The high-powered U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs met July 23 for what was hailed to be a landmark hearing. Lawmakers, industry executives and advocates lined up to testify on the topic of the day: how Congress could ease federal cannabis banking restrictions, making the industry safer and more lucrative in states that have legalized cannabis for recreational and/or medical use.

There was only one problem: When Committee Chair Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) banged his gavel to start the session, none of his 12 Republican committee colleagues was present. Instead, it seems, all decided to skip the session. Some speculated that as popular opinion shifts on cannabis, the senators didn't want to put their prohibitionist proclivities on display. Others, meanwhile, speculated that it was actually the opposite, with the conservative senators — mostly from deep red states — not wanting to appear pro-cannabis. Whatever the case, it is interesting to note that the vast majority of the 12 come from states where prohibition is still the law of the land.

The Republican boycott seems to underscore the current impasse over cannabis in Congress, where Democrats have increasingly voiced support for federal decriminalization but Mitch McConnell, majority leader of the Republican-controlled Senate, has so far refused to even allow cannabis bills to proceed to a floor vote. The Republican from Kentucky championed hemp's inclusion in last year's farm bill, but that appears to have had far more to do with the economic interests of his home state than any calling to free the weed or create equity across the United States when it comes to marijuana laws.

So while we imagine industry leaders and lawmakers from states with more rational cannabis laws testified on July 23, making their solid case for why federal rules prohibiting banking institutions from working with cannabis businesses put people and livelihoods in very real danger, it appears to be more of the same.

There is indisputably a rising tide of national sentiment that recognizes federal cannabis prohibition for the folly it is but, for the time being anyway, that tide just smacks repeatedly into a Republican seawall that is preventing any real progress on the issue. This all but ensures that — barring a blue wave hitting the Senate — we'll continue to live in a nation where people in some states spend years if not decades in prison for something that's perfectly legal in other states, and where business owners following the letter of their states' laws have to keep stacks of cash in safes, while paying taxes and their employees in cash, because they can't open a bank account.

The state of California announced July 22 that it has seized more than $30 million in cannabis products over the last year in several dozen raids on unlicensed cannabis retail shops, mostly clustered in Southern California, where black market dispensaries still have a large foothold.

Further bolstering enforcement efforts, Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced earlier this month that he has authorized fines of up to $30,000 a day for unlicensed cannabis growers, distributors and sellers, underscoring the notion that California is getting serious about trying to stamp out the black market, which continues to undercut the state's legal recreational cannabis industry.

Ingesting cannabis while pregnant can potentially harm the behavioral development of your children, according to a pair of recent studies published in the journal Birth Defects Research.

The first study saw researchers give lab rats cannabis and alcohol while they were pregnant during the rodent equivalent of what would be a mother's third trimester, then observe their babies. They found that both alcohol and cannabis exposure slowed the offspring's development, especially when they were prenatally exposed to both substances.

The second study looked at the effects cannabis and alcohol exposure had on zebrafish, which reportedly share 84 percent of the genes that cause disease in humans, according to a report in Newsweek. The study found that exposing zebrafish embryos to high doses of cannabis caused similar effects to the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders that occurred when the embryos were exposed to alcohol.

"This study is significant because it indicates that exposure of embryos to even small amounts of alcohol and cannabis during development may have long-term effects on behavior, with alterations in behavior being exhibited through adolescence," Gregory Cole, who co-authored the zebrafish study, told Newsweek. "Especially important is the study shows that there may be no safe level of use of alcohol and cannabis during pregnancy, since the use of both drugs together places the fetus at greater risk."

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

Add a comment