After hours of debate on Thursday night that at times became heated, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved a bill to legalize marijuana in the state.
After moving through 12 committees since being introduced in February, the full chamber passed the measure on a 72–61 vote, with some Republican support. It now proceeds to the Senate, where leaders in the GOP majority have vowed to derail it.
Sponsored by House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers, the legislation would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.
“Cannabis prohibition in Minnesota has been a failure,” Winkler said on the House floor before the vote. “The criminal penalties associated with cannabis prohibition have been unfairly applied to communities of color, especially Black Minnesotans.”
“House File 600 legalizes cannabis for adult use in Minnesota, expunging records related to past cannabis convictions,” he continued. “It creates a legal marketplace focused on allowing more opportunity for small- and medium-sized businesses in Minnesota and creates a pathway for social equity applicants to be part of a growing industry.”
The governor supports legalization, but the bill is still expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have indicated that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than more broadly ending prohibition.
However, Winkler said that, if the chamber does take it up for vote, he expects it would pass. At the very least, the momentum could spur GOP members to take up more modest reforms such as expanding the state’s medical marijuana program, he told Marijuana Moment in an interview on Tuesday.
“I think we are having an effect on them, and they feel the pressure to find a way to act because they know that they are losing this and the public will eventually win and get this,” Winkler said.
Part of winning over some Republican support involved adopting friendly amendments such as putting some cannabis revenue toward tax relief.
Winkler announced as the House discussion of the bill began that Democrats planned to accept “amended forms or final versions of most of the amendments that have been offered by the Republican side.”
“We think that further conversation on some of these issues is required,” he said, “but I will say that your engagement, your improvements to the bill are something that I’m committed to, and we will continue to make improvements to this bill as it moves through the process.”
The chamber ultimately adopted many GOP-led amendments, although in some cases lawmakers made further changes to those amendments.
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One, offered by Rep. Keith Franke (R), earmarks 5 percent of all revenue from legal cannabis for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs. Another, from Rep. Tony Jurgens (R), routes $1 million over two years to the Minnesota State Patrol to fund training for drug recognition evaluation training and other staff to identify drug use.
Winkler urged fellow Democrats to support both amendments, as well as a third amendment from Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), that would protect gun ownership rights for medical marijuana patients and adult cannabis consumers. Individuals would be authorized to refrain from reporting their cannabis use on state firearms-related forms. Lawmakers also approved another amendment from Munson that would protect personal data from the state-legal cannabis system from being shared with federal officials unless required by a court order.
The House also adopted an amendment from Jurgens to establish a pilot program that would test drivers for cannabis impairment using an experimental roadside saliva test. Lawmakers, however, first changed that amendment to prohibit law enforcement from arresting people based on the test result.
Other Republican-led amendments, however, fell short on the floor. Rep. Nolan West (R) proposed two amendments that were essentially gutted by further amendments from Majority Leader Winkler. One would have allowed local governments to opt out of licensing cannabis businesses, effectively allowing bans on the industry entirely. But West withdrew the proposal after lawmakers passed Winkler’s change to the amendment that limited local lawmakers to merely capping the number of licensed businesses to one per 500 of a jurisdiction’s residents.
West’s other proposed amendment would have allowed employers to refuse to hire job applicants if they were to test positive for cannabis use. But after Winkler’s amendment to the proposal—which would only allow positive tests to be grounds for a refusal to hire “safety-sensitive positions,” West again withdrew his amendment.
Lawmakers rejected a proposal from Rep. Peggy Scott (R) that would have raised the proposed legal age for cannabis to 25.
The chamber adopted a separate Scott amendment that requires the state to study legalization’s impacts on mental health, substance use disorder, education and other outcomes in the years following legalization. Initially the amendment would have dissolved the state’s legal cannabis program if those studies found racial disparities in those outcomes, but a subsequent amendment from Winkler removed that provision.
Another adopted amendment, from Rep. Susan Akland (R), adds a labeling requirement for marijuana products that warns that cannabis “may be hazardous to your health and may impair judgment. Do not operate a motor vehicle or heavy machinery while under the influence of cannabis or a cannabis product.”
A sweeping amendment from Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo initially would have made major changes to the House legalization proposal, gutting its social equity and community investment provisions. Garafolo, however, amended his own amendment to remove those portions and make other adjustments.
