As a bill allowing banks to do business with cannabis companies without fear of federal punishment is under review in Congress, Democrats are divided over whether to focus on social justice issues like legalizing marijuana or industry priorities like banking.
The issue is creating tensions in Congress, reports Politico.
Many Republicans — some of whom are seeing the benefits of cannabis legalization in their states — oppose legalization on the national level, even for medicinal uses. But marijuana advocates also are split over whether to push for full legalization or settle for less far-reaching legislation.
Nevertheless, public opinion has shifted dramatically. Gallup says two-thirds of Americans support legalization, double the level two decades ago. Cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, but at least partially legal in 33 states.
More lawmakers on both sides of the aisle represent states with legal cannabis markets, making them more sympathetic to legislation aimed at helping the industry, which brought in $10 billion in sales last year.
Conflicts between state and federal law have created problems for cannabis companies, including lack of access to banking services, high federal tax rates and bewildering questions about exactly what business practices are legal.
“More and more members are hearing from their constituents about the need to get the federal government out of the way,” said former House Speaker John Boehner, a board member of cannabis company Acreage Holdings.
The central tension in the House is how much emphasis should be put on full marijuana legalization versus single-issue bills that address industry concerns. The SAFE Banking Act, which would allow banks to do business with cannabis companies without fear of federal punishment, cleared a House committee in March and received a hearing in the Senate.
Chief sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) hopes it will come up for a vote on the House floor in the next few weeks.
Additional reading:Why 2018 Marked a High Point in Marijuana Legalization