Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) complained in a floor speech on Thursday that House Democrats were pushing for “diversity detectives” to study equity in the marijuana industry as part of their latest coronavirus relief package.
Like several other GOP legislators in recent days, the majority leader said Democrats were making partisan demands in the new legislation filed this week—and he zeroed in on a specific part of a section that would protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
McConnell called language requiring research on minority-owned and women-owned marijuana businesses “the cherry on top” and sarcastically referred to it as the “bold new policy from Washington Democrats that will kick the coronavirus to the curb and save American families from this crisis.”
“Here it is: new annual studies on diversity and inclusion within the cannabis industry. Not one study but two of them,” he said. “Let me say that again, Democrats’ proposed coronavirus bill includes taxpayer-funded studies to measure diversity and inclusion among the people who profit off of marijuana.”
He added that the word “cannabis” appears in the bill 68 times. That’s “more times than the word ‘job’ and four times as many as the word ‘hire,'” he said.
That talking point has been echoed by a number of Republican lawmakers since House leadership unveiled their bill, indicating some level of party coordination on the anti-marijuana messaging. Despite the bluster, however, no GOP members filed amendments to strike the banking language prior to a Thursday House Rules Committee hearing to prepare the bill for floor action.
Notably, however, McConnell never criticized the main thrust of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, just the study provision.
“Maybe it’s best if House Democrats focus on cannabis studies and leave economics to the rest of us,” he said, adding that even if the legislation was designed to be a messaging bill, it fails at that.
“That’s what’s so remarkable,” he said. “House Democrats had a blank slate to write anything wanted to define the modern Democratic Party, any vision for the society they wanted, and here’s what they chose: tax hikes on small businesses, giveaways to blue state millionaires, government checks for illegal immigrants and sending diversity detectives to inspect the pot industry.”
House Democrats had a blank slate to propose any vision for the recovery. This draft is all they have done for two months. And they came up with: tax hikes on small businesses, tax cuts for blue-state millionaires, and taxpayer-funded diversity detectives for the pot industry.
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) May 14, 2020
McConnell, who is a strong advocate for hemp and held closed-door meetings with marijuana businesses in California last year, never said in his floor remarks that he’s against providing protections for banks that work with the cannabis industry—the main point of the SAFE Banking Act that made it into the coronavirus bill.
That could have something to do with the fact that the standalone legislation—which includes the diversity study provisions—in his chamber currently has five Republican cosponsors, including Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and fellow Kentuckian Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Slamming a bill outright that Gardner, who is facing a serious reelection threat this November, has championed might not be the most strategic political move to help maintain GOP control of the chamber going into next year.
Staff running the Senate Republican Conference’s Twitter account appeared to recognize that on Tuesday. After listing the banking provision as an example of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) “political-pipe-dream” in the COVID-19 relief bill, Marijuana Moment’s publisher replied that they must not care about Gardner’s reelection bid. The tweet was then promptly deleted.
The House passed the SAFE Banking Act along largely bipartisan lines last year, with 91 Republicans joining most Democrats in voting aye. That strong support could help explain why no amendments were filed to remove the banking language in the Rules Committee, with members who might want to strike it acknowledging that the effort would likely fail.
Since the bill’s passage, Gardner has been involved in negotiations to reach a deal with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) on advancing the legislation in his chamber. He said earlier this year that an agreement was “close.”
But based on various social media posts and statements by House and Senate Republicans, the prospects of enacting cannabis banking reform through the House’s latest iteration of COVID-19 relief legislation are questionable, with numerous GOP lawmakers issuing seemingly coordinated criticism of those provisions and questioning their germaneness.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said in a floor speech on Wednesday that the coronavirus bill “actually sets up a series of changes in our federal cannabis laws, which immediately I thought of, okay, how much information is in this bill by cannabis?”
“Cannabis is actually mentioned in this bill 68 times. Now, i’m not sure why that’s in a bill dealing with COVID-19, but it does dramatic changes in our federal cannabis laws,” he said.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) made similar points on the floor, stating that “Speaker Pelosi’s bill is very pro-cannabis.”
“I don’t know how the presiding officer feels about cannabis—that is your business—but it is controversial in the U.S. Senate,” he said. “I think it mentions cannabis something like 28 times.”
