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Pelosi, Republicans bicker over cannabis provisions in COVID-19 stimulus package

Aug 5, 2020

Although both Democrats and Republicans agree that a second round of stimulus is necessary to keep the country afloat as the coronavirus pandemic presses on and the economy plunges into a freefall, neither side has yet been able to work out the specifics. With millions of Americans facing unemployment, bipartisan bickering continues in the halls of Congress, and, just like the first go-round, cannabis has edged its way into the conversation.

At a press conference last week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was forced to defend the Democrat’s position on cannabis when a reporter asked her about banking provisions included in their latest version of the bill. The ensuing disagreement has again become a lightning rod for the media, highlighting both parties' differing visions for both the stimulus and the cannabis industry at large.

When a reporter asked Pelosi why cannabis banking protections were included in the Democrats proposal, the Speaker defended their position, arguing that cannabis reform is a critical component of the country’s plan to move past the virus.

“I don’t agree with you that cannabis is not related to this,” said Pelosi. “This is a therapy that has proven successful.”

Pelosi’s comments set off a firestorm both within the media and the Republican caucus as detractors mocked her for what they perceived to be a defense of cannabis as a therapy for COVID-19. Numerous doctors, researchers, and other medical professionals have stated, without a doubt, that marijuana does not cure or prevent the novel coronavirus.

Those statements of fact haven’t stopped several bad actors in the cannabis and CBD industries from trying to make a quick buck selling the plant as a cure-all during the pandemic. Since March, the Food and Drug Administration has sent out upwards of five warning letters to CBD companies, telling them to stop advertising their products as therapies for the virus. In one extreme case, former NFL player Kyle Turley or the CBD brand NeuroXPF chose to leave the company rather than comply with the FDA, so that he could continue to promote CBD as a cure for COVID-19.

Pelosi’s statements were quickly picked up on by her opponents on the other side of the aisle. In a speech to the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnel said that Pelosi is “still agitating for strange, new special interest carve-outs for the marijuana industry and even claiming they are COVID-related.”

“She said that, with respect to this virus, marijuana is ‘a therapy that has proven successful.’ You can’t make this up,” he continued. “I hope she shares her breakthrough with Dr. Fauci.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy jumped in on the act too, taking to Twitter to dismiss Pelosi’s claims.

“Incredibly irresponsible—Pelosi just doubled down on her $3 trillion dollar cannabis legislation, falsely claiming that it's a proven therapy for coronavirus,” tweeted McCarthy. “Hey Nancy, let's focus on the pandemic. Not pot.”

But others have argued that Pelosi’s comments have been taken out of context. In a statement released this week, NORML pushed back against Republican statements, noting that marijuana proponents have consistently said that cannabis is not a cure or preventative for the coronavirus. The group called on congressional Republicans to stop disparaging Pelosi and muddying the waters.

“The Speaker is correct to say that marijuana is accepted as a legitimate therapeutic option for certain patients,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement. “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.”

Both sides continue to hash out the new stimulus bill's specifics, with many expecting them to finalize the details this week. The President will likely sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

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