Lawmakers push to reform laws as majority of United States legalize marijuana

One key bill will make it easier for cannabis companies to use regular banking
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 9:26 AM CST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Lawmakers are working to reform cannabis laws as the majority of the United States have legalized either recreational or medical marijuana to some extent.

Federally, marijuana remains illegal. It is labeled as a Schedule I drug by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule I drugs are defined as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) believes the federal government scheduling has a ‘stranglehold’ on key elements of cannabis regulation. For example, he said the scheduling makes it difficult for legitimate cannabis businesses to use banks.

“The federal government denies state legal cannabis businesses full banking services which basically puts a bulls eye on the back of small local dispensary operators,” he said.

Blumenauer supports the passage of a package of bills that would make things easier for states that legalize cannabis. That includes, the SAFE Banking Act, which has passed the House seven times. The measure stalled in the Senate. Blumenauer said “first of all, we’ve had problems in the past because the Senate leadership, the Republicans, were adamantly opposed and they would not stand for moving it forward. We’d pass legislation and it would go to Mitch McConnell’s hospice to die.”

Last year, the Senate was split evenly among the Democratic and Republican parties with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are two of the Republicans who supports the SAFE Banking act.

Sen. Daines said, “my bipartisan SAFE Banking Act is first and foremost about public safety. When legal cannabis businesses are forced to operate in all-cash, they become vulnerable to crime and make our Montana communities less safe. While I don’t support the federal legalization of marijuana, states like Montana have spoken, and it’s our duty to ensure legal businesses are allowed access to financial institutions. I’ll continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this public safety bill signed in to law for the sake of Montana families and communities.”

Sen. Paul added, “legal businesses have trouble dealing with the money that people pay, putting it in banks. Banks, national banks, are worried about accepting their money because we have federal laws that say if a bank takes, you know illegal drug money, then they can have their license taken away and no bank wants to lose their license. So the Safe Banking Act sort of solidifies and makes it explicit that if your state has legalized marijuana, that no bank will be punished for taking money from a legal business within their state.”

However, Paul believes Democrats missed an opportunity to pass the legislation when they controlled both the House and Senate.

“I think it’s good legislation it’s been out there for several years and this year it ended up not passing and I think primarily because Senator Schumer decided not to bring it up. So, there were discussions of tacking it on to other bills and then they had some opposition to that from the Republicans who wanted to vote for those bills. But people like me who would have helped it pass, it was never allowed to come to the floor. And I think had it come to the floor as an individual bill, I think it could have passed. I still think it would pass,” he said.

Paul acknowledged marijuana legislation may now face a hurdle passing the House with its new slim Republican majority.

But Blumenauer said, he’s optimistic the idea has enough bipartisan support. He hopes the other marijuana legislation he supports will also pass.

“Well, I think our entire agenda has an opportunity to move forward. Safe access for veterans has always been popular, and I think that there’s support in the Senate. If it could overcome the filibuster. The SAFE banking has passed seven times in the House and came oh so close this last time with the addition of some elements of racial justice which are important. I think we’re looking at a package that could get majority support. The momentum is building around the country. As you know, we had two more states pass ballot measures. I think the stars are aligned and the entire package I’ve been working on is not out of reach,” he said.