Controversy Over Cannabis Clause in COVID Recovery Bill

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi touched a raw nerve in America’s culture wars when she stood up for a provision long sought by the cannabis industry as a condition in the Democrats’ coronavirus recovery package. It turned into a public spat with the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and won Pelosi much derision from conservatives. 

A review of the facts reveals that, even if Pelosi did not play her cards impeccably, the provision isn’t so funny after all. And neither is the notion that cannabis is “essential” in this time of crisis.

Pelosi Plugs SAFE Banking Act

At issue is the Secure & Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has now been folded into the Democrats’ recovery package. The SAFE Banking Act passed the House last September but faces a challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate. The measure would reform banking regulations impacting institutions that handle cannabis-related accounts – allowing cannabis businesses operating in conformity with state law to access financial services. A group of attorneys general from 38 states and territories penned an open letter urging Congress to pass the bill last year.

Under current federal law, financial institutions face stiff penalties for carrying out business with cannabis enterprises, as the 1970 Controlled Substance Act classes cannabis a Schedule 1 controlled substance, with no legitimate medical purpose.  

At a July 31 press conference, Pelosi was challenged by a reporter, who said that the SAFE Banking Act was “not directly related to COVID.”

“I don’t agree with you that cannabis is not related to this,” Pelosi replied, according to a transcript from The Hill. “This is a therapy that has proven successful.”  

With Congress notoriously deadlocked on the package, it was inevitable GOP leaders would seize on this remark as propaganda ammo. 

The Democrats’ $3.4 trillion stimulus package, dubbed the Health & Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, was approved by the House in May. It notes that the controversial provision would allow “access to financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers,” while limiting the amount of cash handled by those businesses.  

Senate Republicans have countered with a $1.1 trillion package, the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection & Schools (HEALS) Act. As USA Today notes, it also includes some measures that are pretty extraneous to the COVID-19 crisis – such as approximately $1.8 billion in funding for a new FBI building at its current location in Washington, DC.

Cultural Conservatives Hit Back

McConnell (despite having shepherded through the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp and hemp-derived CBD) wasted little time in pouncing on Pelosi’s comment. 

“She said that, with respect to this virus, marijuana is ‘a therapy that has proven successful.’ You can’t make this up,” he said, according to C-SPAN footage transcribed by Marijuana Moment. He added with smug sarcasm: “I hope she shares her breakthrough with Dr. Fauci” – a reference to National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, leading figure on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted: “Incredibly irresponsible – Pelosi just doubled down on her $3 trillion dollar cannabis legislation, falsely claiming that it’s a proven therapy for coronavirus. Hey Nancy, let’s focus on the pandemic. Not pot.”

The next to pounce was the anti-legalization lobbying group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which said that including the provision “makes no sense.” 

“Numerous industries have been forced to completely shut down and have made great sacrifices to comply with shutdowns and limitations on their business operations. The marijuana industry has been a painfully obvious exception to this. This industry has used its lobbying arm to force state officials to keep their storefronts open, sued leaders who shut them down, and bragged incessantly about their revenues,” SAM President Kevin Sabet said, according to The Hill.

“Simply put, we cannot allow much-needed aid bills such as this to be loaded up with the wish lists of Big Pot,” he concluded. “Thankfully, due to conversations with key members of Congress and continued advocacy by SAM’s supporters, it is unlikely these provisions will make it to the president’s desk.”

But the National Cannabis Industry Association was just as quick with the counter-punch, stressing the importance of the industry’s ability to avoid handling cash during the pandemic.

“Given the nearly quarter of a million people employed by the cannabis industry and the potential dangers associated with being essential service providers during this pandemic, it is vital that these workers not be forced to deal with additional risks created by cash-only transactions. We strongly urge the House to pass this legislation and hope the Senate will seriously consider the health and safety impacts caused by lack of access to banking,” an NCAI official was quoted by The Hill.

