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Schumer Worries Senate Marijuana Banking Vote Could Undermine Broader Legalization Push

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Arguably the most closely watched congressional player in the marijuana reform space this session is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). With Democrats now in control of a chamber that for years has been run by GOP members with little to no interest in ending federal prohibition, the pro-legalization senator has found himself in a unique position to lead the charge.

Schumer doesn’t intend to miss that opportunity, as he explained to Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on the eve of the cannabis holiday 4/20. Nor does he want to risk undermining comprehensive reform by passing more modest changes—such as simply protecting banks that service the state-legal industry, as the House did on Monday—before tackling broader legalization.

Together with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), the majority leader is working on legislation that would federally legalize marijuana—a bill that he’s said will be introduced “shortly” and placed on the floor “soon.”

But Schumer, despite his emphasis on the need to enact cannabis policy change, isn’t giving up specifics on the proposal he’s drafting just yet. What he will say, however, is that it will address social equity. It will prioritize small businesses and people most impacted by the drug war. It will incorporate things like banking protections. And, if lawmakers do their job, it will pass this Congress.

Marijuana Moment spoke to Schumer about a wide range of cannabis issues—from legislative priorities for marijuana reform to President Joe Biden’s ongoing opposition to adult-use legalization. The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Marijuana Moment: Minutes ago, the House again approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to give federal protections to banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses. Should the Senate follow suit, or should comprehensive legalization be addressed first?

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: I’ve always been of the view that while certainly we have to deal with the banking and financial issues that we should do them together with legalization because the [SAFE Banking Act] brings in some people who might not normally support legalization, and we want to get as broad a coalition as possible. Here in the Senate, it’s our goal—as you know, Senators Booker and Wyden and I are working on comprehensive legalization legislation.

We will hope to include things that deal with banking and finance, although we certainly think that we ought to make sure that the communities that have been most affected by these draconian laws get the benefits here, and we want to make sure that there are reinvestment initiatives and it doesn’t all go to the big shots, that smaller businesses and minority businesses get a chance to be involved once marijuana is legalized. We want to make sure, A) that they go together and B) that this just doesn’t let all the bankers, the big boys, in without taking into account that communities of color have paid the greatest price here and should get some recompense.

MM: To that point, have you had conversations with the Senate sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act about potentially merging their proposal into the legislation you and your colleagues are working on?

CS: Well, no. The first step is for for Booker and Wyden and I to come up with our bill, then we will start having conversations with them. As you know, as the floor leader and the majority leader, I get to determine what gets put on the floor, so if I make a suggestion that it would be good to combine these two pieces of legislation, I think people will pay some attention to that.

MM: Appropriations season will soon be upon us. For the past two years, the House has approved spending bills that include a rider to prevent the Justice Department from using its funds to interfere in any state or territory marijuana programs. The Senate has only signed off on amendments to protect medical cannabis states. Now that you’re in control of the chamber, do you think a temporary policy like that should be pursued while you work on a permanent fix?

CS: Our first goal is not to settle for just partial measures, even though that, obviously if we went to legalization, that would sort of be part of it. We’re first going to try to get as large a piece of legislation as we can.

MM: To what extent have you been coordinating with House leadership on broad legalization? Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) says he plans to soon refile his Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act that passed the House last year—have your offices been working together?

CS: We’re talking to the House people. Obviously, a good strong bill needs to pass both houses. The House has been ahead of the Senate here only because Democratic control of the House has been two years longer than Democratic control of the Senate. But we are in definite consultation with our House colleagues.

MM: As you’re well aware, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legalization into law this month. What will this mean for your home state in the long term, especially as it concerns social equity for communities most impacted by the drug war?

CS: As you know, I weighed in at a crucial time to get as strong a bill that took into account the harms done to communities of color as possible. And I think that had a real effect and New York’s bill, at the end of the day, being a very strong bill, I was very glad to see what they did on expungement. I mean, for a young man or young woman to be arrested with a small amount of marijuana in his or her pocket and then have this serious criminal record because the law was so overdone in terms of penalties.

To treat marijuana the same as cocaine or heroin or anything like that made no sense. And yet so many young people—their lives were basically ruined because they had a severe criminal record because they had a small amount of marijuana in their possession. They never should have had that severe record. So expungement is only fair and only right. They’re mainly state laws so we can’t force expungement, but it’s something that I was very glad New York did and I hope other states will follow that. And we’ll do whatever we can federally as well to encourage it.

