Readers of Kanna Knowledge know that following the November election, the forecasts for federal cannabis reform were very bullish. Overly optimistic, as it now appears. While reform is still likely to happen, the timetable may not be as rapid as was expected. Here’s where things stand as of President Biden’s first 100 days:
The SAFE (Secure And Fair Enforcement) Banking Act of 2021 was passed by the House again by a bipartisan vote of 321-101. That, of course, is nothing new; the Act was previously passed in 2019, and was also passed two more times as part of House COVID relief legislation packages. Each of these times, the Act went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, the person responsible for moving he bill forward, has indicated he’s not ready to take action on SAFE as a standalone bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is also holding off, as he’s most interested in first passing his own bill that would finally end the federal prohibition on cannabis.
Another option being considered is to tie the cannabis banking legislation to the related issue of sentencing reform. That’s acceptable to Representative Ed Perlmutter who sponsored the House bill, but in the meantime House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler is moving to reintroduce his reform bill, the MORE (Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement) Act, which similarly was passed by the House last session but tabled in the Senate.
And while all polls show a majority of Americans — as many as two-thirds — in favor of federally legalizing cannabis, President Biden is yet to get on board. Senator Schumer has repeatedly stated he will bring cannabis reform up for a Senate vote with or without support from the chief executive, yet the reality may be different because as of this writing, not every Democratic senator agrees with the majority leader. Without enough votes from his own party, and no assurance he can find 10 Republican senators to join forces, Schumer knows that if a Senate vote were held tomorrow on any cannabis bill, it would fail.
With the main Senate focus continuing to be on COVID-19 and vaccine distribution, the realistic view on when a bill may finally pass is becoming 2022. That leaves plenty of time for a comprehensive consensus bill to be formulated; something that can strike a middle ground between conflicting positions. Certain provisions of the SAFE Banking Act may have to be modified. Descheduling cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act may have more support if its sister provisions for criminal justice reform and social equity funding are trimmed or removed.
Should nothing be done this legislative session, the midterm elections may further stall the process as historically they are not good for the party in power. The best hope for the industry is that Senators Schumer, Booker and Wyden are successful in their quest to draft legislation that will either usher in legalization and pave the way for banking reform afterwards … or reconcile multiple interests into one comprehensive bill that will have the votes.