But in the final days of negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Actwhich they hoped would serve as the go-to vehicle for the cannabis package, the enthusiasm has evaporated. The rollback of the plan was sparked by leading Republicans attacking the cannabis banking legislation that was the centerpiece of the deal.
The failed attempt is just the latest setback for the booming cannabis industry on Capitol Hill. The number of states that allow the legal use of marijuana for recreational purposes has nearly doubled in the past three years. Nearly half of Americans now live in states where anyone 21 or older can legally possess weed, and Missouri and Maryland have become the latest states to legalize the use of marijuana by adults. adults via referendums in November.
Despite this momentum, the only legislative victory cannabis advocates can point to is a bill signed by President Joe Biden earlier this month which is designed to expand medical marijuana research.
With Republicans poised to take control of the House, this was perhaps the last chance to make significant federal legislative changes in the foreseeable future.
“The Senate has once again ducked its responsibilities,” House Cannabis Caucus co-chair says Count Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said Wednesday. “But it’s not over until the last minutes of this session.”
The SAFE banking law, around which the cannabis package revolves, would allow banks to offer financial services to the cannabis industry. The amount of cash available at cannabis dispensaries has made them a target for thieves. Three men died in a series of break-ins in Seattle earlier this year. The House passed the bill six times with strong bipartisan support, but it never made progress in the Senate.
‘People’s lives are at risk here,’ Washington state treasurer said Mike Pellicciotti said in an interview on Wednesday. “This can no longer be a theoretical discussion in DC”
SAFE was then paired with the Act HOPE – a bill presented by Reps. David Joyce (R-Ohio) and loyal progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) that creates grants for delisting at the state level, giving it a “state rights” component.
Finally, the GRAM Act — introduced by the late Alaska GOP Rep. and former Congressional Cannabis Caucus Co-Chair Don Young — was added. This would protect the right of marijuana users to own a firearm.
The support was there: At least 10 Republicans have co-sponsored or signaled support for the SAFE Act so far. Co-sponsor Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) said in November he was open to SAFE and HOPE, especially if Daines was on board. On Thursday Daines said the conversations were productive and Paul claimed there were more than 60 votes for the package.
But the potential deal began to unravel when key Republican senators took aim at the cannabis banking provision.
On Monday, staff members of Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other senators involved in the deliberations met with representatives of the Ministry of Justice to discuss concerns about how agency officials would enforce the bill. Following this meeting, Grassley’s office released a statement attacking the bill.
Then on Tuesday, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took the floor to rip Democrats for trying to add foreign proposals to the defense spending bill.
“We’re talking about a bag of miscellaneous pet priorities, like making our financial system more friendly to illegal drugs,” he said.
Even staunch supporters were shivered as they attached the cannabis package to the NDAA.
Burn and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who both support the banking bill, said a defense spending package was not the place for it.
“It dilutes the proper role of this place,” Cramer said, suggesting the deal instead receive full committee markup and speaking time.
The NDAA is not the last piece of legislation likely to pass in the lame duck, but the same hurdles will apply to an omnibus funding package currently being negotiated. Simply put, if McConnell remains opposed to SAFE, it won’t make it a major package.
But the bill isn’t dead yet: Paul is still optimistic about its prospects, saying he’s confident there are more than 60 senators in favor of SAFE if it were to receive a standalone floor vote . However, Democrats left that until the last minute, and the odds that the Senate could find any speaking time for a standalone SAFE “plus” package before the end of the year are slim.
“There are going to be other bills coming out of the Senate,” said cannabis lawyer Justin Strekal, former political director of the pro-legalization group NORML. “I hope the Republican supporters of this compromise fight their own caucus leader to secure a victory.”
Daines said he was focused on getting something passed before the end of the year, but other GOP supporters, including Tuberville, said they might just have to go. take care of it next year.
Republicans are expected to take control of the House in January, reducing the chances of SAFE. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy voted in favor of the bill, but he did not signal that he wanted to spend time with cannabis.
It may be that after more than three years of trying to pass SAFE, Democrats took a gamble with the lame duck and ran out of time to get it through.
E&E News’ Nick Sobczyk contributed to this report.