Cannabis News of Note for the Week:

Politico Pro Cannabis: Guns, weed and banking: The legislative trio nobody expected (paywalled, full text below)

Punchbowl News’ The Vault (3/3): McConnell’s retirement is just the latest shakeup for cannabis reform(paywalled newsletter, text below)

Punchbowl News’ The Canvas (3/3): Hill aides don’t think credit card reform is happening

Politico Pro Cannabis (3/4): The Mitch Replacements (paywalled newsletter, text below)

Marijuana Moment: Another Senator Signs Onto Marijuana Banking Bill, Saying It Will ‘Take The Target Off The Backs’ Of Dispensaries Facing Robberies

Marijuana Moment: Former Congressman Behind Marijuana Banking Bill Discusses New Lobbying Work And Offers Rescheduling Predictions

Benzinga: One Of America’s Biggest Banks Is Entering The Cannabis Industry: Will Others Follow? (CFIG Member First Citizens Mention)

MJBizDaily: US marijuana business licensing declined for the first time in 2023 (CFIG Member CRB Monitor Mention)

The Hill: Biden missing opportunity on legalizing marijuana, advocates warn


Cannabis Reports of Note for the Week:

Report: Cannabis industry poised for massive hiring wave in 2024

CRB Monitor’s 2023 Business License Activity Review

Eight In Ten Americans Have A Marijuana Dispensary In Their County, And Shops ‘Cluster’ Near Borders With Illegal States, Pew Analysis Shows

Politico Pro Cannabis: Guns, weed and banking: The legislative trio nobody expected



Lawmakers are still scrambling to find a way to get cannabis banking legislation across the finish line.

BY: NATALIE FERTIG | 02/26/2024 05:00 AM EST

When Jesse von Stein proposed a bill about gun ownership and cannabis use to his boss — the late Republican Rep. Don Young — he knew their office was the right one to take on a challenging policy puzzle.

“If you’re for the Second Amendment, you should protect people in states where cannabis is legal,” said von Stein, who served as Young’s legislative director from late 2020-2022. “And if you’re for leaving people alone — you should also leave alone their cannabis use.

The resulting bill from the Alaska Republican, which extends protections to gun owners who use cannabis in legal states, brought together two policy areas that did not often interact. But the blending of protections for weed and gun enthusiasts could ultimately become a key bargaining chip in Congress’ discussions over passing legislation making it easier for cannabis businesses to access banking services.

That nexus almost got a cannabis package across the finish line in December 2022.

A bipartisan bill to fund state level expungements (the HOPE Act) was paired with the banking bill as a sweetener for Democrats who wouldn’t support banking legislation that wasn’t paired with criminal justice reform. And as an olive branch to Republicans, the Gun Rights and Marijuana Act was thrown in.

“When we were talking about SAFE as a larger package, GRAM for HOPE kept the discussions balanced and both sides aligned,” said David Culver, senior vice president of trade group U.S. Cannabis Council.

Now, with the Senate and House putting the finishing touches on a revised version of the cannabis banking bill, it could soon be decision time for what other proposals should be included to entice broad support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

But guns and weed are not two easy policy areas to combine — at least for lawmakers who don’t adhere to Young’s fierce libertarian ethos. Progressives who strongly support cannabis legalization often want to put more restrictions on gun ownership. And Second Amendment defenders often oppose legalizing cannabis consumption.

Gun lobbying groups, meanwhile, are staying out of the debate — they have not taken a position for or against the cannabis banking bill.

While the legislation does bring together some unexpected partners, it also begs the question: Who will this bill woo who is not already signed on to the cannabis banking legislation?

“Squeeze a balloon on one side and it grows on the other — you gotta be careful,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a cosponsor of the cannabis banking bill and a strong second amendment rights proponent. “Do these two things add or do they [push others out]?”

America’s states have a patchwork of gun and weed laws. Some states — like Oregon — already allow the possession of marijuana and firearms. In other states such as Pennsylvania, firearm purchases and possession are prohibited for anyone who uses controlled substances, including marijuana. A Republican state senator in Pennsylvania recently introduced a bill to allow medical marijuana card holders to purchase firearms.

Federal law, however, is clear: Marijuana users can’t legally possess or buy a firearm or ammunition. But in the wake of a 2023 SCOTUS decision that expanded gun rights across the country, a number of federal courts have been wrestling with the issue: One federal judge in February 2023 threw out a federal charge of illegally possessing a firearm for an Oklahoma man who had both illegal weed and a gun in his car. And a federal appeals court in August 2023 ruled that it’s unconstitutional to deny someone’s right to carry a firearm due to drug use.

POLITICO asked nearly a dozen senators ranging from conservative to progressive if they believed marijuana use was a valid reason to deny someone the right to carry a firearm. Most senators declined to take a position on the issue, often talking around the question rather than answering it directly.

