Another pro-legalization presidential candidate has entered the race. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) announced on Monday that he is competing for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
An Iraq War veteran who has sponsored legislation to reform cannabis policies at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—and who endorsed marijuana legalization prior to the voters of his state enacting it—the congressman earned a “B+” grade from NORML. Here’s a closer look at his record on cannabis.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Moulton has been the chief sponsor of three marijuana-related bills, all of which focus on medical cannabis for military veterans. During the 115th Congress, he introduced bipartisan legislation that would require the VA to survey veterans about medical marijuana and another bill that would require the department to provide training on cannabis to primary care physicians.
The congressman also filed a bill that would protect veterans from losing VA benefits due to marijuana use that’s in compliance with state law.
This week I introduced legislation that aims to reform VA medical marijuana practices. We should support our veterans who seek alternatives to highly addictive opioids ravaging our communities. https://t.co/sKhVY9rw3t
— TeamMoulton (@teammoulton) November 15, 2018
“We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible,” he said in a press release about the package of bills. “We also have an obligation to make sure our veterans are getting the best healthcare in the world. We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully researched and legal but we can take a few steps now to start figuring that out.”
Outside of filing those bills, Moulton has signed on as a cosponsor of over a dozen other pieces of cannabis legislation, including bills that would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances and exempt state-legal marijuana activity from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Moulton has also cosponsored bipartisan bills that would shield banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators and another to provide for tax fairness for the cannabis industry.
Other legislation he has signed onto would require the federal government to study the effects of state legalization laws, direct the VA conduct clinical trials on medical cannabis for veterans and shield federal employees from being fired for state-legal marijuana use.
He also cosponsored bills that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis for veterans and to require the Justice Department to approve additional marijuana manufacturer licenses for research purposes.
Legal marijuana companies lack access to banking – making it more difficult for states to track tax revenue and posing a threat to public safety. That's why I'm supporting @RepPerlmutter's SAFE Banking Act #HR2215. https://t.co/WXK1aSnaaU
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) February 27, 2018
The first piece of marijuana legislation that Moulton cosponsored was the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would amend the CSA to protect medical marijuana patients and place cannabis in Schedule II.
In terms of votes on amendments, the congressman has a consistent track record of supporting reform on the House floor. In 2015, he voted in favor of amendments to protects states that have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, as well as states that have legalized CBD and industrial hemp. He also voted for amendments to allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis in 2015 and 2016.
Quotes And Social Media Posts
Moulton isn’t especially prolific when it comes to talking about marijuana on social media as compared to some other candidates, but what he has said bodes well for reform advocates.
Importantly, he publicly endorsed Massachusetts’s cannabis legalization measure ahead of Election Day in 2016—something that fellow 2020 contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) declined to do.
“I support legalization, but we do need to make sure it’s done right,” he said at the time. “We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.”
“One of the advantages of legalization is it will force us to come to terms with things already happening in Massachusetts today, like people driving under the influence of marijuana and kids using it,” he told WBGH. “If you’re not buying your marijuana from a dealer who sells heroin, who sells opioids, it’s much less likely to be a gateway drug. The problem is now that it operates in the shadows.”
After voters approved the legalization initiative, Moulton said that the state legislature should “dramatically raise the taxes” on marijuana to raise revenue and help fund law enforcement efforts, and he said there’s “a lot of work to be done” that “needs to start right away.”
“There’s a lot that the state legislature needs to do,” Moulton said. “My whole reason for endorsing this was that we’ve got to bring marijuana out of the shadows and actually regulate it. That’s up to the state legislature. So I think this is an important step in the right direction because, let’s not kid ourselves, people were getting access to marijuana today and they were getting access to it yesterday as well.”
Moulton often talks about bringing cannabis “out of the shadows” so that it can be regulated. And he criticized the lack of operating dispensaries in Massachusetts, observing that cannabis will still be sold and consumed in jurisdictions that aren’t allowing the shops.
“The reality is, we’re not going to make marijuana go away by pretending that it’s not in our community,” he said in 2018. “What we ought to be doing is figuring out ways to regulate its use responsibly because otherwise it’s going to be used in the shadows.”
“It’s not my role as a United States representative to come and tell Peabody what to do, but I’m certainly entitled to my opinion and that is my view of this issue,” he said. “I think we’ve got to wake up to the world that we’re in and be responsible about regulating these substances that are a part of our community—and can be used safely, if used appropriately—rather than outlawing them and pretending that they’re not going to be here at all.”
The congressman also applauded the Salem for accepting marijuana businesses, saying that the city was “leading the way.”
