The House of Representatives made history this week (and no, this has nothing to do with impeachment…). For the first time ever, one chamber of Congress brought up and passed a standalone cannabis measure – and it has marijuana advocates cheering because it sailed through by a completely lopsided, and utterly bipartisan, vote of 321-103.
“Today’s vote is historic. The House of Representatives took the most significant step thus far in addressing our outdated and out-of-touch federal cannabis laws,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the head of the House Cannabis Caucus, released in a statement after the vote. “It never made any sense to deny state-legal cannabis businesses access to banking services. It only seriously disadvantaged these businesses.”
A part of the pitch from pot-proponents was the narrow scope of the legislation, which didn’t touch on legalization or decriminalization. It merely recognized that voters or legislative bodies in more than 33 states, the nation’s capital city and some US territories now have cannabis businesses with stockpiles of cash sitting around that most banks won’t accept. The banks won’t take the money because the federal government still views marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, LSD, and co.
“Our bill is focused solely on taking cash off the streets and making our communities safe,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Col.), a lead sponsor of the legislation, said in his floor speech ahead of the vote. “Only Congress can take these steps to provide this certainty for businesses, employees and financial institutions across the country.”
Perlmutter teamed up with the bipartisan coalition of Reps. Steve Stivers (R-OH), Denny Heck (D-WA) and Warren Davidson (R-OH) to craft and usher the once-controversial piece of legislation over the finish line in the House. And the number of supporters is staggering in today’s hyper-partisan Congress.
That’s why supporters were gushing after the vote – and it wasn’t just because of the historic nature of the vote. They also secured enough bipartisan votes to override any potential veto threat that could come from this increasingly erratic White House that’s sent mixed signals on marijuana policy since President Donald Trump entered the Oval Office back in 2017.
“First of all you got a bill on cannabis heard on the floor – passed by a supermajority,” Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) told Wikileaf while basically gushing after the vote.
While Correa wants to provide protection for his locally legally, yet still federally prohibited, marijuana businesses, he says the legislation has international implications. He offers the example of the ambassador of Uruguay coming to him about a year ago basically begging for assistance.
“He said, ‘I need your help.’ And I said, ‘I’m not Uruguayan my brother, [but] what can I help you with?’” Correa said. “He says, ‘We’re 3 million people and we just legalized cannabis, but we’re afraid to bank it because we may run afoul of US banking laws. And then you guys would kick us out of your banking system and it would devastate our economy.’”
With the US dollar still the number one currency recognized, accepted and trusted across the globe, the fear from the many nations – even Canada – who have legalized cannabis is palpable. That’s why securing the support of 91 Republicans and one Independent is seen as a seismic shift on Capitol Hill. Supporters say the dam is breaking.
“With a lot of Republicans, they’ve got to cross the Rubicon in voting for their first marijuana bill in order to make progress,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a libertarian-leaning lawmaker who has been a cheerleader for cannabis even as his home state still forbids it for recreational use, told Wikileaf. “I think there’s broad agreement that having $20 billion bounce around outside of the financial system is a bad idea, so hopefully this will get people in Congress moving closer to where the country is – which is far broader acceptance of marijuana.”
Now the big question is ‘what’s next?’ And for that Gaetz cautions Democrats not to get too far ahead of themselves. He wants to fully reschedule marijuana – decriminalizing it eventually – but, for now, he’ll settle for at least getting it knocked off the list of substances the US government has dubbed the biggest enemies to the health and safety of the American public.
“I’m an incrementalist when it comes to marijuana policy,” Gaetz said. “I think you get what you can get when you can get it.”
And now all eyes are turning to the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has remained a staunch opponent of marijuana, even as he helped usher through last year’s farm bill that legalized hemp production and the use of any of its derivatives, which has led to the nation’s booming CBD marketplace.
While McConnell is still the wild card in Washington, his work on helping overhaul the nation’s hemp and CBD marketplace gives pot-proponents like Gaetz hope.
“Sen. McConnell was very helpful on the hemp [and CBD] issue,” Gaetz said. “And it may show some evolution on his part.”
Where he’s at in that evolutionary process remains a great unknown, but it’s surely something the majority of the 321 members of the 435 member House will remind him of as they’re gearing up for their next elections while trying to protect the greenest of green home state products their states have to offer.