Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is making a “pledge” to keep working on federally decriminalizing marijuana in 2023 after advocates faced a series of reform setbacks this month.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Thursday, Schumer acknowledged the work of a key staffer, Reggie Babin, who is departing from his office after spearheading legislative efforts to advance cannabis reform.
“There are a couple of things that he didn’t get done—his goal to help us decriminalize marijuana, one of his passions because he had seen how badly it had hurt communities throughout the country,” the majority leader said. “We came close, but we didn’t make it.”
However, Schumer said that it’s his “pledge” to Babin that “we’re going to continue your work and your legacy next year.”
“You have built a great bipartisan coalition, and I believe we can get it done,” he said.
While Schumer did produce a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill in July, alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), it’s been clear that the wide-ranging legislation did not have enough support to clear the 60-vote threshold for passage in the Senate.
So Schumer has worked to finalize a package of more incremental reforms, centering around cannabis banking and expungements. Advocates hoped the legislation would be attached to large-scale spending or defense bills that needed to move before the end of the session, but that did not happen, in large part because supporters faced opposition from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans.
The lead House sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), filed an amendment to the appropriations omnibus bill on Friday to include the reforms, but it was essentially a symbolic gesture before his retirement from Congress and he didn’t force a vote on it.
A Senate source said recently that Schumer was “making a last ditch effort” to attach the cannabis banking language to the spending bill—but the majority leader wasn’t able to get the deal done. He said the issue would need to wait until the next Congress, which will see Republicans in control of the House.
It’s clear that negotiations were sensitive around adding anything new to the spending bill, and drug policy reform suffered as a final deal was forged. In addition to the lack of SAFE Banking or SAFE Plus language, the legislation also omitted several other reform proposals that were attached to spending measures approved in the House and Senate earlier this year. The final bill also maintains a rider that blocks Washington, D.C. from implementing a system of regulated cannabis commerce—another major setback for advocates.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) had signaled that he viewed cannabis banking as a likely 2023 issue, though a staffer said this month that he was still be open to passing it through the spending package if it contained broader provisions.
Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who will serve as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee in the next Congress, recently indicated that he similarly feels the issue will need to be decided after the lame duck. The congressman said that he remains opposed to SAFE Banking, but he left the door open to advancing it if that’s the will of his Republican colleagues.
“What I’ve pledged is having an open process. I told my members my view of it,” he said. “Members are able to come to their own conclusion about the bill. It’s so variable state by state.”
For his part, Booker has also pinned blame on McConnell, saying that his vocal opposition to cannabis reform has had a chilling effect of GOP members who might otherwise be amenable to passing legislation that contains SAFE Banking language.
“They’re dead set on anything in marijuana,” he said, referring to Republican leadership. “That to me is the obstacle.”
“The caucus is clearly divided but the people in power in their caucus are clearly against doing anything on marijuana,” he added.