In a blog post on Thursday, GOP Senate leadership characterized the marijuana provision and other items of the House leadership’s bill as part of an “expensive, unserious wish list” and said the legislation is a “spending spree stuffed with a wish list filled up with all the party’s favored policies.”
Here are some other GOP reactions to the marijuana banking proposal:
Dems $3T “stimulus” bill uses word “cannabis” 68 times (more than the word “jobs.” Not terribly surprising, since we know smoking pot can make you repeat yourself…. https://t.co/7xOAK2C5oL pic.twitter.com/u6drdBTqZh
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) May 13, 2020
— U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (@SenBillCassidy) May 13, 2020
Pelosi's 3$ trillion bill is politically motivated garbage. When a recovery bill mentions “Marijuana” more times than “jobs” we have an issue. We need real solutions to the problems facing Americans, not political agendas. https://t.co/XJyjPWbHRa
— Bill Cassidy, M.D. (@BillCassidy) May 14, 2020
Pelosi’s $3T socialist wish list makes clear that Democrats prioritize their left-wing agenda over aid to our nation’s heroes.
They want to give handouts to illegal immigrants, release dangerous criminals & give banking privileges to marijuana companies.
— U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (@SenBillCassidy) May 14, 2020
Was on the air with @hughhewitt this AM. We spoke about House Dems’ massive new spending package that’s really a grab bag of Dem agenda items disguised as #COVID19 relief. As was said, it mentions cannabis more times than it mentions jobs. Nobody is taking it seriously.
— Senator John Thune (@SenJohnThune) May 14, 2020
The American people know what is at stake, but does Pelosi? Instead of writing a bill that provides real relief she gave us a partisan wishlist that:
➡️Uses the word cannabis more than #COVID19 testing
➡️Gives tax breaks for wealthy blue-state donors
➡️ Changes election law
— Ways and Means GOP (@WaysandMeansGOP) May 13, 2020
You know something is suspicious when the word “cannabis” is used 68 times – more than “job” or “jobs” combined – in an economic stimulus bill.
I’m not sure what they were smoking, but whatever socialist euphoria they‘re feeling will fade fast when it arrives in the Senate.
— Rep. Arrington (@RepArrington) May 13, 2020
Did you know that in Speaker Pelosi's new bill, the word cannabis appears more times than the word job?
Why are we wasting time on this special interest wish list – that is dead on arrival in the Senate – instead of helping the American people?
— Rep. Kevin Brady (@RepKevinBrady) May 14, 2020
What does ballot harvesting, marijuana banking, bailouts of union pensions & early release of criminals have to do with economic "stimulus"?
— Rep. Kevin Brady (@RepKevinBrady) May 14, 2020
What’s in Speaker Pelosi’s partisan wishlist:
❌60+ mentions of cannabis
❌Preventing state voter ID requirements
❌$50 million to the EPA for environmental justice grants
This is nothing more than a Democrat attempt to advance their left-wing agenda.
— Rep. Doug Collins (@RepDougCollins) May 14, 2020
At $3,000,000,000,000 it's more like the ZEROES Act.
These items & many more have nothing to do with relief:
•Tax breaks for the top 1%
•Millions more for the postal service
•More assistance for Cannabis
All that’s missing is a lifetime supply of Doritos!
— Rep. Mark Walker (@RepMarkWalker) May 14, 2020
Cannabis is mentioned 68 times and women owned cannabis related business is featured as well. Regardless of your stance on weed why is this in a Coronavirus relief bill?
— Tim Burchett (@timburchett) May 13, 2020
Here's just some of what Speaker Pelosi is sneaking into her progressive pipe dream legislation:
👎Requiring “diversity reports” from certain cannabis-related businesses
👎”Environmental justice grants”
👎Ending state-run elections
She's putting partisanship over people!
