On Monday, the Republican-controlled Senate rolled out new Coronavirus relief legislation—a counteroffer to the $3.4 trillion package unveiled by House democrats back in May. The Senate’s relief bill comes with a much smaller price tag of only $1 trillion dollars, which it achieves by slashing much of the benefits proposed by the House.
The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which was originally proposed as a standalone bill sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), would allow legitimate legal cannabis businesses access to financial services regardless of federal prohibition. Despite being initially approved by the house months ago, the Senate Banking Committee has continued to take no action on the bill. In order to circumvent the Senate Banking Committee, House Democrats included a version of the SAFE Banking Act in their Coronavirus relief bill.
According to the summary provided in the HEROES Act, the SAFE Banking section would “allow cannabis-related legitimate businesses, that in many states have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential services, along with their service providers, to access banking services and products, as well as insurance.”
The executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, Aaron Smith, tweeted out his approval of SAFEs inclusion in the House’s relief bill, stating: “On behalf of the legal cannabis industry, we commend the congressional leadership for prioritizing public health and safety by including sensible cannabis banking policy in this legislation.”
Criticism From Senate Republicans
Despite the fact that forcing essential businesses to continue operating as cash-only during a global pandemic seems counterintuitive to stopping the spread of the virus, Senate Republicans have leveled criticism at the addition of marijuana banking protections to the Coronavirus relief bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been particularly vocal about his opposition to including protections for cannabis businesses in any relief package, stating: “I am opposed to non-germane amendments, whether it’s funding for the FBI building…or other non-germane amendments in the House bill like marijuana studies or aid to illegal immigrants…”
McConnell’s disapproval is not only aimed at the germaneness of the SAFE Act being included in the House’s relief legislation, but also at the diversity report provisions that it contains. Back in May, McConnell gave a speech on the Senate floor where he responded to the passing of the House’s HEROES Act. During it, McConnell sardonically referred to the section on marijuana banking protections as “the cherry on top.”
He continued in a similar tone: “Let me say that again, Democrats’ proposed coronavirus bill includes taxpayer-funded studies to measure diversity and inclusion among the people who profit off of marijuana.”
The Future of the SAFE Banking Act
As of now, it is unclear whether or not House Democrats will push for a section on cannabis banking protections to remain during the upcoming bicameral negotiations that will take place to merge the two chambers bills into one.
As for the Standalone bill, there is no reason to think the Senate Banking Committee will take further action any time soon.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is guaranteeing that the 2018 Farm Bill will include his industrial hemp legalization provision after the Senate and House reach a compromise—ideally by the end of the year.
“If there’s a Farm Bill, it’ll be in there, I guarantee that,” he told reporters on Friday.
McConnell said he’s visited several hemp processors over the past few months, and one thing that occurred to him was the international implications of hemp legalization. Executives based in countries like Australia and major investors have expressed interest in the hemp business, he said, signaling the crop’s immense potential.
“I don’t want to overstate this—I don’t know if it’s going to be the next tobacco or not—but I do think it has a lot of potential,” he said. “And as all of you already know, in terms of food and medicine but also car parts. I mean, it’s an extraordinary plant.”
When industrial hemp is legalized, it will be “lightly regulated” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, McConnell stressed. He added that . the Justice Department wouldn’t be involved and the “only federal involvement would be [hemp farmers would] be eligible for crop insurance.”
And because prospective hemp cultivators would have to register their business, local law enforcement would be able to identify legitimate grows, he said. That way they can find individuals growing “the cousin,” McConnell said, referencing marijuana.
See the video of McConnell’s hemp legalization guarantee, about 13:15 into the clip below:
The senate majority leader’s hemp legalization plan got an endorsement from his counterpart in the House last month. Outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) discussed the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) and said he backed efforts to legalize hemp.
“And by the way, there’s a lot of industrial uses for hemp that I understand from talking to Mitch McConnell is a big deal to Kentucky agriculture,” Ryan said. “And we’re all in favor of that as well.”
While McConnell said lawmakers are working to pass a farm bill before the year’s end, he also acknowledged that a separate provision concerning work requirements for food stamp recipients has caused delays.
The top Republican in the U.S. House has issued a surprise endorsement of a key marijuana ingredient’s medical benefits as well as the uses of industrial hemp.
“It has proven to work,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said of cannabidiol (CBD) on Tuesday, specifying that it “helps reduce seizures.”
“We do this in Wisconsin,” he said, referring to his home state’s limited CBD law. “That that oil, I think works well.”
The speaker, who is not running for reelection and is retiring from Congress early next year, shared that his own mother-in-law used a synthetic form of cannabinoids, presumably the THC pill Marinol, while dying from melanoma and ovarian cancer.
“That’s off the record,” he said jokingly, referencing TV cameras at the well-attended Kentucky rally where he was appearing in support of Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), who is locked in a tight reelection race.
Ryan, responding to a medical marijuana question from a woman whose husband passed away, also proactively took the opportunity to speak up in support of industrial hemp.
“And by the way, there’s a lot of industrial uses for hemp that I understand from talking to Mitch McConnell is a big deal to Kentucky agriculture,” he said. “And we’re all in favor of that as well.”
Ryan’s endorsement for hemp comes at a key time. Congressional leaders are currently negotiating differences in the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill. The Senate proposal contains language championed by McConnell, the GOP majority leader, that would legalize hemp. The House bill has no such provisions.
