Legislative Updates

Thursday | May 17, 2018

The powerful House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday for a much needed and deserved WIN for the Cannabis Industry.  David Joyce (R-OH) introduced an amendment that continues the protection of states’ medical Cannabis programs from federal interference through FY2019.  The “Joyce/Blumenauer Amendment” (formerly referred to as “Rohrabacher/Blumenauer”) passed in full House Appropriations Committee during its mark up of the 2019 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Bill.

The significance of today’s Congressional action marks a notable success for the Cannabis industry as it was the first instance in which the Cannabis industry’s amendment language was passed by a voice vote within the text of the base language of an Appropriations Bill.  Integrating industry-favorable language within the base bill reflects growing bi-partisan support to respect states and protect patients, and markedly improves the chances for success as compared to other legislative routes towards becoming law.

Today’s Committee vote also reflects an improved traction for the Industry among federal legislators.  Federal advocates, nevertheless, have significant work ahead. Not only must we continue nurturing the relationships of our current federal Congressional Cannabis champions, we have to grow the population of federal lawmakers who support our industry.   This is the only way to ensure that the current protections are expanded to include protections for banking, tax relief, veterans’ access, and ultimately ending federal prohibition.

While our long-term goal is the passage of permanent federal standalone legislation to legalize all aspects of Cannabis, today’s incremental victory reflects a changing political tide.  Continued pressure is essential to maintain the momentum gained thus far.  Industry will need to support lobbyists who can educate federal legislators and who can work with representatives like David Joyce, who understand the caliber, robustness and sophistication of our states’ cannabis programs.  Mr. Joyce is part of a growing group of “credible conservative cannabis champions” who can expand the bi-partisan movement and lead the way towards addressing and reconciling federal and state Cannabis laws, and ensure that our Industry can grow and thrive with the trajectory that it demands and deserves.  

Friday | March 23, 2018 

Late this evening, Congress finally passed the much anticipated FY2018 Omnibus Spending Bill that included the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer / Leahy Amendment language protecting the stakeholders in the 46 states who rely on medical Cannabis for their health and well being.  After multiple "stop-gap" measures enacted via Continuing Resolutions, licensed and lawfully operating medical stakeholders in the Cannabis Industry now have a legal certainty that they can operate without the threat of federal government interference following last Friday's vote.  With this long awaited Congressional action in place, TLG has begun diligent efforts to expand these protections to cover Adult/Recreational Use Cannabis stakeholders and address the much needed relief to enact level playing field legislation that ensures access to banking and equitable tax treatment for Industry.  

Monday | January 22, 2018 

Congress voted this evening to reopen the federal government and extend Continuing Resolution "stop-gap" funding measure through February 8, 2017.   The Rohrabacher Amendment language has been re-instated and returned to its full effect - protecting the stakeholders in the 46 states who rely on medical Cannabis for their health and well being. 

Saturday | January 20, 2018 

The Continuing Resolution "stop-gap" funding measure expired at midnight on Friday, January 19, resulting in a federal government shutdown.  This directly impacts the status of the crucial Rohrabacher Amendment protecting medicinal Cannabis Industry stakeholders from federal interference.  Though medical Cannabis patients and providers currently lack the legal protection from prosecution, we expect that the shutdown will expedite Congressional negotiations for its fourth Continuing Resolution through mid-February, until the more comprehensive Omnibus Spending package can be finalized.  Once re-instated, the Rohrabacher Amendment language would return to its full effect - protecting the stakeholders in the 46 states who rely on medical Cannabis for their health and well being.  Stay tuned as we will provide an update soon as we learn of the timing for the next Congressional action.  

Saturday | January 6, 2017

With the Cole Memo gone – What do we know? Where do we go?

On the morning of January 4, 2018, the Department of Justice announced that it was rescinding critical assurances for the Cannabis industry established by DOJ Guidance Memos, including the Cole Memo. Since DOJ’s announcement to dismantle these Obama era protections, the news cycle peaked with Cannabis stories, and left a wake of worry that has understandably left many Industry stakeholders with more questions than answers.  For the last several days, TLG has been entrenched in meetings on Capitol Hill with Congressional Members, Staff, and Industry Advocates to assess the impact of this event and to identify next steps. As a result, the view through TLG’s lens reveals a potentially more advantageous outlook than the doom and gloom that may have been portrayed by the media.

