Twelve Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the chair of the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, thanking him for proposing a series of restrictive changes to a House-passed bill to provide marijuana businesses with greater access to financial services. Meanwhile, a coalition of more than 1,300 cannabis industry professionals sent a separate letter urging the chairman to advance the bill as written.
The first letter, led by Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), thanked Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) for “introducing a public health perspective to the question of banking for marijuana enterprises, including recreational stores that are advertising products that are appealing to children.”
“We understand you have received significant pushback from these businesses for raising public health questions related to their business practices, and we urge you to stand strong,” it continues.
After the House approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in a largely bipartisan vote in September, there were open questions about how the GOP-controlled Senate would approach the legislation. Initially Crapo indicated that he was not interested in discussing the bill, but he took some by surprise when he later said he wanted to hold a vote on the legislation in his panel by the end of 2019.
The committee held a hearing on the issue in July but did not mark up the legislation. Then the chairman said in December that he wanted to see several significant revisions, including some that reform advocates and industry stakeholders view as untenable. Among Crapo’s proposed revisions are limiting banking access to cannabis businesses that sell products with a maximum of two percent THC—a policy that would disqualify virtually all existing marijuana firms.
All twelve lawmakers who signed the new letter voted against the SAFE Banking Act on the House floor. They reiterated that they remain opposed to the reform move and laid out three areas of particular concern where they say the legislation “liberalizes federal law surrounding marijuana and would result in increased promotion of marijuana use.”
They wrote that high concentrations of THC in cannabis are a public health concern and that even relatively low levels of the cannabinoid can cause “IQ loss, increased risk of serious mental illness, and addiction.” They also argue that THC vapes, including those obtained in regulated markets, have been linked to lung injuries. Finally, they expresses worry about marijuana-impaired driving.
“We thank you again for your examination and consideration of these important public health topics,” the letter to Crapo concludes. “We remain opposed to liberalizing drug laws (including around banking), and we see these as some of our areas of greatest concern. We must protect our youth by preventing investment into companies that would prey upon them.”
The separate industry led letter—which was signed by representatives of major businesses and organizations such as the National Cannabis Industry Association, Cannabis Trade Federation, Marijuana Policy Project, VS Strategies, 4Front Ventures, Acreage Holdings and hundreds of others—makes the case that Crapo should proceed to hold a markup of the legislation as passed by the House.
“This is not a partisan issue, or a regional issue. We are a bipartisan group, with operations spread across the United States,” the letter states. “Simply put, this is an issue of fairness and of safety.”
“Because of the absence of banking reform that keeps pace with the federal hemp reforms and state-level medical and adult-use reforms, many cannabis businesses struggle to obtain and maintain bank accounts. Yet, banking is a crucial element for this burgeoning industry to operate safely. Without banking services, U.S. businesses will continue to operate in a cash environment that endangers employees and the public. Every day that we wait is another day that our employees and the members of the public who patronize our businesses are at risk of robbery and assault because we operate in an all cash environment.”
“We are merely asking that you facilitate the availability of financial services to the hemp and state-legal cannabis industry in order to improve public safety, allow states and the federal government to easily track and collect tax revenue, and assist the state-legal industry to displace an illicit market that is currently operating free from any regulatory oversight,” the group wrote, adding that the industry “stands ready to work with your office on the myriad technical issues that you have suggested should be a priority, including making certain that these products are not available to children.”
Responding to the opposing letter from GOP lawmakers, Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment that if “a single signer of this letter was genuinely concerned about any of the issues laid out, then they would call for legalization and regulation, not maintaining prohibition and an illegal marijuana marketplace.”
“Sadly, they are simply relying on tired, lazy reefer madness rhetoric.”
Joining Budd in signing the letter are: Reps. Hal Rogers (R-KY), Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Mark Meadows (R-NC), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), David Rouzer (R-NC), Ken Buck (R-CO), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), Dan Bishop (R-NC) and Andy Harris (R-MD).
Kevin Sabet, president of the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said in a press release that his group is “thankful these members of Congress are choosing to stand in support of public health and safety by reassuring Senator Crapo that he is acting in the best interest of the country by slowing down the rush to extend the federally illegal marijuana industry access to banks.”
The letter explains that potency levels of today’s marijuana products, the ongoing marijuana vaping crisis, and marijuana impaired driving are key issues that must be addressed prior to further consideration of any such legislation granting banking access to Big Pot.
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) February 13, 2020
“With the host of unknown health harms that can result from today’s super potent pot products, the risk of expanding this industry are too great,” he said.
Budd, for his part, said in a statement about the letter that he believes “we need a full examination of these harms to ensure that Americans, especially our children, don’t fall into an unhealthy lifestyle.”
The new dueling letters come weeks after after the House sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act wrote to Crapo, urging him to advance the financial services-focused bill despite his reservations on broader marijuana issues.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.