Senate Could Vote On Marijuana Banking Protections This Week

Two senators are trying to force a vote this week on a new measure that would prevent federal officials from “carry[ing] out activities that prevent or interfere with the implementation of State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana.”

The amendment, filed on Tuesday by U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), would still allow the feds to go after any cannabis operator who violates the guidelines of two Obama-era marijuana memos, even though those documents were rescinded by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year.

The bipartisan duo is seeking to attach the language to a broad bill funding parts of the federal government for Fiscal Year 2019.

Interestingly, though, the measure doesn’t cover the Department of Justice, so it would apparently leave cannabis business leaders and consumers at risk of arrest by the Drug Enforcement Administration and prosecution by U.S. attorneys, even if they abide by the provisions of the Obama administration memos or state laws.

The legislation does, however, cover the Treasury Department, so if the language is enacted it would appear to shield financial institutions that work with marijuana businesses from being sanctioned by federal banking regulators for that activity. But, because the Justice Department’s enforcement efforts would remain unimpeded, those banks would still potentially be at risk of asset forfeiture or criminal sanctions related to marijuana profits that remain federally criminalized.

Separately, Warren and Gardner are teaming up on broader standalone legislation that would let states implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference. President Trump voiced support for that bill last month.

 

The funding bill, which also covers the Department of Interior and agencies dealing with the environment as well as other fiscal issues, is expected to be passed this week by the Senate.

It is unclear if the Gardner-Warren marijuana measure will receive a floor vote.

The House version of the spending legislation, which was passed last week, contains no marijuana provisions. A bipartisan amendment to shield banks from being punished for working with cannabis businesses was blocked from even receiving a floor vote by Republican leaders.

 

Separate funding legislation covering the Justice Department has yet to reach the floor of the House or the Senate, but both chambers’ Appropriations Committees included language protecting state medical cannabis laws from federal interference. Broader laws allowing recreational marijuana, and people and businesses complying with them, would still be at risk under those bills, however.

A handful of key Senate Democrats joined with Republicans last month in preventing a cannabis banking amendment from advancing in committee.

Sean Doyle