If the top Republican in either chamber is now vocally in support of ending the prohibition on marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin, it seems more and more likely that the House will accept the Senate’s hemp language.
That said, don’t count the outgoing speaker as a die-hard marijuana supporter, even when it comes to medical uses.
“Theres no THC in that oil,” he said, even though most CBD preparations do have small amounts of the intoxicating cannabis compound. “That is not medical marijuana.”
In response to the medical marijuana question, Ryan also touted passage this year of the Right to Try Act—which appears to allow certain seriously ill people to use marijuana and other currently illegal drugs such as psilocybin and MDMA, though he did not mention those implications directly.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said in an interview on Wednesday that the exchange took place during Senate’s tax reform debate earlier this year, and he executed a pretty uncanny impression of McConnell in the retelling.
Asked by Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call to share his favorite story about McConnell, Gardner said the two struck up a conversation on the Senate floor about marijuana and small business tax issues.
At the time, the Colorado senator was pushing an amendment to undo the provision in federal tax law known as 280E that prevents marijuana businesses from writing normal expenses off of their returns.
Gardner pressed McConnell on the issue, telling him that “47-plus states have legalized some form of marijuana, medical marijuana, CBD… Even Utah is most likely gonna legalize medical marijuana this year.”
“And McConnell looks at me and he goes, ‘Utah?’ And just this terrified look. Right as he says that, [Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)] walks up, and Mitch looks at Orrin, and he says, ‘Orrin, is Utah really gonna legalize marijuana?’”
Then, looking at his feet, hands folded, the Mormon senator from Utah deadpanned: “First tea, then coffee, and now this.”
Though McConnell isn’t quite the face of cannabis reform in Congress, he’s taken a leadership role in the fight to legalize industrial hemp—successfully securing a provision to accomplish just that in the Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill, which is now being reconciled with a proposal from the House that contains no hemp language.
In the latest development in a series of anti-cannabis moves, congressional Republican leadership has blocked consideration of several industrial hemp amendments.
Supporters were seeking to attach the measures to the large-scale Farm Bill, which sets food and agriculture policy for the country, but the House Rules Committee on Wednesday decided that the proposals cannot be considered on the floor.
The anti-cannabis chairman of the panel did, however, reveal that a broader deal for industrial hemp might be in the works.
One of the measures the committee killed, submitted by Reps. James Comer (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with a bipartisan list of cosponsors, would have legalized hemp and made it eligible for crop insurance.
“Hemp is a crop with a long and rich history in our country,” Comer said in introducing his amendment before the committee. “It was grown by many of our founding fathers.”
Comer, who is a former Kentucky agriculture commissioner, said his state’s existing industrial hemp research program, which is authorized under a previous Farm Bill enacted in 2014, “has been a great success.”
He also spoke about the economic potential of the plant. “Times are tough in rural america,” he said. “For rural Kentuckians, industrial hemp has provided a new crop and business opportunity.”
But in a party-line move, the committee voted 8 to 3 to reject a motion to add Comer’s amendment to the list of proposals approved for floor consideration.
Another hemp amendment, filed by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Jared Polis (D-CO), would have removed hemp from the list of federally banned substances.
A third proposal, submitted by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), sought to create “a safe harbor for financial institutions that provide services to hemp legitimate businesses” that operate under state-authorized research programs.
“There is a proud history in American and in Kentucky [for hemp] as an agriculture product,” Barr said when testifying for his amendment, noting that it can be used in over 25,000 products.
Under current law, banks that work with legitimate hemp companies “fear reprisal from federal regulators,” Barr said, arguing that his proposed measure would protect financial institutions “from unnecessary interference from bank examiners and regulators” and give producers rights that “every other American crop enjoys.”
The committee did not hold specific votes on those two measures.
Sessions, seemingly mistakenly, told Comer during the Wednesday hearing that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has “a clause…that industrial hemp should be declassified under their Schedule I drugs, which they concur, which is the position you hold, too.”
A hemp lobbyist told Marijuana Moment in an email that he had not heard of the DEA taking a pro-hemp position.
Polis, who as a Rules Committee member made the unsuccessful motion to let the full House vote on Comer’s amendment, argued that hemp is a “common sense area” that enjoys bipartisan support. The measure, he said, would simply “treat industrial hemp as the agricultural commodity that it is.”
While Sessions and other GOP panel members were not swayed, the chairman did hint just before the vote that there may still be hope for hemp reform, saying that the issue would be “determined by an agreement that would be reached” with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
McConnell last month filed a hemp legalization bill, which Comer’s amendment closely modeled. Fully a fifth of the Senate is now signed on as cosponsoring that legislation, and the majority leader has already announced plans to attach his hemp language to the version of the Farm Bill being considered by the Senate this month.
While it is unclear what exactly Sessions was suggesting when he referred to an “agreement” with McConnell, it may have been a reference to the conference committee process that will merge the House and Senate’s respective versions of the Farm Bill into a single proposal after each chamber passes its legislation. If McConnell succeeds in attaching hemp legalization to the Senate bill, it would then be up for consideration as part of the final legislation sent to President Trump for signing into law.
In 2014, McConnell successfully inserted a provision to prevent federal interference in hemp research programs in that year’s version of the Farm Bill.