A key House committee has released a series reports for spending bills that include a wide range of marijuana-related provisions.
In directing federal agencies to reconsider firing federal workers for state-legal consumption, promote research into cannabis and fund CBD regulations, the reports make clear that marijuana has become a mainstream issue that congressional leadership is becoming more comfortable addressing in high-profile legislative documents.
The House Appropriations Committee directives are attached to spending bills that also contain legislative reform provisions, including previously reported proposals to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference and shield banks from being punished for working with cannabis businesses.
Here’s a look at the new report language that’s attached to appropriations legislation:
Marijuana use by federal employees
The Financial Services and General Government spending bill report directs the Office of Personnel Management to “review its policies and guidelines regarding hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in States” where cannabis is legal.
“Hiring Guidelines.—The Committee encourages OPM to review its policies and guidelines regarding hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in States where that individual’s private use of marijuana is not prohibited under the law of the State. These policies should reflect changes to the law on marijuana usage and clearly state the impact of marijuana usage on Federal employment.”
The report attached to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies funding bill features a number of marijuana research provisions, including calling on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop “a multipronged strategy wherein basic and clinical scientists and public health specialists work together to address the opportunities and challenges of cannabis in a comprehensive manner.”
“Cannabis Research.—NIH currently supports a diverse portfolio of research on cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system, yet this research support typically relies on narrowly tailored program announcements and grants rather than a multipronged strategy wherein basic and clinical scientists and public health specialists work together to address the opportunities and challenges of cannabis in a comprehensive manner. The Committee encourages NIDA to continue supporting a full range of research on the health effects of marijuana and its components, including research to understand how marijuana policies affect public health, to help inform marijuana policymaking in States.”
Members also made a recommendation to provide protections for universities that conduct research into cannabis, noting the significant public interest in such studies.
“Protecting Scientific Research on Marihuana.—Through scientific research, institutions of higher education advance our understanding and knowledge of various aspects of our world. Moreover, when in the public interest, such institutions should be able to conduct such research without fear of reprisal or loss of Federal funding. This includes research on cannabis, a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. As more States and localities move to legalize cannabis, many institutions of higher education are expanding the knowledge-base on this controlled substance. As a result, the Committee notes that such research is in the public interest, and the recommendation includes new bill language prohibiting the Department from penalizing institutions of higher education that conduct scientific research on marihuana.”
The committee directed that $1 million should be appropriated for research into natural alternatives to opioids such as kratom and CBD, noting that the “wide availability and increased use of these substances” makes it “imperative to know more about potential risks or benefits, and whether or not they can have a role in finding new and effective non-opioid methods to treat pain.”
“Kratom.—The Committee notes that little research has been done to date on natural products that are used by many to treat pain in place of opioids. These natural plants and substances include kratom and cannabidiol (CBD). Given the wide availability and increased use of these substances, it is imperative to know more about potential risks or benefits, and whether or not they can have a role in finding new and effective non-opioid methods to treat pain. The Committee recommends $1,000,000 for this research, an increase of $500,000 above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level, and encourages AHRQ to make center-based grants to address research which will lead to clinical trials in geographic regions which are among the hardest hit by the opioid crisis.”
In a section concerning opioid overdose prevention, legislators wrote that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should continue its work while also investigating misuse of other substances, including stimulants and cannabis.
“Opioid Abuse and Overdose Prevention.—The Committee commends CDC for its leadership on combating opioid drug overdoses. The Committee encourages the Director to continue to implement these activities based on population-adjusted burden of disease criteria, including mortality data (age adjusted rate), as significant criteria when distributing funds for overdose prevention activities. The Committee recognizes that the substance misuse epidemic is shifting, with an increase in overdoses resulting from stimulants and other substances. The Committee urges for CDC to monitor, prevent, and reduce harms associated with drug use, misuse, and overdose, including opioids, stimulants, cannabis, and other emerging risks. The Committee appreciates efforts by CDC to ensure that funding for opioid abuse and overdose prevention reaches local communities to advance local understanding of the opioid overdose epidemic and to scale-up prevention and response activities as intended by Congress.”
Military veterans and cannabis issues
Like last year, the panel noted in a report attached to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies spending bill that veterans have been denied home loan benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) due to their work in the state-legal marijuana market. However, the department told Congress last month that it does not have a policy on the books stipulating that such employment renders veterans ineligible on its own; rather, it blamed conflicting state and federal laws for creating risk that makes it less likely for those in the industry to be eligible under the rules of private lenders.