MM: Going back to the federal level, we’ve been talking about comprehensive reform. The House only narrowly approved the MORE Act last year, and that was regarded by advocates as fairly broad policy. You need 50 or 60 votes to get the legislation passed depending on how you advance it—are the votes there?

CS: Well, we’re working as hard as we can. We’re first drafting the legislation. We’re talking to people about it. I don’t want to give out what’s in it yet because we’re in the process of doing it and talking to people. But you know, 65 percent of the American people support legalization of marijuana. I was utterly amazed and pleasantly surprised when a conservative state like South Dakota had it as a referendum and it passed so overwhelmingly. Its time has come.

And you know, all the old bugaboos that if marijuana was legalized, crime would go up and marijuana was legalized, drug use would go up. But we’ve had—you know, [U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis] called the states the laboratories of experimentation, and we’ve had those laboratories and they’ve been experimenting. None of these parade of horribles that the opponents of legalization, or even decriminalization, put out came to be true.

I think the American people are realizing not only the harms that have been done to communities of color, but also this this is freedom. And if marijuana is not going to have all these adverse effects—and in fact, we’ll have some positive effects in terms of dealing with legislation, dealing with making up for what has happened to communities of color, it’s a good thing. I think as the Rolling Stones say, “Time is on our side. Yes, it is.”

MM: Senator Booker said in a recent interview that he’s essentially unconcerned about President Biden’s opposition to recreational legalization because, as long as he supports decriminalization federally, he won’t be an obstacle to your pending legislation. Would you agree with that sentiment?

CS: Well, look, I never want to contradict Cory Booker, but I’m gonna keep working on the president to go the whole way. I’ve had some success in persuading him on other things—not related to marijuana, but other issues. I’d like him to understand that the world has changed, the facts have changed and full legalization is the right way to go. Obviously, it’s helpful if he moves in our direction in a significant way. That will be helpful, of course.

MM: Outside of cannabis, I wonder what your thoughts are on more broadly ending the drug war. Oregon voters approved an initiative to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs—is that a policy you support as well?

CS: Certainly, we need much more in treatment. The shortage of treatment is horrible and COVID has exacerbated it. I think we have three times the opioid use than we had pre-COVID. Now we did put about $4 billion into the American rescue plan for more for treatment, but there’s not close to enough. The story I tell is, I knew a man in western New York. His son was an Iraq war veteran, came back with PTSD, became addicted on opioids—and finally his father was trying to convince him to go to treatment and finally, you know, when you hit bottom, the kids said, “Yes, I’ll go.” They went to the local places that provide treatment, and it was 23-week waiting list and the son killed himself in week 22. We need much more focus on treatment. I can’t talk about—I don’t know the specifics of any specific state law, but the focus on rehabilitation treatment is vital.

U.S. House Approves Marijuana Banking Bill For Fourth Time, Setting Up Senate Consideration

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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Colorado Could Vote On Marijuana Tax Hike To Fund Education Programs After Campaign Submits Signatures

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A Colorado campaign appears to have submitted enough signatures to place a ballot initiative before voters in November that would raise marijuana taxes to fund programs that are designed to reduce the education gap for low-income students.

The Colorado Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress (LEAP) measure would give low- and middle-income families a $1,500 stipend to have school-aged children participate in after-school programs, tutoring and summer learning activities.

The state excise tax on sales adult-use cannabis products would increased from 15 percent to 20 percent to fund the effort.

Supporters say this policy is especially needed as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has exacerbated income-related learning gaps for students. But some marijuana industry stakeholders—and even the state’s largest teachers union—have expressed concern about the proposal.

In any case, the LEAP campaign turned in about 200,000 signatures for the measure to the secretary of state’s office on Friday. It only needs 124,632 valid signatures to qualify.

Monica Colbert Burton, a LEAP campaign representative, told Colorado Public Radio that the sizable signature turn-in “really demonstrates the broad support around the state for this issue.”

“The learning loss that we’ve seen during the pandemic is so much higher than we’ve ever seen before particularly for our low-income families and our students that don’t have access to the same resources,” Colbert Burton said.

Beyond imposing the extra five percent tax on cannabis, the initiative also calls for a repurposing of state revenue that it generates from leases and rents for operations held on state land. Advocates estimate that the measure would translate into $150 million in additional funding annually.

But according to an analysis from Westword, adding the tax to the existing 15 percent special tax would’ve only created $80 million in added revenue based on 2020 sales figures.

Some stakeholders and cannabis advocates have come out strongly against the proposal.

