Opinion

Three Cannabis Issues Congress Needs to Tackle

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Posted: Feb 16, 2019 12:01 AM
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Three Cannabis Issues Congress Needs to Tackle

Source: AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

Congress and President Donald J. Trump are at odds over his power to use a declaration of an emergency to build a wall on the southern border of the United States. Many hope that the ill will and war of words over this heated controversy does not poison the well on issues that have bipartisan support.

There has been recent talk of bipartisan efforts to pass legislation to provide mandatory family leave for parents who have children carrying the support of pro-family conservatives and those on the left who want more rights for workers. Bipartisanship also stretches to the issue of rebuilding American infrastructure, because there is strong support of politicians of both parties to spend money on roads and bridges. It is also possible that some agreement can be reached on reducing some troop levels overseas in Afghanistan with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) voicing support on the left while many on the right, including President Trump, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Justin Amash (R-MI) are in agreement.

One other area of potential agreement is on some consensus areas dealing with federal law pertaining to marijuana. There are three issues in the marijuana space where both right and left should work together to remove the conflicts of laws between the federal government ban on marijuana and many states that have made legal both adult and medical use of marijuana. Congress is unlikely to pass a wholesale legalization in the next two years, despite the fact that it would be consistent with the idea of federalism, but there are three areas where there may be progress.

First is on medical marijuana. The polling on medical marijuana show strong support by Republicans for this effort. Yahoo/Marist released a poll in 2017 indicating that 83% of the American people support the idea that doctors should be allowed to prescribe medical marijuana to needy patients. Quinnipiac University released a poll in January that indicated even stronger support with 91% overall support, including 80% of Republicans. This Congress, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) was joined by Republican Reps. Don Young of Alaska, Matt Gaetz of Florida and David Joyce of Ohio in pushing H.R. 127, the CARERS Act. The legislation exempts from prosecution those in the“production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, laboratory testing, recommending use, or delivery of medical marijuana.” At a minimum, Congress should continue a funding rider to appropriations bills in place since 2014 that prevents the Justice Department from interfering in states with legal medical marijuana programs.

A second issue is banking services for companies in states that allow marijuana. Last Congress, Rep. Perlmutter (D-CO) introduced H.R. 2215, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act). That bill provides a safe harbor for banking to state marijuana businesses where that state has consented to adult or medical marijuana use. At a recent hearing in a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, California State Treasurer Fiona Ma testified, “the cannabis market in California alone is expected to exceed $5.1 billion in overall revenue in 2020 according to an Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics report. This same Report highlighted that the legal cannabis market could triple over the next four years - being worth as much as $32 billion GLOBALLY. The US will fuel a majority of this revenue, and it’s critical we accommodate the magnitude of this economic uptick with access to banking for this new state regulated industry.” Makes no sense to push the legal marijuana industry into a cash market when they are legal businesses within the state.

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A final issue of possible agreement is on veterans’ health issues. Earlier this week, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, S.445. That bill would expand and facilitate medical marijuana access to military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD and other serious medical conditions. Doctors from the Department of Veterans affairs are not currently permitted to recommend medical marijuana to those patients who reside in the states that have allowed it. Allowing veterans to have access is an easy issue for Congress and something they should tackle this year.

These three issues seem to be low hanging fruit because they are relatively non-controversial. There is some promise that the Republican and Democratic parties can agree on something and some tweaks to federal marijuana law would make good sense. 

Federalism is something conservatives hold dear and all of these proposals are consistent with the idea that the states are a better place to deal with legalizing differing levels of marijuana access pursuant to the state’s police powers rather than the federal government.