The committee said it now wants VA to “improve communication with eligible lending institutions to reduce confusion among lenders and borrowers on this matter.”
“Home Loan Income Verification.—The Committee is aware of the Department’s denial of home loan guarantees to Veterans solely on the basis of the Veteran’s documented income being derived from state-legalized cannabis activities, and has previously expressed concern that confusion on this issue hinders Veterans’ ability to fully understand and consider how employment decisions could affect future eligibility for earned benefits. The Committee understands that as directed by House Report 116–63, VA has clarified that nothing in VA statutes or regulations specifically prohibits a Veteran whose income is derived from state-legalized cannabis activities from obtaining a certificate of eligibility for VA home loan benefits. The Committee directs the VA to improve communication with eligible lending institutions to reduce confusion among lenders and borrowers on this matter.”
The spending bill report also requests an update on a congressionally mandated marijuana research project.
“Cannabis Research.—The Committee requests an update on the status of the study on cannabis research, as described in House Report 116–63.”
Hemp research and regulations
In the report attached to the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies spending bill, the committee said it’s aware of difficulties hemp farmers face in ensuring their crops do not contain excess concentrations of THC and recognizes “that these challenges are exacerbated by lack of information, best practices, and tools to control the hemp content of THC.” To that end, it directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issues report to Congress with data on crops having to be destroyed due to excess potency.
“Hemp.—The Committee is aware of the difficulty farmers face in trying to control the legal tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of their hemp. The Committee recognizes that these challenges are exacerbated by lack of information, best practices, and tools to control the hemp content of THC. The Committee directs USDA to report to Congress on the number of acres of hemp, by state that have been required to be destroyed because the crop exceeds the limit 0.3 percent THC content; the number of producers, by state, who are found to have a negligent violation of the 0.3 percent limit; and the total number, by state, of producers whose hemp has been tested for THC.”
Another provision of the report states that USDA should conduct “genomics and bioinformatics” studies into hemp in order to identify “the genetic control of key production and product quality traits” of the crop.
“Hemp Whole-Genome Bioinformatics.—The Committee encourages ARS to conduct genomics and bioinformatics research in collaboration with capable institutions to elucidate the genetic control of key production and product quality traits of the hemp plant. In addition, the Committee also encourages ARS to partner with institutions already engaged in such research to conduct hemp genetic improvement research and breeding with new breeding and editing techniques.”
Due to the increasing demand for hemp products, members called for $1.5 million in additional funding “to maintain the hemp germplasm repository.” They’re also seeking to appropriate about $41 million for a variety of initiatives including one concerning cannabis and cannabinoids.
“Industrial Hemp Germplasm.—The Committee recognizes the increasing demand for industrial hemp for a variety of uses and its growing importance as a crop for U.S. farmers. The Committee provides an additional $1,500,000 above the fiscal year 2020 level to maintain the hemp germplasm repository.”
“The Committee recommendation includes a net increase of $40,828,000, including increases for the following programs or initiatives: Strengthening Response Capabilities for Foodborne Outbreaks; Cannabis and Cannabis Derivatives; Artificial Intelligence and Other Emerging Technologies; Transform Medical Device Safety, Cybersecurity, Review, and Innovation; Compounding; and Modernizing Influenza Vaccines.”
Further, the report stipulates that USDA should adhere to the intent of Congress and make sure that hemp businesses are eligible for all competitive grant programs that are available to farmers and producers of other crops.
“Industrial Hemp.—The intent of Congress in Public Law 115–334 was for industrial hemp to be eligible for all USDA programs, including Rural Development. Industrial hemp can significantly benefit struggling rural economies. The Committee encourages Rural Development to ensure that industrial hemp is eligible for all competitive grant programs.”
And finally, the panel said that another $5 million should be made available to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for CBD enforcement and to develop regulations to permit the substance’s lawful marketing in the food supply or as a dietary supplement.
“Cannabidiol Enforcement.—The Committee provides an increase of $5,000,000 for enforcing the law to protect patients and the public while also providing a potential regulatory pathway for cannabis and cannabis derived products. The Committee maintains its concern about the proliferation of foods and dietary supplements marketed in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), including products containing cannabis and cannabis-derived ingredients. Non-FFDCA-compliant products continue to pose potential health and safety risks to consumers through unsubstantiated and misleading claims such as treating a wide-range of life-threatening diseases and conditions. The Committee expects the FDA to continue to prioritize consumer-safety through application of the law.”
