laws are currently shielded from Department of Justice interference under a similar but narrower spending rider than has been enacted and extended annually since 2014.

Blumenauer’s broader amendment seeking to expand protections to local laws allowing recreational marijuana use and sales is cosponsored by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

In an interview with Marijuana Moment, the Oregon congressman was reluctant to predict a specific number of votes for the measure on the floor, but did note that he was confident of its passage and said the tally would be “an indication of where we’re going with the overall reform effort.”

If the House does approve the measure when the bill comes to the floor, expected later this week, it would not necessarily be enacted into law, as the Senate has not yet begun its consideration of companion spending legislation.

Another amendment cleared for floor consideration would allow Indian tribes to implement their own marijuana policies without the threat of Justice Department intervention. That measure is sponsored by Blumenauer and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), one of the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress.

Blumenauer said he is “optimistic” about that proposal’s chances on the floor.

Another key amendment cleared for a vote would let Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to military veterans in states where it is legal. In years past, both the House and Senate have approved similar measures, but the rider has never been enacted into law.

Other proposals advancing toward votes by the full House include ones focused on CBD regulations, adding a U.S. territory to the list of jurisdictions protected by an existing medical cannabis rider and shifting money away from DEA and toward drug treatment.

These amendments were cleared for floor action:

STATES AND TERRITORIES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with marijuana laws in states, territories and Washington, D.C.

USVI: Adds U.S. Virgin Islands to list of jurisdictions shielded from DOJ medical cannabis interference.

TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal marijuana laws.

VETERANS: Blocks VA from punishing doctors for recommending medical cannabis in states that have legalized or from denying benefits to veterans for participating in medical cannabis programs.

CBD: Directs FDA to set a safe CBD level for foods and dietary supplements.

TREATMENT FUNDING: Moves $5 million from DEA to an opioid treatment program.

While the Rules Committee had made it a practice to block all marijuana amendments under the leadership of then-Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) during the last several years of Republican House control, new Chairman James McGovern (D-MA) has pledged to let cannabis measures advance under the chamber’s Democratic majority.

“I’m not going to block marijuana amendments,” he said shortly after his party took back control of the House in last year’s midterm elections. “People ought to bring them to the floor, they should be debated and people ought to vote the way they feel appropriate.”

Last week, when considering a separate funding bill, McGovern’s panel advanced an amendment put forth by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortz (D-NY) aimed at removing roadblocks to research on Schedule I drugs like marijuana, psilocybin and MDMA, but it went on to be soundly defeated on the House floor.

The committee, citing procedural issues, blocked a separate measure on the earlier spending legislation from Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) aimed at shielding colleges and universities from being punished by the Department of Education for allowing medical cannabis on campus.

Several amendments filed on the current appropriations bill before the committee on Tuesday were withdrawn by their sponsors before the panel could make a decision about floor consideration, in some cases because they had similar measures they decided to press forward with.

These amendments were withdrawn by sponsors:

SAFE CONSUMPTION SITES: Blocks DOJ from preventing states and localities from establishing and implementing safe consumption sites for illegal drugs.

TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal medical cannabis laws.

TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal marijuana laws in states that have legalized.

TRIBES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with tribal medical cannabis laws in states that have legalized.

VETERANS: Blocks DOJ from punishing VA doctors or employees for recommending medical cannabis in states that have legalized.

STATES AND TERRITORIES: Blocks DOJ from interfering with state marijuana and those in Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories.

Though advocates are backing several pieces of standalone marijuana legislation, reform proposals are increasingly being pursued through the appropriations process. Several recent committee reports have called for the expedition of policies to regulate CBD, implement hemp regulations, lift barriers to marijuana research, prevent impaired driving and protect veteran benefits for those using cannabis in compliance with state law.

The House Appropriations Committee also advised the federal government to consider updating its policy concerning employees who use marijuana in accordance with state law.

Last week, the same panel approved a spending bill that includes language providing protections for banks that service state-legal marijuana business while also removing a longstanding rider that has blocked Washington, D.C. from using its own local tax dollars to legalize and regulate cannabis sales.

And cannabis reform activity is heating up in Congress beyond appropriations.

On Wednesday, the House Small Business Committee will hold a hearing on issues facing small businesses in the marijuana industry. And on Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will consider several bills focused on medical cannabis and military veterans.

Meanwhile, a standalone bill to increase marijuana businesses’ access to banks was cleared by the House Financial Services Committee in March. Blumenauer told Marijuana Moment that he anticipates a floor vote on that legislation next month.

Senators Demand End To Anti-Marijuana Immigration Policy

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.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-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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Former Federal Prosecutor’s Marijuana Legalization Measure Advances In South Dakota

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A measure to legalize marijuana in South Dakota—introduced by a former federal prosecutor and backed by a leading national cannabis advocacy group—was recently cleared for signature gathering.

Brendan Johnson, who served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of South Dakota and whose father represented the state in the U.S. Senate until 2015, filed the initiative in June. It received an official explanatory statement from the attorney general last month and its backers were given the green light to start collecting signatures last week.

