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— Cannabis banking may not have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but its sponsor says it has the votes it needs and a date with the full House next week.
— Bipartisan legislation to ban flavored e-cigarettes was introduced in both the House and the Senate, as vaping related illnesses topped 500 nationwide. The White House is also facing a backlash from conservatives over its support for banning those products.
— Anthony Scaramucci weighed in on why he thinks Trump won’t move on marijuana before the election — it might help him with moderates, but not with his base.
IT’S FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 20. WELCOME TO POLITICO’S DAILY CANNABIS NEWSLETTER. You knew Seth Rogen was an actor, but did you know he also in the marijuana business? He recently created a PSA about National Expungement Week, which starts next week. Be sure to keep sending us cannabis news, tips or feedback — to firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter at @natsfert. And follow us on Twitter: @POLITICOPro. Read about our mission in our inaugural issue.
HOUSE VOTES ON BANKING NEXT WEEK — Cannabis banking news evolved by the minute on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Here’s where things stand:
Main sponsors claim they have the votes. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) told Natalie the bill will move next week, and that he thinks he has the votes to call for a “motion for suspension” on the bill — passage with limited debate and no amendments, requiring a two-thirds majority.
This is not your mother’s banking bill. If your mother voted on it in the House Financial Services Committee this past spring, that is. While the bill’s sponsors hope it will pass the floor without amendments, they already have done a lot of tweaking since it breezed through committee. Paul, along with our colleague Zach Warmbrodt, got their hands on a new version of the banking legislation, which has two key additions:
— The first is that banks doing business with hemp companies won’t face federal punishment. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed hard for hemp legalization in last year’s farm bill. The other would prevent the revival of an Obama-era program known as Operation Choke Point. It aimed to cut off the banking system from wrongdoing by merchants.
— “The hemp language I predict will get Sen. McConnell’s attention,” Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) told Zach. “The anti-Choke Point language I predict will get [Senate Banking Chairman Mike] Crapo’s attention.”
So what? Both of these additions were designed to make the bill more palatable to Republicans, in the House and also probably in the Senate. House sponsors don’t just want to pass the bill; they want to pass it by a huge majority, to put more pressure on the Senate. And in the Senate, the bill needs every extra little bump it can get to move through committee and make it through McConnell to the Senate floor.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), though, told Natalie there’s a “strong possibility” she would consider voting “no” on the floor if banking moves before criminal justice reform legislation. If banking passes first, she said, “the winners of the war on drugs are going to become the winners on legalization. … This is only going to worsen the racial wealth gap and increase the legacy of the war on drugs.” Ocasio-Cortez is not a co-sponsor of the bill, but she did vote for it in the House Financial Services Committee. Sen. Chuck Schumer gave her a shout out over her position.
DURBIN DIGS BANKING — Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is a new attendee at the cannabis banking party. He signed on as a co-sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act on Thursday.
The context: Illinois legalized marijuana earlier this year, but Durbin has been wishy-washy on marijuana since that happened. In July, he said medical marijuana was “almost a laughing matter” because of the outrageous claims of budtenders he witnessed in Illinois’ medical dispensaries. But since then, he has introduced a bill to reclassify marijuana, which would provide more avenues for research.
SENATE PROPOSES USDA FUNDING FOR HEMP — The Senate Appropriations Committee advanced a bill that would allocate $16.5 million for the USDA to implement hemp regulations, POLITICO’s Liz Crampton reports. The bill also contains $2.5 million for hemp research. It’s unclear when the Senate will vote on the spending bill.
ANTI-VAPING BILLS INTRODUCED AS ILLNESSES SPIKE — Bipartisan legislation that would ban flavored e-cigarettes was introduced in both the House and Senate, echoing calls by President Donald Trump to outlaw the products that critics blame for a huge spike in teen vaping. Meanwhile, the number of vaping-related illnesses climbed to 530 and eight deaths across 38 states and one territory, according to the CDC.
What’s happening on the Hill? Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced legislation that would ban flavored e-cigarettes and apply existing tobacco taxes to e-cigarettes, POLITICO’s Burgess Everett reports. A similar measure was dropped by Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) and Pete King (R-N.Y.) in the House. That bill would also jack up taxes on traditional cigarettes, as well as smokeless tobacco products.
The Trump administration faces huge backlash from conservatives over its support for banning flavored e-cigarettes. The White House organized — and then quickly canceled — a meeting Thursday with frustrated conservative policy leaders to try to tamp down anger among traditional allies, four individuals with knowledge of the meeting told POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman and Dan Diamond.
What about marijuana? Largely missing from the conversation in Washington: many mentions of THC vapes, which have been linked to many of the illnesses. That’s undoubtedly in large part because the federal government can’t regulate an industry that’s still deemed illegal at the federal level — despite the rapid spread of state-legal markets and teen use of cannabis-based e-cigs:
POLITICO Pro Explains: Subscribers to POLITICO Pro Cannabis will have access to exclusive cannabis policy explainer graphics. Check out a sample graphic: Students report increase in cannabis vaping.
NIH FUNDS CANNABIS RESEARCH — The National Institutes of Health awarded $3 million in grants to investigate the potential therapeutic effects of cannabis. Funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the studies look into the analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties of the cannabis plant. “There’s an urgent need for more effective and safer options” for pain treatment, director of NCCIH Helene Langevin said in a statement, referencing the opioid crisis. Historically, marijuana advocates have decried the agency for funding research primarily devoted to studying the harms of cannabis.