MA's 1st medical marijuana dispensary opened in Salem on Weds – a big step for those suffering from painful diseases. http://t.co/Pjnat7dx5v
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) June 27, 2015
“I think the demand that we see proves what I have said all along: People are using marijuana and they want to use it legally, and we should allow them to use it legally and safely with the proper regulation, rather than pretend by outlawing it, people are going to stop,” he said.
Speaking about legislation he filed with respect to veterans and marijuana, Moulton said in 2018 that “it’s clear that this is where things are going” and noted his support for Massachusetts’s legalization initiative. He said “we need to realize people are going to use marijuana whether we like it or not, so let’s make it legal and let’s regulate it to make it safe.”
While testing the waters in the primary state of Iowa in March 2019, Moulton talked about his support for cannabis decriminalization and said that it can help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and also serve as an alternative to opioid painkillers.
Marijuana May Alleviate America’s Opioid Crisis. My view: Legalization & regulation can help but we must be careful. https://t.co/0X0a8ZjWYo
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) September 24, 2016
He also talked about his veterans bills on the Cannabis Economy podcast, saying he and fellow sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) “want to make it very clear to everybody—to veterans, to healthcare providers—that if you’re using cannabis, you should talk about it.”
We shouldn’t kid ourselves – veterans use marijuana. We have an obligation to make it safe, regulate it, and protect the benefits of vets who would like to discuss it with their doctors. @mattgaetz and I intro’d legislation that would do all of the above. https://t.co/XctzfJq9gk
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) January 30, 2019
“You should be able to have an honest, transparent conversation with your healthcare provider so that they can give you better health care,” he said.
Moulton criticized then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he rescinded Obama-era guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities.
This is the opposite of what we should be doing. Let’s not kid ourselves – people will be using marijuana regardless of what Attorney General Sessions says. We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) January 4, 2018
“This is the opposite of what we should be doing. Let’s not kid ourselves—people will be using marijuana regardless of what Attorney General Sessions says,” he wrote. “We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.”
His House reelection campaign subsequently put out a survey claiming that the Trump administration “wants to crack down on possession—hurting those in need of medicinal marijuana and putting new businesses in jeopardy” and posed the question: “do you think the Trump Administration should be interfering with states marijuana laws?”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Moulton said he has tried marijuana “a couple times” while he was a student at Harvard University, but he added that he “certainly didn’t qualify as a pothead.”
In March 2019, the congressman said “I’ve used weed, and I’m not in prison.”
Seth Moulton asked about marijuana laws: "I've used weed, and I'm not in prison. Why? Because I didn't get caught, and it probably doesn't hurt that I'm white. That's the sad reality of criminal justice in America today."
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) March 19, 2019
“Why? Because I didn’t get caught, and it probably doesn’t hurt that I’m white,” he said. That’s the sad reality of criminal justice in America today.”
Marijuana Under A Moulton Presidency
Moulton has made marijuana reform—particularly for veterans seeking medical cannabis—somewhat of a priority during his time in Congress. He hasn’t added his name as a cosponsor to broad, equity-focused bills like the Marijuana Justice Act, but he has repeatedly said that the country should regulate cannabis sales to bring it out of the shadows.
And having endorsed the legalization measure in Massachusetts prior to its approval by voters in 2016, Moulton would be in a position to take similar leadership on the issue if elected president.
Marijuana Banking Bill Would Save Federal Money, Congressional Budget Office Says
The federal government would save money if a bipartisan bill to give marijuana businesses access to banks is approved, according to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on Friday.
The legislation, which cleared the House Financial Services Committee in a bipartisan vote of 45 to 15 in March, would change federal law to protect financial institutions that service the cannabis industry from being penalized by regulators. That reform would set off a chain of events, beginning with a likely increase in the number of banks accepting deposits from those businesses, CBO reasoned.
Assuming the bill takes effect near the end of the 2019 fiscal year, the office estimates that starting in 2022, banks would see a $1.2 billion increase in deposits, and credit union deposits would grow by $200 million. By 2029, the amounts “would rise to $2.1 billion and $350 million, respectively.”
Because those deposits would have to be insured through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the CBO took into account the possibility that individual financial institutions will fail, and the estimated cost of resolving those failures is $5 million.
That said, those direct spending costs would be “offset by assessments levied on insured financial institutions,” which would amount to about $9 million.
“As a result, CBO estimates, H.R. 1595 would decrease net direct spending by $4 million over the 2019-2029 period,” the office reported.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the bill’s chief sponsor, told Marijuana Moment that its enactment would have benefits beyond fiscal savings.
“Getting cash off our streets and making our communities safer will come at no cost to the federal government and actually save money while providing a much-needed long-term banking solution for legitimate marijuana businesses across the country,” he said.
