Republican Senators Reject Cannabis Reform

Much to the chagrin of a majority of the U.S. population, the recently passed $1.7 trillion government spending bill won’t include any cannabis provisions.

Most states have already legalized marijuana for medicinal use, while 18 states have approved it for recreational use, and polls repeatedly have shown that a supermajority of Americans believe the drug should be legal for adults. Yet it remains illegal on the federal level and a Schedule 1 drug, putting it in the same classification with the likes of heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

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Not only did Congress fail to legalize marijuana once again, but lawmakers could not even agree to include a modest anti-crime cannabis reform provision in the massive bill. And with Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives in January, it seems the chances of overhauling marijuana laws any time in the next two years is effectively nil.

Currently, because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, most cannabis firms are not allowed to open bank accounts, forcing them to operate on a cash-only basis and making them easy targets for criminals. Reformers had hoped lawmakers would include a bipartisan measure to remedy this situation, but they were sorely disappointed.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act would generally prohibit a federal banking regulator from penalizing a depository institution for providing banking services to a legitimate cannabis-related business. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the lead Republican cosponsor of the (SAFE) Banking Act, condemned SAFE’s exclusion from the larger spending bill, saying “communities in Montana and across our country will remain vulnerable to crime where legal businesses are forced to operate in all-cash.”

However, several of Daines’ fellow Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX), opposed the banking provision.

Referring to SAFE, Cornyn tweeted, “It is irresponsible to do this without a federal regulatory framework to address public health and law enforcement issues. Senators take an oath to uphold the law, not ignore it.”

Naturally, many banks supported SAFE, as it would mean more business for them.

But banks don’t like being caught in a conflict between state and federal law, “with local communities encouraging them to bank cannabis businesses and federal law prohibiting it,” said The American Bankers Association, which endorsed the bill.

At the beginning of the current Congress, with Democrats controlling both the House and the Senate, the prospect of cannabis reform was beginning to look brighter. However, while the House passed a sweeping bill that would have legalized marijuana nationwide earlier this year, opposition from Republicans and a few Democrats caused it to die in the Senate. Reformers then shifted their focus to passing more incremental changes, like the SAFE Banking Act.

Now, with Republicans set to take control of the House in less than a month while Democrats maintain a slim majority in the Senate, the chances of any marijuana reform passing both houses in the foreseeable future are more than likely slim to none.