- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2022

A bipartisan group of senators is reportedly working to deliver pro-cannabis legislation before taking off for the holidays this month.

The group, led by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, wants to attach two marijuana-related bills to must-pass legislation that Congress needs to approve before the end of the year, according to Axios.

The separate bills being pushed — the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act and the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act — would allow the marijuana industry access to banking institutions and grants for states to expunge past marijuana convictions.

Because of its status as a Schedule 1 illegal substance at the federal level, the cannabis industry has long been barred from having relationships with financial institutions, which are under federal regulation, and has been forced to deal only in cash even for paying taxes. 

The Justice Department has given its blessing, according to an Axios report, after it had previously expressed skepticism about how to implement the bills.

The department had concerns that the measures could inadvertently “create an immunity shield around activities of cannabis businesses that involve other illicit drugs or activities,” according to Punchbowl News. 

Mr. Schumer, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, is hoping to attach the cannabis bills to must-pass legislation in the coming weeks, such as the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

Other senators involved in the push reportedly include Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Republicans Steve Daines of Montana, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

The move comes as public opinion toward the medical and recreational use of marijuana has shifted dramatically in recent decades, more states have legalized the drug and President Biden pardoned all past federal offenses of simple marijuana possession.

The District of Columbia, 21 states and the U.S. territory of Guam have legalized recreational marijuana, despite its illegal status at the federal level. The latest states to join that list through ballot measures in last month’s midterm elections were Maryland and Missouri. 

Maryland adults will be allowed to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis as early as July 2023 while Missouri will limit possession to 3 ounces. 

Sales of the substance are heavily taxed in states where they are legal, generating millions of dollars in additional revenue for local and state governments.

Similar legislation to legalize marijuana for recreational use failed last month in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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