Is Marijuana Reform at Any Cost the Right Way to Go?

It can be terribly frustrating to work with politicians year after year on legislation you are passionate about, only to see that legislation die in the halls of Congress. Such is the case for advocates of marijuana reform. Frustrations continue to mount to the point that some are calling for reform at any cost. But is that the right way to go?

There are certain ways to get things done in Washington. The same goes for our statehouses. When it comes to legislation, it is not just about getting bills signed into law. Lawmakers also need to consider everything from court challenges to the future political ramifications of their votes on a given piece of legislation. All things considered, it’s rarely a wise idea to pursue passage of a bill at any cost.

The SAFE Banking Act Fails Again

Congressional supporters of the SAFE Banking Act have been trying to push legislation through for years. It seems like the House passes a similar banking bill every session, only to have the bill die in the Senate. It just happened again.

The House passed the SAFE act in early 2022. Democrats in the Senate, knowing they probably couldn’t get enough support for a standalone bill, attempted to attach it to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as an amendment. That did not sit well with a number of GOP lawmakers who blocked the plan before the NDAA could be voted on.

The All-Costs Strategy

Here’s the problem in the Senate: most bills that go before the body for a vote are subject to the filibuster rule. The only exceptions are appropriations bills and votes on Senate confirmations. A standalone SAFE act will not get past the filibuster unless concessions are made to some of the Senate’s more conservative members.

Those lawmakers who believe in passing the legislation at all costs are fine with attaching it as an amendment to the military appropriations bill, knowing the bill doesn’t need a filibuster-proof majority for passage. Yet there are enough GOP senators, who otherwise support the SAFE act, who will not support passing it by attaching it to an appropriations bill.

Meanwhile, the Industry Suffers

The SAFE act is designed to eliminate the barriers between the cannabis and banking industries. It would free up financial institutions to provide banking services to cannabis businesses without fear of legal reprisals. Until some meaningful legislation to that effect becomes law, the industry suffers.

The owners of Pure Utah, one of more than a dozen Utah cannabis dispensaries, says that cannabis businesses struggle without access to common banking services. They must conduct day-to-day operations on a cash-and-carry basis, which is both risky and inconvenient.

Yet despite the frustrations expressed by cannabis business owners, asking lawmakers to pass banking reform by attaching it to an appropriations bill is risky. Why? Because there is always a cost in politics.

What Goes Around Comes Around

There are certain ethical questions that come with pushing controversial legislation through by attaching it to appropriations bills. In addition, it is foolish to ignore the reality that what goes around comes around. Get the SAFE act rammed through on the back of an appropriations bill and you run the risk of the Senate changing its mind a few years from now and doing the same thing to turn the clock back on marijuana reform.

Wanting to get marijuana reform passed at any and all costs is understandable. But it is also risky. At this point, it’s far better to continue working the system in hopes of getting reform legislation passed on its own merits.