Curbing illegal marijuana grows on public land
Lawmakers again emphasized in the report for the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill that they’re aware of illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands in California and said that these “activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife.”
“MARIJUANA ON PUBLIC LANDS – The Committee is aware that trespassers illegally grow marijuana on public lands in California. These unlawful activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife. The Committee supports Forest Service efforts to develop tools to detect and eradicate grow sites. The Committee directs the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to continue to cooperate with state, local and tribal governments on survey, reclamation, and prevention efforts to the maximum extent possible.”
Addressing marijuana-impaired driving
The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies report alleges that instances of impaired driving have “spiked” in states that have legalized marijuana and says it wants the Justice Department to “assist states in identifying detection technologies that show promise in identifying drivers impaired by marijuana.”
“Marijuana-Impaired Drivers.—With the proliferation of state laws legalizing recreational and medical marijuana, the incidence rate of impaired driving has spiked. The Committee encourages the Department to assist states in identifying detection technologies that show promise in identifying drivers impaired by marijuana.”
In the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies bill report, the committee also addresses impaired driving issues, saying it remains “concerned with the growing problem of people driving under the influence of one or multiple substances, including marijuana and opioids” and urges federal coordination to develop technologies that can detect active impairment from cannabis. The panel recognizes that doing so will likely not be achievable in the short-term, and so it mandates continued support for drug recognition expert training in the interim.
“Drug-impaired driving.—The Committee remains concerned with the growing problem of people driving under the influence of one or multiple substances, including marijuana and opioids. The Committee supports the goal of developing a reliable standard for all types of impaired driving and urges NHTSA to coordinate research efforts with states and other partners. At the same time, the Committee recognizes that developing a standard measurement of marijuana impairment, similar to blood alcohol concentration (BAC), remains unlikely in the near term. The Committee directs NHTSA to continue to robustly support Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training and to prioritize the study and development of a standardized field sobriety test (SFST) to detect marijuana impairment.
“The Committee directs NHTSA to work with the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Commerce to ensure that state highway safety offices and state law enforcement have the most up-to-date information from the Federal government on detecting impaired driving including an inventory of available technologies to detect recent drug use such as oral fluid technologies. In order to increase the safety of the transportation network by reducing drug-impaired driving, the Committee directs NHTSA to work with states to determine their toxicology testing and funding needs and to provide states with flexibility in how they use impaired driving countermeasures grants, including, but not limited to, assistance with state toxicology labs.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Canada Will Let Terminally Ill Patients Use Psychedelic Mushrooms For End-Of-Life Care
Four cancer patients in end-of-life care will be become the first people in decades to legally possess and consume psilocybin mushrooms in Canada after a landmark decision Tuesday by the country’s minister of health.
The patients petitioned Health Minister Patty Hajdu back in April for exemptions from the country’s laws against psilocybin in order to use psychedelic mushrooms as part of psychotherapy treatment. On Tuesday afternoon, Hajdu officially granted the patients’ request, the nonprofit TheraPsil, which assisted with the application, announced.
The approvals mark the first publicly-known individuals to receive a legal exemption from the Canadian Drugs and Substances Act to access psychedelic therapy, Therapsil said, and the first medical patients to legally use psilocybin since the compound became illegal in Canada in 1974.
“This is the positive result that is possible when good people show genuine compassion. I’m so grateful that I can move forward with the next step of healing,” one of the patients, Thomas Hartle, said in a statement Tuesday.
NEWS: 4 Palliative Canadians experiencing end-of-life distress have been APPROVED to access psychedelic therapy through section 56 exemptions. This historic decision marks the first known individuals to legally use #psilocybin since it’s illegality in 1974.https://t.co/AUlzjvKGcm
— TheraPsil (@TheraPsil) August 4, 2020
The applicants, as well as various advocates for psychedelic therapy, had personally appealed to Hajdu via a concerted social media campaign during the months their applications were pending.
“Health Canada is committed to carefully and thoroughly reviewing each request for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant considerations, including evidence of potential benefits and risks or harms to the health and safety of Canadians,” a government spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email. “These exemptions do not change the fact that the sale and possession of magic mushrooms remain illegal in Canada.”
