The annual Defense Department policy bill members of Congress released last week did not include measures to loosen federal marijuana restrictions, to the disappointment of advocates.
That leaves few avenues to pass marijuana measures seen as boons to states where the drug is legal before Congress adjourns for the year.
As one of the last must-pass bills Congress would consider while Democrats still control both chambers, the defense bill was a potential target for advocates of legalizing marijuana to attach two bills.
One would clarify that banks lending to legitimate marijuana businesses in states with legal markets are not in violation of federal law. The other would provide federal funding to help states expunge criminal records of people convicted of offenses before the substance was made state-legal.
Though the bulk of the defense bill deals with authorizing Pentagon programs, it is often filled with additional policy measures.
But when 4,400 pages of text for the 2022 bill were released, neither marijuana proposal was included.
With little time left in the session, the path to passage is now either as part of a year-end spending bill — another popular target for legislation — or on its own, Morgan Fox, the political director for the cannabis advocacy group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in an interview.
“I’m glad that we still have other options,” Fox said last week. “It’s pretty disappointing.”
A vote on a standalone marijuana bill is unlikely, with the Senate in session only a handful of days this year and a list of priorities remaining, including the year-long government funding bill and a measure to clarify election laws.
Split with states
Though the federal government places marijuana on its list of the most restricted controlled substances, 21 states have legalized recreational use.
That policy split leads to unique challenges for state-legal businesses in areas like banking, where some financial institutions refuse to work with the marijuana industry out of fear they would violate federal law.
The banking bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat retiring at the end of the year, would clarify that federal regulators could not penalize banks for doing business with marijuana retailers in compliance with their states’ laws.
The banking bill has passed the House seven times since its first introduction in 2019, but the Senate has never passed it.
The streak in the House may be in danger as Republicans take over next year. Despite its bipartisan support and a 321-101 vote in favor last year, the legislation could face long odds next year if Ohio Republican Jim Jordan becomes the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, as expected. Jordan has consistently voted against marijuana legalization efforts, including against the banking bill.