Cannabis Makes Incremental Yet Notable Advances Within the Federal Government
By Nick Etten, VP/Government Affairs, Acreage Holdings
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the cannabis industry has quietly undergone a transformation. We have covered in recent blog posts the industry’s “essential” status by state governments throughout the country, but a separate transformation has played out in the halls of Congress and policy agendas of presidential campaigns.
While these changes have been incremental and subtle at times, that does not make them any less notable for an industry that has barely received any acknowledgement from the federal government outside of blanket prohibition since its inception.
One of the more notable developments to have occurred is the inclusion of cannabis banking reform in a House Democrat COVID-19 stimulus proposal. Banking reform, via the SAFE Banking Act, historically passed with bi-partisan support in a floor vote in the House of Representatives in 2019, though it did not receive a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.
While Republicans have yet to include cannabis banking reform in their own versions of COVID-19 stimulus plans, banking reform represents the perfect type of pragmatic legislation that could be passed as part of a broader bill while Congress grapples with the ramifications of the ongoing pandemic.
As the next iteration of the federal spending bill is debated in Congress, the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer (formerly known as Rohrabacher-Farr) Amendment has been included as a base part of the annual federal budget bill.
The amendment is a rider in the federal budget that prevents the federal government from using funds to prosecute medical cannabis operations acting within compliance of state law. While this may seem like a no-brainer, it was not always that way. Until recently, when the federal budget was being compiled, it was an uphill battle for the rider to be included, requiring political horse trading and maneuvering to make sure it made it into the final budget bill.
The rider’s inclusion in the base bill shows that medical cannabis is finally being taken seriously and viewed as a legitimate industry by Congress.
Further, the Blumenauer-McClintock-Norton rider, which protects state-legal recreational programs, is coming up for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives next week. Last year, the rider passed the House with 267 votes, but was ultimately not ratified by the Senate as part of a policy to include no new riders. The amendment is expected to pass in the House yet again, though face an uphill battle in the Senate.
Cannabis Legalization Endorsed by a Presidential Party Nominee
Within the past few weeks, Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign released the results of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, designed to reconcile Biden’s more moderate policies with the goals of the more progressive wing over the Democratic party. The task force’s agenda included a pledge to use administrative action to change the scheduling of cannabis and legalize medical cannabis via executive order, while seeking legislation to give each state the right to decide if recreational use should be legal.
While this serves as more of a STATES Act approach, rather than the more progressive MORE Act, which would legalize adult-use cannabis throughout the U.S. with social justice and social equity provisions built in, it still demonstrates major incremental progress for cannabis.
This is the first time a presumptive nominee for a major party has embraced anything even remotely resembling cannabis legalization. This is especially notable due to the fact that it comes from Joe Biden, who has notoriously been behind the times on cannabis legalization throughout his tenure in the Senate and as Vice President. While the recommendations of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force are only a political document that lack detail, it is at the very least a commitment to the nationwide legalization of medical cannabis.
Meanwhile, though President Trump has not spoken on cannabis in over a year, it would not come as a huge shock to see him embrace legalization as part of a “Hail Mary” to make up ground in the 2020 Presidential Election. Cannabis legalization is popular with many voters in his base. According to a 2019 poll conducted by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates on behalf of the Make It Legal Florida Committee, more than 57% of people in Florida who support President Trump’s job approval also support legalizing adult-use cannabis.