The House ultimately split Garafolo’s revised amendment, passing only a portion of it. The approved portion adjusts the makeup of the state Cannabis Management Board, putting more control of appointments in the hands of state lawmakers rather than the governor. It also reduces proposed funding for state oversight of the legal industry by 25 percent.
Prior to the House session, the chamber’s Democratic leaders held a press conference to urge passage of the bill.
“We have this bill before us today because Minnesotans have decided that it’s time to legalize cannabis and right the wrongs of the criminal prohibition of cannabis that has failed Minnesotans,” Winkler said.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL) noted that while people use cannabis at roughly the same rate regardless of their race, people of color in Minnesota are eight times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges. “Continuing our legacy of racial injustice is simply not defensible any longer,” she said.
Hortman also took a shot at what she called a “dad joke” made earlier in the day Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who told reporters, “The marijuana bill in the Senate is up in smoke. That’s not going to happen.”
Majority Leader Gazelka reaffirms Senate's opposition to legalizing cannabis — "The marijuana bill in the Senate is up in smoke. That's not going to happen." He said GOP would be open to changing some penalties and expanding medical cannabis, but not recreational uses pic.twitter.com/RZXywpYphd
— John Croman (@JohnCroman) May 13, 2021
“We know that Senate Republicans are opposed,” Hortman said, “as Senator Gazelka’s dad joke revealed earlier today, but we’re continuing to move forward on this because Minnesotans need to know that we are fighting for them. They have come forward, they have told us that this is the right thing to do [and] this is the right time to do it.”
Winkler noted that even many Republicans acknowledge the system is broken. “Even the people who oppose the bill we have today, or oppose the idea of legalization, admit that the criminal justice side of our laws are doing harm,” he said, “and we’re seeing some willingness on the part of Republicans to move on that.”
Shows of popular support for the adult-use bill, especially among Republican constituents, has already made an impact, the lawmakers said. Republicans have already expressed a willingness to reduce criminal penalties around cannabis, they noted, and seem more willing to consider proposals to decrease the cost of medical marijuana and remove current restrictions on cannabis flower for patients.
We’ve come to this historic moment because of everyone who made their voices heard.
— Ryan Winkler (@_RyanWinkler) May 14, 2021
Meanwhile, time is running out to get the legalization bill through the full legislature before the session ends on May 17. Republicans on the House floor expressed frustration on Thursday that the body was spending so much time on a bill that may ultimately fail in the Senate.
“During this pandemic, and with just a few days left in session, here we are wasting our time on this marijuana bill that has no chance of becoming law,” Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R) said during the floor debate.
State Attorney General Keith Ellison (D), for his part, called on lawmakers to approve legalization.
“Law enforcement in MN should be focused on serious crimes, not low-level cannabis offenses that lead to significant racial disparities in our criminal-justice system and injustice in our communities, and do little or nothing to keep us safer,” he said in a Twitter post.
Law enforcement in MN should be focused on serious crimes, not low-level cannabis offenses that lead to significant racial disparities in our criminal-justice system and injustice in our communities, and do little or nothing to keep us safer. #LegalizeMN
— Attorney General Keith Ellison (@AGEllison) May 13, 2021
Before reaching the floor, the legalization bill passed the Ways and Means Committee, Taxes Committee, Health Finance and Policy Committee, Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, Education Finance Committee, State Government Finance and Elections Committee, Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee, Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.
The majority leader’s legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.
Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.
On-site consumption and cannabis delivery services would be permitted under the bill. And unlike in many legal states, local municipalities would be banned from prohibiting marijuana businesses from operating in their areas.
Retail cannabis sales would be taxed at 10 percent. Part of that revenue would fund a grant program designed to promote economic development and community stability.
The bill calls for the establishment of a seven-person Cannabis Management Board, which would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing cannabis business licenses. It was amended in committee month to add members to that board who have a social justice background.
People living in low-income neighborhoods and military veterans who lost honorable status due to a cannabis-related offense would be considered social equity applicants eligible for priority licensing.
Cannabis retails sales would launch on December 31, 2022.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.
Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Pennsylvania Senators Will Consider DUI Protections For Medical Marijuana Patients At Hearing
A Pennsylvania Senate committee is set to take up a bill next week that would protect medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted under the state’s “zero tolerance” DUI laws.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R), would amend state statute to require proof of active impairment before a registered patient can be prosecuted for driving under the influence. The current lack of specific protections for the state’s roughly 368,000 patients puts them in legal jeopardy when on the road, supporters say.