“That this initiative is being pushed at a moment in Colorado when the cannabis industry is trying to create more equity and bring economic growth to marginalized communities harmed by the racist Drug War is especially tone deaf,” Hashim Coates, executive director of the trade group Black Brown and Red Badged, said in a press release. “But that is to be expected when the backers of this measure are affluent white men.”

“Let’s just be perfectly clear: this is a regressive tax—which always harms Black and Brown consumers the most. This is going to a voucher program—which always harms Black and Brown communities the most,” Coates said. “And it’s targeting the marijuana industry as a magical bottomless piggy bank—which will devastate the Black and Brown owned cannabis businesses the most. Can we just let the black community breathe for a moment after this pandemic before we start taxing them to death?”

The measure is being endorsed by a two former governors, about 20 sitting state lawmakers, several former legislative leaders and several other educational organizations.

But in June, the Colorado Education Association withdrew its support for the proposal over concerns about how it would be implemented.

The next step for the initiative is for the secretary of state’s office to verify that there are enough valid signature in the batch LEAP supporters turned in.

This development comes days after Colorado officials announced the launch of a new office to provide economic support for the state’s marijuana industry.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The division, which was created as part of a bill signed into law in March, is being funded by cannabis tax revenue. It will focus on creating “new economic development opportunities, local job creation, and community growth for the diverse population across Colorado.”

Gov. Jared Polis (D) had initially asked lawmakers back in January to create a new a new cannabis advancement program as part of his budget proposal.

Beyond this program, the state has worked to achieve equity and repair the harms of prohibition in other ways.

For example, Polis signed a bill in May to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state—and he directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon.

The governor signed an executive order last year that granted clemency to almost 3,000 people convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana.

Funding for the new office is made possible by tax revenue from a booming cannabis market in the state. In the first three months of 2021 alone, the state saw more than half a billion dollars in marijuana sales.

The lack of access to federal financial support for marijuana businesses became a pronounced issue amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the Small Business Administration saying it’s unable to offer those companies its services, as well as those that provide ancillary services such as accounting and law firms.

Polis wrote a letter to a member of the Colorado congressional delegation last year seeking a policy change to give the industry the same resources that were made available to other legal markets.

California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals

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California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals

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A California senator is asking the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide clarification on whether hospitals and other healthcare facilities in legal marijuana states can allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis without jeopardizing federal funding.

State Sen. Ben Hueso (D) on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure inquiring about the policy. Confusion about possible implications for permitting marijuana consumption in health facilities led pro-legalization Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to veto a bill meant to address the issue in 2019.

Hueso refiled a nearly identical version of the legislation for this session, and it’s already passed the full Senate and one Assembly committee. It’s now awaiting action on the Assembly floor before potentially being sent to Newsom’s desk.

“Ryan’s Law would require that hospitals and certain types of healthcare facilities in the State of California allow a terminally-ill patient to use medical cannabis for treatment and/or pain relief,” the senator wrote in the letter to the federal officials, with whom he is asking to meet to discuss the issue. “Currently, whether or not medical cannabis is permitted is left up to hospital policy, and this creates issues for patients and their families who seek alternative, more natural medication options in their final days.”

Hospitals that receive CMS accreditation are generally expected to comply with local, state and federal laws in order to qualify for certain reimbursements. And so because marijuana remains federally illegal, “many healthcare facilities have adopted policies prohibiting cannabis on their grounds out of a perceived risk of losing federal funding if they were to allow it.”

But Hueso said that his office received a letter from CMS several months ago stating that there are no specific federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that it isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Additionally, because the Justice Department has been barred under annually renewed spending legislation from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state-level medical marijuana programs, the senator said, “we believe the risk of federal intervention is little to none.”

“This confirmation from CMS been quite a breakthrough and we are optimistic it will alleviate the Governor’s concerns,” the letter continues. “However, I want to underscore that, prior to receiving this response, even the Governor of California was under the impression that CMS rules prohibited hospitals and healthcare facilities from allowing medical cannabis use.”

“Undoubtedly other states are struggling with this issue, too,” it says. “As more states decriminalize cannabis and even create recreational markets, we must not forget to also update the books for the most important consumers of all—patients.”

“While ideally the federal government will remove cannabis from its Schedule I designation, I appreciate that this is a lengthy and complex process. In the interim, it would be extremely helpful if you could provide clarification that assures Medicare/Medicaid providers that they will not lose reimbursements for allowing medical cannabis use on their premises. This clarification would go a long way to help hospital staff, security, above all, patients.”

Becerra, while previously serving as California attorney general and as a member of Congress, demonstrated a track record of supporting marijuana law reform.

