Presented by the National Cannabis Roundtable
Welcome to the POLITICO Pro Cannabis preview newsletter. Free access to the preview newsletter is available through Sept. 30, 2019.
— Criminal justice reform is the tipping point for cannabis legislation on Capitol Hill right now, and it’s playing a huge role in whether a bill to help provide banking to cannabis businesses will get a floor vote this fall.
— Cannabis lobbying is booming in Washington. A record 116 groups hired lobbyists to make their case to Congress and federal agencies on marijuana- and cannabis-related issues in the second quarter of 2019.
— Former House Speaker John Boehner told POLITICO why he got involved with cannabis. The Ohio Republican raised eyebrows last year when he joined the board of cannabis company Acreage Holdings, despite being a staunch foe of legalization during his legislative career. Boehner said his views shifted after concluding that marijuana can have significant therapeutic benefits for patients.
But first …
IT’S MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 9. WELCOME TO POLITICO’S INAUGURAL CANNABIS NEWSLETTER. Drop me a line with your tips and feedback: email@example.com or @natsfert. Share event listings: firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow us on Twitter: @POLITICOPro.
This newsletter launches at a historic moment for marijuana and cannabis policy. Marijuana is legal on some level in 33 states but illegal at the federal level, creating a bewildering and complex web of legal, regulatory and business questions that even the most expert policy makers and lawyers struggle to answer.
This newsletter offers a sneak preview of what we will do for our Pro subscribers starting next month. Our mission for Pro readers is to cover these policy issues with passion and expertise, to deliver exclusive news and analysis, and to report on cannabis from a neutral, unbiased point of view. We come to this issue with no pre-cooked narrative about what should happen on cannabis policy. Our stories will focus on what POLITICO Pro does best: explaining policy issues and the politics behind them and delivering the news in an easy to digest format so that you can use our content to make business decisions.
THE CONVERSATION IN CONGRESS — A comprehensive legalization bill called the MORE Act was introduced right before the break by powerful Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). Before its introduction, though, another bill that would provide banking services to the cannabis industry in states with legal markets passed through committee and was due to have a vote on the House floor –– but stalled because of its lack of criminal justice reform language.
Now, with two marijuana bills queued up, lawmakers and advocates are hashing out timing. Some don’t want to move the banking bill until a bill with criminal justice reform and social equity clears the House, while others think moving the bill with the best chance of passing in the Senate is a better use of time and resources.
— MORE VS. SAFE: The MORE Act includes comprehensive social equity and criminal justice reform plans while the SAFE Banking Act does not. That is making all the difference right now. As we enter the fall term, the questions looming: Should the MORE Act be pushed through the House before the SAFE Banking Act, despite the latter’s better chance of passing the Senate? Or is MORE’s introduction enough to allow SAFE to finally move to the House floor?
— Why do we care? Criminal justice reform is now a do-or-die element of cannabis legislation in the House. The fact that it is even slowing down the progress of a single-issue bill that deals with banking further enshrines the importance of social equity and criminal justice reform plans in any cannabis bill introduced from here on out.
NORML’S ANNUAL LOBBYING EVENT STARTS TODAY, bringing cannabis industry members and advocates from all over the country to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden speaks this afternoon at the legalization advocacy group’s annual conference. NORML isn’t the only game in town:
EXCLUSIVE: FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER BOEHNER DISCUSSES EVOLUTION ON MARIJUANA — Former Speaker of the House John Boehner is an unlikely pot activist. During a more than three-decade career on Capitol Hill, including four turbulent years leading the House, the Ohio Republican was a staunch opponent of legalizing marijuana. But last year Boehner joined the board of Acreage Holdings, one of the country’s largest cannabis companies. POLITICO Pro Cannabis recently spoke with Boehner about his new role as a marijuana advocate and the prospects for passing legislation on Capitol Hill.
Why get involved in the cannabis industry?
Boehner: My whole part of this is on the medical side. You’ve got veterans that have all kinds of needs that aren’t being met with what’s out there. You’ve got people with anxiety issues or sleep issues. You’ve got other people with chronic pain issues. I started doing all this research and I decided, I’m going to get involved in this. I knew when I came out, that was going to be a statement and make news, but I’m really glad I did it. It’s been frankly an exciting last year and a half, to be involved in an industry that’s emerging as the biggest new growth industry in America.
You were not a supporter of legalization during your tenure in the House. Some people would look at this and [say] that you’re just looking to cash in. What’s your response to that?
Boehner: I know myself. My primary purpose for getting involved in this was to advance the cause of medical marijuana. Yes, I do get paid. I am on the board of Acreage Holdings. But I know what my motivations are, and I’ve tried to make that clear. I can understand why some people would look at it and say, “Oh, you’re just cashing in.” They’re entitled to their opinion.
