Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Tuesday that he’s opposed to including marijuana reform measures in the next coronavirus relief legislation that’s sent to the president’s desk.
While House leadership attached provisions to its latest COVID-19 bill that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis markets, McConnell said during a press conference that it’s an example of policy language that is not germane to what he believes should be the scope of the legislation. The Senate’s new relief bill filed this week did not include marijuana banking.
Notably, as in past comments, the senator seemed to point specifically to a provision of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act included in the House bill that requires diversity reporting for the marijuana industry, rather than question the main thrust of the legislation that would prevent federal regulators for penalizing financial institutions solely for working with cannabis businesses.
“I am opposed to non-germane amendments, whether it’s funding for the FBI building…or other non-germane amendments in the House bill like marijuana studies or aid to illegal immigrants,” he said. “When we get to the end of the process, I would hope all of the non-COVID-related measures are out no matter what bills they were in at the start.”
Watch McConnell discuss marijuana reform as part of coronavirus relief in the video below:
While Republicans have questioned the germaneness of the marijuana reform being included as part of a coronavirus relief bill, industry advocates argue it would provide critical funding and also mitigate the spread of the virus by allowing alternatives to cash transactions in the cannabis market.
McConnell was one of several GOP lawmakers to criticize the cannabis banking components of the House coronavirus bill when it was first released in May. The messaging within the party seemed coordinated, though it was notable that for the most part, the majority leader himself focused his criticism on the diversity reporting provisions.
changes to election law…?
new laptops for Congress…?
these are *just a few* of the items you'll find in Democrats' "coronavirus relief" bill.
(this is what trying to take advantage of a crisis looks like.) pic.twitter.com/3vfpaDUH9C
— Senate Republicans (@SenateGOP) July 28, 2020
In blog posts on the legislation, however, McConnell’s office did call out the broader proposal to “allow cannabis businesses to work with federally backed banks and insurers” as part of Democrats’ “unserious liberal wish list.”
There was some hope that the Senate would put the bipartisan banking language in their version—at the very least to secure a victory for its sponsor, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is trailing in his reelection race against former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). The House sponsor, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), said in May that he felt there was a 50-50 chance the Senate would adopt it as part of their COVID-19 bill.
However, these latest comments from McConnell indicate that the Senate will be resisting any efforts to attach the House’s cannabis banking provision to the final bill in a bicameral conference.
Meanwhile, the standalone SAFE Banking Act has continued to sit in the Senate Banking Committee without action in the months since the House initially approved it.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of state treasurers sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking that they include marijuana banking protections in the next piece of coronavirus relief legislation.
In May, a bipartisan coalition of 34 state attorneys general similarly wrote to Congress to urge the passage of COVD-19 legislation containing cannabis banking provisions.