Montana’s Senate election and cannabis policy collided on the Senate floor in April when a five-pack of veterans’ bills — built around Tester VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act – was unexpectedly blocked by Republicans. The bills were largely supported in committee, and the package included legislation introduced by both Republicans and Democrats.
Had the package passed, it would have made VA home loans directly available to Native Americans, made changes to improve veterans’ health care programs, and mandated the VA to research cannabis use for conditions like PTSD and chronic pain.
“All of these came out unanimously [the] Veterans Committee”, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told POLITICO last month. « Jon Tester is on his cycle, [and] Mitch McConnell probably doesn’t want to help him.
Some lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates are now suggesting that Montana’s Senate election has increased unanticipated opposition to the Veterans package. They also fear that the brouhaha on the cannabis side of the package, and Daines’s vote against, could bode ill for priority #1. 1 of the financially struggling cannabis industry: the Banking Security Actwhich would make it easier for weed companies to access financial services.
When Tester ran for re-election in 2018, many of his campaign ads advertised his work in support of a beloved constituency: Veterans.
“Jon’s got our backs,” a veteran says to the camera in an ad released May 2018. To which dozens of other veterans reply, « So we’ve got his back. »
Currently president of VA Committee of the Senatetalking about his legislative victories for veterans is smart policy for a Democrat like Tester running in a deep red state.
In 2018, Tester won re-election by just under 18,000 votes. There are 89,000 veterans in the state of Montana, a demographic large enough to affect an election.
« The true definition of how many veterans there are in Montana is ‘a fucking ton,' » strategist Jim Messina, who worked for former Democratic Senator Max Baucus and contributed to the first Senate campaign, said in an interview. of Tester in 2006. « In every race Jon Tester has ever had — all, of course, close — veterans have been a key to his winning coalition. »
Vietnam veteran Mike Lawson — a Montana resident and Tester supporter who attended the senator’s 2018 campaign announcement — says veterans in the state are paying attention to the ultimate fate of the VA package that includes the security bill. cannabis research. Lawson says he knows a number of veterans in Montana who say marijuana has made a huge difference to their quality of life, and he doesn’t understand why the VA wouldn’t want to do more research on it.
« I’m tired of the political games people play at the veteran’s expense, » he said in an interview, but added that Tester’s reputation for supporting veterans legislation is already well known. « We know who our friend is. »
The details don’t add up
Sen. James Lanford (R-okla.) raised strong objections on the cannabis research proposal during a caucus meeting and in a conversation with POLITICO about the methodology of a retroactive study in the bill, arguing that the self-selecting nature of the study could skew the results. However, that study was added to the legislation at the behest of Republican Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), according to veterans advocate Amy Rising and a Senate Democratic aide familiar with the discussions.
Other GOP senators supporting the cannabis veterans research bill, including Todd Young (Ind.) e Kevin Cramer (ND) – Said he voted against moving the bill through the Senate floor because he objected to the lack of an amendment process. But the Democratic Senate aide said Moran and Tester have agreed to proceed with the bill and are working together to choose which amendments could be voted on.
“The argument that there wasn’t time to have amendments isn’t actually accurate,” said Tom Rodgers, a Montanan and Blackfeet Nation member who works on veterans, cannabis and Native American issues. He supported a number of bills in the package and said both Moran and the main GOP co-sponsor Dan Sulvan (Alaska) would have accepted the amendments.
Sen. Jon Cornin (R-Texas), when asked in May whether the Montana Senate election had any impact on the bill not moving forward, he told POLITICO, « I don’t think we need to talk about it, everybody knows that. »
For lawmakers and advocates who have worked on cannabis policy for years, the Montana Senate election is throwing another hurdle in the long line of hurdles that weed legislation already has to overcome to make it across the finish line.
“What happened in that vote is people actually got hurt,” Rodgers said. “In this situation, veterans [and] Native Americans…were the first casualty in this political battle. »
Rising says it’s working to get the bill back up for another vote before the August recess, and Moran also confirmed he still wants the bill back up for another vote. With the sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) back in town after ill health, the bill would be just one vote away from cloture — a vote that supporters think they can convince one of the « no » voters who caught them by surprise, like Young or Cramer.
The other weed bill
The SAFE Banking Act also has bipartisan support and has passed the House seven times in previous years, but the Senate has yet to move it from committee. At the end of the last Congress, a tentative agreement was reached on a package of cannabis laws based on the SAFE Act, but the deal ultimately went astray in December. Majority Leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) stated in a recent interview with POLITICO that Cannabis banking is still a priority.
Further muddying the waters is Daines, the top GOP co-sponsor of the SAFE Act who voted against the veterans’ cannabis bill.
Supporters are now watching that vote with concern as Daines negotiates with Schumer, Brown and the other main sponsor of the cannabis bill, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Hores.) on the details of the bill. Three cannabis advocates POLITICO spoke to said they feared Daines’ decision not to play catch on one cannabis bill could make Democrats less inclined to work with him on the other bill.
When asked if his vote on vets was complicating matters with the SAFE Banking Act, Daines argued that Democrats they are the ones slowing down the bill right now. In a May hearing, Sen. Jack Reed (DR.I.) expressed concern that the bill could make it more difficult for regulators to flag relationships that could pose risks to banks – and lawmakers are now negotiating potential changes to a section of the legislation to deal with Reed’s problems.
The SAFE Act’s other supporters, meanwhile, were quick to separate it from the issues of the Veterans bill.
Merkley said the veterans bill « was a different political issue that people disagreed with the policy on. »
Sen. Cinzia Lummis (R-Wyo.), a co-sponsor of the Cannabis Banking bill that voted against the Veterans Package, added that it would not be « fair to assume » that the Veterans Package vote is « in any way indicative that there will be a hard slippage for the bank safety law.