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Marijuana Banking Measure Rejected By Congressional Committee

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A powerful congressional committee voted on Wednesday to reject a measure to protect banks that open accounts for marijuana businesses from being punished by federal financial regulators. Supporters then scrambled to craft a more limited measure focused on medical cannabis businesses, but it was ultimately withdrawn before a vote could take place.

The broader measure would have prevented the U.S. Department of Treasury from taking any action to “penalize a financial institution solely because the institution provides financial services to an entity that is a manufacturer, producer, or a person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana or marijuana products” in accordance with state or local law.

After a lengthy and impassioned debate during which at least 19 lawmakers spoke, it was defeated on a voice vote by the House Appropriations Committee.

Despite the fact that a growing number of states are legalizing marijuana for recreational or medical use, many financial institutions have remained reluctant to work with cannabis businesses for fear of running afoul of money laundering laws under ongoing federal prohibition.

As a result, many marijuana growers, processors and retailers operate on a cash-only basis, which can make them targets for robberies.

The issue is “not whether or not one approves of marijuana,” said Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), the chief sponsor of both banking amendments, before the vote. “This is about public safety and financial transparency.”

Either rider, if it were successfully attached to legislation to fund the Treasury Department for Fiscal Year 2019, would have provided added assurance to banks that federal officials won’t close them down for working with the cannabis industry.

A similar measure was approved by the full House of Representatives in 2014 by a margin of 231 to 192, but was not included in final spending legislation that year, and congressional Republicans have since blocked floor votes on most cannabis measures.

In the lead up to the Wednesday banking vote, several advocates and Capitol Hill staffers expressed confidence in interviews that the measure would pass. But a number of likely Republican supporters were absent during the debate, and others who are sympathetic to marijuana law reform expressed varying concerns about the specific proposal. As a result, supporters did not force a roll call tally following the defeat on a voice voice.

Joyce then went back to the drawing board and crafted the narrower medical-focused amendment, which he hoped would find enough support to pass. But after a brief debate on the second proposal, Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) asked Joyce three times to withdraw the amendment instead of forcing a vote. The Ohio congressman twice pressed ahead and said he wanted the committee to weigh in on the measure, only to give in at the last moment and pull the measure.

By seeking to adopt the language in the appropriations panel, before the overall spending bill heads to the Rules Committee, which is where marijuana amendments have gone to die for the past several years, advocates were attempting to circumvent an effective blockade that has prevented progress on cannabis reform in the House.

In a similar move last month, the Appropriations Committee approved a measure to protect state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department interference following several instances of that measure being blocked by the Rules Committee.

In a separate sign of the mainstreaming of marijuana politics on the other side of the Capitol, on Wednesday the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies included that far-reaching medical marijuana language in the initial version of the Justice Department funding bill as introduced by Republican leaders, meaning that no vote or amendment will even be necessary to advance the provision in that chamber this year.

The Senate panel is scheduled to take up its version of the Treasury Department funding bill, which is called the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, next week.

The Fraternal Order of Police, which opposes legalization, sent a letter this week urging House lawmakers to reject the cannabis banking move.

While U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January rescinded Obama-era guidance that generally protected state marijuana laws from Justice Department interference, Treasury Department officials have for now kept in place a separate memo that provides some direction and limited protection to banks that work with cannabis businesses.

Also on Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell was asked about cannabis banking issues during a press conference.

“This is a difficult area, because many state laws permit the use of marijuana and federal law still doesn’t,” he said. “So it puts federally chartered banks in a very difficult situation.”

The Fed chairman implied that he would like the issue to be resolved with a change in policy.

“It would great if that could be clarified,” Powell said. “Our mandate has nothing to do with marijuana, so we just would love to see it clarified.”

Another top Trump administration official, Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin, has indicated on a number of occasions that he sees the importance of allowing marijuana businesses to store their profits in banks.

“I assure you that we don’t want bags of cash,” he testified before a House committee in February. “We do want to find a solution to make sure that businesses that have large access to cash have a way to get them into a depository institution for it to be safe.”

In a separate House appearance the same month, he testified that fixing cannabis banking issues is at the “top of the list” of his department’s concerns.

Prior to his confirmation by the Senate last year, Mnuchin said in response to written questions from a senator that marijuana businesses’ banking and tax issues are “very important.”