Meanwhile, there are efforts in both chambers of Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are currently soliciting feedback on draft legalization legislation they introduced this month.

Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.

The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.

Read the letter from the California senator to Becerra below: 

Marijuana hospital letter t… by Marijuana Moment

Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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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Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

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A top Rhode Island lawmaker says that while there’s not yet a consensus among legislators and the governor on a bill to legalize marijuana, it’s still a “workable” issue and would be prioritized if a special session is convened this fall.

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) told The Public’s Radio that it’s “possible” that a special session will be held later in the year after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on competing reform proposals.

“It really depends if we can come to some kind of resolution of consensus on a couple of major bills,” he said, referring to cannabis and a handful of other issues. “If we can, we certainly would come back.” But if not, members will continue to discuss the proposals and prepare to take them up at the start of the next session in January.

“Unfairly, sometimes I have or the House gets blamed for stopping the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, when in reality there is no consensus,” he said. “If we can come to some closeness, in the several different proposals, then we’ll move some kind of legislation. But if not, it just needs more work—and it’s very workable, so it’s very much something that can happen, we just have to put the effort in and make it happen.”

Listen to the speaker discuss the marijuana legalization plan, about 1:00 into the audio  below: 

Shekarchi similarly told Marijuana Moment in an email earlier this week that he’s “not opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” but “there have been very divergent proposals offered by Representative Scott Slater, the Senate, the governor and various advocacy groups.”

“As I have done with other issues, my role will be to bring the parties together and see if we can reach a consensus,” he said. “I will be working on the issue this summer and fall, and if an agreement can be reached, it is possible that one piece of legislation will be brought before the legislature for future consideration. But there is a lot of work to be done to reach consensus.”

Shekarchi and other top lawmakers have previously said they will work this summer to try to reach a compromise on the differing provisions of the competing legalization plans.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) said earlier this month that he’s not disappointed the House hasn’t advanced legalization legislation yet and that “what we really wanted to do was send it over and have them take a look at it” when his chamber passed a cannabis reform measure last month.

Shekarchi previously said that he feels reform is “inevitable.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

A key disagreement between the House, Senate and governor’s office concerns who should have regulatory authority over marijuana. Ruggerio was pressed on the issue during the recent interview and said members of his chamber agree that “a separate commission is the way to go with respect to this.”

The House and Gov. Dan McKee (D), on the other hand, want the program to be managed by the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR). Ruggerio noted that “it was difficult to negotiate on a bill when the House bill really didn’t come until late in the session.”

Asked whether he felt the legislature and governor could come to an agreement despite the differences, Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey (D) said this month that “that’s what our goal is.”

“Obviously there’s some issues that different people have relative to different categories of licenses and things like that and how we’re rolling them out,” he said. “Are we going to limit them? what type of equity are you going to give to the different people in different communities so that they can get into the business? And social equity and things of that nature.”

McCaffrey was also asked about provisions related to allowing local municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area. He said “once the legislation is passed and whatever form is passed in, the communities have an opportunity to opt out.”

“They have an opportunity to opt out if the community doesn’t want to participate in it,” he said. “That’s their decision—however, they don’t get the funds that would come from the sales in that community.”

The majority leader also noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, and that adds impetus for the legislature to pursue reform in the state. .

Shekarchi, meanwhile, said this month that he doesn’t intend to let regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. But it is the case that legalization has now gone in effect in in surrounding states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“I’m not in any hurry to legalize marijuana for the sake of legalizing it. I want to do it right,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me if we’re the last state in the union to legalize it or we never legalize it, but I need to do it right.”

Social equity, licensing fees, labor agreements and home grow provisions are among the outstanding matters that need to be addressed, Shekarchi said.

These latest comment come weeks after the state Senate approved a legalization bill from McCaffrey and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D), which was introduced in March. The governor also came out with his own legalization proposal shortly thereafter.

A third Rhode Island legalization measure was later filed on the House side by Rep. Scott Slater (D) and several cosponsors. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on the measure last month.

The governor, for his part, told reporters that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”

“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.

The House Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at an earlier hearing in April.

Both the governor and the leaders’ legalization plans are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget last year. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.

McKee gave initial insights into his perspective on the reform in January, saying that “it’s time that [legalization] happens” and that he’s “more leaning towards an entrepreneurial strategy there to let that roll that way.”

Shekarchi, meanwhile, has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and also leans toward privatization.

Late last year, the Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization in preparation for the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who now serves as the panel’s chairman, said at the time.

Meanwhile, the governor this month signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance misuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow the facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in March on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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