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Ten Reasons To Be Bullish On SAFE Banking (Op-Ed)



“When Congress bucks conventional wisdom and shakes the cannabis world, you shouldn’t be surprised. You can take it to the bank.”

By Don Murphy, Marijuana Leadership Campaign

If you looked at the election returns in November, bought the conventional wisdom and believed that there would be no progress on cannabis policy reform until, “many years from now,” you would likely not have even looked for the silver lining in the results.

If you were looking for reasons not to follow the herd, and you looked at the 118th Congress as half full instead of half empty, you would have found these ten new reasons to be bullish under divided government on the future of the SAFE Banking Act, if not more.

10. SAFE is filibuster proof. Claims that SAFE did not have enough support among the Senate Republicans is just scapegoating by Senate Democrats who dragged their feet in hopes of more comprehensive reforms beyond the point of no return. Had SAFE been put to a floor vote, it would have had half the GOP in the YEA column. The over/under was 70. It would pass today. The new version of SAFE will likely be filed with enough Republican Senators to dispel any notion of a potential filibuster with Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) taking the GOP lead.

9. We have the votes in Financial Services. Of the 23 veteran House Republicans now on the committee, 15 voted YEA on SAFE Banking, 8 voted NAY. Five were SAFE co-sponsors including Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN). There are 6 GOP freshman without federal cannabis votes. Even if they were all bad (and they are not) we still win. Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC)—an opponent of SAFE—pledged to not stand in the bill’s way.

8. SAFE Rules! The Rules Committee was once (prior to 2018) where anything cannabis related went to die. As SAFE champion former Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) proved, the bill is germane to almost everything. So the Rules Committee is now where the SAFE Banking bill can go to become the SAFE Banking amendment. Rules is very pro-SAFE. Of the 7 veteran Republicans now on Rules, four voted FOR SAFE Banking including: Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) and Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Ralph Norman (R-SC). Massie and Reschenthaler, along with Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX),voted FOR an appropriations rider to defund federal interference with state-legal cannabis laws just as a previously enacted one did for medical states.

7. We have friends in high places. Not only is the majority whip a supporter of SAFE (and the amendment to protect legal states form federal interference) but Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) voted YEA on SAFE as well. It’s no accident that we have so many of our friends on the committees of jurisdiction. McCarthy took care of us, intentional or not.

6. Expectations are low. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act is dead. The House-passed Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act is dead. So-called “SAFE Plus Plus” with social justice attachments is dead. When faced with the option of a more pared down “SAFE Plus,” or no SAFE at all, progressives should begrudgingly take what they can get from House Republicans and live to fight another day. If Senate Democrats want to reduce the physical and fiscal harms associated with an all-cash industry and support funding for expungements, they’ll fast track whatever incremental reforms the House gives them. The Democrats are otherwise out of options.

5. Someone (else) is going to get killed. “If it bleeds it leads,” is a well-worn axiom of the news media. It applies to politics and policy as well. Nothing moves legislation like bad news and there will be another tragedy at a dispensary because, as Willie Sutton said, “That’s where the money is.” And that’s were the money is because congress failed to pass SAFE Banking.

4. Lawman Dave Joyce. It’s a poorly kept secret that Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), GOP co-chair of the House Cannabis Caucus, will be the lead sponsor of SAFE after the retirement of Perlmutter. Joyce holds a number of titles in congress but it is his former title that is most relevant: prosecutor. SAFE Banking is about law-n-order. SAFE is not a vehicle to load up with a trove of progressive policies and nothing drives home that point like having a former prosecutor as the lead sponsor. Having a sponsor from Ohio might help get Ohio’s newest Senator, J.D. Vance, to be SAFE’s filibuster-proof cosponsor, making life interesting in Ohio’s congressional delegation (see #3).

3. Brown is Up. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) failed to hold a hearing on SAFE last Congress, yet largely avoided any of the fallout or blame for its failure. He will not be so lucky at the end of this term if SAFE fails again. Brown is up for reelection this cycle and will likely be sharing the ballot in Ohio with a voter initiative on marijuana legalization. He may also be facing an original SAFE co-sponsor, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), so it’s going to come up. In its list of 10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2024, CNN ranked Brown’s race #3.

2. Fetterman. If this needs an explanation, you likely failed to understand any of the above. The election of Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA), a vocal and unapologetic advocate for legalization, to replace retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) is like winning a game in your own division. Fetterman’s recent appointment to the Senate Banking Committee is the icing on the cake. The only question is, will he want to do too much too fast. This was a serious upgrade for SAFE and a real contender for #1.

1. It’s Personal in the ‘Show Me’ State. “All I could do was hold him,” recounted a bereft then-Missouri State Sen. Eric Schmitt  (R) during an emotional closing statement in support of his bill to allow parents to access CBD oil for their children (like his) with epilepsy in 2014. Imploring his colleagues to “make a difference,” he quoted Gandhi saying, “In a gentle way you can shake the world.” The seeds of prohibition were sown by one leader and it will take one passionate leader to end it. Now elected to the U.S. Senate, Schmitt has the capacity to be that leader and shake the world. SAFE Banking and ending the drug war are the natural extensions of where Schmitt’s journey began, two decades ago, just holding his son. Neither may have known it then, and neither may know it now, but this could be their legacy.

We have along way to go, but we’ve been dealt a better hand than most causal observers know. If SAFE Banking or any other cannabis reform measures become law this session, the above will be just ten of the many reasons why. When Congress bucks conventional wisdom and shakes the cannabis world, you shouldn’t be surprised.

You can take it to the bank.

Named a top federal cannabis lobbyist by Politico, Don Murphy served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1995 to 2003 and is a four-time RNC Convention Delegate. He is the original lead sponsor of the Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act, the first Republican-led medical marijuana bill to become law. Murphy founded Republicans for Compassionate Access in 2002. From 2014-21 Murphy was the federal lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project and is currently the director of government relations for the Marijuana Leadership Campaign.

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