— Congressman Fred Keller (@RepFredKeller) May 12, 2020
Pelosi’s bill is a liberal wish list of policies/giveaways that have ZERO to do w/ Covid relief. For example:
❌Amnesty/welfare checks for illegal aliens
❌Federal takeover of state elections
❌Help for minority/women-owned marijuana shops
❌Jail break for violent prisoners pic.twitter.com/YArovJaOFT
— Brian Babin (@RepBrianBabin) May 13, 2020
How do you explain a House Democratic Party so crazy that their new $3 trillion proposal has 68 references to Cannabis and only 52 references to jobs? Maybe Speaker Pelosi of San Francisco believes “California Dreamin” could become the new national anthem.
— newtgingrich (@newtgingrich) May 14, 2020
If the House ultimately passes the legislation as is, which could happen as soon as Friday, it’s become increasingly evident that the cannabis components will face challenges when it gets to the GOP-controlled Senate.
This story was updated to include additional commentary from Republicans.
Senator Touts New Marijuana Legalization Bill In Floor Speech On Racial Justice
Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) talked up her new marijuana legalization bill during a speech on racial justice that she delivered on the Senate floor on Thursday.
The senator, whose “Substance Regulation and Safety Act” was introduced late last month, said that ending cannabis prohibition could help law enforcement devote more resources to serious crimes, rather than continue to criminalize people in a racially disparate manner.
“We could actually improve public safety by devoting resources to combating violent crime, rather than over-enforcing low-level offenses in communities of color. Let’s think about what this means for marijuana offenses,” Smith said. “The federal marijuana prohibition is a failed policy that contributes to mass incarceration and over-policing of communities of color.”
“White and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate, but a black person is almost four times as likely to be arrested for a marijuana offense. The federal government is behind both state law and public opinion. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia already allow some type of marijuana use, despite the longtime federal prohibition.
While the senator recently introduced her own legalization bill, she also called on Congress to pass a separate reform bill that she’s cosponsored: the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act.
The legislation “would address the devastating impact on communities of color of a war on drugs by expunging marijuana-related convictions and then reinvesting in community,” she said.
“It is time to legalize marijuana, and we should do it in a practical and commonsense way that protects the health and safety and the civil rights of our communities.”
Watch the senator discuss cannabis policy and racial justice below:
Her own bill, meanwhile, “would ensure that marijuana is regulated to protect the health and the safety of youth, of consumers and of drivers,” she said. “We do this without replicating the racist enforcement patterns of our current drug policy.”
Neither piece of legislation has advanced in the Republican-controlled Senate so far. The House version of the MORE Act cleared the Judiciary Committee last year, however, and a committee chairman’s staffer told Marijuana Moment last month that there are plans in the works to get it to the floor for a vote in September.
During her speech, Smith also discussed a number of other proposals concerning policing reform and racial justice. She announced the introduction of another new bill that she says “would help, state, local and tribal governments reimagine policing in their communities by funding innovative projects and best practices that will transform how we deliver public safety and other social services.”
The senator’s marijuana legalization bill would federally deschedule cannabis, require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop rules that treat the substance in the same way as tobacco, create a national research institute to evaluate the risks and benefits of use, require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to impose quality control standards and mandate that the Department of Transportation study methods for detecting THC-impaired driving.
The descheduling provisions “are retroactive and shall apply to any offense committed, case pending, or conviction entered, and, in the case of a juvenile, any offense committed, case pending, or adjudication of juvenile delinquency entered, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act,” the text of the bill states.
HHS would have to come up with a “national strategy to prevent youth use and abuse of cannabis, with specific attention to youth vaping of cannabis products.” Further, text of the legislation states that the department would be required to “regulate cannabis products in the same manner, and to the same extent,” as it does with tobacco.
That includes “applying all labeling and advertising requirements that apply to tobacco products under such Act to cannabis products.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection would be tasked with working with other agencies to develop policies on allowing marijuana imports and exports.
The legislation further contains racial justice provisions. For example, HHS would have to consult with “consult with civil rights stakeholders” to determine “whether cannabis abuse prevention strategies and policies are likely to have racially disparate impacts” within 100 days of the bill’s enactment.
The Department of Transportation would similarly have to determine whether its impaired driving prevention policy “is likely to contribute to racially disparate impacts in the enforcement of traffic safety laws.”
Agencies charged with establishing these regulations would have one year following the bill’s enactment to finalize those rules.
A federal age requirement for marijuana sales would be set at 21 under the measure.
