Steny H. Hoyer, House Majority Leader ‘Dear Colleague’ Update On September Floor Schedule

 Confirms Legalization On Docket For Third Week Of September

August 31, 2020

Dear Colleague:

On September 8, the House will return for its Committee Work Period, to be followed on September 14 with a busy legislative work period.  I want to thank all of you for your efforts during the August District Work Period, which involved engaging closely with constituents, community leaders, and civic organizations working hard to address the COVID-19 pandemic and other pressing national challenges.  It also involved a brief return last weekend to Washington to pass the Delivering for America Act, which would end President Trump’s sabotage of the U.S. Postal Service, a vital service to American communities and to our democracy.

While we have all been waiting for the Senate to take action on the Heroes Act, it appears that the Republicans who control that chamber are not in a hurry to do their jobs and pass an emergency assistance package to help American workers and their families get through this economic and public health crisis.  If that changes, the House will return immediately to ensure that emergency assistance is delayed no further.  I will, as stated previously, provide twenty-four hours’ notice before any Floor action. The American people need this assistance, and this will continue to be our priority in September.

Looking ahead to the week of September 14, the House will consider the following pieces of legislation on the Floor.  First, we will take up a number of bills from the Education and Labor Committee, including: Rep. Fudge’s Strength in Diversity Act, Chairman Scott’s Equity and Inclusion in Education Act, and Chairman Nadler’s Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act.  All of these would further Democrats’ agenda of ensuring that American workers can succeed in our economy regardless of their race, sex, or background.  They are based on the premise that everyone ought to have a fair and equal chance to make it in America.  In addition, the House will also consider a bipartisan resolution offered by Rep. Meng condemning all forms of anti-Asian bias and bigotry related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The following week, the House will take up Chairman Nadler’s MORE Act to help restore justice to millions by decriminalizing marijuana and expunging records of nonviolent federal cannabis convictions.  Additionally, the House will consider a package of legislation reported out of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Science, Space, and Technology Committee to invest in energy innovation and clean energy development.  These bills have broad support from across the aisle and from business and environmental groups, who together recognize that Congress must lead in promoting a cleaner, more sustainable energy future that drives innovation and helps us create good jobs for American workers.  The House may also take up legislation to reauthorize our intelligence agencies and ensure that they can do their jobs free from political interference and with the latest tools to protect against foreign threats while safeguarding Americans’ civil rights.

By September 30th, Congress must complete our work on appropriations and other expiring items, such as flood insurance and surface transportation.  In July, the Democratic-led House passed legislation to fund nearly all of the government, yet to date the Senate has not held even a single markup of an appropriations bill.  At this rate, it is likely that we will have to pass a continuing resolution to keep government open past the end of this fiscal year.  While that is not ideal, the House will do its job to avert a shutdown that would only further damage our economy.

Throughout September, the Democratic-led House will show the American people what responsible governance looks like, doing its job to legislate For the People.  I thank you in advance for your hard work and contributions, and I look forward to seeing you either virtually or in person when the House returns to session.

Sincerely,

STENY H. HOYER
House Majority Leader

Colorado Senator Gardner Calls On USDA To Protect Hemp Industry

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to delay implementation of the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program Interim Final Rule (IFR), which, as currently drafted, threatens the industrial hemp industry’s potential for Colorado’s farmers and seriously undermines this growing industry.

“The United States is now poised to transition from being a world-leading hemp importer to a world-leading hemp producer, and many look to Colorado farmers for guidance and clarity for the industry because Colorado is home to one of the longest-running state hemp programs,” wrote Senator Gardner. “I have worked with my colleagues and state officials to share with the USDA Colorado’s hemp experience, encourage greater flexibility for farmers, and encourage innovation of the industry. This includes echoing comments submitted by the State of Colorado during the IFR comment period.”

“I appreciate your leadership to the nation’s farmers throughout this extraordinary challenging time. Given these challenges, it is hard to overlook the great promise that the industrial hemp industry could provide to farmers if regulation is done in the proper manner. I encourage you to delay the final implementation of the IFR and work directly with state regulators and the industry to ensure workable rules that allow the industry to thrive,” Gardner concluded.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Perdue:

I write regarding the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program Interim Final Rule (IFR), which, as currently drafted, threatens the industrial hemp industry’s potential for Colorado’s farmers and seriously undermines this burgeoning industry. I join the growing chorus of my colleagues, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and the National Industrial Hemp Council in requesting that you use your secretarial discretion to delay implementation of the final rule in order to address several outstanding issues.