“We are excited to move forward with these ballot initiative campaigns,” Johnson told Marijuana Moment. “South Dakota voters are ready to approve both medical marijuana and legalization at the ballot box next year.”

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is supporting the proposed constitutional amendment, as well as a separate statutory initiative to legalize medical cannabis in the state that was approved for signature collection last month.

The former federal prosecutor’s measure, which is being steered by the committee South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, would allow adults 21 and older to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Individuals would also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants. The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be tasked with issuing licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers.

Sales would be taxed at 15 percent under the initiative, and revenue would be used to fund the program’s implementation, with additional monies going toward public education and the state general fund.

Beside legalizing marijuana, the amendment would also instruct the legislature to enact legislation to legalize hemp and medical cannabis. If the separate statutory medical marijuana legalization initiative, being coordinated by the group New Approach South Dakota, qualifies and passes as well, that latter requirement wouldn’t be necessary.

“The Marijuana Policy Project strongly supports the South Dakota campaign,” MPP Deputy Director Matthew Schweich, who led the organization’s efforts in support of previous legalization campaigns in Maine, Massachusetts and Michigan, told Marijuana Moment. “Across the country, and even in conservative states, voters are demanding marijuana policy reform. Our goal is simple: to effectuate the will of the people when elected officials choose to ignore it.”

Petitioners for the proposed constitutional amendment must collect 33,921 valid signatures from voters to qualify for the 2020 ballot. For statutory initiatives, 16,961 signatures are required. MPP’s involvement will likely bolster the campaign’s prospects of meeting that goal.

It’s already clear that marijuana reform measures are going to face resistance from certain quarters, with Gov. Kristi Noem (R) vetoing a hemp legalization bill in March and the state’s Republican party urging residents not to sign ballot petitions.

“Our campaign, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, will be working from now until Election Day 2020 to earn the support of South Dakotans from every corner of the state,” Johnson said.

California Lawmakers Use Cryptocurrency To Buy Marijuana From Dispensary

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Cory Booker Pledges To Back Only Marijuana Bills With Justice Focus As Banking Vote Approaches

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With a vote on marijuana banking issues imminent in the House, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) emphasized on Friday that he will not support cannabis legislation that doesn’t include restorative justice components.

In a tweet that linked to an earlier Marijuana Moment article on his cannabis stance, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate wrote that “any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.”

The statement comes at a critical moment in the marijuana reform movement. House leadership announced on Friday that the first full floor vote on a standalone piece of cannabis reform legislation—a bill to protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators—will be held next week. But that development has also created controversy, with several advocacy groups arguing that a vote should be postponed until more wide-ranging reform legislation is passed.

Although Booker didn’t directly reference the banking bill his his tweet, its timing seemed to suggest that he sides with those groups—which include the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance—and that he wouldn’t support the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act as written.

Booker’s Senate press secretary confirmed to Marijuana Moment in an email that his boss’s Twitter post was sent directly in reaction to the House banking news.

While some have made the case that the bill would help promote social equity by improving access to banking services for minority business owners, for example, others view the legislation as primarily benefiting large cannabis firms.

Throughout his campaign, the senator has emphasized the need for inclusive and comprehensive marijuana reform. He determined that a bill to protect state cannabis programs from federal intervention that he formerly cosponsored didn’t meet that standard and did not attach his name to the latest version.

“At this point it’s too obvious and urgent and unfair that we’re moving something on marijuana on the federal level and it doesn’t do something on restorative justice,” he told VICE in April. “I want that bill to have some acknowledgement of the savage injustices that the marijuana prohibition has done to communities.”

“I get very angry when people talk about legalizing marijuana and then give no light to how marijuana law enforcement was done in ways that fed upon poor communities—black and brown communities. This is a war on drugs that has not been a war on drugs—it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately poor people and disproportionately black and brown people.”

Booker also said that he wants to couple conversations about legalization with talk of expunging prior cannabis convictions “in the same breath.”

The senator’s potential future opposition to a House-passed cannabis banking bill could prove problematic as its supporters work to shepherd the legislation through a chamber where it already faces an uphill path under anti-marijuana Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and skepticism from other GOP lawmakers.

House Marijuana Banking Vote Officially Scheduled For Next Week, Leadership Announces

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House Marijuana Banking Vote Officially Scheduled For Next Week, Leadership Announces

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House leadership confirmed on Friday that a bipartisan marijuana banking bill will receive a floor vote next week despite objections from several leading advocacy groups who want broader justice-oriented cannabis reforms to advance before what they see as an industry-focused proposal.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which cleared the Financial Services Committee in March, will be voted on through a process known as suspension of the rules, requiring two-thirds of the chamber (290 members) to support it for passage.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced the scheduling of the vote in remarks on the House floor on Friday morning.

“We will consider several bills under suspension of the rules, including H.R. 1595, the SAFE Banking Act of 2019, as amended.”

A staffer for his office told Marijuana Moment that they “expect it on the Floor on Wednesday.”

No amendments will be allowed on the floor, but the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is moving to make a series of changes ahead of the vote in order to broader its GOP appeal. That includes adding language clarifying that banks that service hemp and CBD business as well as marijuana firms would be protected from being penalized by federal financial regulators.