The legislation was introduced one day after the House approved a spending bill amendment that would protect all state, territory and tribal cannabis programs from federal intervention.
Smith’s focus on marijuana reform comes as lawmakers in her home state of Minnesota push for legalization, with a top legislator unveiling a comprehensive plan for legalizing cannabis for all adults 21 and older in May.
Further, it comes shortly after the Democratic National Committee rejected an amendment to adopt legalization as a 2020 party plank, with members opting instead to embrace more modest reforms. Advocates suspend that there may have been pressure for the panel not to formally embrace a policy change that is opposed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
Oregon Officials Explain How Decriminalized Drugs And Legal Psilocybin Therapy Would Impact The State
Oregon officials finalized a series of analyses this week on separate ballot measures to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use and decriminalize drugs while investing in substance misuse treatment.
The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission determined that the decriminalization initiative would reduce felony and misdemeanor convictions for drug possession by 91 percent, and that reduction would be “substantial for all racial groups, ranging from 82.9% for Asian Oregonians to approximately 94% for Native American and Black Oregonians.”
Overall, the policy change would result in a 95 percent drop in racial disparities for possession arrests, the panel projects.
“The CJC estimates that IP 44 will likely lead to significant reductions in racial/ethnic disparities in both convictions and arrests.”
The conviction estimate was included in the panel’s draft analysis first released last month, but the final version was expanded to include the arrest data as well. The new document also notes that “disparities can exist at different stages of the criminal justice process, including inequities in police stops, jail bookings, bail, pretrial detention, prosecutorial decisions, and others”—a point that activists hoped the panel would include.
That said, the commission noted it “lacks sufficient or appropriate data in each of these areas and therefore cannot provide estimates for these other stages.”
The new report, published on Wednesday, cites research indicating that the resulting “drop in convictions will result in fewer collateral consequences stemming from criminal justice system involvement, which include difficulties in finding employment, loss of access to student loans for education, difficulties in obtaining housing, restrictions on professional licensing, and others.”
The decriminalization proposal was the first ballot initiative in the state’s history to receive a report on the racial justice implications of its provisions under a little-utilized procedure where lawmakers can request such an analysis.
This information will be included in a voter pamphlet as a factual statement from the secretary of state’s office.
“Our current drug laws can ruin lives based on a single mistake, sticking you with a lifelong criminal record that prevents you from getting jobs, housing and more,” Bobby Byrd, an organizer with the More Treatment, A Better Oregon campaign, said in a press release.
Both the psilocybin therapy and drug decriminalization measures also received final explanatory statements and fiscal impact statements this week.
For the therapeutic psilocybin legalization initiative, the Financial Estimate Committee said that it projects the measure will have an impact of $5.4 million from the general fund during the two-year development period. After the program is established, it will cost $3.1 million annually, “which will be covered by the fees and tax funds for the administration and enforcement of the Act.”
The explanatory statement says the measure “directs the Oregon Health Authority to regulate the manufacture, delivery, purchase, and consumption of psilocybin, a psychoactive component found in certain mushrooms, at licensed psilocybin service centers” and that a “person would be allowed to purchase, possess, consume, and experience the effects of psilocybin only at a licensed psilocybin service center during a psilocybin administration session with a licensed psilocybin service facilitator.”
It also describes an initial two-year development period during which officials will research and make recommendations on “the safety and efficacy of using psilocybin to treat mental health conditions,” after which time the new law will allow “a client who is at least 21 years of age to purchase, possess, consume, and experience the effects of psilocybin at a licensed psilocybin service center during a psilocybin administration session with a licensed psilocybin service facilitator.”
Sam Chapman, campaign manager for the psilocybin initiative, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “satisfied with the explanatory statement and believe it captures the thoughtful approach we took that led to psilocybin therapy being on the ballot this November.”
“Specifically, we were happy to see the regulations and safeguards that are built into the measure highlighted in the explanatory statement,” he said. “We also believe that the fiscal committee saw and respected our approach to keep the psilocybin therapy program revenue neutral once up and running.”
