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Senate Approves Bill Protecting Medical Marijuana States From Federal Intervention

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The Senate approved spending legislation on Thursday that extends a provision protecting medical marijuana states from federal interference—but the question remains as to whether a House-passed version with broader protections for all state cannabis programs could still be adopted in the final bill that’s sent to the president.

The so-called “minibus” appropriations legislation covers funding for Commerce, Justice, Science, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development for the 2020 fiscal year.

The vote on the bill, which also includes new hemp and CBD-related language, was 84 to 9.

The medical cannabis provision in question prohibits the Department of Justice from using its resources to prosecute individuals acting in compliance with state laws. The rider has been in place and renewed each year since 2014.

But after the House passed a Justice Department spending bill in June that for the first time would extend those protections to all state cannabis programs, including those allowing recreational use and sales, some advocates hoped the Senate would follow suit. In the lead up to a committee markup where that would have happened, however, several senators told Marijuana Moment that the prospects were unlikely, as congressional leaders made a bicameral agreement not to add new policy riders in the appropriations process unless agreed to by leadership on a bipartisan basis.

Now the only chance that Congress will send the broader provision to President Trump’s desk for 2020 is if negotiators on a bicameral conference committee agree to put the House language in the final package, though there is a chance that the larger chamber could simply approve the bill as passed by the Senate in an effort to avoid a government shutdown that would occur if no spending legislation is signed into law by November 21.

“It’s our hope that the House will insist that today’s minibus appropriations package include the provision to restrict the Department of Justice from interfering with state-legal marijuana programs that passed with bipartisan support,” said Justin Strekal, political director for NORML.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a separate amendment to the large-scale appropriations bill last week that would have called on the attorney general to study the criminal justice implications of marijuana legalization, but the measure was not considered on the Senate floor.

The medical marijuana protections language isn’t the only cannabis-related rider that has advanced via the spending process this year. The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved legislation that includes existing policies barring Washington, D.C. from using its local tax dollars to implement a legal marijuana market, in addition to a provision providing funds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to enact regulations for a legal hemp program.

The latter language is included in the minibus the Senate approved on Thursday, as are report provisions urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue enforcement discretion guidelines for CBD, encouraging the Farm Credit Administration to provide services to hemp businesses and supporting “competitive USDA grants for hemp projects.”

“The FDA has been dragging its feet to issue the guidance required following the legalization of hemp-derived CBD,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), told Marijuana Moment. “This is about helping Oregon’s hemp industry continue to create jobs, protecting consumers and putting an end to the regulatory confusion and uncertainty. This language again shows that the Senate is serious about the FDA doing its job.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who with Wyden was a leading advocate for hemp legalization, also cheered the spending bill provisions.

“Hemp farmers, processors and manufacturers are exploring the crop’s great potential, and I’m proud to work with them every step of the way. As federal and state governments continue to develop how to best support this industry, I’ll keep working to benefit Kentucky producers and ensure hemp is treated just like any other legal commodity,” he said in a press release. “Ensuring law enforcement can differentiate between industrial hemp and its illicit cousin is critical, and I’ll continue working with the DEA and other federal agencies so hemp can be treated the same as any other legal commodity.”

The hemp riders are timely given that USDA unveiled draft rules for hemp, which was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, on Tuesday. The interim final rule will be formally adopted following a 60-day public comment period.

Another House-passed appropriations bill also includes protections for banks that work with the marijuana industry, and the rider preventing D.C. from establishing a cannabis market was removed from the chamber’s version of the legislation.

While the Republican-controlled Senate is mostly sticking to the agreement not to add new policy riders to appropriations legislation, it could soon take up a separate, standalone marijuana bill: the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow banks to service cannabis businesses without being penalized by federal regulators.

The House overwhelmingly approved that legislation in September, along largely bipartisan lines, and the chair of the Senate Banking Committee said recently that he plans to take up the legislation in his panel before the year’s end. He also outlined several changes he’d like to see to the House-passed version in an interview with Marijuana Moment.

USDA Releases Proposed Hemp Regulations For Public Comment

This story has been updated to include comments from Wyden and McConnell.

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 Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate

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A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.

But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.

The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.

The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.

“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”

As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.

“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”

“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”

The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”

Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.

All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”

The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”

“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.

“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”

In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.

Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:

Industry SAFE Senate Bankin… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Senate Leadership Letter Re… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Senators Demand Update From DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications

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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GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform

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A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”

“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.

Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”

Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.

The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.

Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).

Senators Demand Update From DEA On Marijuana Growing Applications

Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.

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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State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally

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The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.

“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

MLB Officially Removes Marijuana From Banned Substances List For Baseball Players

Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.

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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