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Cory Booker Says Mitch McConnell Is Blocking Cannabis Bills

Democratic U.S. Democratic U.S. Booker said that McConnell’s opposition is preventing the passage of marijuana legislation in the upper chamber of Congress before the end of the year, after which control of the House of Representatives will switch to the GOP. 

The advocates of cannabis policy reform had hoped that they would be able pass significant reforms in the lame duck session of Congress, before the Republican Party takes control of the House Representatives. But Booker said that McConnell’s opposition to reforms including restorative justice for those harmed by decades of marijuana prohibition and a bill that would allow the legal cannabis industry access to banking services is influencing the stand taken by other GOP senators.

“They’re dead set on anything in marijuana,” Booker told NJ Advance Media. “That to me is the obstacle.”

The Republican party will take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the new session of Congress next year after gaining a slight majority in last month’s midterm elections. Because GOP leaders have not been as enthusiastic about legalizing marijuana than their Democratic counterparts, cannabis policy reform will likely not be one of the top legislative priorities. A bill on cannabis policy reform that is not passed by lawmakers before the end the year will make it difficult for the House to move forward with the issue in at most the next two years.

Republican Brian Mast from Florida is co-chairman of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Although he believes that marijuana policy reform conforms with Republican values, McConnell failed to lead the charge on this issue.

“It’s not something that he’s historically been interested in moving or seems to be interested in moving right now,” said Mast. “He should. Just as much as Republicans have been out there arguing states’ rights over Roe v. Wade for the last several months, this is just as much of an issue.”

Hopes For Reform Hinge On SAFE Banking Act

The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE), which will allow regulated cannabis businesses to access traditional financial services, is the main focus of current cannabis policy reform. Although the House of Representatives passed certain provisions of the bill seven times in 2019, the Senate has not approved the bill. The House’s version of an annual defense funding bill included language from the SAFE Banking Act, however, the provisions regarding cannabis were not included in that version.

Representative Steve Daines is leading bipartisan discussions on marijuana policy reform for Republicans. His goal is to create a bill which includes Restorative Justice provisions, as well as a bill that has the support of sufficient GOP senators. This will allow Booker to champion restorative justice and gain the Senate’s approval. 

“The senator is doing everything he can to get this bipartisan bill across the finish line this year for the sake of public safety,” said Rachel Dumke, a spokeswoman for Daines’ office.

Booker, however, believes McConnell’s resistance to cannabis policy reform is making Republican colleagues hesitant about supporting the SAFE Banking Act and a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill.

“The caucus is clearly divided but the people in power in their caucus are clearly against doing anything on marijuana,” Booker said.

Justin Strekal is a cannabis advocate and the founder of BOWL PAC’s marijuana policy reform political advocacy committee BOWL PAC. He said that he hopes that the provisions of the SAFE Banking Act will be added to the upcoming must-pass omnibus funding bill being negotiated by Congress. If the cannabis policy reform measures are part of a larger bill, which would fund the federal government through September of next year, Republican senators could vote for the bill without being forced to openly “defy Mitch McConnell in front of him,” Strekal said.