1. Cannabis Issues in the national media spotlight twice this week. AG Sessions’ action served to keep the media’s attention on Cannabis beyond California’s January roll out at both local and national levels.  This kind of continuous media exposure may be the very opportunity that Industry needs to encourage lawmakers to prioritize Cannabis related issues at the federal level and to advance legislation that has been introduced, but not yet considered.  On a conference call with both Congressmen Ed Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jared Polis (D-CO), both Members conveyed that Thursday’s DOJ event may have been the very catalyst Industry needed – a renewed energy and focus, as well as vast public support to moment national legalization of Cannabis” and its growing Industry.

2.  Cannabis: One of few Federal issues with widespread bi-partisan support. The outpouring of public statements from both Republicans and Democrats signaled to the White House and Congressional leadership that Cannabis is not only a populist issue supported by more than 70% of the public, but is one of very few issues that has garnered broad bi-partisan support.  Further, since the Cole Guidance Memos were rescinded, only a very few Congressional Members publically support AG Sessions’ move.  Since Thursday, however, dozens of state and federal lawmakers from both parties have communicated  directly to President Trump and via social media - reminding him of statements made in his campaign to leave Cannabis law and policy up to individual states.  This could create the impetus for President Trump to initiate an action to protect States’ rights from the White House or signal to Congressional leadership to do so.

3.  Industry to reclaim the narrative. Sessions consulted neither the White House nor Treasury before acting unilaterally.  As a result, Industry now faces uncertainty about the status and authority of the guidance memorandum on banking issued by the Department of Treasury,[1], which is arguably predicated on both the rescinded Cole Memo and Cole Guidance Regarding Marijuana Related Financial Crimes.  The lack of coordination and consultation has created an opportunity for Industry advocates to reclaim the narrative and work collaboratively with Treasury to define the path forward reflecting the current US Cannabis landscape. Prior to Thursday, requests for Executive and Agency meetings were frequently ignored, or were met with low interest.  This recent publicity may now motivate Agency staff to become more receptive to Industry advocates’ efforts to influence critical policy as it relates to Cannabis banking.

4.  Capitol Hill to address Cannabis legislation at accelerated pace. With California fully legalized this month, and new states expanding adult consumption and broadening medicinal programs throughout 2018, in addition to the election cycle in 2018, the climate is ripe for Congressional Members that have been less reluctant to step off the sidelines to finally engage in advancing legislation as directed by their constituents.  Now is the time to ramp up efforts to educate lawmakers to better understand the benefits and efficacy of Cannabis, and the robust Industry that has evolved around it.   With with the latest Government shutdown deadline approaching on January 19, Industry’s Congressional champions are motivated with renewed energy, enthusiasm and momentum to ensure that the “Leahy Amendment” (also referred to as Rohrabacher – Blumenauer) will be included in the FY2018 Omnibus Appropriations – thereby continuing the protection for State medical Cannabis programs from Federal interference, and ensuring patients have uninterrupted access to their medicine.

Ensuring that this language remains as current law will serve as our precipice for expanding protections to adult consumption laws, and ultimately the more permanent (and stable) long-term federal solutions that Industry demands, deserves and needs.

A ripe and ready legislative climate is finally in place for Industry Advocates to frame federal legislation – the time is now for Industry stakeholders to invest in federal advocacy efforts. 

The Liaison Group’s immediate goal remains: to ensure State programs are protected from federal interference.  As the premier federal advocacy firm based in Washington, DC, focused exclusively on Cannabis issues, TLG is dedicated to advancing crucial changes in federal law that ensure a successful outcome for our Industry and your business. 

[1] Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Guidance, BSA Expectations Regarding Marijuana-Related Businesses, 14.Feb.2014, FIN-2014-G001.

Friday | December 22, 2017

Congress Extends Government Funding Stop-Gap on the Eve of Christmas Recess | Extends Protections for Cannabis Into 2018

The last significant Congressional act of 2017 extended protections to the medical Cannabis Industry from federal interference through January 19, 2018 before heading home for their holiday recess.

Although maintaining the status quo for current Industry protections may assuage Industry’s fears in the short-term, Congress’s stop gap postpones the more significant question for Industry stakeholders:  Will these protections ultimately be included in next year's funding bill? The Liaison Group (TLG) continues to apply pressure on Congressional offices and to Leadership to ensure that these protective measures remain in the final version of the FY2018 Appropriations Bill. 

