The bill aimed at allowing cannabis businesses to receive access to better banking services did not make it out of the Senate again.
According to numerous reports, attempts by Democrats and Republicans alike to get the SAFE (Secure and Fair Enforcement) Banking Act included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) during the lame-duck session of Congress failed once again in the Senate.
Along with SAFE, lawmakers had hoped to additionally pass the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act) and the Gun Rights and Marijuana (GRAM) Act) in the NDAA as well. However, when the language of the final bill came out this past week, there was zero cannabis reform language to be found.
Marijuana legalization and reform advocates have been pushing for all three pieces of legislation for some time. However, the fact that these bills have been passed six times by the House of Representatives and still cannot make it out of the Senate is cause for frustration and concern for those hoping that a total end to the federal prohibition of marijuana is close at hand.
The SAFE Banking Act would allow marijuana businesses to use banking services, including loans. It would also substantially reduce the amount of cash these companies would have to carry by enabling customers to purchase products with credit cards. One of the main drivers behind this bill is the desire to curb the increased number of robberies at many dispensaries. Some of which have resulted in murders.
While important, the HOPE Act, which provides financial grants to states to offset the economic burden of dealing with criminal expungements, and the GRAM Act, which would allow Americans who own firearms to possess cannabis legally, are not as paramount as SAFE to reform advocates. For them, the SAFE Act, or some similar version, is crucial for the financial viability of the burgeoning marijuana industry and the safety of those cannabis business owners.
However, Republican leaders in the Senate argued that any inclusion of legislation not directly related to the defense of the nation was unacceptable. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made his position clear by saying, “Just as Republicans insisted, just as our service members deserve, this NDAA is not getting dragged down by unrelated liberal nonsense. Good smart policies were kept in, and unrelated nonsense like easier financing for illegal drugs was kept out.”
"Just as Republicans insisted, just as our service members deserve, this NDAA is not getting dragged down by unrelated liberal nonsense. Good smart policies were kept in, and unrelated nonsense like easier financing for illegal drugs was kept out.”
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Nevertheless, despite the continued setbacks, there is still hope that one or all of these bills could pass prior to the end of the session. Supporters of the reforms could include language from the bills in the upcoming omnibus government spending bill. Rep. Earl Perlmutter (D-CO), a die-hard cannabis reformer, has indicated he will make every attempt to insert the policy into the bill. As he said last Wednesday, “I’m not giving up on this darn thing yet.”
Furthermore, despite opposition by McConnell and others, there is an outside shot that the individual package could pass on a standalone vote. However, even though several GOP senators believe it could garner the 60-vote threshold necessary, many on the inside doubt there is enough time to schedule a vote before the lame-duck session runs out.
Regardless, the tidal wave of support for legal marijuana nationwide continues to gain momentum, with each state that passes adult-use legalization statutes. At some point, legislation like SAFE, HOPE and GRAM will have to be enacted to ensure a stable and economically viable cannabis industry. It is disappointing that the will of the people (roughly 70% support legalizing marijuana) is once again stymied by petty partisan politics. However, the voices for change are growing ever louder each day. And they eventually will be heard.