Cannabis and COVID-19: What the Science Says

Pelosi admittedly committed a tactical error in implying (although not actually stating) that cannabis has “proven successful” in treating COVID-19. The Food & Drug Administration has already sent warning letters to companies making claims about the benefits of CBD products in treating coronavirus, according to USA Today.

However, granting Pelosi some wiggle room, we can note that cannabis has other therapeutic properties that become more critical in times of crisis – such as stress relief. This may be evidenced by booming sales in states that have legalized, in spite of record levels of unemployment.

But cannabinoids may indeed hold therapeutic potential for COVID-19 – even if it has not yet been “proven.” CBS News reports that scientists at the University of Nebraska and Texas Biomedical Research Institute are recommending the study of CBD as a potential treatment for lung inflammation caused by COVID-19. The scholars put out their call last month in a peer-reviewed article in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity journal.

Emily Earlenbaugh of Mindful Cannabis Consulting explained to CBSN that the researchers’ hopes pin upon CBD’s ability to affect cytokines—proteins involved in cell signaling and especially critical in inflammation and immune response. In COVID-19 patients, the immune system can overreact and release too many cytokines, creating a so-called “cytokine storm.”

“Cytokines will normally help to create inflammation to fight off infections,” Earlenbaugh said. “But in these extreme cases, you see so much cytokines being released into the system that it creates a cytokine storm. You might see high fever, inflammation, severe fatigue and nausea, and in serious cases, it can lead to death through organ failure.” 

Research has already shown CBD’s effectiveness in inhibiting production of one cytokine, known as IL-6.

An overview of the research by Project CBD notes that British medical journal The Lancet has drawn attention to “accumulating evidence” that indicates “patients with severe COVID-19 might have a cytokine storm syndrome.” A report in Science Daily cites findings that this syndrome may have been behind many of the 50 million deaths associated with the 1918-20 “Spanish flu” pandemic. A 2015 study in Mediators of Inflammation journal found CBD inhibited IL-6 cytokine production in asthma patients.

In an analysis for Project CBD, Dr. Matthew Elmes, director of new product development for California cannabis company Care By Design, saw a possible role for CBD in treating COVID-19, but warned that “clickbait headlines” risked delegitimizing the entire enterprise before the research is in.  

“Unvetted science is fueling COVID-19 misinformation,” Elmes wrote. “More than ever, we need the critical eye of scientists during the peer-review process to help vet the bullsh*t.”

TELL US, do you think cannabis businesses are essential?

The post Controversy Over Cannabis Clause in COVID Recovery Bill appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020 Headlines | Marijuana Today Daily News

Marijuana Today Daily Headlines
Tuesday, August 4, 2020 | Curated by host Shea Gunther

// Cannabis, Lies, and Foreign Cash: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through the Underground Mask Trade (Pro Publica)

// Tight capital markets – worsened by COVID-19 – derail Schwazze’s cannabis acquisitions (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Black residents made up 97% of marijuana arrests in New York state capital (Leafly (AP))


These headlines are brought to you by Green Worx Consults, a company specializing in project management, workflow mapping and design, and Lean & 6 Sigma process. If you could use help making your business better at business, get in touch with Green Worx Consults.


// Analyzing Congress’s Latest Vote To Protect Legal Marijuana States From Federal Enforcement (Marijuana Moment)

// FDA approves GW Pharmaceuticals’ cannabis drug for new indication (Marijuana Business Daily)

// Massachusetts Senator Gives Wicked Chill Marijuana Response To Blunt-Smoking Constituent (Marijuana Moment)

// Major Cannabis Companies Shun Oklahoma (Fresh Toast)

// The pandemic is eating away at the illicit marijuana market (Politico)

// Louisiana Law Allowing Medical Marijuana For Any Debilitating Condition To Take Effect (Marijuana Moment)

// Recreational marijuana sales reached almost $61 million in July, setting a record for the third month in a row (Chicago Tribune)


Check out our other projects:Marijuana Today— Our flagship title, a weekly podcast examining the world of marijuana business and activism with some of the smartest people in the industry and movement. • Marijuana Media Connect— A service that connects industry insiders in the legal marijuana industry with journalists, bloggers, and writers in need of expert sources for their stories.

