Politics

Pols Say Pot Reforms Could Accelerate

avatar Hilary Corrigan / Jul 13, 2020

Issues of systemic racism can no longer be separated from cannabis policy, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said at a Monday webinar.

In the wake of nationwide anti-racism protests, this once-radical perspective seems to have reached a more mainstream audience. During the event, hosted by NJ Cannabis Insider and marketing firm Advance 360, McGovern pointed to national momentum in recent weeks for decriminalization and other cannabis reforms which have languished for years.

The event, like many similar discussions happening at the moment, focused on the intersection of cannabis and criminal justice reform.  McGovern repeated his calls for decriminalizing and de-scheduling cannabis. He also stressed the need for safe banking and restorative justice.

The Congressman blamed Republican leadership for blocking any discussion or debate of cannabis-related policies for years. He sees a shift now. “The American people got tired of waiting and they demanded action,” he said.

“Change is coming,” McGovern said, crediting public pressure. He acknowledged, “It may take another year and another Senate and another president.”

The Democrat-led House has shown a willingness to act. Last year, it passed the SAFE Banking Act which would enable state-legal cannabis companies to access financial services. After the bipartisan House vote, the bill stalled at the Senate Banking Committee chaired by Idaho Republican Mike Crapo. 

In coming months, McGovern expects the House Judiciary Committee to develop legislation for expunging records for past cannabis offenses. He said the House could also pass a version of the STATES Act, initially proposed in the Senate with bipartisan sponsors, that would protect state-legal cannabis activity from federal prosecution. He also supports ending 280E, a federal tax the industry considers unfair and excessive.

“This is common sense,” McGovern said. “The states are way ahead of the federal government.”

The pandemic has slowed efforts to advance legislation, however, and Senate leadership remains a hurdle. The Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden does not support legalizing cannabis, but he favors decriminalization, accelerating MED research and allowing states to set their own rules for REC.

“Clearly, he’s evolving in the right direction,” McGovern said.

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Great growth potential

The webinar also reviewed state efforts to foster so-called “equity” businesses started by Black and Latino entrepreneurs.

Illinois opened its REC market in January with provisions designed to repair some of the harm from the war on drugs. The state’s program reduces licensing and application fees for social equity applicants. It also creates a revolving, low-interest $30M loan fund for equity entrepreneurs.

Illinois law also allows for expunging more than 700,000 records of cannabis arrests and convictions. According to the state, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) had expunged 11,017 as of early June.

In the webinar, Toi Hutchinson, a former state senator who now serves as Pritzker’s senior advisor for cannabis control, stressed that reforms like SAFE Banking and the end of 280E would benefit equity entrepreneurs. In her view, the  status quo benefits large, well-financed corporations which have the money to navigate pot’s complex legal situation.