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.
In addition to the dramatic cuts to the weekly enhancements of state unemployment benefits and safety net programs proposed in the House’s version (The HEROES Act), the Senate’s package does not include language that would protect banks who service the legal cannabis industry.
SAFE Banking Act
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.
The U.S. Senate may consider an amendment next week that would require federal agencies to conduct a study on how marijuana legalization is impacting states that have adopted it.
The measure, filed on Thursday by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), would direct the Departments of Justice, Labor and Health and Human Services to contract with the National Academy of Sciences for a 10-year examination of “monetary amounts generated” by legal cannabis tax revenue, as well as “rates of medicinal use” and “rates of overdoses with opioids and other painkillers” in states with some form of legalization, among other datapoints.
“The need for Congress to pull its head from the sand regarding the implications of functional regulated marijuana markets is dire,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “No senator can intellectually justify remaining willfully ignorant to the results of successful state-legal programs and the National Academy of Sciences can prove to be the neutral arbitrator in assessing the real world impact that is happening in 31 medical or adult-use states throughout the country.”
The Senate amendment’s text is similar to standalone House legislation that Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI, Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and others filed last month.
Watch Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard And Other Federal Reps File New Marijuana Bill
The senator is seeking to attach the language to a bill to fund parts of the federal government, including the Departments of Defense, Labor, Education and Health and Human Services, for Fiscal Year 2019. The legislation has been on the floor this week, with consideration expected to resume on Monday.
Menendez’s Senate proposal isn’t identical to Gabbard’s House bill, as it leaves out directives from the earlier legislation for federal agencies to study legalization’s impact on criminal justice and employment. Advocates said that those sections weren’t germane to the title of the appropriations bill the senator is seeking to amend, and therefore had to be excluded.
Separately from the amendment, the senator plans to file a standalone companion bill containing the full text of the Marijuana Data Collection Act, his communications director, Patricia Enright, told Marijuana Moment in an email.
“Senator Menendez believes that as more and more states, including New Jersey, legalize medical or recreational marijuana, it makes good sense that we provide for independent, science-based research and analysis of current legalization policies and their impacts on communities,” she said. “If federal policy-makers are going to be a productive part of the conversation moving forward, it’s important that they be informed by objective, evidence-based data.”
For now, it is not clear if the Menendez amendment will be debated or receive a vote on the Senate floor before the body finalizes the spending legislation.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Senate Amendment Requires Feds To Study Marijuana Legalization’s Impact
Control of the U.S. Senate could hinge on the outcome of elections in states where voters will also decide on marijuana ballot initiatives this November.
Conventional political wisdom holds that cannabis on the ballot drives voter turnout by young people and progressives who are likely to back Democrats, but is that really the case? Hard evidence to date is slim at best, and the results of this year’s midterms could help shed light on the question.
Republicans currently enjoy the barest of majorities in Congress’s upper house, with 51 seats to 47 Democrats (and two independents who caucus and vote with Democrats).
In order to gain control of the Senate, and perhaps finally see cannabis bills called for hearings, Democrats need to eke out electoral victories in places like Nevada, where a booming recreational marijuana marketplace is entering its second year. And, they must also hold onto seats in states like Missouri and North Dakota, deeply conservative areas won by President Donald Trump in 2016 that CNN placed on a list of the ten Senate seats most likely to flip.
In Missouri, voters will decide on three separate medical cannabis measures. And in North Dakota, where medical marijuana won a shock, longshot victory in 2016, voters have the chance to legalize recreational marijuana.
For most of the past decade, cannabis has enjoyed relatively consistent and sometimes overwhelming success in American elections.
Four out of five legalization measures before voters in 2016 won. On the same day, medical marijuana was legalized in red states like Arkansas, North Dakota and Florida, where more than 71 percent of voters approved the ballot measure. And in June, voters in Oklahoma approved medical cannabis despite the fact that supporters were heavily outspent by opponents.
Both the turnout and the result of these upcoming Senate elections could provide a clue to marijuana’s true power in drawing voters to the polls, and demonstrate both mainstream political parties’ appetite to embrace cannabis as a campaign issue.
In Missouri, according to recent polling, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill is in a dead heat with Republican challenger Josh Hawley, the state attorney general. By contrast, the same poll showed medical marijuana ahead by a solid 54 percent to 35 percent margin.
It’s not exactly clear what would happen if more than one of the three marijuana measures on the ballot win, but in the poll, voters indicated their clear preference for some change in state law to allow medical use of the drug.
McCaskill said in a recent interview that she will support at least one of the cannabis initiatives. “I do think medical marijuana should be passed,” she said.
But for now, the Missouri Democratic Party apparatus is choosing not to highlight McCaskill’s support for the popular medical cannabis issue. Their reasoning is not known.
Meanwhile, for his part, Hawley announced on Wednesday that he is “inclined to support” at least one of the marijuana initiatives.
In North Dakota, state elections officials announced on Monday that a legalization measure has qualified for the ballot.
Polling in that state’s Senate race is inconsistent, but one June estimation gave Republican challenger Kevin Cramer a four-point edge over incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
Heitkamp’s victory in 2012 was by a single percentage point, and she was the first Democrat to win statewide election there in almost a decade. Those two factors fueled Roll Call’s decision to declare the race tilting in Cramer’s favor.
For his part, Cramer, who is currently a member of the U.S. House, said he would vote against the legalization ballot measure. In 2015, he supported a floor amendment to shield state medical cannabis programs from federal interference, but opposed a broader measure to protect recreational laws.
Might Heitkamp gamble on cannabis to give her an edge, considering her state’s embrace of medical cannabis two years ago? She dodged the question in a recent interview with MyNDNow.com, but has said that marijuana is a state issue that should be free of federal interference.
She is also cosponsoring Senate legislation to let cannabis businesses access banks.
A poll earlier this year showed that North Dakota voters favor cannabis legalization 45 percent to 39 percent.
In two months’ time, if Heitkamp still trailing Cramer in the polls, she could probably do worse than to fully embrace a popular issue like marijuana legalization, regardless of any turnout effect the measure’s appearance on the ballot might have.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Marijuana Ballot Measures Could Affect Key U.S. Senate Elections
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