Cannabis News of Note for the Week:
NJ.com: Mitch McConnell is blocking all marijuana legislation in Congress, N.J.’s Booker says (paywalled, full text below)
Politico Pro: Bipartisan letter circulated in both chambers calling for Biden to deschedule cannabis (paywalled, full text below)
Cannabis Reports of Note for the Week:
Mitch McConnell is blocking all marijuana legislation in Congress, N.J.’s Booker says
Updated: Dec. 13, 2022, 6:39 p.m. | Published: Dec. 13, 2022, 5:37 p.m.
As Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell prevented House-passed cannabis legislation from coming up for a vote. Though he’s now in the minority, McConnell again is standing in the way of the lame-duck Congress passing any marijuana-related bills before the end of the year, according to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.
McConnell’s opposition to legislation that would let banks provide financial services to legal cannabis businesses and help those hardest hit by the war on drugs is giving Senate Republicans who support the measure cold feet, said Booker, who is helping to lead the effort to enact legislation before Republicans take control of the House in January and most likely prevent any bill from passing in the next two years.
“They’re dead set on anything in marijuana,” the New Jersey Democrat told NJ Advance Media. “That to me is the obstacle.”
While Republicans controlled the Senate, the House passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act several times and the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act once. But McConnell refused to bring up those measures for a vote.
Though Democrats took control of the chamber in 2021 and new Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York joined Booker and Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., last summer in introducing comprehensive legislation known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, they didn’t have the 10 Republican votes needed to overcome the opposition of McConnell and his party.
“It’s not something that he’s historically been interested in moving or seems to be interested in moving right now,” said Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, a Republican co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “He should. Just as much as Republicans have been out there arguing states’ rights over Roe v. Wade for the last several months, this is just as much of an issue.”
McConnell did not respond to a request for comment. He had helped lead the successful fight to legalize hemp, seeing marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin as a new cash crop for Kentucky’s tobacco farmers.
Ongoing bipartisan negotiations, led on the Republican side by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., are aimed at drafting a bill that could get enough GOP senators to pass the legislation, while also satisfying Booker’s demand that restorative justice provisions be included.
“The senator is doing everything he can to get this bipartisan bill across the finish line this year for the sake of public safety,” Daines spokeswoman Rachel Dumke said.
The centerpiece of the bill, SAFE Banking, would enable banks to offer checking accounts, credit cards and other financial services to legal cannabis businesses now forced to operate in cash, making them easy targets for robberies and burglaries.
But the legislation also would require banks to make loans available to smaller cannabis enterprises, as well as provide some sort of restorative justice to those hard-hit by the war on drugs, a demand of Booker’s.
The problem is that some Republican senators who have expressed interest in supporting cannabis legislation have been hesitant to do so because of McConnell’s opposition, Booker said.
“The caucus is clearly divided but the people in power in their caucus are clearly against doing anything on marijuana,” Booker said.
Cannabis advocate Justin Strekal said the hope is that a marijuana bill can be added to the omnibus spending legislation funding the government through Sept. 30, 2023. This way, Republicans won’t have to vote on a separate bill and “defy Mitch McConnell in front of him,” he said.
Politico Pro: Bipartisan letter circulated in both chambers calling for Biden to deschedule cannabis
BY: NATALIE FERTIG | 12/16/2022 02:20 PM EST
A bipartisan group of representatives and one senator are circulating a letter among colleagues on the Hill this week requesting the Biden administration remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. The letter comes just over two months after President Joe Biden announced that the Department of Health and Human Services and Justice Department would review the scheduling of marijuana.
The dear colleague letter, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, was authored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Brian Mast (R-Fla.), as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). It is still in circulation on Capitol Hill and is expected to be published next week sometime — likely after a final decision is made on the SAFE Banking Act’s inclusion in the omnibus spending bill.
“While we do not always agree on specific measures, we recognize across the aisle that continued federal prohibition and criminalization of marijuana does not reflect the will of the broader American electorate,” the letter reads. “It is time that your administration’s agenda fully reflect this reality as well.”
The context: Biden in October instructed HHS to review all available marijuana research and recommend if the DOJ should remove or change the scheduling of cannabis on the Controlled Substances Act. Cannabis is currently a Schedule I drug on the CSA, the same category as heroin and LSD. Schedule I drugs are described as having no medical benefit and a high propensity for addiction and abuse. Removing cannabis from the CSA would remove all federal penalties from marijuana, but states would still be allowed to set their own rules and regulations regarding the legality or prohibition of marijuana sales and production.
“The decision to schedule marijuana was rooted in stigma rather than an evidence-based process, and it is time to fully remedy this wrong,” the letter reads. “Descheduling marijuana can uphold federal and state authority to regulate cannabis, while also authorizing states that wish to continue to prohibit cannabis production and sales the right to do so.”
The details: The letter outlines a number of reasons why the Biden administration should push for marijuana to be completely descheduled, rather than rescheduled on the CSA. Those include making research easier, freeing up law enforcement to “prioritize public safety,” clearing up legal uncertainty facing small cannabis businesses, creating job opportunities and reducing “unjust incarceration.” The letter gives other lawmakers a deadline of Dec. 20 to sign on.