by Morgan Fox, NCIA’s Director of Media Relations
It’s that time again on Capitol Hill: appropriations season, when Congress determines how to spend – or not spend – your tax dollars for the next year. As you can imagine, this year will be unlike any in recent memory as a cash-strapped nation struggles with how to weather the economic storm caused by the pandemic while finding the funds to support important government functions and programs. Appropriations are also a time when our champions in the legislature are once again introducing sensible cannabis policy reforms through an avenue that historically has been effective. Many of these reforms would actually save taxpayers money!
- For the second year in a row, language that prevents the Department of Justice from using resources to target state-legal medical cannabis programs was included in the original language of the commerce, justice and science funding bill. If approved or continued, this would be the sixth year that Congress has told federal law enforcement to leave medical cannabis patients and providers alone.
- Language that would prevent the Department of Treasury from using resources to penalize banks and other financial institutions for working with legal cannabis businesses was included in the financial services and general government funding bill. While not as comprehensive as the SAFE Banking Act, which was approved by the House last year and included in its most recent coronavirus relief bill, this provision would give financial services providers more assurances needed to encourage working with the cannabis industry and would help improve public health and safety.
- A measure that would protect public colleges and universities from being denied federal funds due to conducting research on cannabis was included in the bill funding agencies related to education, labor, health, and human services. Many institutions have cited the potential loss of funding as a major discouragement to research. This also makes it easier for universities to study cannabis products available in regulated state markets. An additional provision to this bill also prevents federally funded schools from engaging in any advocacy in support of making any Schedule I substances legal.
- Additional funding would be made available through the agriculture and FDA appropriations legislation for research, regulation, and consumer protection related to hemp, CBD, and other cannabis components.
- Language that asks the Office of Personnel Management to reconsider allowing federal employees to legally consume cannabis in accordance with applicable state laws without fear of retribution was added to the financial services and general government funding bill. While this is non-binding, it would hopefully encourage the federal government to review its employment practices and not punish law-abiding employees who choose to use cannabis outside of work.
- A provision that has prevented the District of Columbia from regulating cannabis after voters there approved a ballot initiative making adult use legal in 2014 was left out of the new spending package. So long as it is not added again in either the House or Senate, the nation’s capital will finally be able to fully carry out the intent of the voters more than half a decade after residents decided this issue. Currently, adult possession and limited home cultivation are permitted in the District, but non-medical sales are not.
What could be added:
- While the spending bill that funds the Department of Veterans Affairs did not originally contain any cannabis-related provisions, supporters are leaving open the possibility that language which would allow doctors in the VA system to recommend medical cannabis to their patients in accordance with state laws to be included before the process is complete.
- Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Tom McClintock (R-CA), joined by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), are considering the introduction of a rider which would prevent the Department of Justice from interfering in any state cannabis program, extending the previously-approved protections for medical cannabis programs to regulated adult-use systems that exist in 10 states and counting. This legislation was approved in last year’s House spending bills but was not included in the final legislation.
It is difficult to tell what will happen with the various appropriations bills this session. There is still time for members of the House to amend funding legislation. While the House is moving forward with these bills, the Senate has yet to introduce any of their own. However, the upper chamber is in the process of considering a new coronavirus relief package. NCIA has been working with that chamber to have cannabis banking reform language included in that bill as it was in the last relief bill approved by the House, but it is by no means certain at this point. It is also possible that Congress won’t reach an agreement on the new spending bills and will simply decide to continue with the prior year’s budget outlays, which would at least continue medical cannabis protections for another year.
Stay tuned for more updates and be sure to join us next Wednesday, July 29, for an exclusive members-only fireside chat with NCIA’s dedicated government relations team!