The answers from pro-Second Amendment stalwarts like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) focused on their dislike of recreational cannabis but also stressed their fervent support of gun rights.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Hawley responded when asked if he thought cannabis use should disqualify someone in a legal state from carrying a firearm. “The interplay with Second Amendment rights — that’s an interesting question.”

Pro-cannabis lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), meanwhile, turned the conversation to the continued federal illegality of cannabis — rather than addressing gun rights head on.

“More than half of the states have legalized marijuana. It’s time for the federal government to get out of the 1950s and join the world of 2024,” she said. But Warren wouldn’t answer if she supported the GRAM Act.

Only Sen. John Fetterman (D-Penn.) supported the bill with passion.

“We should never be forced to choose between using your medicine and being able to take advantage of the Second Amendment,” Fetterman said. He added that, in the realm of criteria to carry a firearm or not, “if somebody’s sipping a little weed … there’s much more problems than that.”

The gun bill was originally intended to force lawmakers to address some of their own hypocrisies in both policy spaces, said von Stein. But judging by the lack of clear answers to POLITICO’s questions, senators don’t particularly love addressing ways in which their own policy positions are in conflict.

Cramer, although he has not decided if he supports the GRAM Act, conceded that he doesn’t think it would “be appropriate” if a state denied someone a gun license because they had a medical marijuana card, but that he’d need to “look into it more and better understand it.”

While the debate on this issue continues, gun owners and cannabis users around the country continue to navigate the conflicting gap between state and federal laws. Jake, a resident of central Florida who was granted anonymity to discuss how this plays out in his own life, says he fears how being a marijuana user could be used against him if he were to ever need to exercise his right to defend himself with a firearm.

Jake illegally purchases marijuana for recreational use in a state where only medical marijuana is legal. Florida law does not require permits for people to carry guns, and state law does not stipulate that marijuana users cannot carry a gun if they are not currently intoxicated — but federal law still prohibits it.

“I worry about the aftermath, if something were to happen and I had to use a firearm — and they were to also discover that I had cannabis on my person,” Jake said. “We need more commonsense legislation.”



Politico Pro Cannabis (3/4): THE MITCH REPLACEMENTS — 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has had a major impact on cannabis policy, both through his support of hemp legalization and his opposition to marijuana legislation. He is stepping down from the top GOP leadership post at the end of the year, though, and there is already a long line of Republicans vying to replace him. While cannabis policy won’t likely be a major factor in the race for GOP leader, we compiled a quick overview of each likely candidate’s history on the issue:

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas): Cornyn has a complex record on cannabis legislation. He has said things that sound open to loosening restrictions, but his votes haven’t always matched that rhetoric. In October 2019, for example, Cornyn said during a hearing that he wanted to make it easier to research marijuana, but he voted against the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act in April 2023.

In 2019 he also told Natalie he was open to loosening restrictions on marijuana: “We shouldn’t have a situation where people are openly defying federal law every day,” Cornyn said. “I’m open to that conversation. But I can’t tell you where it will conclude.”

In early 2023, Cornyn added to that, saying cannabis legislation should be comprehensive — not done in smaller chunks, like with the cannabis banking bill.

“There’s a lot of reasons why this ought to be handled in a comprehensive, regulatory fashion,” Cornyn said. “But the so-called SAFE Banking bill, to me, is a bad idea.”

Sen. John Thune (S.D.): Thune is McConnell’s heir apparent, but that doesn’t mean he shares all of the current leader’s policy opinions and he hasn’t made many statements on cannabis. South Dakota is a state with legal medical marijuana and a complicated history with adult-use legalization. In 2020, the state’s voters chose to legalize recreational weed, but a court threw out the measure after the election. In 2022, advocates tried again but that referendum failed.

In 2021, Thune told Natalie: “It’s an area that’s still evolving, and our country’s views on it are evolving. … How we deal with it nationally I think is still an open question.”

What South Dakota’s voting record means for Thune isn’t really clear. The medical industry could apply some pressure on him, but the state’s vote against recreational marijuana empowers him to argue his voters don’t want federal decriminalization.

Sen. Steve Daines (Mont.): Daines is the lead Republican sponsor of the cannabis banking bill. He’s also the only Republican on this list who hails from a state with legal medical and recreational markets.

Daines is the one senator on the list of potential leaders who would clearly be more amenable to the cannabis banking bill than McConnell.

However, he has drawn a clear line in the sand: While the people of Montana have made their choice, Daines does not support federal decriminalization, and even introduced a bill that would prohibit the executive branch from rescheduling marijuana without approval from Congress.

Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.): Barrasso hails from one of the few states that still prohibits medical use of marijuana, and does not support it himself. A former surgeon, Barrasso wrote to a veteran in 2022 that “there remain legal and proven ways to safely address [chronic pain] as opposed to the unfettered use of any cannabidiol or marijuana project,” but added that he would keep the veteran’s “thoughts on usage of medical marijuana for veterans in mind.”

Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.): Scott’s home state has legal medical marijuana and advocates are pushing to legalize adult use cannabis through a potential November referendum. As Florida’s governor, Scott signed a law in 2014 (and said he was happy to do so) that made certain types of cannabis available for children with extreme illnesses, but opposed medical marijuana legalization as far back as 2014.

Even once medical marijuana was legalized by Florida voters, Scott pushed for a ban on smokable cannabis that was passed in 2017. The ban was later repealed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.


Punchbowl News The Vault (3/3): McConnell’s retirement is just the latest shakeup for cannabis reform

Cannabis-related business reforms have always been a bit of a moving target. But the last few months have brought an unusual amount of flux.

Advocates of incremental marijuana reforms like cannabis banking, state-level expungements and veterans issues are optimistic that a lot of these changes could become law this year. We’re not quite so bullish – more on that below.

But if and when these fights bleed into 2025, the political landscape is going to be pretty different. Let’s break it down.

Start with the Senate: The announcement that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will step down as the chamber’s Republican come November was well received among cannabis advocates, to put it mildly.

The sector and its allies have considered the Kentucky Republican a formidable opponent since he helped strip cannabis banking reform from the Senate’s annual defense reauthorization package in late 2022.

McConnell “hasn’t been helpful,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said, who’s set to retire himself.

But it’s possible that whoever follows McConnell will be much more open to the types of reforms the cannabis and business sector are after – although the most likely successors run the gamut on cannabis reform policy, to be clear.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was one of just four senators to sign a letter opposing the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation Banking Act in late 2023. Advocates aren’t holding their breath on Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) either, who’s considered among the conservative contenders for McConnell’s job and has never shown much interest in marijuana-related legal reform.


It’s a different story for Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who has signaled some skepticism about cannabis reform in the past but also acknowledged that U.S. views on cannabis are “evolving.”


Then, there’s Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who’s been nudged by former President Donald Trump to jump into the fray. Daines worked closely with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to craft the SAFER Banking Act in 2023. More than one cannabis lobbyist has trumpeted Daines’ bona fides to us in the last 72 hours.


Meanwhile in the House: A string of senior retirements among House lawmakers is adding fresh urgency to cannabis reform in 2024.

“We have friends in high places who will be retiring or seeking other offices next year and if we want their support, it’s now or never,” Don Murphy, director of government relations at the Marijuana Leadership Campaign and a former Republican Maryland state legislator, told us.

House Republicans who supported previous versions of cannabis banking before announcing their retirements include former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) and financial policy heavyweight Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (Mo.).

Democrats are also losing a cannabis champion with Blumenauer’s retirement. The Oregon Democrat said he’s having “conversations” with other members who could replace him as one of the chamber’s top advocates. “We’ll have a couple of people who will take the material I’ve developed and step up,” he said.

– Brendan Pedersen



Punchbowl News’ The Canvas (3/3): Hill aides don’t think credit card reform is happening

The view from congressional offices is that there is very little chance the Credit Card Competition Act gets done this year.

A measly 2% of senior Capitol Hill aides believe Congress will enact the bill while 81% report it’s unlikely, according to our latest staff survey, The Canvass.

It was conducted Feb. 5 – 23 in partnership with independent polling firm LSG. Capital One announced its merger with Discover on Feb. 19, but we don’t see that immediately changing the CCCA dynamics – although it may down the line.

It’s worth noting that zero Republican aides we surveyed believe the bill is likely to pass, and no Senate aides see it having a shot either. The survey polled 118 staffers, including 85 in the House and 33 in the Senate.

The outlook on the bill is only worsening. In our January survey of K Street leaders, 7% put the bill as likely to pass this year.

It’s all grand news for the banking industry, which wants to kill the legislation taking aim at credit card fees charged to merchants. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin and Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) are the lead sponsors.

Sour on SAFER too: Things aren’t looking much brighter for another big financial services issue – marijuana banking.

Only 6% of senior Hill aides put marijuana banking legislation as likely to get done this year, compared to 82% who said it’s unlikely.

Again, K Street had put the odds higher (but still low) at 9% in January.

The SAFER Banking Act has been the most promising and bipartisan piece of legislation on the issue. But it’s still got plenty of GOP opponents.

Plus, a tax deal divide: As we covered above, the bipartisan tax bill’s path in the Senate has become extremely fraught.

When we polled Hill aides in February, the mood was optimistic in the wake of a big House vote. A total of 77% of staffers said it was likely the bill would be enacted this Congress.

But the rift between House and Senate sentiment was there. Only about 55% of Senate aides said the member they work for supported the bill compared to 89% in the House.

Similarly, confidence that the measure would likely become law was sky-high in the House at 85%. But 55% of Senate staffers said the bill was likely to pass and 31% put it as unlikely.

We’ll have more from The Canvass this week.