As lawmakers in both parties rushed to catch their flights out of Washington and back to their respective homes last week, an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority of both chambers agreed to give cannabis users and some business owners a heaping pile of coal as one of their last official acts of 2019.
That’s because the bill to keep the government’s lights on through the 2020 election also included some damning omissions along with a prohibition that leaves industry members in the nation’s capital right back where they were when Republicans controlled the U.S. House a year ago.
But because members of both parties had other priorities, the changes were barely noticed by the nation’s political class – whether Republicans or Democrats.
“I didn’t realize that till you just said that,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Col.) told Wikileaf. “That’s the problem when you do, like, an omnibus bill.”
The so-called “must-pass” piece of legislation was negotiated in secret by a mere four lawmakers – with constant input from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of course – who stripped bipartisan provisions from a House version that were meant to extend current federal protections for medical marijuana companies to their recreational cannabis counterparts in the states and tribes that have legalized.
Those powerful lawmakers, with Pelosi and McConnell’s blessings, didn’t stop there. They also killed a bipartisan provision that would have enabled veterans to get Department of Veterans Affairs loans if they’re involved in the cannabis industry, along with another bipartisan one meant to act as a shield for the banks clamoring to service the nation’s burgeoning marijuana industry.
Rep. DeGette’s a top ally of Pelosi, so even after telling Wikileaf she had no idea why so many cannabis provisions were allowed to be killed by her party – which now has a much-publicized seat at the negotiating table – she passed the blame to McConnell and President Donald Trump.
“It is a shame,” DeGette said. “It is a shame – some of these provisions were broadly agreed to on a bipartisan basis, that’s why we need to win the Senate and the White House.”
Pro-cannabis Republicans beg to differ. Now that most Democratic presidential candidates are calling for infusing tax dollars from marijuana legalization back into the communities most impacted by the war on drugs, some on the GOP worry the entire Democratic Party is trying to help their party’s chances of recapturing the White House in 2020 by stacking the cannabis deck against the GOP.
“Rather than incrementally improving our cannabis policies with sound judgment, they’re choosing to attempt to shoot the moon with either reparations as a part of cannabis policy or nothing,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told Wikileaf. “That will result in patients in my state likely getting nothing. [It’s] very sad.”
The thing is, even behind closed doors it takes Pelosi and McConnell to agree to such a sweeping $1.37 trillion government funding measure. That means both parties share the blame, whether they want you to know it or not. And it makes this Congress, which so many marijuana proponents maintained such hope in, just like most of the others in recent years, which is why frustration is rising in some circles.
“For the life of me, I don’t understand why – after millions of Americans have actually voted and registered their support – that this commonsense provision gets thrown in the trash,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told Wikileaf. “No debate, and defying the demonstrated interests of Americans.”
Of course, there are always the winners in these anti-marijuana debates, and the proposal included a provision to ban the District of Columbia – where voters legalized recreational cannabis back in 2014 – from establishing its own regulatory framework for cannabis. The author of that provision is cheering.
“It’s great,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told Wikileaf. “It’s great.”
Harris and his allies may have scored some points in this round, but polls show they’re increasingly out of touch even with the majority of their party’s conservative base.
“It’s really frustrating when increasingly states are legalizing marijuana, and you’ve got federal government holding everybody back,” Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) told Wikileaf.
Still, marijuana proponents like Pingree vow they’re not letting up in the New Year, even if this end of year spending bill hit many like a slap in the face.
“It’s just confusion in history,” Pingree said. “People don’t understand, you know, that states are moving beyond this.”