In statements issued Tuesday, other patients thanked Hajdu and said they were optimistic that more patients will one day have safe, legal access to psilocybin for therapeutic use.
Minister @pattyhajdu please hear this message from Thomas Hartle: “I am one of the applicants that currently have a section 56 exemption that is in your hands…I just wanted to remind you that it has now been 100 days since some of the applications started coming to you.” pic.twitter.com/5h0d8hfuUl
— TheraPsil (@TheraPsil) July 31, 2020
“I want to thank the Health Minister and Health Canada for approving my request for psilocybin use. The acknowledgement of the pain and anxiety that I have been suffering with means a lot to me, and I am feeling quite emotional today as a result,” said Laurie Brooks, an applicant from British Columbia. “I hope this is just the beginning and that soon all Canadians will be able to access psilocybin, for therapeutic use, to help with the pain they are experiencing, without having to petition the government for months to gain permission.”
TheraPsil said on Tuesday that it expects more people to petition the government for exemptions following the first four patients’ approval. A separate request by the nonprofit to allow therapists to use psychedelics themselves in preparation for treating patients with psilocybin was not addressed in Tuesday’s announcement, the group said.
The government, in its statement to Marijuana Moment, said that the use of “magic mushrooms also comes with risks, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, flashbacks and bad trips that may lead to risk-taking behaviour, traumatic injuries and even death.”
All of the four patients who received the new exemptions have been diagnosed with untreatable cancer. Therapists who use psychedelics in their practices say that psilocybin-aided therapy sessions can help patients deal with issues such as depression and anxiety, allowing them to better accept death as a natural part of existence.
“At this point psilocybin is a reasonable medical choice for these individuals,” TheraPsil’s executive director, Spencer Hawkswell, told Marijuana Moment in an interview last month. “This is about the minister being compassionate and using her ministerial abilities to help give patients access to something that’s going to help them.”
The therapeutic potential of psychedelics has attracted attention in recent years from a growing number of academics, policy makers and even the U.S. government. In September of last year, Johns Hopkins University announced the launch of the nation’s first-ever psychedelic research center, a $17-million project to study whether psychedelics can treat conditions such as opioid use disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In June, the University of North Carolina (UNC) announced a $27 million project funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to research and develop an entirely new class of psychedelics-inspired drugs. The program, UNC said, “aims to create new medications to effectively and rapidly treat depression, anxiety, and substance abuse without major side effects.”
Meanwhile, activists in the United States have advocated for state- and local-level reforms to research, decriminalize and in some cases even legalize psychedelics.
In May 2019, Denver became the first U.S. city to enact such a reform, with voters approving a measure that effectively decriminalized psilocybin possession. Soon after, officials in Oakland, California, decriminalized possession of all plant- and fungi-based psychedelics. In January of this year, the City Council in Santa Cruz, California, voted to make the enforcement of laws against psychedelics among the city’s lowest enforcement priorities.
Reformers are pushing for similar changes in other jurisdictions. A proposal in Washington, D.C. would allow voters to decide this fall whether to decriminalize plant- and fungi-based psychedelic drugs, including psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine. A decision on whether that initiative will make the ballot is expected later this week. In Oregon, voters in November will consider a measure that would decriminalize all drugs and expand access to treatment. A separate Oregon proposal would legalize psilocybin therapy—the same therapy sought by the Canadian cancer patients.
Lawmakers in Hawaii earlier this year approved a plan to study psilocybin mushrooms’ medical applications with the goal of eventually legalizing access.
This story was updated with comment from Health Canada.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.
Arizona Governor Slams Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure In Voter Pamphlet Argument
Ahead of what’s shaping up to be a contentious campaign season around marijuana in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and other opponents are claiming that legalization would unleash a host of public health hazards on the state.
In an official voter guide argument published on Monday against a proposed initiative that’s likely to be on the November ballot, the governor called legalizing cannabis “a bad idea based on false promises.”
“We know from states that have fully legalized marijuana that it has real consequences: more deaths on highways caused by high drivers, dramatic increases in teen drug use, and more newborns exposed to marijuana,” Ducey claimed in his comments.
