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Marijuana Legislation’s Biggest Enemy Wants To Return To Congress

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A former GOP congressman who consistently blocked marijuana reform efforts for years before losing a reelection battle in 2018 is running for Congress again, this time in a more conservative Texas district.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) announced on Thursday that he’s moving to Waco and running for a seat currently occupied by retiring Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX). This comes almost one year after Sessions was defeated by Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) in his Dallas district. Allred was a civil rights attorney and former NFL player who supports medical cannabis and decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana.

It’s safe to say that Sessions’s new campaign isn’t going to win a lot of favor with cannabis reform advocates.

The former congressman served as chair of the House Rules Committee, an influential panel where he was essentially able to singlehandedly prevent even the most modest marijuana reform measures from advancing to the floor. He blocked legislation that would allow banks to service cannabis businesses, protect state marijuana laws from federal intervention and expand military veterans’ access to medical cannabis, for example.

During the last two-year Congress alone, Sessions’s panel prevented more than three dozen marijuana-related measures from being considered by the full body for up-or-down votes.

“Texans said no to Pete Sessions already,” Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Being a carpetbagger in a neighboring district is going to be an anchor on his candidacy that will hopefully keep him far, far away from the halls of Congress.”

When Sessions lost last year as part of a wave of Republican defeats in the House, giving control to Democrats, the gears quickly shifted on cannabis.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) took Sessions’s place as Rules chair, promising early on to allow reform measures to reach the floor. Multiple reform amendments attached to spending bills have been cleared through his panel on the way to the floor, including a historic measure preventing the Justice Department from going after any state cannabis program, not just medical ones. He didn’t put up a fight over bipartisan marijuana banking legislation that passed in the House last month, either, and voted for it on the floor.

The Democratic chairman is also a cosponsor of four pieces of legislation to federally deschedule marijuana.

In contrast, Sessions seems to have a personal animus towards cannabis.

“I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” he said just before blocking one measure to prevent federal intervention in state cannabis laws last year. “Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way. They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.”

Separately, Sessions claimed that cannabis is now more potent than it was when he was a young man—by a mathematically impossible factor.

“When I went to high school…in 1973, I graduated, marijuana, on average, is 300 times more powerful,” he said. “That becomes an addictive element for a child to then go to the next thing.”

In advance of last year’s election, a political action committee controlled by pro-legalization Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) paid for billboards in Sessions’s district highlighting his opposition to medical marijuana.

Late last year, however, a group of mothers of children who use medical cannabis met with Sessions, telling Marijuana Moment afterwards that he seemed “gracious” and “very receptive” to their concerns.

For Sessions to mount a successful bid for a new seat in Congress, he’s going to have to convince more than reform advocates that he’s qualified to represent them. Flores, the incumbent GOP congressman whose seat Sessions wants, told The Texas Tribune that “conservative leaders and community leaders in the district who are aware of Pete’s intentions have told me they would prefer someone who currently lives, works, and serves in our communities.”

“They strongly believe that we have ample talent here to serve as their next congressman or congresswoman,” he said.

Of course, even if Sessions were to win next year and return to the House, there’s no guarantee he’d go back to helming a congressional cannabis blockade in the Rules Committee. First, Republicans would have to regain a majority in the chamber in order for him to have a shot of taking up the gavel again. And second, there’s nothing that would require Republican leadership to reinstate Sessions back to his position on the panel even if he were elected as part of a new GOP majority.

Tucker Carlson Thinks Congress Approved Marijuana Banking To Make Americans ‘Dumb’

 

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Anniversary Of Alcohol Prohibition’s End Is A Good Time To Legalize Marijuana, Presidential Candidate Castro Says

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Former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro marked the 86th anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition in the U.S. on Thursday by calling for the legalization of marijuana.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate tweeted about Repeal Day, a commemoration of the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which ended federal prohibition of booze.

“86 years later, it’s time we end the federal prohibition of Cannabis once and for all,” he said. “Legalize it. Regulate it. Expunge the records of the victims of the war on drugs.”

Castro, who included proposals to legalize marijuana and expunge prior cannabis convictions in a criminal justice reform plan he released in October, isn’t the only one calling attention to the ongoing prohibition of the plant on Repeal Day. Several other Twitter users, including a congressional candidate, have made similar points.