The drug possession decriminalization measure is expected to cost $57 million annually, according to state officials, but it will be covered by marijuana tax revenue, which is “estimated at $61.1 million in 2019-21 and $182.4 million in 2021-23” and would therefore be “sufficient to meet this requirement.” Cannabis revenue to cities and counties would be reduced under the measure.
The reform would also save money through reduced drug enforcement. “These savings are estimated at $0.3 million in 2019-21 and $24.5 million in 2021-23,” the analysis says. “This will reduce revenue transferred from the Department of Corrections for local government community corrections by $0.3 million in 2019-21 and $24.5 million in 2021-23. The savings are expected to increase beyond the 2021-23 biennium.”
The initiative “mandates the establishment of at least one addiction recovery center in each existing coordinated care organization service area in the state,” the separate explanatory statement says, and describes how they would be funded with marijuana tax revenue.
“The measure eliminates criminal penalties for possession of specified quantities of controlled substances by adults and juveniles,” it says. “Instead, possession of these specified quantities of controlled substances becomes a non-criminal Class E violation for which the maximum punishment is a $100 fine or completion of a health assessment with an addiction treatment professional.”
Here’s a status update on other 2020 drug policy reform campaigns across the country:
A measure to effectively decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics has officially qualified for the November ballot in Washington, D.C.
Montana activists said last month that county officials have already certified that they collected enough signatures to place two marijuana legalization measure on the state ballot, though the secretary of state’s office has yet to make that official.
In Arizona, the organizers of a legalization effort turned in 420,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot last month.
Organizers in Nebraska last month submitted 182,000 signatures in an attempt to put a medical marijuana measure on November’s ballot.
Idaho activists behind a medical marijuana legalization initiative were hoping to get a second wind after a federal judge said recently that the state must make accommodations for a separate ballot campaign due to signature gathering complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the other group, hopes are dashed.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and stay-at-home mandates, separate measures to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.
The New Jersey legislature approved putting a cannabis legalization referendum before voters as well.
And in Mississippi, activists gathered enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis legalization initiative for the ballot—though lawmakers also approved a competing (and from advocates’ standpoint, less desirable) medical marijuana proposal that will appear alongside the campaign-backed initiative.
A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially gave up its effort for 2020 due to signature collection being virtually impossible in the face of social distancing measures.
North Dakota marijuana legalization activists are shifting focus and will seek qualification for the 2022 ballot.
Washington State activists had planned to pursue a drug decriminalization and treatment measure through the ballot, but citing concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, they announced last month that they will be targeting the legislature instead.
Read the full state analysis of the Oregon drug decriminalization and psilocybin therapy measures below:
Top White House Official Blasts Marijuana Banking Provisions In Democrats’ Coronavirus Bill
Vice President Mike Pence’s top staffer on Thursday joined the chorus of Republicans criticizing House Democrats for including marijuana banking provisions to the chamber’s latest coronavirus relief bill.
Marc Short, who is Pence’s chief of staff and previously served as director of legislative affairs for the White House, discussed the COVID-19 legislation during an interview with Fox Business, and he described the Democratic proposal as a “liberal wish list” with “all sorts of things totally unrelated to coronavirus.”
“In one instance they have provided guarantees for banking access for marijuana growers,” Short said. “That has absolutely nothing to do with coronavirus.”
He’s referring to language that was inserted from the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to protect financial institutions that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
Numerous Republicans—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—have been critical of the provision, arguing that it is not germane to the issue at hand.
Democrats, for their part, have made the case that granting cannabis businesses with access to the banking system would mitigate the spread of the virus by allowing customers to use electronic payments rather than exchange cash. They also say it could provide an infusion of dollars into the financial system that’s especially needed amid the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) told Marijuana Moment in an interview this week that she agrees with her colleagues that the marijuana banking provision is relevant to COVID-19 bill.
“By continuing to disallow anyone associated with these industries that states have deemed legal is further perpetuating serious problems and uncertainty during a time when, frankly, we need as much certainty as we can get,” she said.
While the Senate did not include the banking language as part of their COVID-19 bill, there’s still House-passed standalone legislation that could be acted upon.
The SAFE Banking Act has been sitting in the Senate Banking Committee for months as lawmakers negotiate over the finer points of the proposal.
Last month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.
In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.