LAWMAKERS URGE FDA TO REGULATE CBD — The cannabis compound is a booming health-and-wellness trend that has flourished outside of federal regulations. Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and James Comer (R-Ky.) sent a letter to the FDA on Thursday, urging the agency hurry up and provide legal clarity for hemp farmers and CBD producers. “We are discouraged by FDA’s estimation that a rulemaking process could span 3 to 5 years,” read the letter, which was co-signed by two dozen other members of Congress.
Not so fast, said the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Consumer Federation of American in a letter to senators on Thursday. The two organizations urge Congress “not to force the agency’s hand on CBD, and not to set out an exceedingly tight timeline for its decisions.” Rushing to make judgments about the little-studied compound could impact consumer safety, they argued.
THE MOOCH TALKS TO MARIJUANA INVESTORS — Anthony Scaramucci may not personally partake in marijuana consumption, but he did show up earlier this week at the Kahner Global Cannabis Private Investment Summit in New York. He returned to the investment firm he founded after his short stint in government, where he has run cannabis sessions at the firm’s conference in Las Vegas. Investors chuckled as The Mooch cracked jokes about how everyone was high when they elected President Donald Trump. We caught up with Scaramucci afterwards; here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Why do you think Trump is not going to legalize marijuana before the election?
Scaramucci: Because of my analysis of what I know about the voting patterns of the Evangelical and the Christian community. This is my opinion, it’s not a campaign opinion. The president’s biggest fear is making sure that the levels of participation in his proverbial base are at as high or higher than they were in 2016, so I think in marijuana legalization before the election would hurt. It Could help them with moderates. But moderates have decided that they’re not really for him.
How do you see the lobbying landscape influencing legislation?
Scaramucci: The marijuana industry is going to need to amp up their lobbying if they want to get something to happen after 2020.
How do you approach this from an investment standpoint?
Scaramucci: I come from a family of people that have had drug and alcohol related diseases. Marijuana is usually considered a gateway drug. So I have made an intellectual decision not to invest in it. Having said that, I am for its legalization. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t [invest] or other people shouldn’t.
VAST MAJORITY OF AMERICANS WANT BETTER TESTING FOR MARIJUANA IMPAIRMENT — More than three-quarters of Americans support developing a sobriety test cops can use to determine whether a driver suspected of marijuana use is too impaired to drive, according to results from a new poll commissioned by the American Property Casualty Insurance Association. That includes 54 percent who say it’s very important to develop such a test, as well as 23 percent who indicated that it’s somewhat important.
Similarly, more than eight in 10 respondents indicated that they want policymakers to create an intoxication standard for driving under the influence of marijuana. A slightly lower share of Americans — 73 percent — support spending federal dollars to help develop such a standard. See the rest of the polling results and methodology.
Why does this matter? Impaired driving has become a growing concern as marijuana legalization spreads across the country. During state legislative debates earlier this year, legalization opponents frequently cited concerns about traffic safety as a top argument against allowing anyone over the age of 21 to purchase marijuana.
THC TESTING COMING TO FLORIDA — State Sen. Rob Bradley said Florida’s law enforcement agencies will soon have access to a new field test that will be able to detect THC levels in suspected marijuana, POLITICO Pro Florida’s Arek Sarkissian reports. The senator previously sponsored legislation to legalize and regulate hemp cultivation. The new law caused problems for law enforcement across the state due to a lack of testing to differentiate between marijuana and hemp.
It’s not just Florida: Local prosecutors and police departments across the country are wrestling with the unintended consequences of hemp legalization laws. Prosecutors in Texas, Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere have set new policies to step back from marijuana enforcement in the absence of affordable testing for THC levels in cannabis.
NH GOV VETO ON HOME CULTIVATION STANDS — The New Hampshire Senate fell three votes short of overriding the governor’s veto on a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana patients to grow their own cannabis. But lawmakers in both chambers overrode the governor’s veto on a different bill concerning doctor recommendations for medical marijuana.
RAPIDLY GROWING CANNABIS INDUSTRY A BOON FOR SCOTTS MIRACLE-GRO — Hydroponics has become a big part of ScottsMiracle-Gro’s business in recent years. It now accounts for roughly 25 percent of revenues and it’s growing by double digits. What’s driving a lot of that growth? The burgeoning cannabis industry.
“Our mission in life is to help people grow things,” Jim King, ScottsMiracle-Gro executive vice president for investor relations and corporate affairs, told Paul. “We are neutral about what you grow.”
King and other officials from the Marysville, Ohio-based corporation were on Capitol Hill recently talking with lawmakers about the need to pass cannabis banking legislation. The company also backs the STATES Act, which would allow state markets where marijuana is legal to operate without fear of federal punishment. But King cautioned that trying to pass more comprehensive legalization legislation could backfire.
“I think if you try to do too much too soon on this issue you’re going to lose a lot of bipartisan support,” he said.
— An Air Force veteran directed a documentary about fellow vets who opt to use medical marijuana over pharmaceuticals. Steve Ellmore’s film will premiere at a Miami film festival on Sept. 28.
— Nevada cities are struggling with how to handle marijuana licensing as local government officials deal with the fallout from a legal challenge by cannabis companies.
— The Coors Brewing Company will soon start distributing CBD-infused beverages in Colorado. The regional division of brewing giant Molson Coors is experimenting in Colorado as it waits for federal CBD regulations.