How do you view the landscape on Capitol Hill right now? What are the prospects in this current Congress for getting any kind of cannabis legislation passed?
Boehner: When you look at how public opinion has changed dramatically on this issue over the years, more and more members are hearing from their constituents about the need to get the federal government out of the way. You have a lot of Democrats who were already there. But many Republicans are starting to come on board, as they see this dichotomy between what’s going on in their own states and how the federal government continues to stand in the way.
D.C. ENACTS PATIENT PROTECTIONS — The D.C. Council enacted a temporary measure late last week banning the local government from firing individuals who are medical marijuana patients.
Why this is important: In 2015, Colorado medical marijuana patient Brandon Coats sued the Dish Network for wrongful termination after failing a random drug test. The case made it to the Colorado Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled against Coats because marijuana was still illegal at the federal level.
Since then, state and even federal courts around the country increasingly have been ruling in favor of patients in employment cases. A county employee in Oregon who lost his job over medical marijuana use was reinstated and even got $22,000 in back pay in arbitration.
MARIJUANA IN MISSISSIPPI — Advocates have collected more than 100,000 signatures to put medical marijuana legalization on the 2020 ballot. The campaign needs at least 86,185 signatures certified by the Secretary of State’s office to put Initiative 65 to the voters.
California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana at the ballot box in 1996. Now, the issue has become palatable even in socially conservative states. Arkansas and Louisiana both have medical marijuana programs, while Alabama has convened a panel to study legalization. In 2018, Oklahoma voters passed one of the least restrictive medical marijuana initiatives in the country.
OFFICIALS EXPECT LEGAL WEED IN KENTUCKY — Democratic state Rep. Nima Kulkarni said most Kentuckians support marijuana legalization and expects the Bluegrass state to eventually legalize the substance. While the state is home to a flourishing hemp program, it has yet to change its marijuana laws. But medical marijuana legalization bill HB 136 racked up 52 co-sponsors in the last legislative session and advanced in committee — a first for any sort of medical marijuana legislation in the state.
$600,000: That’s the amount in bribes that Fall River, Mass. Mayor Jasiel Correia is accused of taking from pot companies. Correia was arrested and charged with bribery, extortion, wire fraud, and more on Friday. Three individuals with ties to Correia took plea deals.
150: That’s the number of students enrolled in the University of Maryland’s first-of-its-kind marijuana master’s program.
89: That’s the number of doctors in Florida who certified more than 168,000 medical marijuana patients.
FIRST NATIONS HOLDS CANNABIS CONFERENCE — The Canadian Assembly of First Nations held its first cannabis conference last week to give voice to indigenous communities feeling left out of the legal industry. Native American tribes in the U.S. feel similarly frustrated by cannabis regulators.
THE CANNTRUST CONTROVERSY DEEPENS — Staffers at the Canadian cannabis producer bought marijuana seeds from the black market, and the resulting 1,000-plus cannabis plants were sold on the legal market, BNN Bloomberg reports. The company’s former VP of cultivation Brady Green allegedly led the illicit initiative with a team known as “The Brady Bunch.”
— Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have developed a prototype marijuana breathalyzer, NPR reports. They say it’s ready for mass production, but there’s only one problem: We still don’t know how much THC correlates with impairment.
— Discussions about changing rules regarding cannabis in the NFL may be premature, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We have a lot more opinion than we do science on the use of marijuana for pain,” said Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer.
— Colombia is now exporting medical marijuana to the U.K. and Canada, NPR reports. This adds another nation to the global marijuana trade — which so far has mostly remained medical, in order to be compliant with the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Paul Demko, POLITICO Pro Cannabis editor: I have been a health care reporter at POLITICO for the last five years, primarily responsible for covering the insurance industry. Previously, I was the Washington bureau chief for Modern Healthcare. I also spent more than a decade reporting in Minnesota, including stints with Politics in Minnesota and City Pages. Tips and story ideas to email@example.com or @pauldemko on Twitter.
Natalie Fertig, federal cannabis policy reporter: I hail from the fern-covered Pacific Northwest, but have been on the East Coast for the past seven years. I’ve been covering cannabis policy for the last year and love to nerd out about the relationship between states and the federal government. I also love to hear how the industry is going for average people around the U.S. — so please reach out to me with any stories or tips you have! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m on Twitter at @natsfert.
Mona Zhang, state cannabis policy reporter: I founded and edited the cannabis newsletter Word on the Tree and have been covering cannabis as a freelance journalist for the past four years. I’m interested in how states are tackling cannabis legalization in different ways — social equity programs, cultivation regulations, public health proposals, and the list goes on… Got ideas or tips? I’m at email@example.com and @zhangmona on Twitter.