The nation’s hemp industry was given an enormous boost when hemp was de-scheduled in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The United States is now poised to transition from being a world-leading hemp importer to a world-leading hemp producer, and many look to Colorado farmers for guidance and clarity for the industry because Colorado is home to one of the longest-running state hemp programs. Since 2014, Colorado’s program has grown to include about 2,600 active registrations. In 2019, there were nearly 90,000 acres of registered hemp production in the state. Colorado farmers have been at the forefront of the hemp industry, driving change and innovation across the country. The state carefully balances regulatory oversight and economic support, allowing it to have a thriving industry and be a leader to other states.

I have worked with my colleagues and state officials to share with the USDA Colorado’s hemp experience, encourage greater flexibility for farmers, and encourage innovation of the industry. This includes echoing comments submitted by the State of Colorado during the IFR comment period. Despite my communications, there remain serious concerns about how the IFR will impact the Colorado industry.

I appreciate your leadership to the nation’s farmers throughout this extraordinary challenging time. Given these challenges, it is hard to overlook the great promise that the industrial hemp industry could provide to farmers if regulation is done in the proper manner. I encourage you to delay the final implementation of the IFR and work directly with state regulators and the industry to ensure workable rules that allow the industry to thrive.

125 Groups Urge Congressional Action On The MORE Act

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Drug Policy Alliance, and 123 other national and state organizations today called on House Leadership to swiftly advance the bipartisan Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 3884) to the House floor when Congress returns in September. The MORE Act, the most comprehensive marijuana justice legislation to be considered in Congress, is needed now more than ever to alleviate economic hardship caused by COVID-19 and meet the calls for justice reform echoing all across America.

“In November 2019, the House Judiciary Committee made history when it advanced the MORE Act, becoming the first congressional body to vote favorably for a marijuana de-scheduling bill. Since that time, the circumstances of 2020 have made the failed War on Drugs even more untenable and amplified the voices of those demanding transformation in our criminal legal system. In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before. The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward,” the groups said in the letter.

The MORE Act, a sweeping marijuana measure that addresses criminal justice reform, racial justice, and equity, would:

  • Remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, thus decriminalizing the substance at the federal level and enabling states to set their own policy, expanding research opportunities, and broadening access to medical marijuana to underserved populations such as veterans.
  • Emphasize reparative justice, establishing social equity programs that acknowledge those who have been most impacted under criminalization by building community infrastructure and diversifying the regulated marijuana marketplace.
  • Provide for the expungement and re-sentencing of marijuana offenses.
  • Prevent the government from denying an individual federal benefits, student financial aid, or security clearances needed to obtain government jobs because of marijuana use.
  • Protect non-citizens from immigration consequences due to marijuana activity, including non-citizens working in state-legal marijuana marketplaces.

The MORE Act is supported by the Marijuana Justice Coalition as well 125 national and state organizations.

The signatories and letter are available here.

House Approves Blumenauer Amendment To Protect Cannabis Programs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:  As national support for federal marijuana legalization continues to climb, the U.S. House of Representatives today approved important legislation to protect state, territory, and tribal cannabis programs from federal interference.

The amendment, introduced by U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Barbara Lee (D-CA), was approved 254–163 and would ensure legal cannabis programs in Oregon and dozens of other states, territories, and tribal lands are protected from Department of Justice intervention.

“The American people are demanding a change to our outdated cannabis laws and I am glad to see my colleagues heeding their calls,” Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said. “As we work to ultimately end the senseless prohibition of cannabis and the failed war on drugs, these amendments will help ensure the protection of legal state, territory and tribal cannabis programs.”

“For far too long, our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in our discriminatory past and have continued inflicting harm on communities of color. As the public’s views toward cannabis have evolved, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies follow suit and move toward restorative justice,” Lee said. “I’m proud to have worked alongside Reps. Blumenauer, McClintock, and Holmes Norton on this crucial amendment to protect the progress states, tribes, and territories have made toward ending the discriminatory war on drugs.”