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COVID-19 Sex tips from The BC Center For Disease Control

This pandemic is hitting the economy pretty hard. Orgasms are free but for loads of people, hard to come by. In the age of social distancing, getting laid has gotten scary. Living through this pandemic is stressful enough but if COVID-19 is cockblocking you, life is a special kind of hell. Thankfully, The BC Center […]

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Veteran Faces 5 Years in Prison for Medical Marijuana

For those who recall Alabama’s status during the Civil Rights era, there is a disturbing sense of a historical cycle coming around again. With the country suddenly focused on a long-overdue reckoning with racial justice, a particularly egregious case from the Deep South state has made national headlines, and cannabis is at the heart of it.

The Sean Worsley Case

Sean Worsley is an African American veteran who served in Iraq and won a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat. A traumatic brain injury and other wounds have left him with chronic pain that he treats with cannabis. He also uses the herb for post-traumatic stress — to calm his nightmares. The modest few grams (about two or three joints worth) that may land him in Alabama prison were purchased legally under the medical marijuana program in Arizona, where he lived. Currently, the COVID-19 emergency is the only thing stalling his incarceration.  

The story was broken by the local Alabama Political Reporter but has received some wider coverage, including a write-up in the Washington Post on July 14.

Back in August of 2016, Worsley and his wife Eboni were arrested on a family road trip from Arizona to Mississippi and North Carolina. After visiting Eboni’s family in Mississippi, the couple headed east to North Carolina. Their stop for gas in Alabama’s Pickens County proved to be a life changing error.

A local police officer in the town of Gordo approached the Worsleys at the gas station, telling them their music was too loud, supposedly a violation of the town’s noise ordinance. In the wry comment of progressive advocacy group Alabama Appleseed, Worsley was accosted for “playing air guitar while black.” 

The officer asked if he could search the vehicle, and the Worsleys consented, believing they had broken no laws. They were apparently unaware that cannabis is still illegal in Alabama even if purchased legally in another state. The small stash was found, along with a scale, grinder, rolling papers and a pipe. 

The officer also found some pain pills, for which Eboni had a prescription. But the pills weren’t in the original bottle, which was also deemed a crime. Some unopened bottles of alcohol were also found — a violation, as Pickens is a dry county. Both Sean and Eboni were arrested.

Sean was charged with marijuana possession—and it was bumped up to a felony because (despite the small quantity) it was deemed for “other than personal use” on the basis of the scale. Eboni was charged on the pill and liquor violations.

After the Worsleys were released on bond, they had to pay an additional $400 to get their car out of impound—and then had to have it professionally cleaned, because the venison they were bringing for Sean’s family in North Carolina went bad.

Back in Arizona, the couple fell on hard times. Sean lost his VA benefits after failing to appear for a court date back in Pickens County. Then, about a year after the bust, the Pickens County judge suddenly revoked bonds in all the cases he was hearing. Sean and Eboni had to borrow money to rush back to Alabama, under pain of not getting the bond refunded—and being charged with failing to appear in court.

Sean was able to avoid prison time in a plea agreement that included a four-figure fine and five years of probation, as well as drug treatment. The charges against Eboni were dropped. 

Sean’s VA benefits were restored in August 2019, but in order to save money, he had failed to pay the $250 renewal fee for his Arizona medical marijuana card. In a traffic stop in Arizona this year, he was arrested for possession of cannabis without a valid medical marijuana card. Now he was determined to be in violation of probation, and Pickens County demanded that he be extradited back to Alabama.