President Trump himself last week indicated that he supports broader changes to federal marijuana prohibition so that states can set their own legalization laws without interference.

“I really do. I support Senator Gardner,” the president said when asked by a journalist if he supports the legislation, filed last week by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The Treasury Department legislation, which also covers funding policy for the District of Columbia, contains provisions that prohibit the city from spending local or federal funds to enact a broader system of legal marijuana sales and from using federal monies to support supervised drug consumption facilities.

Meanwhile, separate standalone bills to permanently solve the marijuana industry’s financial services issues have record levels of support. House legislation filed by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) has 94 cosponsors and a companion Senate bill  sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has 18 lawmakers signed on.

The marijuana banking amendment, as proposed before the House Appropriations Committee, reads:

“None of the funds made available in this Act may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, or Guam, to penalize a financial institution solely because the institution provides financial services to an entity that is a manufacturer, producer, or a person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling marijuana or marijuana products and engages in such activity pursuant to a law established by a State or a unit of local government.”

The medical cannabis banking amendment reads:

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, or with respect to the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, or Guam, to penalize a financial institution solely because the institution provides financial services to an entity that is a manufacturer, producer, or a person that participates in any business or organized activity that involves handling medical marijuana or medical marijuana products and engages in such activity pursuant to a law established by a State or a unit of local government as it pertains to medical marijuana. Any entity that engages in any activity involving marijuana that is not exclusively for medical purposes shall not be covered by this provision.”

This piece was first published by Forbes.

If you value staying updated on cannabis news, please start a monthly Patreon pledge to support Marijuana Moment!

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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Google Execs Told Marijuana Jokes To Lighten The Mood After Trump’s Election, Leaked Video Shows

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Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Google executives spoke at an all-hands meeting about the political ramifications of Donald Trump’s victory and fielded questions from employees about the path moving forward.

And to lighten the mood, they also cracked a few jokes about marijuana, which had just been fully legalized in California, the home of Google’s headquarters.

“Let’s face it, most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad because of the election,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin said at the beginning of the meeting. “But there’s another group—a small group—that we should also think about who are very excited about the legalization of pot.” 

Employees are heard applauding and laughing in the video, which was leaked to Breitbart by an anonymous source. (The video cannot currently be embedded, but it appears at the top of the page linked above).

“I was asking if we could serve joints outside on the patio, but apparently these things take a little while to take effect,” Brin continued. “It was a huge, huge disappointment.”

“I’ve been bemoaning that all week, I’ll be honest with you.” 

Of course, the meeting took on a more serious tone as executives discussed the policy implications of the incoming Trump administration and the role of Google in the modern political landscape. But the meeting didn’t wrap without one final nod to the passage of Proposition 64 in California.

Asked to weigh in on speculation that economist Jefferey Eisenach would be named as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Google’s chief legal officer Kent Walker brushed it off with his own marijuana joke. 

“Anybody who thinks they know of the likely members of the Trump administration is taking premature advantage of Sergey’s favorite California proposition,” Walker said. “Nobody knows.”

Just as a matter of housekeeping, California’s adult-use marijuana law went into effect immediately after the proposition’s passage. So technically speaking, anyone 21 or older who would have consumed cannabis after the election wouldn’t be taking “premature advantage” of the law.

Perhaps to that end, Brin closed the post-election event by telling Googlers that “there’s food and drink on the patio,” but warned them to “be careful of the cookies.”

New Book: Obama Considered Decriminalizing Marijuana, But Then Trump Won

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Workers In These Industries Are Most Likely To Consume Marijuana

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It’s become increasingly clear that there’s no single “type” of marijuana consumer. But research has identified certain cultural trends, including a new study that examines the prevalence of cannabis consumption among workers in different industries.

The study, published this month in the International Review of Psychiatry, demonstrates that cannabis use is represented in a wide range of employment backgrounds—and some of the industries where using cannabis is most common might come as a surprise.

Let’s start with the numbers. Here’s a list of industries where workers use the most and least cannabis, which the researchers compiled based on 2013 and 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health data. The survey asks respondents whether they’ve used marijuana at least once in the past year.

