Lame Duck Congress Creates the Opportunity For Gardner and The Cannabis Industry to Achieve the Trifecta
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this past Tuesday he would bring a bipartisan criminal justice reform Bill “First Step Act” to a vote. He also shepherded the recently congressionally approved 2018 Farm Bill that legalizes Hemp thereby removing the crop from its current Schedule 1 status under The Controlled Substances Act.
In what would be the third leg of leveling the playing field for an industry that has developed at an accelerating pace since President Obama’s administration issued the Cole memos at the beginning of his first term in office, CBE Press has learned that Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) plans to attempt to amend The”First Step Act” with the STATES ACT that he and co-sponsor Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced this past summer. Gardner faces an uphill battle but sources tell CBE that his staff has confirmed that the Senator feels strongly that the time to act is now.
The STATES Act eliminates many of the obstacles faced by the Cannabis Industry and its employees by removing cannabis from The Controlled Substances list in states with legally regulated cannabis programs. It would effectively eliminate the 280E tax burden faced by licensees in those states which currently doesn’t allow licensed operators to write-off their business expenses like every other American business. It would also make it easier and safer for these licensees to bank the hoards of cash the industry is accumulating by allowing for state and local banks to provide banking services without the threat of violating federal money laundering statutes.
In a conversation with Neal Levine, CEO of The Cannabis Trade Federation he said, “This isn’t about making a statement for us. We are trying to protect the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Americans directly or indirectly employed by The Cannabis Industry. There are over a 100,000 mortgages at risk. The health insurance of over 100,000 families is at risk.” He goes on, ” The STATES Act ends the conflict between federal and state law. We need Congress to act, and we need it yesterday. The situation has become untenable. We applaud Senators Gardner and Warren for their leadership on behalf of our industry, as well as Representatives Blumenauer and Joyce in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill yesterday legalizing hemp, this is good news for an industry that has seen tremendous growth over the last 5 years with 30 states plus the District of Columbia having active medical marijuana regulated programs and 10 states with adult-use programs either up and running or in the rule-making stages of developing a regulated program. National polls have shown that the American population is now squarely behind cannabis legalization at the federal level.
And, accomplishing the trifecta would be a coupe for Trump and the Republican Party; The GOP would forever be able to claim that it was their party that effectively ended prohibition and the “War on Drugs” initiated by the Nixon Administration in the early 1970s.
Whether Gardner is successful in adding the STATES Act to The”First Step Act” today and have that amended bill pass is in many ways a moot point. Narrowing the disparity between state and federal law regarding cannabis and cannabis related offenses that have affected the lives of millions of Americans (and disproportionately minorities) is clearly within reach. CBE readers may recall the open letter we issued two years ago as Trump began his first term in office, asking POTUS to level the playing field for The Cannabis Industry. With the hemp issued solved, there are two more legs to the stool that could be addressed simultaneously if Gardner is successful. Whether Senator McConnell will support an amended bill is questionable, it is believed that he has the votes to pass the bipartisan “First Step Act” Bill and would be resistant to anything that keeps criminal justice reform from happening under his leadership.
What is clear is that the current wave of lawmakers in Washington, regardless of the outcome of Gardner’s attempt, is that the country is one step closer to ending the costly and failed “War on Drugs” with cannabis prohibition ending in the not to distant future. Gardner may lose today’s battle but it is a matter of when and not if the country moves on from its legislators’ sordid marijuana policy history and finally levels the playing field for the cannabis industry and its tax paying, mortgage holding and consumer base that has relied on the untested products pedaled by the black market.
Stayed tuned, today’s activities whether successful or not, would be a historical “shot heard around the world”.