Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mocked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Monday, saying that her support for cannabis in a coronavirus relief and stimulus bill is a carve-out for special interests that is unrelated to the pandemic.

In May, the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, a wide-ranging $3 trillion measure designed to address the public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill included provisions of the SAFE Banking Act, a bill that would give legal cannabis companies access to basic banking services they are largely shut out of due to federal money laundering and drug trafficking laws. The SAFE Act was passed as a stand-alone bill by the House in September and has been awaiting action from the Senate since that time.

When a reporter suggested last week that the cannabis provisions were not directly related to coronavirus response, Democrat Pelosi balked at the notion.

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

The exchange caught the attention of McConnell, a Republican, who criticized Pelosi’s assertion in a speech on the Senate floor on Monday.

“Speaker Pelosi is still agitating for strange, new special interests carve-outs for the marijuana industry and even claiming they were COVID-related,” McConnell said. “She said that with respect to this virus, marijuana is, quote, ‘a therapy that is proven successful.’ You can’t make this up. I hope she shared her breakthrough with Dr. Fauci.”

Cannabis is being studied as a potential treatment for lung inflammation commonly experienced by COVID-19 patients, although it has not yet been approved as a therapy for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. However, cannabis has been legalized to treat dozens of serious medical conditions in 33 states, and dispensaries were considered an essential service and permitted to remain open during mandatory business closures in many jurisdictions.

Pelosi Defends Cannabis Provisions Of House Bill

When Pelosi introduced the HEROES Act in May, she noted that the legislation had several goals.

“We are presenting a plan to do what is necessary to address the corona crisis,” Pelosi said during remarks at the Capitol announcing the bill, explaining that the bill’s priorities were “opening our economy safely and soon, honoring our heroes, and then putting much needed money in the pockets of Americans.”

Aaron Smith, the executive director of the trade group the National Cannabis Industry Association, applauded the inclusion of cannabis banking in the bill at the time, noting that current regulations require workers to handle large amounts of cash.

“We commend the congressional leadership for prioritizing public health and safety by including sensible cannabis banking policy in this legislation,” said Smith. “Our industry employs hundreds of thousands of Americans and has been deemed ‘essential’ in most states. It’s critically important that essential cannabis workers are not exposed to unnecessary health risks due to outdated federal banking regulations.”

House Democrats and GOP leaders from the Senate and the Trump administration continue to negotiate a compromise between the HEROES Act and a more modest $1 trillion package released by Republicans last week. The push to pass a new coronavirus stimulus and relief measure has taken on added urgency with the expiration late last month of enhanced unemployment benefits for millions of workers across the country.

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