With Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) ousted as House speaker in a historic vote to vacate the position on Tuesday, cannabis policy observers are wondering how the new GOP leadership will approach marijuana banking, legalization and other reform issues.
Who will take the speakership is yet to be seen, but so far Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) have announced they are running for the top House position. Based on their records, marijuana reform advocates may have their work cut out for them if either attains the speaker’s gavel.
With McCarthy as speaker, advocates and stakeholders had some reason to feel optimistic that a bipartisan cannabis banking bill, and possibly other modest reforms, could advance under Republican leadership. McCarthy has twice voted in favor of the marijuana banking legislation, which is currently being led by the Senate, where it’s moved through committee and pending floor action before potentially being transmitted to the House.
He voted against a legalization bill, though, and blasted Democrats in 2020 over scheduling a vote on the reform legislation, saying that the party was “picking weed over the workers.”
McCarthy later committed to Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) that she could have a committee markup of her cannabis legalization bill, the congresswoman said, though that has yet to happen and Mace cited broken promises from the speaker when explaining why she voted to remove him from the position on Tuesday. However, she didn’t explicitly cite the earlier marijuana markup pledge.
Jordan and Scalise, in contrast, have opposed virtually every single cannabis measure that’s gone before them since they entered federal office in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
That includes legislation on cannabis banking, shielding state laws from federal interference, industrial hemp, protecting state CBD programs, letting VA doctors issue medical cannabis recommendations and revising cannabis-related security clearance policy for federal workers.
Whether they would proactively block the marijuana banking reform if it advanced with bipartisan support is another question. It’s expected that the GOP House will amend whatever version is sent over from the Senate, or put forward their own version altogether. And if that version is attached to broader legislation, as some insiders believe it will be, the chances seem slimmer that a speaker would go out of their way to interfere.
“First of all, we’ve got to get this bill out of the Senate. And so as far as timing goes, it’s not like we were going to send it over there tomorrow,” Don Murphy, director of government relations for the Marijuana Leadership Campaign told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday.
“I will say that this might suggest that a House bill or House version is more likely to get amended on to a bigger bill,” Murphy, who is a Republican former state lawmaker from Maryland, said. “Because floor time is the enemy. It’s not a new speaker. It’s not Jim Jordan. It’s not Steve Scalise. The enemy is time, and that’s the concern.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)
Jordan, chair of the Judiciary Committee, has voted against at least 26 cannabis reform proposals during his tenure, including measures to legalize marijuana and promote cannabis research.
As ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, Jordan blasted House Democrats for moving to legalize cannabis through the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, calling it a “radical, out-of-touch Democrat priority.”
Jodan also penned a “minority views” section of an extensive report prepared for House lawmakers last year that outlined the GOP arguments against the legalization bill as it headed to the floor.
“This bill is an enormous federal subsidy and stimulus for the marijuana industry,” it said. “This extreme and unwise bill would open the floodgates to marijuana cultivation, distribution, and sale within the United States—allowing bad actors and transnational criminal organizations to further exploit America’s addiction crisis.”
Jordan’s section of the report also complained that the legislation would create a “significant federal bureaucracy that would include new taxes, expansive grant programs, and a federal licensing regime.” The minority party view at the time, according to the document, was that the reform would also “incentivize bad actors and transnational criminal organizations to flood American streets with drugs.”
That said, it seems very unlikely that Jordan would allow a newly refiled version of the MORE Act to advance through his chamber. With him as speaker, even greater questions would be raised about what, if anything, could make it to the floor—including cannabis banking legislation.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)
Scalise, meanwhile, has voted against bills like the MORE Act and the SAFE Banking Act twice each. Those are among at least 23 examples of cannabis reform legislation he’s opposed.
Scalise also co-sponsored a bill that included a provision to explicitly prohibit people from accessing welfare assistance at cannabis stores.
While he previously polled constituents about their views on marijuana legalization, his office has said that he’s personally opposed to the reform, in part because he believes cannabis is a gateway to more dangerous drugs.
He was among numerous Republican members of Congress who blasted Democrats over scheduling a vote on the MORE Act in 2020, dismissing the significance of the issue and arguing that it was an inappropriate time to take it up. He also criticized last year’s vote on the bill.
Scalise, unlike Jordan, did vote in favor of one reform proposal—a bill to expand cannabis research that President Joe Biden later signed into law.
Meanwhile, other names have been floated by insiders as possible contenders for the speakership. That includes House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC), whose panel would likely have jurisdiction over the cannabis banking bill, and Reps. Kevin Hern (R-OK), Jodey Arrington (R-TX), Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Tom Cole (R-OK).
McHenry, who opposes cannabis banking legislation but has said he wouldn’t necessarily block it from advancing, is currently serving as speaker pro tempore. If he formally gets the speakership and his replacement as chair of the Financial Services Committee was more hostile to the issue, such as Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who currently ranks high on the panel, that could seriously endanger the marijuana banking bill’s prospects.
Here’s a rundown of the times both members voted against marijuana reform proposals (with exceptions noted):
Protect state medical cannabis laws
Protect all state marijuana laws
Protect state CBD laws
Prevent marijuana use from justifying security clearance denials
Expand medical cannabis research
- 2022 (Scalise voted yes)
Let VA doctors recommend medical cannabis
Protect industrial hemp programs
Marijuana banking access
Remove cannabis research barriers and express support for legalization
Remove protections for universities that study marijuana (an anti-reform amendment that Scalise and Jordan supported)
Create hemp research programs
Committee vote on MORE Act to legalize cannabis
- 2019 (Scalise was not a member of the panel)
Other leadership positions
Meanwhile, if Scalise wins the speakership, it will set off a potential chain of events to replace his current position and perhaps others.
House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) is reportedly planning on running for majority leader, which would elevate his influence in the chamber. Emmer is decidedly more friendly to the marijuana reform cause than the declared speaker candidates are.
While Emmer voted against the MORE Act to enact federal legalization, he’s said that he thinks marijuana laws should be left up to the states and he’s supported modest cannabis reform legislation, including industry banking protections.
“I don’t have a problem—in fact, I think it’s long overdue—with the idea that you leave the criminalization issue to the states. I mean, that’s what federalism is all about,” he said last year, adding that his opposition to the MORE Act came down to disagreements about the details of the expungements provisions.
He has cosponsored and voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act twice, though he’s not currently listed as a cosponsor of the latest version.
Emmer has further co-sponsored legislation to allow cannabis businesses to make federal tax deductions and voted for both the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act and the EQUAL Act to end the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
Also, while in office, he’s backed amendments to protect various types of state cannabis programs from federal interference.
The congressman opposed amendments to allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans, however, as well as a proposal to lift Schedule I research barriers. He also supported the defeated amendment to remove spending bill language providing protections against universities losing federal funding for studying marijuana.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), meanwhile, is reportedly eyeing Emmer’s majority whip post if it becomes vacant.
Reschenthaler sponsored legislation with Rep. Troy Carter (D-LA) last year to allow state-legal marijuana businesses to be listed on national stock exchanges and access key financial services.
He also sponsored a bill in 2019 that would automatically seal federal criminal records for marijuana convictions.
The congressman has also repeatedly pressured the Biden administration to escalate diplomatic efforts to secure the release of Marc Fogel, a U.S. citizen incarcerated in Russia over possession of medical marijuana that he obtained as a registered patient in Pennsylvania and used an an opioid alternative to treat pain. (Full Story)