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Industry News Update | October 2021

Federal decriminalization, research for veterans, and changes to FBI employment policies. Discover all that and more in October's Industry News Update.

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Industry News Update | October 2021

Here’s a quick rundown if you need info and you need it ASAP

  • The MORE (Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement) Act could federally decriminalize and deschedule cannabis. Additionally, it would use cannabis tax dollars to fund community grants for areas hit hardest by the war on drugs and expunge records for individuals with nonviolent cannabis offenses—but only if it passes.
  • According to former U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, federal decriminalization is all but guaranteed. However, it still faces many hurdles before Biden will even consider signing it into law. 
  • Even business giants like Amazon are lobbying in favor of the MORE Act and other cannabis reform legislation.
  • With Congress tied up debating infrastructure and social programs, it’s uncertain when it will move forward. On top of that, it’s unclear whether Biden will support the bill considering he crafted many of the drug laws currently being considered for reform.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) opposed the VA Cannabis Research Act last week. If passed, the VA must begin clinical trials regarding medicinal cannabis for issues like PTSD and chronic pain.
  • If the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act becomes law, it could pave the way for a more financially secure cannabis industry. However, there’s debate about whether to advance banking reforms or decriminalization first.
  • While a new FBI employment policy is much looser than previous hiring policies, a recent update baffled many. Applicants who have used cannabis more than 24 times since turning 18 will be automatically disqualified. 

Will the MORE Act Become Law? 

At the end of September, the House Judiciary Committee approved the MORE (Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement) Act. If signed into law, this bill would federally decriminalize and deschedule cannabis and use federal cannabis tax dollars to fund community grants for areas hit hardest by the war on drugs. On top of that, it would expunge records for most individuals with nonviolent cannabis offenses (except for those involved in criminal drug rings). 

A bill of this kind would be a game-changer for those working in the cannabis industry, consumers, and those who’ve faced significant legal repercussions from the war on drugs. However, the bill will face many hurdles before it finally makes it to Biden’s desk—and gaining his signature may be one of those hurdles as well.

For the moment, things are looking positive. According to former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, federal decriminalization is all but guaranteed. It’s just a question of when.

During a drug policy panel hosted by the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, Holder spoke about the inevitable decriminalization of cannabis as more and more states enact their own policies. He recognized that the war on drugs has unnecessarily cost taxpayer dollars on top of ruining people’s livelihoods. 

When Will the MORE Act Become Law?

While decriminalization feels inevitable, it’s hard to determine precisely when it might happen. 

More and more states are indeed considering decriminalization or legalization in some form. Even states with relatively well-established cannabis industries are finding other ways to benefit from cannabis and hemp. For example, the California governor recently signed a bill legalizing smokable hemp and the sale of CBD-infused food & beverage products. 

Even business giants like Amazon are reassessing their policies regarding cannabis use. Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of human resources, said in a blog that Amazon has “reinstated the employment eligibility for former employees and applicants who were previously terminated or deferred during random or pre-employment marijuana screenings.” Amazon is also lobbying in favor of the MORE Act and endorses the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to determine when the MORE Act may become law. With Congress tied up debating infrastructure and social programs, it’s uncertain when it will move forward. On top of that, it’s unclear whether Biden will support the bill considering he crafted many of the drug laws currently being considered for reform. While he supports giving states control of their own cannabis policies, he’s still opposed to adult-use legalization.

Military Veterans and Cannabis Research

Other legislation regarding much-needed research is also under fire. The VA Cannabis Research Act received a hearing in Congress last week, but the VA opposed it. In a testimony before the hearing, David Carrol said, “The proposed legislation is not consistent with VA’s practice of ensuring scientific merit as the basis for a randomized clinical trial.”

Some feel that this statement is at odds with the actual intent of the legislation. If passed, it will require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to begin clinical trials regarding medicinal cannabis for issues like PTSD and chronic pain.

Earlier versions of this legislation have been unsuccessful, mainly due to the VAs staunch opposition to cannabis reforms. Last year, a proposal making it possible for VA doctors to recommend medicinal cannabis in legal states didn’t even advance to the floor. In 2019, the VA opposed several bills intended to increase research and protect benefits for veterans who use cannabis.

While some groups felt the VA seemed more open to reform proposals, that may not be the case. If it’s to pass, it’s more likely to happen once cannabis has been decriminalized at the federal level. 

Banking Reform for Cannabis Businesses

Cannabis businesses are no stranger to banking issues, with many banks simply refusing their business out of fear of being penalized by federal regulators.  However, if the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act becomes law, it may pave the way for a more financially secure cannabis industry. Cannabis businesses in the 36 states with retail dispensaries will have an easier time with debit card transactions, will be able to secure loans, and they’ll even be able to pay taxes with a check. 

Currently, many of these businesses are forced to rely on cash transactions. This makes them easy targets for robberies, assaults, and more. So, banking reform could increase profit and safety for workers in the cannabis industry. Unfortunately, while the legislation managed to squeak by after being attached to a large defense spending bill, it may stall when it reaches the Senate.

Even pro-cannabis individuals are seeing issues. Senator Cory Booker, one of the main sponsors of a cannabis legalization bill currently stalled in the Senate, discussed the difficulties of this reform with POLITICO.  He said that attaching the banking reform to a defense spending bill “undermines the ability to get comprehensive marijuana reform and the kind of things that are harder to get done like expungement of people’s records.”

In an interview on Ethan Nadelmann’s podcast, Psychoactive, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there was an “agreement” to block cannabis banking reform until social equity items advance. He said, “All the pain that’s been suffered by so many people for so long will not be alleviated because banks can now do some funding of the growing and processing of marijuana.” He believes that Republicans will be less likely to move forward on legalization if banking reforms are passed first.

Others, however, believe improving the financial security and safety of cannabis businesses could be what the industry needs to finally begin moving forward. 

FBI Revises Employment Policies Regarding Cannabis Use

Landing a job at any federal agency is difficult for cannabis consumers. Many rejoiced, however, when the FBI revised their employment policies in July regarding cannabis use. At the time, the updated policy stated that candidates would only be disqualified if they admitted to using cannabis within a year of their application. 

Previously, candidates would have been disqualified if they had used cannabis within three years of their application. While this new policy is much looser than previous hiring policies, a recent update has many baffled.

The FBI employment eligibility page recently added a stipulation:

Candidates that have used marijuana or any of its various forms (e.g., cannabis, hashish (hash), hash oil, or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), synthetic or natural), in any location (domestic or foreign) regardless of the legality in that location of use, more than twenty-four (24) times after turning 18 years old is a disqualifier for FBI employment.

The loosening of hiring restrictions is likely a practical necessity to avoid losing out on qualified workers. However, it’s still a mystery why using cannabis 25 times after turning 18 somehow makes someone less capable. The bureau has yet to comment on this seemingly arbitrary detail.

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