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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Cannabis gets nothing from Congress as the session draws to a close

Last Chance turns into any chance as the comprehensive spending package moves forward without any cannabis banking provisions

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As the 117th Congress wraps up this week, cannabis legalization advocates and industry leaders ruefully concede defeat. After two years of Democrats controlling the House and Senate, all of the groundbreaking legalization bills as well as the Safe Banking Act (SAFE) have largely fizzled out.

The last possible avenue for cannabis reform — a must-pass, sweeping spending package — moved toward acceptance on Monday and Tuesday with no mention of banking cannabis reform.

Advocates had hoped that elements of the SAFE Banking Act would be included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed Dec. 15. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) attempted an entry SAFE Plus unit on the NDAA, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rejected the idea and declared his party would not support it. McConnell said, “This NDA is not being dragged down by liberal nonsense that has nothing to do with it.”

Once the NDAA strategy failed, the blanket spending bill became the last possible avenue for SAFE banking. By Monday afternoon, it became clear that there would be no mention of banking protections for cannabis in the sweeping bill.

As a result, cannabis legalization advocates will bid farewell to the 117th Congress without passing any major legislation.

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A common frustration among industry leaders and reform advocates

BOWL PAC founder Justin Strickall summed up a big part of the problem: “A bipartisan deal was struck, the alarmist was dealt with, but unfortunately Mitch McConnell chose to ban people and continued to stand in front of history yelling ‘Stop it.’”

It’s not all about Mitch McConnell. There are plenty of Democratic senators who share the blame for failing to move positive legislation forward.

Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers expressed her company’s frustration: “We are deeply disappointed in 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 made a promise but were unable to deliver

NORML Executive Director Eric Altieri has held Democratic leaders responsible for their failure to act on cannabis reform efforts — even one sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Schumer himself.

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“Democrats have consistently promised action on cannabis over 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 to provide grant funding for statewide exclusion efforts, despite There are many opportunities to do so.”

“Until Congress takes action,” Altieri added, “state-licensed marijuana companies, the hundreds of thousands of people they employ, and the millions of Americans they care for will continue to be at greater risk of being mugged because of the cash-heavy nature of this industry created by outdated federal laws.” Moreover, smaller entrepreneurs seeking to enter this industry will continue to struggle to compete against larger, better-funded interests.”

The upcoming 118th Congress: It’s not likely to get better

Democratic control of both chambers has not led to full approval of major cannabis bills, but the next two years of dividing control, with Republicans running the House and Democrats maintaining control of the Senate, is not expected to yield better results.

With the Democrats in control, the legislation and bank bills had a fair chance of passing committee. In fact, the full house More Act passedwhich would have ended the federal ban, in April 2022. (He died in the Senate.) With Republicans now controlling committees in the House of Representatives, it may be more difficult for bills — even those with enough votes to pass a full House vote — To overcome the opposition of the Republican Committee Chairman.

The focus now turns to Biden’s authority to work on reform

With Congress expected to backtrack on legalization reform in 2023, the focus in D.C. may shift to the Biden administration’s efforts to reschedule or administratively de-schedule cannabis.

This is a process that President Biden began earlier this year. But it would take months if not years to complete, even if the agencies involved agreed that cannabis should move into a more appropriate category.

Advocates urge Biden to scrap the schedule now

In an effort to speed up that process, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is circulating a letter to President Biden, urging him to remove marijuana from the controlled substance law entirely.

“The continued inappropriate scheduling of marijuana is ambiguous and inappropriate to the will of the American people,” the authors told Biden. “We look forward to your administration working transparently and proactively with Congress to enact this critical step.”

Will Biden take the next step and move to canceling the cannabis schedule? And stay tuned next year, when the president gets to work with a new Congress — and starts looking at his chances for re-election in 2024.

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