Summer Recess & Cannabis Progress: Cannabis News from the Capitol and Expectations for the August Break

by Michelle Rutter Friberg, NCIA’s Director of Government Relations

After NCIA’s 11th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days concluded in May, cannabis news from Washington, D.C. has been relatively slow. Curious about what’s next before August recess begins? Keep reading to see what may happen ahead of the break and for a recap on where we’re at now.

SAFE Banking

Last month, just before NCIA’s Lobby Days, the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a hearing titled “Examining Cannabis Banking Challenges of Small Businesses and Workers”. Witnesses included the bill’s lead sponsors, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), as well as Ademola Oyefes (International Vice President and Director of Legislative and Political Action Department, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union [UFCW]), Michelle Sullivan (Chief Risk & Compliance Officer, Dama Financial), Dr. Kevin Sabet (President/CEO, Smart Approaches to Marijuana [Project SAM]); and Cat Packer (Vice Chair, Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition). 

My takeaways from the hearing: no new talking points from Project SAM, surprised by DAMA’s comments (they’ve since walked their testimony [which many saw as opposition to the bill] back), and most importantly of all: the real need for SAFE so that we can stop talking about access to financial services and start talking about legalizing and regulation cannabis in a smart and equitable way. 

As for what’s next? Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) recently shared that SAFE Banking would be scheduled for a markup after a few other bills received theirs. The good news? That process has begun. The bad news? Still no formal news on when SAFE’s markup will be. I’m expecting it to be after the Fourth of July break but before members leave D.C. for their annual, month-long August recess.

Appropriations 

For years, advocates have looked to the appropriations process as a way in which to enact cannabis reform at the federal level. 

In 2014, a provision that protected medical cannabis patients, programs, and businesses from federal interference (known as the “Rohrabacher-Farr” amendment) was included in the federal budget and became law. Since then, the provision has been included in appropriations bills and remains the law of the land. 

NCIA has (and continues to) lobby on behalf of expanding this provision to include adult-use businesses and to also use the appropriations process to enact other reforms like allowing Washington, D.C. to commercialize adult-use cannabis sales. 

House GOP negotiators heightened the stakes earlier this week when they announced they would mark up their FY2024 spending plans to levels lower than the budget caps set as part of a deal struck between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). This will undoubtedly make the already contentious budget-process even more volatile.

Maryland

On July 1, adult-use cannabis sales will begin in Maryland. Cannabis became legal for those over 21 in Virginia in 2021, while D.C. legalized cannabis for adults via Initiative 71 in 2014 (but have been unable to begin sales due to congressional interference). Legal sales in the District’s neighboring states means that members of Congress will surely be more exposed to the benefits of regulation.

So, while it’s been relatively quiet in D.C. in June, stay tuned in July for a possible first-ever Senate markup of SAFE Banking! As always, NCIA will continue to advocate on behalf of your business and keep you updated on the latest. 

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