Cannabis Loses in the Legislature

In 2019, optimism was in short supply no matter the subject, save cannabis. Numerous blogs, columns, and discussions revolved around how this was the year things were going to change, with many adding that 2020 would see full scale federal legalization. It’s all happening now, people!

Except it didn’t, and likely won’t, at least not anytime soon.

While incremental progress was made (i.e Illinois established a recreational cannabis program which goes into effect January 1, Oklahoma’s medical program exceeded all expectations for sales, and other notable state level progresses and victories), the potential victories hoped for at the federal level failed to manifest in a big way, undercutting any expectations that the federal change we need to fully legitimize the cannabis industry will happen in 2020.

Good thing some strains of cannabis have mood boosting properties as we review recent movement on some key legislative moments recently.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Act). Congress passed with surprisingly strong bipartisan support in September gaining 91 Republican votes. SAFE would allow banks and financial institutions to work with the cannabis industry, which would be of tremendous value to both the cannabis and banking industries. Everyone wins!


Last week, the Chair of the Senate Banking Committee Michael Crapo (R.-Idaho) announced that he isn’t down with the SAFE Act as it stands, and suggested some less than stellar potential changes which would effectively gut it. Per Marijuana Biz Daily:

“The Idaho Republican is considering a 2% THC potency cap on cannabis products for businesses to be eligible for financial services, substantially below current levels of 12% or more typically seen on retail shelves in state-legal markets. Crapo’s statement, Crapo stated that he remains opposed to federal cannabis legalization, interstate cannabis commerce and Idaho establishing a regulated cannabis program.”

The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement Act, or MORE Act became the most comprehensive piece of cannabis legalization legislation to ever gain traction. It would do all sorts of amazing things: removing cannabis from the controlled substances list, establishing a federal cannabis sales tax, and taking comprehensive actions to address the ongoing fall out of the War on Drugs, which fell disproportionally upon people and communities of color.

Last month the House Judiciary Committee passed it, sending it to the full house.

But many believe its chances of getting to the Senate, much less gaining Senate support remain next to nil. That’s in large part to the current Senate majority leader and Southern mayonnaise turtle Mitch McConnell, who loves him some hemp, but hates him some of that there marijuana.

Last year he told reporters that “I do not have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana,” noting marijuana and hemp are “two entirely separate plants.” and “(Hemp) is a different plant. It has an illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace.”

In fact, the most recent legislative actions surrounding cannabis are not great, Bob. Appropriation bills signed last week had numerous cannabis related amendments removed.

Those included prohibiting the Feds from interfering with states with legal cannabis programs, and helping to protect banks which provide financial services to cannabis businesses.

The Senate opted not to include these into the bill, and also added language to keep the District of Columbia from establishing a legal cannabis sales program using its own tax revenue.

Although DC has a regulated recreational cannabis program, the lack of retail establishments has left residents fending for themselves in a largely unregulated “grey market”, which raises issues about the safety of both products and those seeking them.

As Marijuana Moment notes “These spending bills, which were released on Monday, are the latest losses for cannabis reform in the appropriations process. Defense authorization legislation released last week also saw two House-passed veterans-focused marijuana provisions scrapped by bicameral negotiators.

Those measures would have protected veterans from being denied home loans from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs due to their employment in a state-legal cannabis business and allowed the heads of military branches to grant reenlistment waivers to individuals convicted of a single, low-level marijuana offense.”

There were some bright spots. The National Institutes of Health was urged to “consider additional investment in studying the medicinal effects and toxicology of cannabidiol and cannabigerol.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) was instructed to “provide a brief report on the barriers to research that result from the classification of drugs and compounds as Schedule I substances,” and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality was instructed to issue at least $1 million in grant money to explore if both CBD and Kratom can be used as tools to address opioid addiction.

In addition, the hemp industry saw $20 million in funding for various programs to help establish rules around hemp derived CBD, revenue protection insurance for hemp producers and processors, and hemp research.

Josh Taylor is a well-known and successful entrepreneur in the legal cannabis space, producing B2B and B2C cannabis events, "Backstage Budtending" and upscale concierge services through his companies and His weekly syndicated newspaper column and features about cannabis ran for five years until March 2020.

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