Despite a vulnerable political climate at the federal level, state Cannabis programs continue to be bright beacons for this Industry. And though many stakeholders may feel a frustration about navigating their evolving and expanding state regulations, rest assured that the very robustness and sophistication of state programs will ultimately pave the path to the end of prohibition. 

For 2018, the message from TLG to Industry stakeholders is - Stay Consolidated - Stay United – Maintain Momentum.  This will ensure the most expedient path to market access for this miraculous plant.  As your success continues, count on TLG as your frontline defense in D.C. - committed to holding Congressional offices accountable to ensure the 46 state-enacted Cannabis programs remain protected.

Thursday | December 7, 2017

Earlier today, Congress passed the stop-gap spending bill to continue government funding through December 22, 2017.   Until  then, stay tuned as TLG continues to lobby in both the House and Senate to ensure that the critical DOJ Defunding language protecting the Cannabis Industry is included in the FY2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. 

Monday | December 4, 2017

IMPACT OF GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN ON BURGEONING CANNABIS INDUSTRY

As Another Looming Government Shutdown Approaches, How Much Worry Should the Cannabis Industry Consume?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With a volatile and unpredictable political climate in Washington, DC - where Attorney General Sessions continues to hint at unleashed federal enforcement against the Cannabis Industry, stakeholders in the Cannabis Industry are closely watching December 8 - the date the current U.S. spending bill expires. If a new spending deal is not reached, the government could shut down.  To date, the Cannabis Industry has relied on critical language in the Appropriations Bill to protect the state-enacted medical Cannabis programs from federal prosecution by defunding any Department of Justice efforts from interfering with these programs. Originally enacted into law in 2014 during the FY2015 Appropriations process, this protection for medicinal Cannabis stakeholders has been maintained as force of law via Omnibus Bills and Continuing Resolutions, which are stop gap funding measures passed by Congress. The most recent "stop gap" extended the defunding language protecting the Cannabis Industry until Friday, December 8, 2017.

As the upcoming expiration of the latest stop gap occurs in less than a week, AG Sessions continues to vocalize his extreme distaste and disapproval for a rapidly growing Cannabis Industry.  Yet, he deftly eludes any specificity regarding his long-term intent on the Cole Memorandum, the DOJ internal Guidance Memorandum in effect since 2009, which provides instruction for the DOJ to stand-down on lawfully operating, State-enacted and State-regulated, Cannabis business entities. Thus, Industry anxiously watches AG Session's every move with growing consternation about the unknown.

Though no one has a crystal ball, Cannabis Industry advocates working in Washington, DC and on Capitol Hill generally view what's to come in the next week(s) through a steady lens that will likely result in the most compliant Industry players to continue and prosper without Federal intervention.  

According to Saphira Galoob, founder of The Liaison Group, a lobbying firm in Washington, DC dedicated exclusively to Cannabis Industry issues, "Before the stop gap measure currently protecting Cannabis Industry expires on December 8, we are expecting Congressional Leadership to extend its effect until at least December 22.  House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) just introduced legislation to maintain current funding for federal operations and prevent a government shutdown, which includes the critical defunding of DOJ mechanism protecting the Cannabis Industry."

Concurrent to the extension of the stop gap measure, both the House and the Senate are in the final stages of completing the FY2018 Appropriations Bill. Although the DOJ defunding language is included only in the Senate's version of the FY2018 Appropriations Bill ("referred to as the Leahy Amendment"), 66 House Congressional members - with 26 Republicans and 40 Democrats - delivered a letter to House and Senate Leadership regarding the importance of including the DOJ defunding language in the FY2018 Appropriations Bill.  This letter to leadership represents a robust, bi-partisan representation that States’ rights must be respected and patients must be protected. 

Irrespective of what technical form a post December bill may take, Cannabis Industry advocates who are focused on advancing Cannabis legislative and policy provide optimistic insight. Galoob continues, "There is strong bi-cameral, bi-partisan Congressional support for respecting States’ rights and allowing the State-regulated, State-enacted medical Cannabis programs to continue. Significant investments have been made by States and stakeholders to develop and implement comprehensive programs to ensure safe and quality medicine is available to patients in need."

