The SAFE Banking in Cannabis Act Passed the House – What Happens Next? Three Scenarios
As you may have heard, late Wednesday afternoon the U.S. House of Representatives passed the first piece of legislation in its history to ease federal cannabis penalties. The SAFE Banking in Cannabis Act passed in a landslide supermajority vote – 91 Republicans joined all but one Democratic House member to approve the bill 321 – 103. If passed into law by the Senate, the bill would protect companies that provide banking and other services to cannabis-related businesses from federal prosecution.
While the vote is certainly a significant accomplishment in cannabis reform, there is still a long road ahead.
Here are three different outcomes for the future of the SAFE Banking in Cannabis Act:
1. It gets voted on in the Senate and passes without amendment
This is the ideal outcome for marijuana reformers. Unfortunately, it’s also the least likely. The differences in ideology between the Democrat-controlled House and GOP-dominated Senate are well-documented. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in particular has been critical of cannabis.
Plenty of Republicans have well-documented connections to the banking industry, but given the lack of widespread ideological support for recreational cannabis in the GOP, a Senate hearing is unlikely. If the bill is introduced at all during the current legislative session, a different scenario is more likely:
2. It gets marked up substantially and a different version passes the Senate
Last week, the Senate added language to a House appropriations (budget) bill that explicitly prevents the District of Columbia from moving forward with legal cannabis sales. Earlier this year, bills to establish rec sales in D.C. were introduced into the city council by both Mayor Bowser and Councilmember David Grosso.
In fact, changes to appease Senate members have already happened. House legislators added amendments to the bill to ease restrictions on hemp businesses, which are critical to powering the agricultural industry in Leader McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. Plus, if Senators are going to devote time to even hear the bill, it’s likely that they will also take time to add changes.
3. Nothing else happens
In the author’s opinion, this scenario is most likely. Besides the previously-mentioned GOP hesitance towards cannabis, the Senate simply has more pressing matters to attend to right now. Fiscal Year 2019 ends Tuesday, and while a new continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown is expected to pass, the CR only keeps the government open until November 21. This evening, the Senate is scheduled to begin a two-week recess.
Oh, and did you hear the President is getting impeached?
It’s nice to see some optimism from cannabis advocates. Five Republican Senators have already co-sponsored the Senate, and the bill’s preferential treatment of businesses means there is a chance it is taken up and passes the Senate.
But the combination of having bigger fish to fry and lukewarm support for cannabis among Republicans means the SAFE Banking in Cannabis Act will most likely be in a holding pattern – for now.