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Mitch McConnell And Other GOP Lawmakers Slam Marijuana Banking Provisions In Coronavirus Bill

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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.”

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:

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.

Most Members Of New Biden-Sanders Criminal Justice Task Force Back Marijuana Legalization

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DEA Seeks Contractor Capable Of Burning Four Tons of Marijuana Per Day

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently reached out for help burning “at least” 1,000 pounds of marijuana per hour for eight hours straight.

Every year, DEA seizes millions of marijuana plants and literal tons of raw cannabis, which eventually end up being destroyed. The successful contractor in Arizona would be responsible for burning marijuana and other controlled substances seized as evidence in drug cases “to a point where there are no detectable levels, as measured by standard analytical methods, of byproduct from the destruction process.”

“DEA shall inspect the incinerator to ensure no drug residue remains,” the agency said.

DEA posted the work description earlier this month in what’s called a “sources sought notice,” an initial step before a formal request for proposals is sent.

“This is not a request for proposals and does not obligate the Government to award a contract,” the post says. “The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is conducting market research, and is encouraging all businesses, including small businesses, to respond to this notice.”

An accompanying statement of work gives a behind-the-scenes look at the DEA’s process of destroying seized drugs. Typical boxes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds, for example, but can weigh up to 200 pounds. Contraband might come in on “semi-trucks, tractor trailers, cargo vans, fork lifts, etc.,” the work description says.

“The drugs are usually tightly compressed ‘bricks’ or ‘bales,’” it continues, and are packaged in all sorts of materials: cardboard, wrapping paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, packing tape, “duct tape and derivatives,” plastic evidence bags, “grease/oil” and others. Contractors will be expected to burn that stuff, too.

To avoid potential contact highs, there must be ”proper ventilation” and “no smoke buildup” will be allowed. Other mandates include closed-circuit cameras that capture the entire process, which DEA reserves the right to access, as well as background checks and regular drug tests of all personnel.

Armed DEA agents and contractors will be present during scheduled burns.

The work is also very hush-hush, so whoever gets the job shouldn’t expect to regale friends with stories of the latest large-scale federal weed burning sesh.

“The contractor and its personnel shall hold all information obtained under the DEA contract in the strictest confidence,” the work description says. “All information obtained shall be used only for performing this contract and shall not be divulged nor made known in any manner except as necessary to perform this contract.”

The work would start January 1 of next year and the contract would expire in 2026 unless terminated sooner. The deadline to send information for would-be contractors was Friday.

DEA Seized More Marijuana Plants In 2019, But Arrests Fell

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images

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Harris Will Give Biden ‘Honest’ Input On Legalizing Marijuana And Other Issues As Part Of ‘Deal’

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Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris says she has a “deal” with Joe Biden to candidly share her perspective on a range of progressive policies he currently opposes, including legalizing marijuana. Separately, she also recently discussed cannabis reform in a private meeting with rapper Killer Mike.

During an interview on 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday, the senator was pressed on marijuana and numerous other issues where she and Biden disagree. In response, while she didn’t specifically commit to proactively advocating for comprehensive cannabis reform, she pledged in general that she would always share her views with the would-be president if the pair are elected next week.

“What I will do—and I promise you this and this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal—I will always share with him my lived experience as it relates to any issue that we confront,” she said after the interviewer listed cannabis legalization among a handful of issues on which she and Biden depart. “I promised Joe that I will give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

Asked whether that perspective will be “socialist” and “progressive,” Harris laughed and said “no.”

“It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also, you know, likes hip hop,” she said.

The senator’s taste in music also came up during her own 2020 presidential bid, when she said in an interview that she listened to Snoop Dogg and Tupac while smoking marijuana during college despite graduating before those artists released their debut albums.

Music culture has played a key role in this election cycle, and one of the strongest voices for criminal justice reform in the industry is Killer Mike, who worked as a surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) when he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The artist said he met with Harris on Friday and the two discussed cannabis business opportunities for communities of color.

As she’s done repeatedly since joining Biden’s campaign, Harris also reiterated at a rally in Pontiac, Michigan on Sunday that the administration would pursue marijuana decriminalization and expunging prior cannabis convictions.

She made similar comments during a campaign event in Atlanta last week, stating that the “war on drugs was, by every measure, a failure, and black men were hit the hardest.” That said, while the senator has come to embrace broad cannabis reform, she’s faced criticism over her past opposition to legalization and role in prosecuting people for marijuana offenses as a California prosecutor.

In another interview released last week, Harris said she and Biden “have a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

“When you look at the awful war on drugs and the disproportionate impact it had on black men and creating then criminal records that have deprived people of access to jobs and housing and basic benefits,” she said.

There’s been some frustration among cannabis reform advocates that Harris has scaled back her reform push since joining the Democratic ticket as Biden’s running mate. During her own run for the presidential nomination, she called for comprehensive marijuana legalization but has in recent weeks focused her comments on the more modest reforms of decriminalization and expungement.

Harris, who is the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to federally deschedule marijuana, said last month that a Biden administration would not be “half-steppin’” cannabis reform or pursuing “incrementalism,” but that’s exactly how advocates would define simple decriminalization.

In any case, the senator has repeatedly discussed cannabis decriminalization on the trail. She similarly said during a vice presidential debate earlier this month that she and Biden “will decriminalize marijuana and we will expunge the records of those who have been convicted of marijuana.”

In addition to those policies, Biden backs modestly rescheduling the drug under federal law, letting states set their own policies and legalizing medical cannabis.

Musician John Legend Endorses Drug Decriminalization Ballot Measure In Oregon

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

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GOP Tennessee Senator Calls For Medical Marijuana Legalization In New Campaign Ad

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A Tennessee senator touted his support for legalizing medical marijuana in a campaign ad released on Friday.

In the 30-second spot, which has notably high production value for this kind of local race, state Sen. Steve Dickerson (R) talks about both the therapeutic benefits of cannabis and the consequences of broader marijuana criminalization.

“As your state senator, I’ve led the fight to legalize medical marijuana so our veterans and sickest Tennesseans can deal with chronic pain,” he said. “But this same life-saving plant has led to mass incarceration, with nonviolent marijuana possession resulting in lengthy prison sentences.”

“I think that’s wrong. That’s why I’ve been pushing for criminal justice reform,” the senator added.

Dickerson, who sponsored a medical cannabis legalization bill that cleared a Senate committee in March, said in a Q&A published earlier this month that the policy change would be among his top three legislative priorities if he’s reelected.

His Democratic opponent, former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell, is in favor of “fully legalizing marijuana,” with her campaign site stating that cannabis crimes “disproportionately impact people of color and it’s time to end marijuana prohibition.”

But while Dickerson has earned a reputation as a moderate Republican given his positions on issues like cannabis reform, he’s faced backlash after declining to denounce an independent ad taken out on his behalf that some, including the LGBTQ rights organization Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), called racist.

The ad, which was paid for by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s (R) political action committee MCPAC, hits Campbell over her support for a nonprofit organization that is designed to keep young people out of prison, and it frames the group as “radical” and “extremist.” TEP rescinded their endorsement of Dickerson over his refusal to condemn the ad.

In the Tennessee legislature, marijuana reform has yet to pass—but there’s growing recognition that voters are in favor of the policy change. For example, former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey last year that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis legalization.

Another former GOP House speaker, Beth Harwell, highlighted her support for the reform proposal during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

In other Tennessee drug policy politics, a lawmaker in June blocked a resolution to honor murdered teen Ashanti Posey because she was allegedly involved in a low-level cannabis sale the day she was killed.

New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo Says

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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.
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