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How The Plan To Pass a Federal Weed Package Went Awry

For weeks, a bipartisan group of senators worked to negotiate a package in the office of the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The crew included Steve Daines (R-MT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Rand Paul (R-KY). The bargain they reached represents the broad spectrum of cannabis issues: banking, guns, and criminal record expungements. However in the last days of negotiations, enthusiasm evaporated. With Republicans poised to take control of the House, this may have been the last chance to make significant federal legislative changes for the foreseeable future. The SAFE Banking Act, which the cannabis package revolves around, would allow banks to offer financial services to the weed industry. The amount of cash on hand at weed dispensaries has made them a target for thieves. The House has passed the bill six times with strong bipartisan support, but it has never made progress in the Senate.

SAFE was then paired with the HOPE Act, a bill that creates expungements at the state level. The GRAM Act was thrown in, which would protect marijuana users' right to own a firearm. Support was there: At least 10 Republicans have co-sponsored or signaled they support the SAFE Act. Co-sponsor Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said in November he was open to SAFE and HOPE, especially if Daines was on board. On Thursday, Daines said conversations were productive and Paul claimed that there were more than 60 votes for the package. The potential deal began to fall apart when key Republican senators took aim at the cannabis banking provision. On Monday, staffers for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other senators involved in the deliberations met with representatives from the Justice Department to discuss concerns about how agency officials would enforce the bill. Daines said he’s focused on getting something passed before the end of the year, but other GOP supporters said they may be forced to wait until the next Congress.


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