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Quick Fix

A vote on cannabis banking in the House still is not locked down, but things look promising despite a strong letter from some advocates who want the bill postponed.

An attorney who tried to legalize marijuana through litigation wants to try the legislative route. Michael Hiller represented medical marijuana patients in a federal case and is running for Congress.

It’s time to “end the hand-wringing when it comes to cannabis,” former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said last week. And it’s time to firm up regulation over recreational marijuana use and make it easier to research the medical potential of cannabis.

IT’S THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 19. WELCOME TO POLITICO’S DAILY CANNABIS NEWSLETTER. Just when I thought I’d heard about all the strange CBD products under the sun, the industry continues to surprise with: CBD leggings! Yes, it’s an actual thing that purports to soothe your achy muscles with CBD-infused fabric. Be sure to keep sending us cannabis news, tips or feedback — and unique CBD startups — at mzhang@politico.com or @ZhangMona. And follow us on Twitter: @POLITICOPro. Read about our mission in our inaugural issue.

On The Hill

HOLDING BANKING BILL FOR COMPREHENSIVE MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION IS ‘UNREALISTIC’ — Natalie caught up with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) — the unofficial dean of the cannabis caucus — to ask about a letter sent late Tuesday by a group of cannabis advocates to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The group wants a postponement of cannabis banking bill action until comprehensive legalization moves forward. Blumenauer said he doesn’t think banking should be held up.

“I strongly support what Chairman [Jerry] Nadler is doing but [the MORE ACT is] not ready,” Blumenauer said of the comprehensive legislation. “They haven’t even had a hearing on it. It’s unrealistic to halt all progress when we have things that will move forward.”

But backers of the banking legislation are still working to lock down support in the House. Democrats told POLITICO’s Zachary Warmbrodt they were trying to make sure they had the votes to pass the bill next week under an expedited procedure requiring support from two-thirds of members present. Passing it under a so-called suspension of the rules would head off votes on new, politically contentious amendments. Democrats said they were trying to respond to concerns that the House was moving on cannabis banking legislation before taking up more comprehensive legalization proposals by Nadler including criminal justice reform.

“It needs to be a clean bill,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.). “We want to make sure they are two separate things.” Meeks said he believed there is a 65 percent chance the bill will make it to the floor next week.

Republican support might be the least of the bill’s problems. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, said he expects the bill to get a big vote if it hits the floor under a suspension of the rules. McHenry said he isn’t a yes on the bill but that he’s told Republican members to follow their constituents and their conscience.

McHenry praised the bill’s author, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.). For a major piece of legislation, Perlmutter “has been about as open as I’ve seen any legislator to changes and additions to the bill in order to get a bigger vote and a better outcome.”

IF BANKING MOVES, ONE BIG BANK MIGHT GET IN THE GAME The CEO of JPMorgan told POLITICO’s Victoria Guida on Wednesday his bank would consider serving marijuana businesses if there were a national law dealing with those relationships.

“I couldn’t care less about marijuana,” Dimon said. “We cannot bank it because there’s not national laws.” “If there is a national law we would then consider it, whether we would bank some of these companies,” he added.

Why is this important? Until now, the main push for cannabis banking has come from community or independent banks and credit unions, not from large banks like JP Morgan or Wells Fargo. Dimon’s comment suggests big banks might see an opportunity if Congress enacts cannabis banking legislation.

NEW HOUSE BILL WOULD REMOVE MINOR MARIJUANA INCIDENTS FROM DEPORTABLE OFFENSES LIST There’s a new bill that would remove minor marijuana use, distribution and possession from the list of deportable offenses from Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.). His office said the Trump administration has used marijuana as an excuse to target immigrants and Dreamers specifically. Human Rights Watch reports that more than 34,000 immigrants were deported between 2007 and 2012 for marijuana possession. “The Trump administration’s decision to use marijuana as a weapon against our immigrant communities is despicable,” Lujan said.

TWO NEW SPONSORS FOR STATES ACT Reps. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) and Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) have signed on to the STATES Act, which would allow medical and recreational marijuana markets where legal in states to operate without fear of federal punishment.

And five more House members signed on to the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019, which would loosen restrictions on growing marijuana for research purposes. The new sponsors: Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.) Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

Movers and Shakers

EXCLUSIVE: CANNABIS ATTORNEY TO RUN FOR CONGRESS — Followers of cannabis news will know the name Michael Hiller from his representation of several plaintiffs challenging the federal prohibition of marijuana. The Washington v. Barr suit (previously Washington v. Sessions) made headlines for its motley crew of plaintiffs and for getting a federal judge to admit that marijuana does indeed have medical applications.

Now, Hiller is running for Congress, POLITICO has exclusively learned. He is challenging Democrat Yvette Clarke in New York’s 9th District. Clarke has been in Congress for 12 years, and narrowly won against a primary challenger Adem Bunkeddeko last June with 53 percent of the vote. Bunkeddeko is running again this year. Hiller will announce his candidacy during a press conference Monday at noon outside of Brooklyn’s Cortelyou Library.

