Why House Majority Leader Steve Scalise Is Bad News for Cannabis

October 13, 2023 · High Times

The GOP’s nominee to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) as Speaker of the House—one of the most powerful positions in the U.S. government—has opposed nearly every cannabis bill he’s encountered during the past 15 years in office.

Scalise dropped out of the House speaker race Thursday evening.

In a closed-door meeting to replace McCarthy as speaker Wednesday, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana) was selected as the clear nominee. Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the next contender, lost the nomination in a vote 113 to 99. On Thursday however, Scalise appeared to be short on votes to become the next Speaker.

McCarthy was successfully dethroned as Speaker of the House Oct. 2, in a rare ouster led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida). The Associated Press reports that the speaker ouster was a “first in U.S. history” and done with the efforts of a hard-right faction that splintered. 

Given that Congress faces a Nov. 17 spending bill deadline in order to prevent a government shutdown, the sense of urgency to select a new speaker is rising.

“First, I want to thank my House Republican colleagues for just designating me as the speaker, Scalise said upon hearing the news of his nomination. “Obviously, we still have work to do. We’re going to have to go upstairs on the House floor and resolve this and then get the House opened again. We have a lot of work to do, not just in the House for the people of this country, but we see how dangerous of a world it is and how things can change so quickly.”

The future of cannabis legislation at the federal level hinges on cooperation from House leadership.

Who Is Rep. Steve Scalise in Regards to Cannabis?

Cannabis reports are flagging Scalise as a potential roadblock for federal cannabis bills, if elected Speaker. NORML gave him an “F” grade, noting that he opposed nearly every cannabis bill he’s ever voted on—the sole exception being The Medical Marijuana Research Act or H.R. 5657 in 2022. One time in 2016, he voted against the Veterans Equal Access Amendment, and voted against two versions of the SAFE Banking Act a few years later.

While not perfect, at least with McCarthy, he voted twice in favor of federal cannabis banking legislation. 

The Dales Report agreed and called Scalise a “cannabis adversary,” and pointed out that the next Speaker could impact the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act. The good news is that if Scalise is elected speaker, and blocks the SAFER Banking Act, the bill can still become law.

When asked the question, “Do you support the legalization of marijuana at the federal level?” his spokesperson replied. “Congressman Scalise is a staunch conservative who likes to know what his constituents are thinking on issues,” Scalise spokesman T.J. Tatum wrote in an email to CQ Roll Call. “Scalise is opposed to the legalization of marijuana because, as noted by law enforcement officials, it is a gateway to more dangerous drugs, but he always appreciates learning the views of the people throughout his district.”

“Let me get this straight: Nancy Pelosi is blocking a bill to deliver unused Paycheck Protection Program funds to workers and small businesses,” Scalise tweeted on Nov. 20, 2020. “But she managed to find time for a vote on pot legislation this week.”

“What are Pelosi’s Democrats doing this week?” Scalise tweeted on March 31, 2022. “Nothing on inflation. Nothing on the border. Nothing on gas prices. Nothing on the supply chain. Nothing on crime. A marijuana bill. What a joke.”

Why The New Speaker Selection Matters

The Speaker acts as the de facto leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, and is a major component of America’s system of checks and balances designed to keep any one body from gaining too much power.

In a 135-88 vote, Republicans rejected a proposed rule change introduced by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) that would have required a GOP speaker contender to have 217 or more votes before advancing to the House floor.

Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio) said in a tweet that unless Jordan drops out, he will still vote for him on the House floor—even if Scalise wins the nomination. Rep. Gaetz told reporters he would support Scalise on the floor, calling him an “upgrade” from McCarthy.

One-fourth of Republicans said in a poll that they approve of the decision to remove McCarthy as Speaker, and three in 10 Republicans said they believe it was a mistake, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (Full Story)

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