Democrats are looking for a weed deal

The change in approach is driven in part by the fact that time is running out for democratic control of Congress – experts say the House will likely swing in November and the Senate could join it. Despite the often bipartisan nature of cannabis legislation, it does not enjoy strong support from GOP leaders in either house. So lawmakers involved in weed policy are taking a harder look at what they can accomplish in the last six months of this Congress.

“There’s a greater sense of urgency,” Rep. Count Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has been trying to push cannabis legislation through Congress for decades. “I think there is a broader base of support.”

Provisional negotiations

All of the lawmakers and staffers who spoke to POLITICO for this story said there was, as of yet, no tangible legislative plan. Most described the conversations as simply a test of the waters on what might be possible later in the year.

Discussions have taken place where are scheduled between Schumer and weed-friendly Republicans such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio). But Joyce told POLITICO earlier this month that his conversation with Schumer did not include any formal strategy or legislative plan. Right now, most of those talks are between Senate Democrats, who eventually want to agree on something they can offer Republicans.

Some are hoping a cannabis deal — an issue that has support from both sides of the aisle — could also ride the current bipartisan wave in the Senate. Democrats and Republicans in the upper house recently reached agreements on thorny issues such as gun control and insulin pricing.

“The discussion is about using SAFE as the core of the thing, and [to] add provisions that will be acceptable to Democrats and Republicans in the Senate,” the representative said. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), the House bill’s co-sponsor. “It is only in its infancy.”

They call the potential package “SAFE Plus”, a term coined by Sen. Jeff Merkel of Oregon, the Democratic lead co-sponsor of the weed bank bill.

The more looming question is how to thread the needle between Republicans who want the banking bill to pass on its own and Democrats who won’t vote for it unless it comes with provisions. additional criminal justice or social equity issues.

Senator from Montana Steve Daines, the Republican co-author of the banking legislation, has always opposed adding anything to the bill. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (DN.J.), a key Democratic player in the cannabis discussion, meanwhile, will not support a bill that only helps the industry and does nothing meaningful for those affected by the disease. war on drugs.

At the moment, ideas are swirling, with one cannabis industry lobbyist calling the talks “soft.” Joyce and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) have a bill it would give states financial assistance to clear non-violent records related to cannabis. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) Proposes a bill that would allow cannabis companies access to Small Business Administration programs. Meaning. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) have a VA medical research bill. Sullivan also reportedly accepted late Alaska Rep. Don Young’s bill that would allow marijuana users to own a gun. With so many options, it’s unclear exactly what is being seriously considered.

“Hopefully we can put together a package that can have broad bipartisan support,” Rosen said, though she couldn’t say exactly what form that would take. “I know SAFE Bank has broad support,” she said, adding that her efforts to expand access to SBA programs do the same.

Dead end of decriminalization

When the Democrats took control of the Senate, Schumer joined forces with Booker and Ron Wyden from Oregon to develop comprehensive legislation on decriminalization it would tax and regulate the new industry, erase certain records, and provide programs and financial assistance to those who had been wronged by US cannabis laws in the past. This bill, however, has yet to be introduced – and does not currently have the necessary votes to pass when it does.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting from other Democrats: Sen. Dick Durbin (ill.) and Patty Murray (Wash.) — caucus leaders No. 2 and 3 — are both co-sponsors of SAFE. Murray declared it a priority after three people were killed in burglaries at a dispensary in Washington earlier this year.

“Schumer has moved from a more defensive posture to something smaller that would undermine comprehensive reform, and is now interested in what could be done by the end of the year,” a senior man told POLITICO. Democratic Senate staffer with knowledge of the conversations. in the background to protect sensitive negotiations.

The outlook, even for SAFE in a GOP-led Congress, is dismal. Member of the House Financial Services Committee Ranking Patrick McHenry (RN.C.) — who would likely chair the committee if Republicans retake the House — voted against both times it passed the House. SAFE may not even receive a hearing in either house under the Republican leadership, let alone a floor vote. That’s motivation enough for Republicans who support cannabis banks and Democrats who want comprehensive legislation to find common ground.

Lame duck

Currently, Democrats are still waiting for the Schumer-Booker-Wyden cannabis bill, and any tangible discussion of a SAFE Plus package won’t come until after that. The SAFE Banking Act was included in the House version of a huge competition bill in China, but negotiators have abandoned him for the final package.

If the current momentum continues, Democrats plan to come up with something they could support, pitch it to Republicans, and then work from there. Timelines about when this might happen abound, but the lame duck is most often mentioned – though not by the bill’s main sponsor.

“There’s going to be 1,000 things to do in the lame duck,” Merkley said. “If we can get a deal and move on before it comes to that, I’d love to do that.”

Donald E. Patel