A copy of the amendment approved Thursday by the House can be found here.

And here’s a video of Blumenauer speaking in support of the amendment today on the House floor.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee Applauds Passage of Amendment to Protect State, Territory, and Tribal Cannabis Programs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, today applauded the passage of the Blumenauer, McClintock, Holmes Norton, Lee amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science Department funding bill. The measure, which would prevent the Department of Justice from using its funds to impede the implementation of cannabis programs in states, territories, and tribes, passed in a 254-163 vote. 

“For far too long, our federal cannabis policies have been rooted in our discriminatory past and have continued inflicting harm on communities of color. As the public’s views toward cannabis have evolved, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our policies follow suit and move toward restorative justice,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “I’m proud to have worked alongside Reps. Blumenauer, McClintock, and Holmes Norton on this crucial amendment to protect the progress states, tribes, and territories have made toward ending the discriminatory war on drugs.”

“The American people are demanding a change to our outdated cannabis laws and I am glad to see my colleagues heeding their calls,” said Rep. Blumenauer, founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. “As we work to ultimately end the senseless prohibition of cannabis and the failed war on drugs, these amendments will help ensure the protection of legal state, territory and tribal cannabis programs.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Defense Bill Amendment Removes DOD CBD/Hemp Prohibition

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, secured an amendment to the annual national defense bill that would ensure that the U.S. Department of Defense may not prohibit the possession, use, or consumption of hemp products — in compliance with applicable Federal, State, and local law — by servicemembers. This would apply to hemp that meets the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 definition (amended by the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018). The Gabbard amendment was included in the final version of the bill which passed on Tuesday, 295-125, and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

“There is great research being done around hemp, resulting in new products coming to market that are proven to help with ailments like insomnia, inflammation, chronic pain, epilepsy, Traumatic Brain Injury, Post-Traumatic Stress and more. Hemp products provide a form of treatment that serves as an alternative option for those who would rather pursue natural remedies rather than prescription drugs. This amendment passed with strong bipartisan support, ensuring our servicemembers have access to the same over-the-counter products that Americans all across the country benefit from today,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

The 2018 Farm Bill, known as the Agricultural Improvement Act, legalized hemp, defined as cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low concentrations of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis). Currently, many over-the-counter products are sold that meet these parameters.

Pritzker Administration Announces Fourth Month Sales Totals For Illinois Adult Use Cannabis

State’s new adult-use cannabis industry generated more than $37 million in sales in April

ILLINOIS: The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has announced preliminary numbers show statewide adult-use cannabis sales in April totaled $37,260,497.89. Dispensaries across the state sold 818,954 items over the 30-day period. Sales to Illinois residents totaled $29,735,650.41, while sales to out-of-state residents totaled $7,524,847.47. These figures do not include taxes collected. A portion of every cannabis sale will be reinvested in communities harmed most by the failed war on drugs.

Medical and adult use cannabis dispensaries remain open as part of the essential businesses and operations named in Governor Pritzker’s executive order signed on March 20, 2020. Both sides of the cannabis industry were included to ensure the cannabis supplier industry protects medical cannabis patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the revenue generated by adultuse cannabis sales funds the important social justice and equity goals at the core of Illinois’ adult-use law.

“Our top priority is to ensure consumers are safe when they go to a dispensary to purchase cannabis,” said Toi Hutchinson, Senior Advisor for Cannabis Control to Gov. Pritzker. “The steps we’ve taken to increase social distancing at dispensaries are accomplishing that, while also enabling this new industry to continue to grow. As such, curbside pickup will remain an option for medical cannabis users to obtain the product they need through May 30.”

Dispensaries are permitted to sell medical cannabis outside of their limited access area on their property or on a public walkway or curb adjacent to the dispensary. Medical cannabis patients will be able to continue to utilize their designated caregiver to purchase medicine for them. However, dispensaries may not deliver medical cannabis to a patient or caregiver’s home. These rules do not apply to adult-use cannabis sales; those must still take place inside the limited access area. A complete list of the rules extended may be found here.