The #PASenate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on 9/21 with a focus on my #SB167, which would remove DUI penalties for legal medicinal cannabis use. @SenLangerholc @PASenateGOP Details ⤵️https://t.co/cSd2Cpdky9 pic.twitter.com/av3mxvAuCk
— Senator Bartolotta (@senbartolotta) September 16, 2021
Bartolotta first introduced an earlier version of the bill in June 2020. She said at the time that the state needs to “ensure that the legal use of this medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Months after the standalone reform legislation was introduced, the Pennsylvania House approved a separate amendment that would enact the policy change.
Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016, with the first dispensaries in the state opening in 2018. But the state’s zero-tolerance DUI law still doesn’t reflect those changes. Because it criminalizes the presence of any THC or its metabolites in a driver’s blood—which can be detected for weeks after a person’s last use—the law puts virtually all medical marijuana patients at risk, even if it’s been days since their last use and they show no signs of impairment.
Bartolotta’s bill would require officers to prove a registered patient was actually impaired on the road.
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“Unimpaired patients currently face the risk of being arrested, prosecuted and convicted for using medicinal marijuana that has no bearing on their ability to drive a vehicle,” the senator wrote in a cosponsorship memo late last year. “Given the very serious consequences of a DUI conviction, my legislation will provide critical protections for medicinal cannabis patients by ensuring responsible use of their legal medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Several legal cannabis states have enacted per se THC limits in blood, similar to blood alcohol requirements. However, evidence isn’t clear on the relationship between THC concentrations in blood and impairment.
A study published in 2019, for example, concluded that those who drive at the legal THC limit—which is typically between two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood—were not statistically more likely to be involved in an accident compared to people who haven’t used marijuana.
Separately, the Congressional Research Service in 2019 determined that while “marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance… studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved in a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage.”
Outside of this bill, Pennsylvania lawmakers have continued to pursue adult-use legalization in the state. Earlier this year, two legislators circulated a memo to build support for a comprehensive reform bill they plan to introduce, for example.
A bipartisan Senate duo is also in the process of crafting legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. They announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced.
Outside the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
Wolf, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform. The lieutenant governor even festooned his Capitol office with marijuana-themed decor in contravention of a state law passed by the GOP-led legislature.
Fetterman has also been actively involved in encouraging the governor to exercise his clemency power for cannabis cases while the legislature moves to advance reform.
In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marks his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses that’s being run by the Board of Pardons.
Overall, legalization is popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released in April.
Another poll released in May found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
80 Top Law Enforcement Officials, Including A Biden Nominee, Urge SCOTUS To Hear Safe Injection Drug Case
A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—have filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up a case on the legality of establishing a safe injection facility where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The nonprofit organization Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration, and it filed a petition with the nation’s highest court last month to hear the case. Now the group of law enforcement officials associated with Fair and Just Prosecution are calling on the Supreme Court to act in an amicus brief.
“Amici have an interest in this litigation because overdose prevention sites (OPSs) are among the harm reduction and public health interventions that have proven effective in preventing fatal overdoses and diverting people from unnecessary and counterproductive interactions with the justice system,” they wrote. “Amici, many of whom are currently or were previously responsible for enforcing the nation’s drug laws, also believe that the Controlled Substances Act cannot be construed to prohibit operation of a facility designed to address the most acute aspects of this public health emergency.”
“As law enforcement and criminal justice leaders, amici’s objective is to maintain public safety; saving lives and promoting health is as central to that mission as preventing and prosecuting crime.”
Read the full brief: https://t.co/e4Sv6oba4b
— Fair and Just Prosecution (@fjp_org) September 17, 2021
If the court agrees to hear the dispute, advocates will be looking toward the Biden Justice Department and whether it will continue the federal government’s opposition to allowing supervised injection facilities. It would be a precedent-setting case that could steer policy for years to come, meaning Safehouse is taking a significant risk by pursuing the appeal of its loss in a lower court before the majority of conservative justices.
“Failing to address the loss of life resulting from drug overdoses—and criminalizing a community-based public health organization working to save lives—will further erode trust in the justice system,” the new brief states. “If there were ever a time to demonstrate that our government values the dignity of human life, that time is now.”
