Who Is Standing In The Way Of Marijuana Legalization? GOP Support For Cannabis Growing Though Slowly

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently revealed that in a joint effort with his colleagues, he plans to reach out to Republican senators to find out what "they want" to see included in a bill to legalize cannabis federally.

The Cannabis Administration & Opportunity Act (CAOA), in draft form, was first unveiled by Schumer and fellow Sen. Cory Booker and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden last July.

The proposal included plans to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act. The measure, if passed, would also expunge prior cannabis convictions and allow people serving time for applicable crimes to petition for resentencing.

In addition, states would retain their rights to set their own marijuana policies and help those who've been criminalized over the cannabis plant.

To help the push, the bill's sponsors sought assistance from senators in February to complete the marijuana legalization bill expected to be filed in April. Democrats circulated a letter asking their colleagues to weigh in on the bill's provision to finalize the drafting process.

"We hope to do that towards the end of April," Schumer confirmed in remarks following the House of Representatives passing the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, H.R. 3617, on April 1.

That bill would remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, as well, allowing states to legalize weed, its production and sale, free from federal interference. The legislation is headed to the Senate, where it requires bipartisan approval and then President Biden's signature to be enacted into law.

Talks 'In Infancy'

While Schumer said he has already consulted with a "few Republicans," Marijuana Business Daily claims that by "a few," he meant two.

Out of nine GOP co-sponsors of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act – which ensures financial institutions can serve state-legal marijuana businesses without fear of federal reprisal – the senator contacted Alaska's Republican senators - Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, according to the news outlet.

For Murkowski, the "biggest issue is banking and just banking."

Sullivan, Alaska's junior senator, who supports marijuana normalization measures that allow states to decide on whether and how to legalize the plant, says "the big core, the fundamental issue is: Is this going to be kind of state-led or is it going to be federal on down?"

Schumer's office told MJBizDaily that he has not approached other potential GOP power players, such as the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, Pat Toomey of PA and Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, because Alaska senators "appeared to be the most receptive on the Republican side."

Once Schumer introduces the final legislation, his priority would be to "get the federal law done" by beginning "the nationwide push, spearheaded by New York."

Anti-Legalization Sentiment Still Strong

However, in an attempt to pass a measure through the evenly split Senate, Schumer faces Republican opposition to a bill legalizing cannabis as one of the biggest challenges.

To put the legislation into law, Democrats would need the backing of all of their members and at least 10 Republicans. 

However, anti-legalization sentiment among GOP senators is casting doubt on the whole process. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO.) doesn't think the measure "would pass the Senate right now."

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) emphasized that there are "serious drug problems in Montana," a state that legalized recreational marijuana in recent years.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said that he does not support the legalization and that he "had family members who have had a lot of drug issues, and so I'm not going to do it."

Some reservations regarding adult-use cannabis are evident even across the aisle, within lines of Schumer's fellow Democrats, which he aspires to unify on a path forward to legalization.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a die-hard centrist, told The Hill he is "very much supportive of medical marijuana," as opposed to recreational marijuana, to which end he still has concerns.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), also expressed concerns "about recreational marijuana and given the substance abuse crisis we have in this country, and we have an issue in New Hampshire and the lack of comprehensive data on how people are affected."

It seems that the criminal justice reform the Democrats demand - as part of the marijuana reform - is an obstacle to bipartisan compromise, Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said, dismissing suggestions the majority leader is buying time.

Republicans Want To Help Banks

Republican Cory Gardner, who lost his Colorado reelection bid in 2020, was a cannabis point person at the Senate GOP conference.

"I haven't seen anybody really step up," Brown said. "They want to do the banks' business. They want to do their bidding, but that's not exactly breaking news that Republicans want to help the banks."

In fact, Montana Sen. Steve Daines thinks that any cannabis reform doesn't stand a chance with the current Senate makeup if it includes criminal justice components. However, the SAFE Banking Act remains politically viable, he said.

"We have bipartisan support, of course, for the SAFE Banking Act, and we've got enough Republican votes that we can get it passed," Daines noted. "So, let's take the step."

Is COMPETES Act A Solution?

With congressional leaders appointing key lawmakers to discuss the final form of a large-scale bill dealing with innovation and manufacturing in recent days, there's hope that it will be the vehicle to protect financial institutions that work with state-legal cannabis businesses.

The U.S. House of Representatives formally attached a marijuana banking reform amendment from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) to COMPETES Act in February.

Following its latest and sixth attempt to get the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act across the finish line, Perlmutter, who is preparing to retire soon, said that he is determined to continue putting pressure on his Senate colleagues to advance the bill.

There are signs of late that the bipartisan bill could be a focal point for negotiators, with Maxine Waters (D-CA), the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, on Monday citing the legislation as one of her legislative "priorities," reported Marijuana Moment.

"Cannabis businesses are currently forced to operate on a cash-only basis, which has created a serious public safety risk for employees, businesses, and communities, as well as providing opportunities for tax evasion and money laundering," the press release from Waters' committee says.

Americans Want To See Marijuana Legalized, Republicans Divided On Issue

In the meantime, growing support for cannabis legalization is clear, as nearly two-thirds of Americans would like to see marijuana legalized, a recent YouGov poll showed.

The new survey conducted using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online from April 1 to 5 – revealed that Democrats are, unsurprisingly, far more likely to support the change, with 72% of them voting for cannabis legalization, Republicans are evenly split on the issue, with 46% supporting, and 46% opposing it.

Photo: Courtesy of Thiago Patriota on Unsplash

BENZINGA CANNABIS CONFERENCE

Meet the biggest cannabis industry players and make deals that will push the industry forward.

Featuring live company presentations, insider panels, and unmatched access to networking, the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference is where cannabis executives and entrepreneurs meet.

Join us September 13-14, 2022 at The Palmer House in Chicago, IL.

Posted In: Chuck SchumerMarijuana Business Dailymarijuana legalizationMarijuana Momentthe hillCannabisGovernmentNewsRegulationsPoliticsMarketsGeneral