U.S. House Of Representatives Approves Cannabis Banking Reform In Larger COVID-19 Relief Package

Lawmakers voted 208-199 (23 not voting) in favor of coronavirus “HEROES” relief package

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: On Friday evening (5/15/20) lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives passed additional coronavirus relief legislation to provide continued economic and government support to the country. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act includes the language of the SAFE Banking Act, which would prevent federal financial regulators from punishing financial institutions that provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, cannabis businesses across the country have been deemed essential and continue to operate. However, many of these businesses still lack access to the same financial services that are granted to every other industry in the United States. Because it is possible that coronavirus can be transmitted on currency — placing private industry and government workers at risk when handling large amounts of cash — allowing the cannabis industry to access banking services is now more crucial than ever. This policy change would also ensure that small and minority-owned businesses can access the financial assistance designed for them in many state programs.

The HEROES Act, which includes provisions to allow banks and financial institutions to provide services to the cannabis industry without fear of criminal prosecution, will now head to the Senate for consideration. In September 2019, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act, but the legislation has since stalled in the Senate.

Statement from Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project:
“I’m encouraged that the House recognizes the urgency of this issue and has taken this strong and necessary position. We thank Chairwoman Maxine Waters and Rep. Ed Perlmutter for their leadership on the issue.

“Continuing to exclude the cannabis industry from accessing basic and essential financial services during this time will result in more harm than good. Not only will it make the country’s economic recovery that much harder, but the provisions intended to help minority-owned businesses would continue to be absent within the industry.”

Statement from Don Murphy, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project:
“In light of the public health and public safety benefits of this specific change in policy, the Senate has good reason to pass this language into law. This is a change in policy that the banks are asking for even more than the cannabis companies. We urge the Senate Banking Committee to adopt the SAFE Banking provisions to ensure financial institutions can provide basic banking services to businesses that are compliant with state law.”

Read more

Senator Harris, Colleagues Call On Congressional Leaders To Ensure Cannabis Small Businesses Can Access Emergency SBA Loan & Grant Programs

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday joined Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and 7 of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Congressional leadership calling for forthcoming COVID-19 relief legislative packages to allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and indirect cannabis small businesses to access loan and emergency grant programs administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

In the letter, the Senators highlight the failings of current regulations that exclude small businesses with “direct” or “indirect” products or services that aid the use, growth, enhancement, or other development of cannabis from SBA-backed financing, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). These outdated regulations have left taxpaying, state-legal cannabis small businesses behind during this crisis.

“The cannabis industry supports more than 240,000 workers in the United States, spanning 33 states and the District of Columbia. Some of these jobs have already been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, and there is significant risk of greater job loss in the coming months. Many cannabis businesses are small-to-medium size operators, and some have been ordered to close to comply with state public health safety measures without having access to the same support systems in place as other small businesses in different sectors,” wrote the Senators.

“Given the nature of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that every American small business has the capacity to protect the health and economic wellbeing of their community and workforce. Therefore, we ask Senate Leadership to include in any future relief package provisions to allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and the small businesses who work with this industry to access the critical SBA support they need during these challenging and unprecedented times,” concluded the Senators.

In addition to Harris, Rosen, and Wyden, the letter was signed by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

Thank you for your ongoing efforts to address the needs of the American people during the COVID-19 crisis. We write to ask that forthcoming COVID-19 relief legislation allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and indirect marijuana small businesses to access emergency loan and grant programs administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Access to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program will allow these small businesses to keep their workers on payroll and prevent further job losses that are devastating the economy. The coronavirus crisis demands relief for all workers and businesses, no matter the sector.

The cannabis industry supports more than 240,000 workers in the United States, spanning 33 states and the District of Columbia. Some of these jobs have already been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis, and there is significant risk of greater job loss in the coming months. Many cannabis businesses are small-to-medium size operators, and some have been ordered to close to comply with state public health safety measures without having access to the same support systems in place as other small businesses in different sectors.

SBA’s current regulations exclude small businesses with “direct” or “indirect” products or services that aid the use, growth, enhancement, or other development of cannabis from SBA-backed financing, including PPP and EIDL. Consequently, small business owners in states with some form of legal cannabis must choose between remaining eligible for SBA loan programs, or doing business with or in a rapidly-growing and legal industry.