Friday | September 8, 2017

APPROPRIATIONS
The continuation of the Appropriations Process began this week with the recommencing of a hearing in the
House Rules Committee to consider amendments for Appropriations bills including the Commerce, Justice,
Science, and Related Agencies (FY2018 CJS) and Financial Services (FY2018 FS) Committees.


FY2018 CJS.  Defunding of DOJ – To date, our focus as with a majority within the Cannabis Industry has been to protect State
programs by ensuring that the language that prohibits the DOJ from interfering with state medical Cannabis
programs is included in the final FY2018 Appropriations (previously referred to as Rohrabacher | Farr, now
Rohrabacher | Blumenauer (R|B)). The House Rules Committee considered this language via an amendment on
Wednesday [06.Sept.] as well as several other amendments that impact the Cannabis Industry.
For any of these amendments to be introduced on the House floor and receive a vote by the entire House of
Representatives, the amendments first had to be successfully "approved" by the House Rules Committee.
Following compelling testimony by Congressmen Rohrabacher and Blumenauer, the Republican leadership on
the House Rules Committee determined not to approve R|B. Though the outcome that R|B will not be submitted
for consideration and voted on the House Floor is notably unfortunate, it is not fatal. The language of R|B was
successfully included in the Senate’s version of the Appropriations bill (thank you, Senator Leahy (D-VT)).
The Senate and House Appropriations bills will now need to be reconciled in Conference, and as such we will
continue efforts to ensure the language will ultimately have success.

FY2018 FS. Banking – Similar to R|B, a banking amendment (referred to as the Heck amendment (Heck)) that would protect
banks working with Cannabis businesses was also submitted to the House Rules Committee by Congressman
Heck (D-WA). Even though the Heck amendment received the same fate as R|B, Congressman Polis (D-CO), a
Member of the House Rules Committee, exercised a procedural option to force a vote by each Committee
Member. Though the voted failed by 8 Republicans against 4 Democrats, Congressman Newhouse (R-WA)
broke ranks with fellow democrats to affirmatively support Industry.

Examples of other Cannabis-related amendments that were introduced (albeit unsuccessfully) into the House
Rules Committee included: a) to expand R|B to include adult-use programs (referred to as McClintock-Polis); b)
to defund DOJ from unnecessarily delaying the processing of Cannabis-related research applications. The
important take-away with this amendment is that there is pressure being applied on the DOJ to be more
responsive to research applications; and c) to protect Cannabis—related Tribal activities.
Continuing Resolution

As the Congressional FY2017 comes to a close at the end of September, and if larger political discussions
between Congressional leadership are not reconciled, the FY2018 budget may be impacted. To avoid a
government shutdown, one option is to implement another Continuing Resolution [CR] until the end of the year.
This outcome would maintain the status quo for the Cannabis industry, which includes the critical 'defunding of
DOJ efforts from interfering with state programs’ (language of Rohrabacher | Farr).

Friday | July 21, 2017

The FY2018 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill ("CJS") completed its mark-up before the full Appropriations Committee last week.  The Rohrabacher | Blumenauer Amendment  ("R|B") (formerly Rohrabacher | Farr), which has been the vehicle to defund the Department of Justice from prosecuting lawfully operating medical cannabis entities, has been included in CJS in prior years.  During the mark-up, R|B was intentionally not introduced into CJS at this point in the FY2018 Appropriations cycle.  

Also of interest was the mark up of the Financial Services Committee.  Congresswoman Lee (D-CA) was the lead on introducing a Banking Amendment, sponsored by Congressman Heck (D-WA) to protect banks working with Cannabis businesses.  Very intentionally, Congresswoman Lee introduced the Amendment and withdrew before a vote could proceed.  During this process, we learned that several unexpected Republicans expressed interest to move forward with a vote.  This signals that there may be some additional support for the Amendment that is evolving.   TLG is working closely with Cannabis Caucus staff and other industry to navigate when and how these two crucial Amendments will be introduced into the Appropriations Bill.

Additionally, we are closely focused on the Department of Justice Cannabis Task Force expected to release their recommendations on or before July 27.  Several inside conversations between the Department and Industry\Hill have revealed "mixed messaging" on what we can expect.  We are working closely with Industry and Hill staff on a formal communication from targeted House and Senate Members to Justice.  There is concern that DOJ may adopt more targeted policies and guidelines affecting industry similar to DOJ’s announcement regarding Civil Forfeiture.