It’s not yet certain whether the legalization proposal, from Smart and Safe Arizona, will make it to the ballot. County officials have until August 7 to validate hundreds of thousands of signatures submitted by activists last month. But on Monday afternoon, the Arizona secretary of state’s office published arguments submitted both for and against the measure, including a handful from elected officials.
The arguments, which will be printed and mailed to registered voters, give a taste of what’s to come during the mounting fight over legalization in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
As with politics in general in 2020, expect considerable disagreement over basic facts. For instance, Ducey’s argument that cannabis legalization has led to “dramatic increases in teen drug use” seems at odds with available evidence. Even according to legalization opponents, such as the federal government’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, teen use rates have actually gone down since the end of prohibition for adults.
In a presentation last month to North Dakota lawmakers, who themselves are considering whether to legalize marijuana, the Colorado-based deputy coordinator of the federal National Marijuana Initiative acknowledged that data from government drug use surveys show that Colorado saw a general decline in the number of teens using marijuana after the state enacted legalization.
Another of Ducey’s claims, that Colorado has a particularly high rate of teen cannabis use compared to other states, is true. But his submission fails to mention that was also true during the years before legalization.
Ducey wasn’t the only official to argue that legalization would increase teen consumption in the new official ballot arguments pamphlet. State Sen. Sine Kerr (R) wrote that she was “deeply saddened by the prospect of how this initiative would harm children.”
“Kids would become easy prey for an industry hungry to create a new generation of users,” Kerr argued, noting that legal products would include vape pens and edible products such as gummies, cookies and candy, which she implied would appeal to children. (Gummy bears would be banned due to a provision forbidding animal-shaped products.)
“The industry will succeed in hooking too many of our kids and stealing their potential early,” she wrote.
Other common arguments against the proposal centered on the increased risk of impaired driving, fears of unbridled advertising by the commercial cannabis industry and economic impacts resulting from unmotivated employees or worker impairment.
“In Arizona, positive marijuana workplace tests have nearly tripled over the past eight years since legalization of medical marijuana,” wrote Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, an outspoken cannabis opponent. “Workplaces with higher rates of drug use have employees that are less productive, suffer higher absenteeism, and have more accidents.”
Polk, whose office prosecutes cannabis cases, also downplayed the impact that legalization would have on the criminal justice system.
“As for their argument that legalizing recreational pot will empty our prisons? Not a single state has seen a reduction in prison population because of legalization,” she argued. “This is because, contrary to the myth, our prisons are not filled with people serving time for marijuana possession.”
Legalization supporters, however, point to Polk’s own office as a reason to reform marijuana laws. In recent years, Polk famously filed felony charges against a black medical cannabis patient for possessing a small amount of marijuana concentrate purchased legally from a dispensary. Critics accused Polk’s office of exhibiting racial bias in the case.
Advocates for the proposed legalization measure, meanwhile, said in ballot arguments that the initiative takes a relatively measured, sensible approach by taxing and regulating marijuana rather than handling it as a criminal matter.
“The war on drugs failed,” wrote Chad Campbell, chair of Smart and Safe Arizona, the organization behind the proposed ballot measure. “Marijuana is safest when it’s sold in a taxed, tested and regulated environment—not on a street corner.”
The campaign says legalization will also bring in at least $300 million in tax revenue that can be used to support things like education, public health, infrastructure and safety. Penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana would go up under the proposal, and millions of dollars in funding would be funneled toward drug treatment and mental health programs.
As for youth use, organizers argue, “we know a well-regulated, licensed, legal environment is the best way to keep marijuana out of the hands of children—period. We set the legal age at 21, limited potency, required childproofed packaging, required products to be unattractive to kids and forbade advertising to youth.”
The state’s voters narrowly defeated a legalization measure in 2016, but a poll released last month indicates the current initiative is on the path to being approved. The survey found that more than 6 in 10 Arizona voters saying they support legalizing marijuana.
Another supporter, former Gov. Fife Symington (R), who served from 1991 to 1997, wrote in his argument that voters “must constantly re-evaluate our policies in the face of new evidence.”
“Today the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: criminalizing law-abiding citizens who choose to responsibly consume marijuana is an outdated policy that wastes precious government resources and unnecessarily restricts individual liberty,” he said. “A far more logical approach would be to respect the rights of adults to choose to consume marijuana while taxing and regulating its production and sale.”
The proposal imposes significant penalties for selling marijuana products to minors, Symington wrote, allows law enforcement to target drivers who demonstrate impairment and allows employers to maintain a drug-free workplace.
