March 21, 2023

Cory Booker, a senator from New Jersey, believes that Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate minority, significantly influences his colleagues’ decisions to vote against approving any cannabis-related legislation during the lame-duck session.  As pointed out a few days earlier, that “Emperor McConnell” is the only reason that the US does not have a Federal marijuana legalization plan.


Last week, McConnell stated that he was relieved that marijuana banking reform was not included in the final draft of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). At the time, McConnell affirmed that just as their members deserve, and just as Republicans insisted, the NDAA will not be getting derailed by irrelevant liberal nonsense.


This significant resistance, according to Booker, has influenced Senate Republicans who were contemplating supporting marijuana banking legislation. The legislation is said to allow financial institutions to provide services to legal marijuana enterprises while assisting those most affected by the drug war. Booker, a Democrat, believes McConnell will prevent marijuana-related legislation from advancing in the next two years.


“They’re dead set against marijuana,” Booker informed NJ Advance Media. That, to him, is the impediment… The caucus is undoubtedly divided, but the folks in power in their camp are emphatically opposed to any action on cannabis. Brian Mast, a Florida congressman, an Afghanistan War veteran, and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, appears to agree with Booker.


“Cannabis banking reform is not something Mitch McConnell has traditionally been interested in or appears to be interested in right now,” Mast told the publication. Even though he should. “Cannabis banking reform is just as important an issue as Republicans have been arguing about states’ rights over Roe v. Wade in recent months.”


Marijuana activist Justin Strekal hopes the SAFE Act will be included in omnibus budget legislation. As such, Republicans would not have to vote on marijuana legalization as a separate bill and “overrule Mitch McConnell in front of him.”


Poison Pills


Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke to the Senate floor on Wednesday, bragging about how Republicans could leave cannabis banking reform out of a significant defense budget passed Tuesday night. He also stated that the “lesson must carry over” to the forthcoming omnibus appropriations legislation, which some members are already considering as an alternate means to enact cannabis legalization.


McConnell hinted at his intention to obstruct the attempt earlier this week, calling the cannabis measure one of the Democrats’ pet obsessions that should be left out of defense legislation. His efforts paid off. He conducted a victory parade on the Senate floor on Wednesday while hinting that he will aim to thwart any future attempts to add non-germane issues to omnibus appropriations legislation.


McConnell said, “I’m delighted this Democrat-led Congress has recognized that safeguarding America is a basic legislative obligation. “It’s not some Republican goal for which Democrats can demand irrelevant goods,” he said. “Neither party, not alone the current president’s party, can ever embrace the idea that they must be bribed or bartered into backing our troops.”


Notably, he also hinted that Republicans may take a similar method to block cannabis banking reform from passing through must-pass spending legislation, which proponents see as an alternate vehicle for the lame-duck session. “We made it clear that we were not moving down that path. “Our Democratic colleagues have finally accepted it,” remarked the minority leader. “That same lesson must now be carried over into our following discussions regarding government funding.”


McConnell argues vehemently against including the cannabis banking measure in the funding bill. On the Senate floor on Wednesday, he made the following remarks about government funding, stating he’ll support the package if it doesn’t include “poison pills.”


“Even so, the timetable will make this a difficult sprint,” the minority leader remarked. “If a genuinely bipartisan full-year bill free of poison pills is presented for Senate consideration by late next week, I will support it… Otherwise, we’ll make a short-term bipartisan bill for the coming year.”



More Fights to Come

Despite the uncertainty, tensions, and speculation, SAFE Banking backer Rep. Ed Perlmutter remains optimistic. According to a staffer in Perlmutter’s office, he continues pushing as aggressively as possible and communicating with leadership.


While the NDAA’s omission of banking reform has disappointed advocates, the fight is bubbling over implementing the reform through independent omnibus legislation. Details regarding the so-called SAFE Plus package, which the majority senate leader, Chuck Schumer, has been working on with bicameral and bipartisan offices for months, have emerged this week.


The SAFE Banking Act, and a second bipartisan plan to incentivize state-legal cannabis expungements, are expected to serve as the basis for that package, which may also be submitted and approved as a standalone. Sources have told Marijuana Moment for several months that lawmakers have been discussing incorporating SAFE Plus terms to protect cannabis consumers’ Second Amendment rights.


This will play out by excluding persons in legalized states from a federal limitation prohibiting any “unlawful user” of a banned substance from possessing a firearm. According to Politico, the current negotiating plan incorporates the Gun Rights And Marijuana Act (GRAM).


Meanwhile, the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) wrote to Senate leadership, urging a floor vote on the SAFE Banking Act “without further delay” by the end of the year. “This proposal has substantial, bipartisan support and would resolve a discrepancy between federal and state law, and tackles a serious public safety concern,” stated the ICBA. The ICBA commissioned a poll earlier this year to demonstrate that support. “We encourage its immediate implementation.”


Another poll published last week indicated that three out of every four American voters, including bipartisan majorities, support the repeal of federal marijuana prohibition, the expungement of prior convictions, and the ability of banks to engage with state-legal cannabis firms.



While this year’s window seems to be closing on enacting the SAFE Banking Act, the Democrats are not giving up on the idea. The Democrats are now making sure every day counts as they try to flip the script in their favor. Meanwhile, the Marijuana Policy Project’s campaign to “assist in the enactment of federal cannabis reform by calling your Senator now” has gained steam on Twitter, with many industry professionals, analysts, and supporters sharing it.






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