“This CBO score should only increase the significant momentum in Congress behind passing the SAFE Banking Act,” Neal Levine, CEO of the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment. “It is now apparent that we can help diminish a serious threat to public safety at no net cost to the federal government. We look forward to the bill passing through the House and hope the Senate will follow suit.”
There are some implementation costs to take into account, CBO says. The administrative costs are estimated to be $3 million. But the FDIC and NCUA are able to charge premiums on the financial institutions they regulate to cover much of those costs. The total net administrative costs would, therefore, be about $1 million.
The Federal Reserve would also have to spend funds to implement the bill, and that would reduce remittances to the Treasury Department. Those remittances are considered revenue, which is expected to decrease by about $1 million if the legislation is implemented.
Then there are costs related to other provisions of the bill. Financial regulators would have to update and issue new guidance, which would “cost less than $500,000 over the 2019-2024 period.”
The legislation also requires the Government Accountability Office to study barriers to entry in the marijuana industry and to financial services for minority- and women-owned cannabis businesses. The costs are estimated to be less than $500,000 annually from 2020 to 2024.
The CBO also estimated that enacting the legislation “would not increase on-budget deficits by more than $5 billion in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2030.”
The CBO outlined “several noteworthy areas of uncertainty” that could change the calculus.
1. New guidance from federal financial regulators could be more or less stringent than existing guidance implemented under the Obama administration, which could impact the amount of deposits banks and credit unions will receive.
2. Data on cannabis-related deposits is currently “limited,” as federal restrictions have forced marijuana businesses to operate on a largely cash basis. That means CBO’s estimates on the amount of deposits financial institutions will see could end up being “greater or smaller.”
3. If those estimates do end up being different, costs associated with the bank and credit union insurance funds “could be higher or lower depending on the amount of premium collections and capital deposits and on changes in the resolution costs for financial institutions.”
Sahar Ayinehsazian, an associate attorney at Vicente Sederberg LLP who specializes in cannabis banking, told Marijuana Moment that most of the figures lined up with her expectations. However, given that many marijuana businesses have gravitated toward credit unions rather than banks, she said the estimate increase in deposits to those financial institutions may well end up being larger.
“Looking at the chances of this legislation passing from an economic standpoint, I think [the CBO score is] good news,” she said.
Other advocates agreed that the CBO estimate should help efforts to advance the bill.
“For years, cannabis advocates have been preaching the net benefits SAFE Banking would have on consumers, patients, financial institutions, regulators and taxpayers. This CBO cost estimate confirms that,” Michael Correia, director of government relations for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Marijuana Moment. “The increase of insured deposits, coming from the added certainty this legislation brings, far outweighs the minor administrative costs to implement this bill.”
The House marijuana banking bill currently has 184 cosponsors, and a companion Senate version has 30 lawmakers signed on. The committee of jurisdiction in the upper chamber has not yet set a hearing or a vote, but pressure is increasing.
Banking associations from all 50 states urged the Senate to take up the legislation earlier this week. Other organizations that have called for a resolution to the cannabis banking dilemma include the National Association of Attorneys General, which has endorsed the bill, and the National Association of State Treasurers, representing state treasurers and finance officials, which adopted a resolution last week in favor of the legislation’s passage.
Want 4 million more reasons why members of Congress should support the #SAFEBankingAct, which would allow cannabis businesses to access the banking system in the 33 states where it’s legal? @USCBO says the legislation will save taxpayers $4M over 10 years.
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) May 24, 2019
The new analysis is just the third time that the CBO, which is mandated to score bills that pass full committees, has issued a report on the economic impact of standalone cannabis legislation. The agency scored two marijuana research bills that cleared committees last year.
This story was updated to include comment from Perlmutter and Correia.
Federal Small Business Administration Pressed On Supporting Marijuana Industry
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) pressed a federal official responsible for advocating for small businesses on Wednesday about whether existing laws and regulations are preventing the growth of state-legal marijuana markets.
The line of questioning comes as members of Congress are preparing legislation aimed at removing barriers to small business assistance for cannabis industry participants.
The senator said at a hearing of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee that her state’s legal industry is attracting small businesses and entrepreneurs who are selling millions of dollars of product each month. She asked Major Clark, acting chief counsel of the office of advocacy at the Small Business Administration (SBA), about the unique barriers these companies face under federal prohibition.
“Senator, that’s a difficult question,” Clark replied. “We have not actually studied the issue of marijuana in that regard, and we have not because the federal government has not yet legalized it.”
“We do, in conversations with a lot of businesses, get inquires as to what they can do and how they can do it. But to actually do an analysis of it, we have not yet done that,” he said. “I’m sure that as soon as the federal government decides to legalize this substance, we will begin to study its impact and the ability to use it in a more economical context within the state.”
