It’s not over until it’s over. But for cannabis reform at the federal level, time seems to have run out with the current U.S. Congress, specifically the House of Representatives. Democrats controlled both the House and Senate since 2021, but time seems to have run out on them for making any changes to marijuana law.
That’s partly due to what is known as a “lame duck Congress.” The term refers to a Congress where one party has control, but the other party is taking over in January thanks to the results of the November election. In such situations, it’s difficult for the party leaving power to get legislation passed.
That is the case with the current Congress and proposed cannabis law. With Democrats in control, legislation seemed likely. But recent Republican opposition to a bill that would allow banks to work with cannabis companies now is in jeopardy. Most importantly, that opposition is coming from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
A Deal Apparently Dies in Congress
The primary change that Democrats and some Republicans have talked about is creating a provision in federal law allowing banks to extend financial services to marijuana dispensaries. Currently, because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, most dispensaries run on a cash-only basis, which also means customers must use cash to make a purchase.
It’s created problems for dispensaries. Not only does cash attract crime, but it also makes accounting and tax payments more complicated than for other businesses. The SAFE Act passed by the Democrat-controlled House would have changed federal law to allow banks to provide services to dispensaries without fear of breaking the law.
However, the deal looks dead. As reported by Politico, a bipartisan group of Senators seemed close to reaching an agreement that would have added the banking law change to a defense budget bill. It also would have called for the expungement of criminal records related to past marijuana convictions and protected a marijuana user’s right to own a firearm.
But McConnell spoke in opposition on the Senate floor, saying additions to the defense bill are “a grab bag of miscellaneous pet priorities, like making our financial system more sympathetic to illegal drugs.”
It’s worthwhile noting that such additions to funding bills on non-related issues are very frequent in Congress. Also, the SAFE Act has been debated since 2013, when it was first introduced in Congress.
How Politics in Washington Impacts Cannabis Consumers
Of course, it’s politics, so things can turn on a dime. But the decision by Republican senators to oppose the changes agreed to by the bipartisan group leaves dispensaries and their customers where they were when this session of congress started two years ago.
That impacts consumers. A report for Stop the Drug War found that cash-heavy dispensaries are targets for criminals, placing workers at risk. The report found that in at least 50 percent of all robberies, the criminals targeted cash only. The report notes that this is something that perhaps not all members of Congress are considering.
The report calls for passage of the SAFE Act, adding that it “should include language expanding its current protections for depository account business to also include credit card and other electronic payment transactions, written in consultation with decision makers at the top credit card networks.”
However, with Republicans taking control of the House in January 2023, time is running out for politicians on both sides of the aisle to find a way to get the bill passed.