While Castro hasn’t been quite as vocal about marijuana reform in his campaign as some of the other candidates, he has recently expressed openness to even broader drug policy initiatives such as decriminalizing possession of all drugs.

During a forum hosted by the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition last month, Castro said “I do think though that it’s worth taking a look at that and understanding where are those opportunities, either to decriminalize or at least deemphasize enforcement so that we’re not penalizing individuals who should instead be getting the treatment that they need.”

He also said he supports communities establishing safe injection sites where individuals can consume illicit drugs under medical supervision to reduce the risk of overdose deaths and help people get into treatment.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), rival presidential candidates, are in favor of drug decriminalization, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) back safe consumption facilities. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang says he would decriminalize opioids and invest federal resources into opening safe injection sites across the country.

Cory Booker’s Marijuana Agenda Highlighted In Three Super PAC Ads

Photo courtesy of YouTube/IHRC.

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Hemp Businesses Need Clarity On Credit Card Processing, GOP Congressman Tells Federal Regulators

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One day after federal financial regulators issued guidance relaxing requirements for banks doing business with hemp companies, Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) called for further input on how financial institutions can work with the industry—particularly when it comes to credit card processing.

“I have heard from Kentucky bankers about this. They welcome this guidance, and it will go a long way to help the hemp industry thrive,” Barr said on Wednesday at a House Financial Services Committee hearing.

But after thanking witnesses—including Federal Deposit Insurance Commission (FDIC) Chairwoman Jelena McWilliams and National Credit Union Association (NCUA) Chairman Rodney Hood—he reminded them that there is still much work to be done to give hemp businesses fair access to financial services.

Specifically, Barr called credit card processing services for Kentucky hemp companies “unreliable” and “unavailable” while pointing out that Tuesday’s hemp banking memo failed to clearly address the problem.

“I’ve read the guidance closely, as you can tell, and I didn’t see that in there,” Barr said. “That’s the financial service that has really been unreliable and spotty, so if you need to update that guidance to give more clarity to card processing businesses, that might be in order.”

McWilliams replied that her agency would “certainly take a look” at the issue and offered that “to the extent that we need to do additional explaining, we are more than happy to engage in that process.”

In response, Barr reminded her of the broader goals of congressional action to legalize hemp products under the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Congressional intent is not only that the regulators confirm the legality of industrial hemp and hemp related retailers under the Farm bill, but that those retailers and merchants can use card processing services to sell the product itself,” he said.

Watch Barr press federal regulators on hemp business credit card processing below:

This isn’t the first time Barr has raised the issued of hemp businesses’ ability to accept payments with cards.

“I’ve had constituent businesses tell me that their access to financial products, specifically card services, have actually deteriorated since we descheduled industrial hemp in the Farm Bill,” he said at an earlier hearing in May. “This obviously conflicts with congressional intent.”

The congressman’s questions and comments at the most recent hearing are emblematic of a larger bipartisan push to provide updated regulations to the hemp industry and banks that work with it.

Most notably, the House overwhelmingly approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in September. The legislation would protect banks and credit unions from being penalized by federal regulators for working with marijuana businesses, and Barr added an amendment clarifying that the protections also apply to hemp companies.

However, the vote came later than some observers expected, which may help explain why the growth in the number of financial institutions working with cannabis companies seems to have slowed down in the prior quarter of the fiscal year.

NCUA’s Hood, whose agency’s earlier hemp guidance released in August was among the first federal clarifications on the issue after the Farm Bill became law, testified on Wednesday about the steps NCUA is taking to open up access to financial services for companies in the industry.

“We are continuing to work with the industry to provide training to our examiners,” Hood said. “We will now be working with the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and other related parties to ensure that we get it right. We will be hosting a series of roundtables to gain insights from entities around best practices.”

In submitted testimony, he wrote that NCUA expects “to continue updating the credit union community now that the USDA has published its interim final rule [for hemp]” and said the agency has “received interest from credit unions eager to know the rules of the road for serving hemp-related businesses in their communities, and we want to make sure those credit unions have what they need to make informed decisions in this area.”

