Cory Booker says Mitch McConnell is blocking cannabis bills
US Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes reforming marijuana policy and preventing cannabis laws from being approved by his Republican counterparts. Booker said that McConnell’s opposition is preventing passage of the marijuana legislation in the upper chamber of Congress before the end of the year, after which control of the House of Representatives will shift to the GOP.
Proponents of cannabis policy reform had hoped to pass meaningful reforms during the current session of Congress, before control of House representatives shifts to the Republican Party. However, Booker said McConnell’s opposition to reforms, including restorative justice for those harmed by decades of marijuana prohibition and a bill that would give the legal cannabis industry access to banking services, is influencing the stance of other GOP senators.
“They’re keen on anything marijuana related,” Booker told NJ Advance Media. “That’s the obstacle for me.”
The Republican Party is set to take control of the US House of Representatives in next year’s new session of Congress after winning a narrow majority in last month’s midterm elections. Reforming cannabis policy is unlikely to be a legislative priority for GOP leaders, who were less enthusiastic about legalizing marijuana than their Democratic counterparts. If advocates of cannabis policy reform don’t pass legislation by the end of the year, the change in leadership of the House of Representatives will result in major progress on the issue for at least the next two years.
Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said the reform of cannabis policy was consistent with traditional Republican values, but that McConnell had failed to provide leadership on the issue.
“It’s not something he’s been interested in in the past or seems interested in currently,” Mast said. “He should. As much as Republicans have bickered over states’ rights over Roe v. Wade in recent months, this is an issue.”
Reform hopes hinge on the SAFE Banking Act
Cannabis policy reform is currently largely focused on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would give regulated marijuana companies easier access to traditional financial services. Provisions in the bill have passed the House of Representatives seven times since 2019, but the measure failed to win Senate approval. Most recently, language from the SAFE Banking Act was included in the House version of an annual defense spending bill, but the cannabis provisions were omitted from the version released last week.
For Republicans, bipartisan cannabis policy reform negotiations are being led by Senator Steve Daines with the goal of drafting a bill that includes restorative justice provisions Booker championed while gaining the support of enough GOP senators to pass in the Senate to become where 60 Most legislation requires votes from the nearly evenly distributed body of 100 legislators.
“The senator is doing everything in his power to get this bipartisan public safety bill across the finish line this year,” said Rachel Dumke, a spokeswoman for the Daines office.
But Booker believes that opposition to marijuana policy reform from McConnell, who was a leader in hemp legalization, makes his Republican compatriots reluctant to support the SAFE Banking Act or a full-scale legalization bill.
“The faction is clearly divided, but those in power in her faction are clearly opposed to doing anything about marijuana,” Booker said.
Cannabis advocate Justin Strekal, founder of the political action committee BOWL PAC for marijuana policy reform, said he is confident that provisions of the SAFE Banking Act can be appended to an upcoming must-pass omnibus spending law, currently being debated in Congress. If the cannabis policy reform measures are part of a larger bill that would fund the federal government through September next year, Republican senators could vote in favor of the bill without being forced to “openly stand up to Mitch McConnell in front of him,” Strekal said .