On April 28, the Pickens County judge sentenced Sean Worsley to five years in prison. He would already be serving that time if not for the fact that new sentences are temporarily on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 16, a 13th Alabama inmate died after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, according to Alabama Political Report.

Alabama’s prisons, in addition to being chronically overcrowded, are plagued by violence.

But Sean is not free. He’s being held at the Pickens County jail until he can start formally serving his sentence. And he is not being allowed release while the sentence is on appeal.

“I feel like I’m being thrown away by a country I went and served for,” Sean wrote in a letter to Alabama Appleseed. “I feel like I lost parts of me in Iraq, parts of my spirit and soul that I can’t ever get back.” 

A campaign for clemency for Worsley has been launched by the Last Prisoner Project. The family also has a GoFundMe page to raise money for his legal fight.

Medical Marijuana on Hold  

While COVID-19 is holding up the start of Sean Worsley’s prison term, the health crisis also defeated an effort to finally pass a medical marijuana law in Alabama this year. 

On March 13, the Alabama Senate approved SB 165—known as the Compassion Act—by a vote of 22-11. The Compassion Act, sponsored by Republican, Sen. Tim Melson, would allow doctors to recommend cannabis and establish a system of licensed dispensaries. It was expected to pass in the House. 

But just days after the bill passed in the Senate, Alabama’s legislative session was cut short by the health emergency. It never went to a House vote. This means it is effectively dead for this year, The Hill reports.

A similar bill made it through the Senate last year, but died in the House, WBHM public radio noted.

States the Marijuana Policy Project: “Alabama’s lack of medical marijuana protections is becoming more and more of an outlier. Thirty-three states, including Florida, Louisiana, and Arkansas, allow medical cannabis, and Mississippi voters will get to decide the issue directly in November. Polling shows 75% of Alabama voters support medical cannabis. But because Alabama doesn’t have a citizen initiative process, the only way to bring a compassionate law to the state is for state lawmakers to pass a bill.” 

Last year, Alabama’s Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a decriminalization bill that would have dropped the penalty for possession of an ounce or less to a fine of up to $250. But the House version died in committee, and the full Senate did not vote on the bill. This year, Sen. Bobby Singleton introduced a similar decriminalization bill, but it did not even clear committee before the legislature’s early adjournment.

Alabama continues to have some of the harshest cannabis laws in the United States.

TELL US, should all states recognize medical marijuana?

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Flashback to the 2017 San Francisco International Cannabis Business Conference – Toys and Trump

A lifetime has passed since my 2017, crazy trip to the San Francisco ICBC conference. Looking back, I am a little surprised and impressed with myself for going in the first place. From the beginning, I knew it would be an adventure, the circumstances guaranteed it. The green rush was in full swing with the […]

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The funny ways we beat our boredom during COVID-19

We’ve all been surviving a global pandemic by staying inside and getting baked. It’s not hard to imagine that many people were very bored. Take a stoner, ask them to stay home, give them money, make weed available… what do you get? Pure hilarious shenanigans! Thanks to smartphones, it’s all on camera! Here’s a look […]

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The Cannabis Industry and the Black Lives Matter Uprising

Since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis police force, the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement—itself galvanized six years ago by the slaying of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, MO—has come to animate what can now only be called a national uprising. No part of the country has been untouched. Large solidarity demonstrations have also been held overseas.

As in any such situation, unpredictable forces have been unleashed—as witnessed by the broken glass and looted storefronts in cities coast to coast. 

Dispensaries Looted

Cannabis dispensaries across California have been hit by looters. The East Bay Express reports that “most of the dispensaries in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland seem to have been hit.” Two outlets of the upscale national chain MedMen were among several dispensaries struck in Los Angeles.

The Cannabis Now retail store in Los Angeles was also among those hit. Cannabis Now founder and CEO Eugenio Garcia said in a statement that the looters struck last weekend—hours after a large and peaceful protest was held at the same intersection as the shop, where La Cienega Blvd. meets 3rd St., near West Hollywood. “I was threatened and assaulted and our building was ransacked for hours,” Garcia relates. “Almost everything was stolen and destroyed. As an entrepreneur this is heartbreaking.”