Watch the conversation about small business assistance for cannabis operators at 35:50 in the video below:
Rosen followed up to get Clark’s opinion about whether marijuana companies would benefit from some of the guidelines and resources the SBA offers to small businesses in other industries.
“These types of businesses can benefit from some of these types of things, but again, because this issue is an issue that has not reached the surface of being legalized, we have actually stayed away from trying to advise these businesses on these particular aspects,” he said.
Nevada’s cannabis industry cannot thrive without access to financial services. At yesterday’s @SmallBizCmte hearing, I asked what steps @SBAgov is taking to break down regulatory barriers for our nation’s legal marijuana businesses to ensure they can continue to grow. pic.twitter.com/lyfXGwpoRf
— Senator Jacky Rosen (@SenJackyRosen) May 24, 2019
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), chair of the committee, weighed in on the issue after the Rosen’s time expired, saying that he recognizes the difficulty that federal agencies face when it comes to regulating a controlled substance.
“It is a unique challenge dealing with a Schedule I drug on the federal side and to also know that some states, including my own, have said that they want to allow it,” Lankford said, referring to the medical cannabis law that Oklahoma voters approved in 2018. “And the federal government and the [Food and Drug Administration] continues to study it and say there’s no medicinal gain from this product.”
“It’s a Schedule I drug. I get it,” he said. “The science, and whether it is SBA or whoever it is continues to be able to deal with that.”
While lawmakers push to get marijuana businesses access to federally authorized financial services, industry advocates say that SBA-specific reform legislation may be on the horizon.
The day after Rosen questioned the SBA official about cannabis policy, Khurshid Khoja, a board member for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said at a press conference on Capitol Hill that a bill was being drafted to “essentially get SBA services for cannabis businesses and for cannabis businesses from disproportionately impacted communities.”
Watch the SBA reform discussion at about 32:15 in the video below:
“The House Small Business Committee is looking into the issue and is interested in holding a hearing and drafting legislation this summer that addresses these issues,” a cannabis policy lobbyist who didn’t wish to be named in order to discuss plans that are in development, told Marijuana Moment separately.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
GOP Congressman Exposes Flaws In VA Marijuana Research Projects
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) emphasized the importance conducting clinical trials on medical marijuana at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Tuesday, a topic on which he has often focused.
He also criticized the catch-22 of VA cannabis research, arguing that while the department is able to conduct clinical trials on marijuana, it doesn’t effectively publicize those studies, leaving veterans who might be interested in participating in the dark.
The congressman started by asking whether Mike Colston, director of mental health policy and oversight at the Department of Defense, felt that giving veterans access to medical cannabis could reduce suicides.
Colston said “there’s far more research to be done” and that there’s “insufficient evidence for or against that position.”
Gaetz cited research showing reductions in opioid use in states that have loosened cannabis laws, and he questioned whether “the current offramp for opioid addiction,” which typically involves prescribing long-term opioids that are less potent and less prone to abuse, “is a more effective offramp than medical cannabis.”
“I just think those are the three evidence-based therapies right now that meet the medical bar,” Colston said, referring to bupenehprine, methadone and naltrexone. “Obviously more research can change that.”
That prompted Gaetz to expand on VA policy as it pertains to medical cannabis. He asked for confirmation that the department’s doctors cannot currently recommend marijuana to veterans in states where it’s legal.
They can’t do that because “there’s a federal law against it right now,” Keita Franklin, national director of suicide prevention at the VA, claimed. (This has been a point of contention for legalization advocates, who argue that only the VA’s own internal administrative policies, and not an overarching federal law, blocks such recommendations.)
But VA officials can conduct clinical trials on marijuana, Franklin said.
“We have two ongoing research studies going on right now in this space,” she said. “I think we are open to research, yes.”
The congressman wanted to know if the VA publishes information about these studies and where to find it. The VA official wasn’t sure—and that was exactly Gaetz’s point.
“I don’t think anyone is clear, which is the source of my frustration because I think that there are a lot of these clinical trials that are seeking veterans,” he said. “The VA, due to a lack of clarity, won’t publicize that information or make it available, and then we’re unable to do the research that Captain Colston says is necessary to advance additional options for veterans trying to get off opioids and to stop them from killing themselves.”
Lawmakers have introduced legislation this session that would allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations and require the department to conduct clinical trials on the plant’s potential therapeutic benefits for veterans, among other cannabis and veterans-related bills.
But if the VA is mandated to research the plant, Gaetz wants the department to better publicize the studies so that would-be participants actually know about them.
Photo courtesy of YouTube.