While President Joe Biden hasn’t weighed in directly on safe consumption sites, there’s been a theme within his administration of embracing the general concept of harm reduction for drugs. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), for example, said that “promoting harm-reduction efforts” is a first-year priority. In an overview of its objectives, the office said it intends to expand “access to evidence-based treatment,” enhance “evidence-based harm reduction efforts” and promote “access to recovery support services.”
These goals theoretically align with those of Safehouse, which wants to give people with substance use disorders a facility where medical professionals can intervene in the event of an overdose and provide people with the resources to seek recovery.
Among the signatories on the amicus brief are a former deputy assistant attorney general under Obama, district attorneys of Baltimore, Cook County, Dallas County, Los Angeles County, Manhattan, Philadelphia, San Francisco County and Seattle and the former attorneys general of Ohio, Vermont and Virginia.
But one signatory who especially stands out is Rachael Rollins, the district attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts who is Biden’s nominee for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts.
“As an elected prosecutor, I have a responsibility to protect every member of my community, which requires moving away from criminal justice responses to substance use disorder,” Rollins said in a press release. “Instead, we must embrace proven public health strategies as potential solutions. Lives depend on it.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said the drug war “has taken too many lives already, and criminalization has only exacerbated this devastating toll.” He added: “We need a new way forward that allows communities to address the overdose crisis with harm reduction approaches proven to save lives and improve community safety.”
“Our nation’s failed war on drugs has taken too many lives…and criminalization has only exacerbated this devastating toll. We need a new way forward that allows communities to address the overdose crisis with harm reduction approaches proven to save lives." –@DA_LarryKrasner
— Fair and Just Prosecution (@fjp_org) September 17, 2021
Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.
Safehouse won a battle in a federal district court in 2019 to proceed with the facilities. But in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the decision, ruling that permitting such facilities would violate a 1980s-era federal statute that bars organizations from running operations “for the purpose of unlawfully… using controlled substances.” That law was passed while Biden served in the Senate and helped push punitive drug policies that have had lasting consequences.
“As current and former criminal justice leaders, amici have seen first-hand how the classic ‘war on drugs’ approach to drug control—with its almost exclusive focus on aggressive criminal law enforcement—has exacerbated the overdose epidemic,” the pro-reform prosecutors and cops wrote in the new brief. “This experience confirms that no jurisdiction can arrest its way out of this public health problem. Fatal overdoses are a symptom of substance use disorder, a medical condition requiring a medical response.”
“Distorting federal drug laws to prohibit an [overdose prevention site] or to prosecute its sponsors would further undermine trust in the justice system and faith in the fair and sensible application of our drug laws. Interpreting federal criminal law to bar empirically validated harm reduction measures would make no one safer; it would only impede cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
In its original petition to the Supreme Court in the current safe injection site case, Safehouse argued that the justices should “grant review to determine whether” federal statute really does prohibit “non-commercial, non-profit social service agencies…from establishing an overdose-prevention site that includes medically supervised consumption.”
“This question is a matter of life or death for thousands of Philadelphians and many thousands more throughout the country,” it said. “Tragically, while respondents have been pursuing this declaratory judgment against Safehouse, more than 3,200 people died in Philadelphia of drug overdoses—many of which could have been prevented if medical care had been immediately available through supervised consumption services.”
Safehouse also pointed out that Xavier Bacerra, the Biden administration’s secretary of health and human services, was among eight top state law enforcement officials who filed an earlier amicus brief in support of the organization’s safe injection site plan when he served as California’s attorney general.
The organization put the gravity of the case in no uncertain terms, painting a picture of how its proposed facility can save lives.
“When breathing stops, even a brief delay while waiting for medical help to arrive may result in an otherwise preventable overdose death or irreversible injury,” the petition says. “As a result, every second counts when responding to an opioid overdose; as more time elapses, the greater the risk of serious injury and death. Ensuring proximity to medical care and opioid reversal agents like the drug Naloxone at the time of consumption is therefore a critical component of efforts to prevent fatal opioid overdose.”
“Intervention by this Court is warranted to make clear that the federal law does not criminalize this essential public health and medical intervention designed to save lives from preventable overdose death,” it continues.