“The parade of problems that we have seems to be so endless. I felt like if I didn’t take action now, it might not be reversible,” Hiller said of his decision to run. He said he vows not to take any corporate money, whether it comes from companies or PACs (yes, including marijuana firms), unlike Clarke. He said his cannabis advocacy “is part of a larger framework of policy positions on an assortment of issues,” including affordable housing, immigration, income inequality and more.

Update on the case: Hiller’s case challenges marijuana’s classification under federal drug laws. While an appeals court ruled that the plaintiffs would have to seek administrative relief from the DEA before bringing the matter before the court, Hiller recently wrote letters to the court explaining that this could only result in the DEA moving marijuana to Schedule II, a less restrictive category. “It would actually make things much much worse,” said Hiller, who criticized legislation in Congress seeking to do the same. Lawmakers who don’t fully understand the issue “are proposing to reschedule cannabis, … that immediately transfers the jurisdiction of this issue to the FDA.”

While the FDA has approved a cannabis-derived medication called Epidiolex, the drug costs $32,500 a year. One of the plaintiffs, Alexis Bortell, is a pediatric epilepsy patient whose non-FDA regulated cannabis treatment is 84 percent cheaper than Epidiolex. “We are better off ironically leaving it in [the most restricted schedule] and having the funding riders preventing enforcement,” he said.

And on the current advocacy disagreements over SAFE Banking vs. MORE, Hiller supports more comprehensive legislation over piecemeal solutions. “If we solve the banking piece first, there will be less momentum to solve the rest of it.”

GOTTLIEB: ‘END FEDERAL AMBIVALENCE’ ON CANNABISFormer FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb urged the federal government to draw up national cannabis policies and provide answers to “loose medical claims” during a speech last week obtained by POLITICO’s Sarah Owermohle. “Ultimately, we need to move past the social stigma around cannabis and address these complex public health and regulatory issues objectively,” Gottlieb told an Alabama academic conference.

Gottlieb argued that the top priority should be making research easier. “Cannabis has been around a long time. There’s been plenty of time to develop rigorous science to affirm its purported medicinal benefits,” he said. Still, the body of evidence is “thin” — and the existing research would never pass muster with the rigorous standards of the FDA.

The State of Marijuana

N.H. HOUSE OVERRIDES GOVERNOR ON MARIJUANA The New Hampshire House voted 259-120 to approve a bill to allow medical marijuana patients to grow their own cannabis at home. Governor Chris Sununu vetoed the bipartisan bill in August, but the House had the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto. The state senate is expected to take up the bill today, where it needs at least 16 votes to pass. “It’s clear that any senator who opposes this simple step forward is incredibly out of touch with their constituents,” Marijuana Policy Project’s Matt Simon said.

FLORIDA AG DEPT. RELEASES DRAFT HEMP RULES — The state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services finalized its hemp regulations Wednesday, POLITICO Pro Florida’s Arek Sarkissian scooped. The advisory council for Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will meet today to review the draft rules and make recommendations. After conducting public hearings, the rules will be submitted to the USDA for evaluation.

Also in Florida: Former Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is joining the Hemp Industries Association of Florida as president. The group’s chairman told Arek that “Lopez-Cantera earned a reputation for supporting small businesses” during his time in office. He also has plans to start farming hemp.

2020 Watch

BETO PROPOSES ‘JUSTICE’ GRANTS FOR MARIJUANA OFFENDERS Democratic presidential contender Beto O’Rourke wants the federal government to provide “Drug War Justice Grants” to people formerly incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana offenses. The proposed grants, part of O’Rourke’s plan to legalize and regulate marijuana, would be funded by a federal tax on the industry, POLITICO’S David Siders reports.

How would it work? O’Rourke’s campaign said the proposed grants would go to former state and federal inmates for a period based on time served. It also indicated that a federal tax on the industry would fund treatment programs and re-entry services in communities disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests.

What else is he proposing? O’Rourke also pledged to use clemency power to release people now serving sentences for marijuana possession, and he called for expunging the records of those convicted of possession. He also proposed removing cannabis-related charges as grounds for deporting people or denying them citizenship.

Pot-pourri

Canadian health officials are investigating the country’s first case of a vaping-related illness. A local health official said the patient vaped daily, but declined to give more details on the brand or type of device used.

As Illinois inches closer to introducing its legal marijuana market, those with past pot convictions are hoping to get their records cleared. The expungement process can drag on for years, but advocates say it’s worth it for those with a criminal record.

Buzzy mattress startup Casper is getting into the CBD business, launching a line of sleep gummies that include CBD, melatonin and chamomile extract. The company partnered with California cannabis edibles producer Plus Products.