The word on the street is that Congress is set to finally take action on legislation in the coming weeks that will allow banks to do business with the cannabis industry. It is known as the SAFE Banking Act, a measure that has attracted bipartisan support, and is quite possibly, depending on which naïve news force is reporting, the most likely step to ending federal marijuana prohibition in the United States.
But while the SAFE Banking Act has enough support to become the first concrete marijuana-related measure to make it out of the U.S. House of Representatives in all of history, there isn’t much hope that it will find the kind of endorsement needed to make it all the way. So if you’re feeling optimistic about the future of pot reform in America, don’t. Because Congress is still entirely too flawed to come together on this issue in 2019.
Cannabis advocates rejoiced earlier this year when the House Financial Committee approved the SAFE Banking Act, setting it up to go before the full House for a vote in the near future. Well, the time has come for lawmakers in the lower chamber to party. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer recently told CNN that he intends to bring the banking bill to the House floor for a vote before the end of September.
“We’re discussing it with members, but it hasn’t been scheduled just yet,” Mariel Saez, a spokesperson for Hoyer’s office confirmed with the new source on Monday.
In all seriousness, as long as there aren’t any pesky amendments introduced in the 11th hour, the SAFE Banking Act has found the approval necessary to move out of the House, as is. The bill has attracted a massive outpouring of support from Democrats (180 co-sponsors) and it has more Republican backers (26 co-sponsors) than one might expect. In fact, the banking bill is almost keyed up exactly how marijuana legislation needs to be in order to stand a fighting chance at going the distance in the halls of Congress.
Only the support for this potentially groundbreaking legislation is, while bipartisan in some regards, still pretty much one-sided. The Senate, a crucial component in getting this thing stamped and sent to the desk of President Trump for a signature, is not at all enthused about pot banking, and there is no sign that the upper chamber is going to so much as entertain the bill, much less push it through.
Everyone keeps forgetting that no matter how much the House wants to pass pot reform in 2019, the Senate still isn’t there. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who championed industrial hemp legalization 2.0, last year, still isn’t very keen on marijuana. He has said before that he has absolutely no interest in getting behind legislation aimed at legalizing marijuana in the United States. But more than he hates weed, at least the one that gets people stoned, the Kentucky Reaper despises the Democratic agenda. And while he didn’t expressly point to pot when he stood before his constituents earlier this year pledging to put a stop to any Democratic proposal that crosses his path, McConnell likely has a total ban on putting anything led by Democrats on the Senate docket.
“I would be shocked if Sen. McConnell wanted to spend a single second of floor time on weed,” one veteran lobbyist told Politico.
Even if McConnell is growing soft when it comes to marijuana, and that’s a big if, chances are the big cheese of the Senate still isn’t going to entertain the SAFE Banking bill if it makes it out of the House. Not with an election year on the horizon. He’s not going to want to show the American voters that the Democrats have any real power on Capitol Hill. And as of now, they don’t. No, the only way pot reform is going to make it out of Congress this year, regardless of whether it is a modest banking bill or one geared toward ending prohibition nationwide, is if it is a plan concocted by President Trump and Mitch McConnell behind closed doors. That’s the only way this plays out in 2019, and the potential of that happening doesn’t seem likely at this juncture.
House Democrats could also totally fumble on the banking bill prior to the vote, jamming it up with unnecessary amendments that not everyone agrees upon, putting it in a position where it doesn’t even make it to the Senate. One thing is sure, we are perhaps just weeks away from finding out who the real friends of the cannabis industry are in Congress. You’re going to want to take notes.
Still, House lawmakers are optimistic that the SAFE Banking bill will find a way to succeed. U.S. Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who chairs the all-powerful House Rules Committee, said earlier this week that “It’s a political liability not to take action,” on the banking bill. Members of Congress and Senate will have to answer to their constituents if they don’t act on this,” he told the Boston Herald.
But do they really care?
TELL US, are you holding out hope?