“Finally, and perhaps more importantly,” he wrote, “it frees up law enforcement to deal with more serious issues that actually jeopardize public safety.”
Perhaps the most balanced ballot argument submitted over the measure came from Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, who said the proposition “poses public health risks and benefits.” Humble‘s statement, which identifies what he said are both risks and benefits of legalization, is printed twice—once alongside ballot arguments against legalization, and again next to arguments in support of it.
One one hand, Humble argued, ending felony charges for cannabis possession would reduce mental, physical and economic impacts for individuals and families. “Incarceration and felony convictions for marijuana offenses have multigenerational social, economic, and health impacts that have been disproportionately thrust on communities of color,” Humble wrote, “because they are more likely to be arrested for and convicted of marijuana offenses.”
Humble noted the measure also includes provisions to regulate and test cannabis products, support evidence-based public health programs and prevent sales to minors—although he acknowledged those efforts won’t eliminate all risks, which he said include “impaired neurological development from use in adolescence, increased visits to emergency rooms from marijuana intoxication or accidental ingestion by children, adverse birth outcomes from maternal use, and injuries caused by impaired driving or workplace use.”
Humble argued that if voters choose to pass the measure, regulators should be prepared to take the new legal sector seriously.
“If the Act passes,” he wrote, “we urge the state to use its full regulatory authority to enforce purchasing age-limits, packaging and potency standards, regulate advertising and place of use restrictions, enact workplace use policy requirements, and solidify motor vehicle operation restrictions and penalties. Arizona officials should also partner with state universities to analyze and publish data on its public health impacts.”
Read the arguments for and against the Arizona legal marijuana measure below:
McConnell Slams Pelosi Over Claim Marijuana Is A ‘Proven’ Therapy Amid Coronavirus Debate
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took a shot at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Tuesday, criticizing recent comments she made defending marijuana provisions that were included in her chamber’s latest coronavirus relief legislation.
The majority leader, who has consistently railed against the inclusion of cannabis banking protections in the House COVID-19 bill, said on the Senate floor that Pelosi is “still agitating for strange, new special interest carve-outs for the marijuana industry and even claiming they are COVID-related.”
“She said that, with respect to this virus, marijuana is ‘a therapy that has proven successful.’ You can’t make this up,” he said.
“I hope she shares her breakthrough with Dr. Fauci,” McConnell wryly added, referring to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, who has been helping to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
McConnell is referring to remarks Pelosi made last week after she was asked about components of the House Democrats’ bill that Republicans have criticized as not germane, including specifically the marijuana language.
The speaker said she took issue with the suggestion that cannabis banking reform was not relevant amid the pandemic and said marijuana “is a therapy that has proven successful.” Prohibitionists have seized on that comment, interpreting it to mean that Pelosi believes cannabis can treat COVID-19.
Speaker Pelosi is still holding up this entire package over bizarre unrelated things like carveouts for the marijuana industry. She even claimed to the press that pot is a proven COVID-19 therapy!
I hope she’s shared this breakthrough with Dr. Fauci.
Can we get serious yet? https://t.co/CksSWrMKDN
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) August 4, 2020
That said, it wasn’t clear from the brief comment whether that was the case or if Pelosi was broadly referring to the therapeutic benefits of marijuana.
The Food and Drug Administration has made clear that there’s currently no solid evidence that cannabinoids can treat COVID-19 and it’s warned companies that make that claim.
Marijuana Moment previously exclusively reported that Pelosi—who said in 2018 that doctors should prescribe medical cannabis and yoga more often instead of prescription opioids—supported attaching the banking language to the House’s coronavirus package prior to the legislation’s introduction.
Senate leadership unveiled their latest round of coronavirus relief legislation last week, and it does not include the cannabis provisions. And given McConnell’s particular focus on those components, it seems likely that any attempt to get the language inserted in a bicameral conference will be met with resistance on the Senate side.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also recently slammed Pelosi’s latest cannabis comments on Twitter, saying “let’s focus on the pandemic. Not pot.”
Meanwhile, the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act has continued to sit in the Senate Banking Committee without action in the months since the House initially approved it.
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.
McConnell’s latest comments also come a week after the House approved an amendment to protect state, territory and tribal marijuana laws from federal interference.
Photo courtesy of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.