Safehouse argued that the appeals court’s interpretation of the law “eviscerates the intended boundaries of the statute and would criminalize the operation of legitimate businesses, charities, families, and good Samaritans that serve and reside with those suffering from addiction.”
If the Supreme Court were to take up the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could embolden advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.
The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.
At the same time that Safehouse is turning to the Supreme Court, it also announced recently that it will be returning the the federal district court that gave it an initial 2019 victory in support of establishing a safe injection facility before it was overturned in the appeals court.
The organization is making the unique argument that the federal government’s decision to block it from providing the service violates religious freedom by subjecting participants “to criminal penalties for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs that they have an obligation to do everything possible to preserve life and to provide shelter and care to the vulnerable, including those suffering from addiction.”
In 2018, a congressional subcommittee approved legislation to specifically prohibit Washington D.C. from using local tax dollars to help open safe consumption facilities. But that provision was not enacted and has not been reintroduced since.
A 2020 study found that people “who reported using supervised injection facilities on an at least weekly basis had a reduced risk of dying compared to those who reported less than weekly or no use of this health service.”
Read the amicus brief from the prosecutors on the Safehouse safe injection site case below:
Photo courtesy of Jernej Furman.
Former GOP Congressman Who Actually Supported Marijuana Reform Enters The Cannabis Industry
Lately it’s come to seem as if most of the former politicians who’ve entered the marijuana industry were unhelpful or downright hostile to legalization when they were in office. But on Friday, a cannabis company announced an addition to its board who disrupts that narrative: a former Republican congressman who has a consistent legislative record of cosponsoring and voting for marijuana reform measures.
The multi-state cannabis businesses Red White & Bloom Brands Inc. (RWB) is bringing on former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) to help it navigate the complicated regulatory space, drawing on his experience in Congress as the company works to expand.
Costello certainly isn’t the only Republican lawmaker who’s made the transition from Capitol Hill to the cannabis market. But he is a rare example of a politician who actually embraced enacting marijuana policy changes while he was in power before standing to profit from the industry. The congressman cosponsored a variety of bills—including ones to shield states that legalize cannabis from federal interference—and supported several reform amendments.
“I’m looking forward to utilizing my 15+ years of service in government, the legal profession, and my familiarity with cannabis policy to be a strategic resource for RWB as it positions itself as a true market leading house of brands in the permitted U.S. marketplace,” Costello said in a press release.
This breaks with a trend that has increasingly frustrated advocates, where it seems the people most inclined to benefit from legalization are those who stood in the way in Congress. The best-known example of that is former GOP House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who’s faced criticism from activists over his anti-legalization record while in office before joining the board of marijuana company Acreage Holdings.
While Costello left Congress in 2019 prior to the historic House vote on a standalone bill to federally deschedule cannabis, there are plenty of examples of him supporting more modest reform proposals during his congressional tenure.
He was a cosponsor of legislation to protect state marijuana markets from federal intervention, promote cannabis research, support military veterans’ access to medical marijuana, protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.
The congressman also voted in favor of floor amendments to shield all state marijuana programs from Justice Department intervention, allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis and end hemp prohibition.
In that respect, he was a rare GOP lawmaker. While the issue is increasingly bipartisan among the public, that hasn’t been reflected in Congress. And now Costello is in a position to leverage his legislative experience to advance a marijuana business’s interests.
It’s an exception to the trend.
For example, Tom Price, the former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) head under President Donald Trump, is serving as a member of the board of directors for a medical marijuana business in Georgia after he refused to take action to reclassify cannabis under federal law when he had the power to do so. Price consistently voted against marijuana reform measures while serving in Congress.
Former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), who also has a long track record of opposing marijuana legalization efforts, joined a Canadian cannabis company’s board in 2019.
Earlier this month, a New York-based lobbying firm that’s headed by a former Republican U.S. senator announced that it is launching a practice focused on serving cannabis businesses. That former senator, Alfonse D’Amato, racked up a record of supporting the war on drugs while in office.
There is at least one other former GOP congressman who entered the cannabis space with a legislative record supporting marijuana reform. Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who championed cannabis reform while in Congress, became an advisory board member for a marijuana company after being voted out of office in 2018.
Separately, President Joe Biden’s pick to head up federal drug policy worked for a major marijuana business last year, according to his financial disclosure reports.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.