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.