Jospeh Otting, comptroller of the currency, also discussed the latest guidance from federal regulators in testimony he submitted to the panel, writing that the joint statement from federal regulators “provides clarity regarding the legal status of commercial growth and production of hemp and relevant requirements for banks.”

Also discussed at the hearing was NCUA’s recent regulatory action on employment at credit unions by people with criminal records. Initially proposed by the agency in July, the move to allow participation by people convicted of minor offenses like simple drug possession was officially enacted by this week.

Asked by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) “what are you doing, and what can Congress do” to assist in the advancement of the so-called “second chance” decision, Hood responded that NCUA “recognized that individuals who have committed nonviolent criminal offenses who have paid their debts to society should have opportunities to work in federal credit unions.”

McWilliams called the second chance decision an “important social justice issue” and said FDIC is currently seeking input on how best to move forward. “I personally believe we can go a long way to enabling those individuals to re-enter the workforce,” she said.

Watch lawmakers and regulators discuss financial services employment by people with prior convictions below:

Outside of the House Financial Services panel, several lawmakers on Capitol Hill have recently pushed to make business easier for hemp companies.

Last week, for example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on USDA to extend its public comment period for proposed hemp regulations. And in October, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter to USDA asking for five specific changes in the rules.

Federal Regulators Ease Hemp Banking Protocols Following Crop’s Legalization

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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Cory Booker’s Marijuana Agenda Highlighted In Three Super PAC Ads

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A super PAC working to get Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) elected president is putting a lot of emphasis on the candidate’s marijuana reform agenda, releasing multiple new advertisements highlighting his position on the issue.

United We Win, an organization that’s not formally associated with Booker’s presidential campaign but supports his candidacy, included cannabis reform in three separate spots over the past month. Two of those ads contrasted the senator’s stance with that of former Vice President Joe Biden, a rival contender for the Democratic nomination who opposes adult-use legalization.

“Joe Biden is wrong about weed,” one ad, released on Tuesday, states. “He called marijuana a ‘gateway drug,’ but science says he’s wrong. Cory Booker knows that legalizing marijuana is the sensible, humane thing to do.”

Another, posted last week, shows a clip of Booker at the most recent Democratic debate, where Booker called out Biden over the gateway drug comment that quickly became a source of controversy ahead of the event. Booker said at the time that he was shocked to hear Biden say he doesn’t support legalization because he thinks cannabis could lead to the use of more dangerous drugs.

About one week after the former vice president made the remarks, he reversed his stance and said evidence doesn’t support the gateway drug theory. This wasn’t the first time that the senator has blasted Biden over his cannabis record, as Booker said in July that his opponent’s drug reform plan was inadequate.

“Joe Biden had more than 40 years to get this right,” Booker said. “The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it.”

The other ad, released last weekend, pits Booker against South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is also competing for the Democratic nomination. United We Win included Booker’s plan to legalize marijuana in a list of policy proposals that they said make him a more fit candidate and also noted his role in advancing criminal justice reform legislation in a Republican-controlled Senate.

Buttigieg does support legalization, so the point of bringing that position up didn’t appear to be an attempt to contrast each candidate’s platform on that issue in particular.

The super PAC’s website also prominently spotlights Booker’s marijuana record, including the issue as one of six main menu links across its top banner—alongside “criminal justice,” “gun safety” and “defeating Trump.”

There’s also an article recapping the senator’s debate attack on Biden’s anti-legalization comments.

Booker has certainly taken pains to emphasize his advocacy for cannabis reform during the campaign, and he’s the sponsor of comprehensive legislation that would not only federally deschedule marijuana but also penalize states that continue to dole out cannabis enforcement in a discriminatory manner.

While United We Win isn’t affiliated with Booker’s team, and federal law prohibits the PAC and the campaign from coordinating with one another, the strong focus on his marijuana platform reflects a growing recognition that, especially among Democratic voters, legalization is an important issue that candidates and political operatives are seeking to leverage during this election.

Cory Booker’s Mom Scolds Him For Marijuana Joke At Joe Biden’s Expense

Photo courtesy of YouTube/United We Win.

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