More than a dozen pending congressional bills sit, waiting for committee hearings and the support of additional sponsors. But while 2017’s federal legislation season sees little hope for a vote in either chamber, that didn’t stop more than 240 citizen lobbyists from storming the offices of friendly and opposed congressional offices, May 15-17, for the 7th annual version of the NCIA Lobby Days.
As they have done for years, constituent business owners shared stories of hardship from onerous, IRS section 280-E rules (creating high business taxes averaging 60 to 70%), experiences of pricey or non-existent access to banking and credit unions, and a continuing push-back against the “anti-science bias” brought by attorney general Jeff Sessions, vilifying the positive patient reports from medical marijuana options. In years past, the “hands-off” attitude of the former Obama administration gave Lobby Day visitors some level of comfort, but the daily whirlwind, Trump administration mini-scandals gave cannabis supporters some break with staffers.
Building on a positive, but fairly powerless, base in both the House and Senate democratic leaders who had been the only cannabis supporters 3 and 4 years back. Co-signers and top cannabis supportive legislators have grown, and most supportive states (counted by NORML’s annual “most supportive” list) include California (9 members), Oregon, Illinois, New York and Colorado.
In March, freshman Congressman Thomas Garrett (R-VA) introduced the same bill brought last year by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), which would remove all marijuana classification from the Controlled Substances Act. Movement in Virginia to add medical, and other Democratic member support by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Garrett’s co-sponsor Rep. Scott W. Taylor (R-VA) has helped push Virginia into a pro-cannabis leadership role, right in the important DC bedroom communities.
“This step allows states to determine appropriate medicinal use and allows for industrial hemp growth, something that will provide a major economic boost to agricultural development in Southside Virginia.” Thomas Garrett
Some NCIA group lobbyists also came back to Senators who’s state’s have — or in 2018 — will have adult-use legal options in their states. Important in any continuing search for support are those Republicans like Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Rep. Matt Gaetz (both south Florida Republicans), Rep. Darren Soto (D-Orlando) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who have all signaled their independence from the “war on drugs” mantra being re-issued by AG Sessions. Perhaps the greatest Democratic disappointment continues to be the adamant hatred of liberalized marijuana policies from California’s Sen. Diane Feinstein, a critical member of the Senate Judiciary committee.
Other states rising to the defense of moving sane cannabis liberalization are Florida (two new bills from members introduced), New Jersey (where local legislators promised to push for a legislation bill as soon as Gov. Chris Christies‘ regime ends in one year), strong support from Hawaii and popular Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and even support from moderate Republications in Pennsylvania.
In the race to fill Jeff Session’s senate seat in the special election set for later in 2017, many supporters threw their encouragement to current Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who has called for treating marijuana policy as a states’ rights issue. “It’s important to re-visit and re-engage our key supporters, even as we expand the growing number of smart legislators who see the wisdom of backing MJ reforms now,” said a long-time Denver retailer.
At the tail end of Lobby Days, Colorado Senators Corey Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D) introduced a new bill to protect any banking interests that open account for cannabis firms. All pending, these are the captions to the federal bills addressing various areas of MJ concern:
- Small Business Tax Equity Act (bicameral)
- Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act (bicameral)
- The Veterans Equal Access Act
- Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act
- Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017
- Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2017
- LUMMA (Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act)
- Compassionate Access Act
- States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Act