The revised bill also stipulates that financial regulators can’t target certain industries like firearm dealers without a valid reason.

“After six years of working on this bill, the SAFE Banking Act will go a long way in providing certainty for financial institutions to work with cannabis businesses and getting cash off our streets to make our communities safer,” Ashley Verville, communications director for Perlmutter, told Marijuana Moment following Hoyer’s announcement.

“We are very pleased that the broad support for this much-needed reform has finally led to a vote,” Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “Small businesses cannot afford to delay access to financial services, and every day that traditional lending and banking is denied to the cannabis industry is another day that marginalized communities will continue to be left behind by the opportunities created in legal cannabis markets.”

“The time to act is now, and success next week will only improve our chances for more comprehensive reforms in the future,” he said.

Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, echoed that point.

“We applaud the House for taking up this vital piece of cannabis policy reform that will greatly increase public safety within the markets we operate, while helping to address some of the challenges that we face regarding equity,” he said.

While advocates initially expected a floor vote to be scheduled prior to the summer recess, that didn’t materialize. Hoyer announced last week that he intended to get a vote before the end of September.

The announcement sparked a debate within advocacy circles, however. Groups including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) wrote a letter urging leadership to delay the vote on banking—legislation viewed as primarily favorable to the industry—until comprehensive marijuana reform is passed first.

“This is disappointing news,” Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator for DPA, told Marijuana Moment about Hoyer’s vote announcement. “We will continue to talk with leadership, members, and allies on next steps.”

While Democrats have largely embraced marijuana reform, including the banking bill, frustration over the order in which the House tackles cannabis legislation has led to some dissent within the party and its constituencies, potentially jeopardizing the chances that the SAFE Banking Act will garner the required 290 votes. For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Thursday that she may vote against the bill if the chamber doesn’t first tackle social equity issues.

“She feels strongly that addressing racial justice should be the first priority,” a staffer for the congresswoman told Marijuana Moment.

Groups that backed delaying the vote have yet to decide on next steps since the scheduling announcement.

DPA Director of National Affairs Michael Collins told Marijuana Moment that “no decision has been made” in terms of whether the organization will urge lawmakers to vote against the bill on the floor without broader reform measures advancing first.

Jasmine Tyler, advocacy director for HRW’s U.S. program, said “we actually haven’t gotten that far.”

“Pushing for delay still,” she said.

Late on Friday, Hoyer’s office formally listed the planned vote on the SAFE Banking Act on next week’s floor calendar.

Lawmakers such as House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Perlmutter told Marijuana Moment this week that while they share the groups’ desire for broader cannabis legislation, there’s been a lack of movement within the Judiciary Committee to advance a legalization bill from its chair, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and so lawmakers are in a bind.

“SAFE Banking is a narrowly focused bill that serves as the ice breaker for this Congress to take up additional marijuana legislation,” Verville, from Perlmutter’s office, said. “We appreciate the strong broad, bipartisan coalition of support behind this bill, and look forward to the vote next week.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Thursday that he agrees with the sentiment expressed in the advocacy letter, writing that “Congress should not enact banking reform alone and think the job is done.” He didn’t specify whether he also wanted a vote to be delayed, however.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) didn’t specifically mention the banking bill, but in a tweet published hours after the House vote was announced, he reiterated his stance that “any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.”

Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, which supports moving forward with the banking bill while broader legislation is worked out, told Marijuana Moment that the House vote next week “is an important first step by Congress.”

“But much more action will still need to be taken in order to ultimately comport federal law with the new political and cultural realities surrounding marijuana,” he added.

While some advocates have raised concerns about the timing of the banking vote, there’s been widespread support for the legislation among financial associations and state officials.

The American Bankers Association (ABA), Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and National Bankers Association (NBA) wrote a letter supporting the bill’s passage on Thursday.

They’re joined by 50 state banking associations, the National Association of State Treasurers, the top financial regulators of 25 states, a majority of state attorneys general and bipartisan governors of 20 states, all of which have backed the SAFE Banking Act this year.

If the banking bill clears the House next week, it’s prospects remain uncertain in the Republican-controlled Senate. Though certain key senators such as Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) have recently indicated that they’re inclined to pursue a legislative fix to the issue, GOP lawmakers have generally not had the same appetite for marijuana reform as their Democratic colleagues.

That said, the chairman revealed last week that he plans to hold a vote on cannabis banking legislation in his panel before the year’s end, and Perlmutter’s proposed amendments are likely to increase Senate leadership’s interest in taking up the SAFE Banking Act. Crapo is an especially strong proponent of preventing financial regulators from targeting certain industries such as gun sellers, which the bill will now address.

However, Crapo’s communications director told Marijuana Moment on Friday that there are “no plans to mark anything up/hold a vote at this time.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a fierce advocate for the hemp and CBD industries, and he may be persuaded to put the legislation to a vote since it includes explicit protections for those businesses even if he personally opposes broader marijuana reform.

This story has been updated to include comments from lawmakers and advocates. 

These New Marijuana Banking Bill Amendments Could Help Win GOP Support

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