Senate Leader and Others Create False Feud With Speaker Pelosi On Cannabis Banking

In a July 31 press conference, Speaker Pelosi was asked whether House-backed cannabis-specific provisions in the latest COVID-19 economic relief bill were “directly related” to the stimulus package.

To be clear, the cannabis provisions in question are explicit to amending federal law so that state-licensed marijuana businesses can freely engage in relationships with banks and other financial institutions. These provisions are far from controversial and possess bipartisan support. In fact, members of the House voted 321 to 103 this past fall in favor of similar, standalone legislation (The SAFE Banking Act), with 229 Democrats and 91 Republicans casting ‘yes’ votes. A previous House-backed COVID relief package, The HEROES Act, had also included similar cannabis-specific banking language.

Currently, such relationships between state-licensed marijuana businesses and banks are discouraged under federal law. According to the latest data available from the US Department of Treasury, only a few hundred banks and credit unions nationwide provide services to the thousands of cannabis-related businesses operating in over 30 US states.

Speaker Pelosi responded to the question by stating, “I don’t agree with you that cannabis is not related to this” – alluding to the fact that the state-legal cannabis industry, which now employs an estimated 240,000 Americans, has been impacted by the pandemic and ensuing economic recession. She then acknowledged, “This is a therapy that has proven successful,” a statement that appears to allude to the reality that 33 states now recognize the therapeutic utility of cannabis and cannabis products by statute. She then moved on to address other issues.

In the following days, however, some opponents of marijuana policy reform have manipulated the Speaker’s comments to imply that she was opining that cannabis therapy has been proven specifically to be successful for the treatment of COVID-19. Most recently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted, “I hope she’s shared this breakthrough with Dr. Fauci.” House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy previously tweeted, “Pelosi … falsely claim[ed] that it (cannabis) is a proven therapy for coronavirus.”

NORML has grown increasingly concerned that these officials are purposely taking the Speaker’s statement out of context. The organization has consistently acknowledged that cannabis has not been established to either treat symptoms of COVID or provide protection from the disease, and it has also warned the public against those falsely marketing cannabis products as such remedies.

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said: “The Speaker is correct to say that marijuana is accepted as a legitimate therapeutic option for certain patients. The majority of US states, as well as the District of Columbia, recognize the therapeutic utility of cannabis and regulate its production and distribution to authorized patients. Furthermore, during the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of states have designated marijuana producers and retailers as ‘essential’ businesses — allowing them to provide uninterrupted, and in some cases, expanded services during the COVID-19 outbreak.”

He further added: “NORML has consistently advocated for federal economic stimulus packages to include relief, including banking relief, to cannabis state-licensed cannabis businesses – which currently employ over four times as many Americans as does the coal industry. We are pleased that Speaker Pelosi understands that many of these workers are being impacted by this pandemic and is advocating for legislation to directly assist this growing and important industry, and we are disappointed that there are those who wish to launch ad hominem attacks at the Speaker rather than debate the merit of these proposed policy reforms.”