PHOTO Cannabis Now

Adding to the sting, the ransacking came days after the shop had re-opened after having been closed since early March due to COVID-19. “It was wonderful to have so many neighbors stop by and tell us how happy they were to see us open,” Garcia says. “Our store is currently closed again, but we will do our best to rebuild and offer a safe place for the community to come together.”

Oakland’s flagship cannabis dispensary, Harborside, which made headlines when it went public last year, has been “robbed repeatedly” over the past weeks of unrest, according to the company’s chairman emeritus, Steve DeAngelo. “We were one of dozens of California cannabis dispensaries that have been targeted,” DeAngelo tells Cannabis Now. He says the break-ins were the work not of protesters but “professional thieves who saw an opportunity.”  

Eugenio Garcia, in his statement on the sacking of the Cannabis Now store, had this message for the protesters:

“We stand with you. For a decade it has been our mission at Cannabis Now to help build an all-inclusive community surrounding the cannabis plant. Black and Latino communities are specifically targeted and incarcerated due to cannabis prohibition. Racial injustice has prevailed for far longer…

We encourage you to peacefully protest, to vote and to let your voice be heard. While you are doing that, please lift up and support the small businesses in your community who have been affected.”

War on Drugs Helped Bring Us to This Point  

What makes for the special situation of cannabis businesses at this historical juncture is that the War on Drugs—including cannabis prohibition—has been a major ticket-holder in the matrix of oppression faced by Black America. 

Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo, with personal roots as an activist long before he became an entrepreneur, especially emphasizes the social responsibilities of the cannabis community.

“I’ve always believed and continue to believe that cannabis movement needs to make racial justice an integral part of all that we do,” DeAngelo says. “We have a debt of history we need to honor and need to pay. This industry would not exist without the efforts of generations of African Americans—who were the first people to bring cannabis to North America. It’s passage from Black jazz musicians to white fans was one of the vectors to rest of America. Cannabis is a gift of the African American community to the rest of the country.” 

This history has played out in some agonizingly paradoxical ways. DeAngelo cites the case of Michael Thompson, a 68-year-old African American man who has been serving a 60-year term for selling cannabis in Michigan since 1996—in a state where it is now legal. A campaign for his release has recently been launched, in light of the danger COVID-19 poses to prisoners. Says DeAngelo: “There are 40,000 people in this country in same category of doing time for something no longer illegal in many states.” 

DeAngelo also invokes the case of Corvain Cooper, a Black man from Los Angeles who is serving a life term under the federal “three strikes” law—convicted in 2013 in a supposed conspiracy to ship cannabis out of state. His family appealed his life term, arguing that changes to California law meant that his prior convictions (all for nonviolent offenses) were no longer felonies. But the U.S. Supreme Court turned down the case. A clemency campaign for him has now been launched. He was recently transfered to a prison in Louisiana, so his family can no longer afford to visit him. In a particularly telling irony, the site of the Louisiana clothes boutique he had opened shortly before his arrest is today a cannabis dispensary.

“Can you imagine how they feel?” DeAngelo asks. “An extraordinarily rich industry is being built, and not only can you not participate but you’re still locked up. And with COVID in the prisons, you’re potentially facing a death sentence.”  

Last year, DeAngelo launched the Last Prisoner Project, a non-profit group working for, in his words, “the release of every cannabis prisoner on the planet, and helping provide the resources for them to rebuild their lives.” First, this means petitioning for “compassionate release,” DeAngelo says. “The government has the power at the stroke of a pen to grant clemency, but it’s a political risk. We’re currently having conversations with governors’ offices in legal states.” These clemency petitions are being undertaken in partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Meanwhile, DeAngelo says the Last Prisoner Project “is making funds available to pay for phone calls and medical care which are prohibitively expansive for many prisoners. We’re also aiding prisoners on release to find employment—especially in the legal cannabis industry.” 

