Cannabis gets nothing from Congress as the session draws to a close
Last chance becomes no chance as omnibus spending package moves forward without cannabis banking regulations
As the 117th Congress winds up its business this week, advocates for cannabis legalization and industry leaders ruefully admit defeat. After two years of Democratic control of the House and Senate, all of the leading legalization bills, as well as the SAFE Banking Act, have died short of passage.
The latest possible vehicle for cannabis reform — a must-pass omnibus spending package — was accepted Monday and Tuesday with no mention of cannabis banking reform.
Proponents had hoped to incorporate elements of the SAFE Banking Act into the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed Dec. 15. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) attempted to insert a “SAFE Plus” module into the NDAA, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rejected the idea, saying his party would don’t support them. “This NDAA,” McConnell said, “is not being dragged down by unrelated liberal nonsense.”
After the NDAA strategy failed, the omnibus spending bill became the last possible vehicle for SAFE banking. By Monday afternoon, it was becoming clear that protecting cannabis banks would not be mentioned in the omnibus bill.
As a result, supporters of cannabis legalization will walk away from the 117th Congress with no major legislation passed.
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Frustration shared among industry leaders and reform advocates
BOWL PAC founder Justin Strekal summarized much of the issue: “A bipartisan deal has been struck, concerns have been addressed, but unfortunately Mitch McConnell chose to impose a ban on people and continues to scream at the tale . JUST.'”
It’s not all Mitch McConnell’s fault, however. There are many Democratic senators to blame for their failure to push positive legislation forward.
Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, expressed her company’s frustration: “We are deeply disappointed by the leadership on both sides of the aisle and the lack of action on SAFE Banking over the past two years,” she said in a public statement.
The Democrats promised but couldn’t deliver
NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri took Democratic leaders to task for failing to respond to cannabis reform efforts — even those sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Schumer himself.
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“Democrats have consistently promised action on cannabis for the past two years,” Altieri said, “yet leadership has consistently failed to prioritize and advance marijuana reform legislation, including legislation to provide clarity to banks and subsidies for marijuana.” efforts to provide erasures at the state level. although I have had several opportunities to do so.”
“Until Congress takes action,” Altieri added, “state-licensed marijuana businesses, the hundreds of thousands of people who employ them and the millions of Americans who patronize them, will continue to be at greater risk of robbery.” Heavy nature of this industry created by outdated federal laws. Additionally, smaller entrepreneurs looking to enter this industry will continue to struggle to compete against larger, better capitalized companies.”
The incoming 118th Congress: unlikely to improve
Democratic control of both houses did not result in the full passage of major cannabis legislation, but the next two years of shared control, with Republicans ruling the House of Representatives and Democrats retaining control of the Senate, are unlikely to yield better results.
With the Dems in control, legalization and banking laws had a fair chance of passing the committee. And indeed, in April 2022, the entire House passed the MORE Act, which would have ended federal prohibition. (He died in the Senate.) With Republicans now in control of House committees, it could become much more difficult for bills — even those with enough votes to pass a full chamber vote — to overcome opposition from a GOP committee chair .
Congress just legalized marijuana through the MORE Act — again.
The focus now shifts to Biden’s power to push for reform
With Congress expected to take a step back on legalization reform in 2023, the focus in DC could shift to the Biden administration’s efforts to administratively reschedule or defer cannabis.
That’s a process that President Biden set in motion earlier this year. But it will take months, if not years, to complete, even if the authorities involved agree that cannabis should be moved to a more appropriate category.
Leafly recently walked through the entire process in this analysis: How to Schedule or Cancel Marijuana Under Federal Laws.
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Supporters are urging Biden to reschedule the appointment now
To expedite this process, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is currently circulating a letter to President Biden urging him to remove marijuana entirely from the Controlled Substances Act. Politico’s Natalie Fertig first reported on the letter late last week.
The letter, written by Reps Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (R-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Brian Mast (R-FL), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA ), applauded Biden for taking a close look at the status of marijuana. “However,” the authors wrote, “it is time to phase out marijuana. As Congress works to send you comprehensive legalization legislation, the administration should recognize the merits of a complete rescheduling.”
“The continued inappropriate planning of marijuana is both mysterious and inconsistent with the will of the American people,” the authors told Biden. “We look forward to your administration working transparently and proactively with Congress to implement this critical step.”
Will Biden take the next step and repeal cannabis? Tune in next year as the president begins working with a new Congress — and begins evaluating his own chances of reelection in 2024.
How to reschedule or rescind marijuana under federal law