Industry % marijuana use
Food Services 50.55
Education/Health 46.55
Construction/Mining 41.70
Retail 39.15
Professional 38.76
Manufacturing 21.68
Finance 15.70
Transportation 8.23
Wholesale 7.31
Public Administration 3.86
Agriculture 2.93

Note: Not all industries are represented in this list, which is limited by the data submitted by NSDUH respondents. Also, the study does distinguish different “job categories,” but not within each specific industry.

The point of the study wasn’t simply to show what kind of workers are using marijuana, but also for what purposes. If a survey respondent reported using cannabis in the past year, their use was then categorized as either medical, recreational or mixed (i.e. some of their cannabis consumption was recommended by a doctor, but not all of it).

You can see that breakdown in the table below, but in general, the study reveals a diversity of use types among different industries. People in construction tend to be mixed-use consumers, for instance, and people in food services tend to skew recreational. It’s difficult to explain these sub-trends without more data, however.

Via International Review of Psychiatry.

That said, the researchers were especially interested in cannabis use among construction and mining employees.

“One key difference between the user groups is the higher percentage of medical cannabis users in the construction and mining industries,” they wrote. “This is likely due to the higher injury rates in these industries: construction and mining work require physical stamina, often involve irregular schedules, and expose workers to weather, dangerous tools, and equipment.”

The study notes that there’s conflicting research about marijuana use in these industries, with some arguing that frequent use can result in increased workplace injuries and others contending that the therapeutic use of cannabis “addresses pain and other health problems… that often result from work-related injuries.”

That latter point is also consistent with a study released last month showing “evidence that legalizing medical marijuana improved workplace safety.”

Workplace Deaths Drop After States Legalize Medical Marijuana

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Federal Court Rules In Favor Of Worker Rejected For Medical Marijuana Use

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A Connecticut woman’s rights under that state’s medical marijuana law were violated when a company refused to hire her on the basis of her legal cannabis use, and a lawsuit seeking damages against her would-be employer may proceed, a federal judge ruled.

In 2016, Katelin Noffsinger filed suit against Bride Brook Health and Rehabilitation Center, a federal contractor, after a job offer was rescinded following a positive test for cannabis on a pre-employment drug test.

Noffsinger had accepted a management-level position with the firm, which then scheduled a drug test. Prior to the test, Noffsinger informed Bride Brook that she was a qualified cannabis patient under Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act, and used the drug—namely, synthetic marijuana pills, consumed in the evening—to treat post-traumatic stress disorder following a 2012 car crash.

After learning of Noffsinger’s patient status, Bride Brook officials debated over email the best way to inform her that she could not be hired because of her marijuana use.

After the positive drug test and the subsequent rejection, Noffsinger filed an employment-discrimination lawsuit in state court. The case was elevated to federal court after Bride Brook used federal drug laws—including federal cannabis prohibition—to justify their actions.

Unlike some other states including California, Connecticut’s medical-marijuana law, passed in 2012, offers specific employment protections for cannabis patients.

Employers don’t have to accommodate cannabis use during work hours or employees who are intoxicated in the workplace, but any off-hours marijuana use by a certified patient following state law is protected.

In court filings, Bride Brook argued that the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act preempted such protections.

Because Bride Brook was a federal contractor, it was required to perform such drug tests—and had the firm still hired Noffsinger after the positive drug test, it would have been “defrauding” the federal government, the firm argued.

In a ruling issued last week, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer disagreed.

While Meyer rejected Noffsinger’s requests for summary judgment and attorney’s fees, his ruling means that Noffsinger can now seek monetary damages in a jury trial.

The federal Drug Free Workplace Act requires only that employers make a “good faith effort” to maintain a drug-free workplace, Meyer ruled.

Such efforts include posting warnings about drug use and setting an office policy.

A “zero-tolerance” policy that includes actively testing and then rejecting protected applicants on the basis of a test go above and beyond that threshold, Meyer wrote.

A previous ruling in Noffsinger’s case, also by Meyer, was the first instance in which a federal judge ruled that the federal Controlled Substances Act does not preempt state medical-marijuana laws that provide employment protections.

Other classes of workers, including workers in “safety-sensitive” positions and employees of the federal government, may have to wait for similar protections.

Employers In Medical Marijuana States Can Still Drug Test Employees, Federal Judge Rules

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