“The cannabis industry has a responsibility to strive for racial justice, both in operational and advocacy points of view,” DeAngelo sums up. “Both the COVID and policing crises make clear how urgent this is. I don’t think it’s any more urgent now than it was a week ago, but that urgency is becoming clearer now.” 

I don’t think it’s any more urgent now than it was a week ago, but that urgency is becoming clearer now.” 

– Steve DeAngelo

Maritza Perez, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said this in a June 1 statement in response to Trump mobilizing the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Customs & Border Protection (CBP) to target protesters: “For far too long, the drug war has been used as a tactic to target, harass, assault, criminalize, and incarcerate communities of color, resulting in a social, economic, and cultural stranglehold around our necks… People of color have a right to be angry and a right to be heard. We cannot meet pleas for liberation with more state-sponsored violence. Until we defund agencies like the DEA and CBP, and remove federal incentives for local police departments, Black and Brown people will forever be gasping for air.” 

The Soul of the Cannabis Community

The War on Drugs has been identified, most prominently by writer Michelle Alexander, as a “new Jim Crow” that is again incarcerating, disenfranchising—and killing—Black people in the United States. It can be argued that, whatever new propaganda guise is now employed, the actual social function of the War on Drugs has been the same as that of legal segregation and Klan terror of an earlier era. And as indicated by the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man killed while jogging near his Georgia home in February, the outright vigilante terror of the Klan era also lives on.  

We now see the narco-stigma being employed against George Floyd, with the assertion that he had been using meth—as if that makes any difference to the moral equation whatsoever. Often in the past, cannabis has been the substance at issue in the posthumous stigmatization of victims of police terror.

And many of the police killings of unarmed Black youth that we’ve seen in recent years across the country have been linked, one way or another, to cannabis. Most notorious was the case of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, who was shot dead in his own home in the Bronx in 2012. He was killed by an NYPD officer who had followed him into the apartment after supposedly witnessing him engaged in a street deal. He was shot while attempting to flush his stash of cannabis down the toilet. The officer who killed him never faced charges

As recently as this March, an egregious incident of police abuse in Brooklyn went viral on the internet and re-ignited public anger over racist marijuana enforcement in New York City.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we must recognize peaceful protesters and opportunistic theives as opposites ends of a spectrum—some of the looting (at least) has presumably been carried out by the simply angry and desperate. We should also keep in mind that from Minneapolis to Las Vegas, there have been signs that some of the violence has been provocation by far-right white nationalists bent on provoking a civil war.

PHOTO Harrison Haines

It’s a paradoxical testament to the gains of cannabis “normalization” that dispensaries are seen as just another capitalist enterprise—and therefore fair game for social rage, when it erupts. Where cannabis enterprises are seen as complicit with gentrification, the rage may even be targeted at such businesses. And this rage may be compounded by the bitter irony of white entrepreneurs disproportionately getting rich off legal cannabis, while Black users remain disproportionately criminalized. Official policies of “cannabis equity” in California (at least) represent an effort to address this contradiction—but the contradiction still persists.

The soul of the country’s cannabis community is being tested by this crisis. Cannabis massively reached white America—the critical step of its “normalization” in a white-dominated society—as a part of the cultural ferment of the 1960s, which also included the anti-war and civil rights movements. It is painfully clear that it is still necessary to fight for the things the civil rights movement fought for two generations ago. The degree to which the cannabis community will be a part of this fight will reveal the degree to which the values of that era have truly been nurtured—or whether the weed is today just another capitalist commodity in a system that consumes and exploits Black lives.

TELL US, how do you feel about the cannabis industry’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement?

The post The Cannabis Industry and the Black Lives Matter Uprising appeared first on Cannabis Now.