As the dust settles from the mid-terms, the lame duck session of Congress seems very focused on cannabis reform, but what exactly is going on? Is this (again) more smoke than fire?
Understanding American law-making is an obscure art that frequently frustrates those who want to change things even domestically. Overseas US-watchers in the cannabis space might well be forgiven for asking, what is going on right now with Congress and cannabis?
There are several answers to that.
A Historic First on Cannabis Research and Legislation
Last Wednesday, the US Senate passed the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act by voice vote. This of course is far from full boat reform even of the medical kind on the federal level, but it is certainly a promising first step. Now the House version (H.R. 8454) and the Senate version (S.253) have to be rectified in a process called cloture, but will then be sent to President Biden for signature, presumably sometime after Thanksgiving (which also occurs this week).
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also announced before the vote that he was continuing with “productive talks” about broader cannabis reform which he has continued to say has a good chance of passing before the end of the year (and the lame-duck session.)
Other Cannabis Reform
The big kahuna that the entire industry is watching, is of course, the so-called “Banking Bill” or the “SAFE Banking Act.” What is emerging, according to Marijuana Business Daily at least is what they are calling “SAFE Banking Plus.” Essentially it will incorporate the bill that has passed the House seven times to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and instruct the FDA to regulate both the medical and recreational aspects of the industry. This will protect financial institutions from federal punishment if they work with regulated cannabis companies.
Beyond this, the other details are vague but appear to be on track to include SBA loans and assistance for veteran access to medical cannabis, and the expungement of no-violent drug possession crimes.
This, along with the other additions now being passed or even just introduced into the House and Senate include a proposal that may well get adopted into the final bill allowing federal SBA loans to be used for regulated cannabis business purposes and removing a lifetime ban on receiving the American Opportunity Tax Credit for students with felony drug convictions.
It is tough to read the intent of the outgoing Congress and how activist they want to be on this issue. Generally, simpler is better, which is why late added controversial language generally does not make it into the Frankenstein that such bills resemble if they make it over the finish line in such circs.
That said, it is very likely that some version of the banking act will become law.
Impact on Other Conversations
Across the Atlantic, in Germany, in particular, the political gyrations of federal lawmakers are being watched as the country crafts its own version of legalization. Beyond Germany, however, EU decisionmakers in Brussels are also likely to look to the Yanks for at least a little inspiration. This is particularly true when it comes to considerations of how to carve out cannabis exceptions if not exemptions to international treaties everyone involved in this conversation is party to.
Will the world get cannabis legalization legislation in the US and a draft bill in Germany all before Christmas? It is a bit too early to tell, but Santa apparently believes that the children might have all been nice, not naughty this year, at least on this particular front.
The good news, no matter what happens? This entire discussion is now actively in front of several countries’ federal lawmakers as it hits the rarefied air of Brussels. Worse things could certainly have happened, no matter what particulars of all of the same play out in 2023 and beyond.