Workers at state-legal cannabis small businesses are no different from workers at any other small business—they show up to work every day, perform their duties, and most importantly, work to provide for their families. This lack of access to SBA assistance for cannabis small businesses will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary layoffs, reduced hours, pay cuts, and furloughs for the workers who need support the most. The COVID-19 outbreak is no time to permit outdated federal policy to stand in the way of the reality that state-legal cannabis small businesses are sources of economic growth and financial stability for thousands of workers and families.

Given the nature of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we must ensure that every American small business has the capacity to protect the health and economic wellbeing of their community and workforce. Therefore, we ask Senate Leadership to include in any future relief package provisions to allow state-legal cannabis small businesses and the small businesses who work with this industry to access the critical SBA support they need during these challenging and unprecedented times.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Virginia Governor Northam Signs Bold New Laws To Reform Criminal Justice

House Bill 972 decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana and creates a $25 civil penalty

VIRGINIA: Governor Ralph Northam has signed into law criminal justice reform legislation that he proposed in January. The package includes measures raising the felony larceny threshold; permanently eliminating driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fines, fees, and court costs; raising the age of juvenile transfer to adult court; and reforming parole.

The Governor’s package also includes decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana and sealing the records of prior convictions. The Governor proposed that a study be completed to assess the impact of fully legalizing marijuana in the Commonwealth.

“Every Virginian deserves access to a fair and equitable criminal justice system,” said Governor Northam. “These bills combat mass incarceration, increase support for returning citizens, and ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have a meaningful second chance. I thank the General Assembly for working with us to build a more just and inclusive Commonwealth.”

Governor Northam signed the following bills:

  • House Bill 1196 and Senate Bill 1 repeal the requirement that the driver’s license of a person convicted of any violation of the law who fails or refuses to provide for immediate payment of fines or costs be suspended. The bill requires the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to return or reinstate any person’s driver’s license that was suspended prior to July 1, 2019, solely for nonpayment of fines or costs, without a reinstatement fee.
  • House Bill 477 and Senate Bill 546 raise the age when a Commonwealth’s Attorney can transfer a juvenile to be tried as an adult without court approval from 14 to 16.
  • House Bill 909 and Senate Bill 513 end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-driving related offenses, including drug offenses and theft of motor fuel.
  • House Bill 974 and Senate Bill 511 modify the current standards for writs of actual innocence. Currently, individuals may pursue writs of actual innocence under very narrow circumstances, which limits access to relief and places additional burdens on the pardon process.
  • House Bill 277 and Senate Bill 736 provide that a court may permit an inmate to earn credits against any fines and court costs imposed against him by performing community service. Under current law, credits may be earned only before or after imprisonment.

The Governor proposed two amendments:

  • House Bill 972 decriminalizes simple possession of marijuana and creates a $25 civil penalty. The bill seals the records of convictions and prohibits employers from inquiring about past convictions. The bill creates a work group to study the impact of legalization of marijuana. Governor Northam proposes to require that report by November 30, 2021.
  • House Bill 33 and Senate Bill 793, the “Fishback” bills, make individuals sentenced by juries between 1995 and 2000 eligible for parole consideration. Parole was abolished in Virginia in 1995, however juries were not instructed of this change until 2000 following a court ruling. The Governor proposes adding an “emergency clause” to the measure.

“As a lawyer, I believe in justice, and that means we must aspire to a legal system that promotes equality under the law,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “I also believe in fairness, transparency, and compassion. These new laws strengthen our criminal justice system, and I thank Governor Northam for signing them into law.”

“Virginia’s old laws often led to too many black and brown people getting harsher punishments than the majority of Virginians,” said Senator Louise Lucas. “I appreciate Governor Northam signing these new laws that will help bring equity to our criminal justice system.”

“The Governor put forward a criminal justice reform legislative package that was historic and transformative,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “The elimination of driver’s license suspensions for unpaid fees and fines and non-driving related offenses will affect hundreds of thousands of people, and the raising of the felony threshold is a simple matter of justice and fairness. This administration continues to demonstrate its dedication to comprehensive criminal justice reform.”