Democrat Senator says marijuana banking bill has been "tweaked" to add 2A protections

Democrat Senator says marijuana banking bill has been "tweaked" to add 2A protections
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s opposition to any legislation dealing with marijuana legalization or decriminalization may have derailed the latest attempt to pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the current lame-duck session, but one of the bill’s biggest supporters isn’t giving up… and is apparently willing to throw gun owners a bone in order to try to get the language approved.

The current text of the $1.7-trillion omnibus spending bill doesn’t contain any of the SAFE Banking Act’s language that would make it easier for marijuana-related businesses to access financial services, which would appear to doom the bill’s passage, at least this year. But Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley is vowing to bring the measure back in 2023, with “tweaks” that would allow gun owners in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana to partake without running afoul of federal law.

Merkley didn’t offer any more specifics, but the website Marijuana Moment reports that Merkley’s remark appears to be a reference to the Gun Rights and Marijuana (GRAM) Act; a bill originally authored by the late Rep. Don Young of Alaska that would simply amend federal statute to make clear that the term “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” would not apply to those gun owners residing in states or on Indian land where its use or possession is not illegal. While the GRAM Act never received so much as a hearing in the current session of Congress, it’s apparently been one of the main topics of discussion as Democrats try to find bipartisan support for the SAFE Banking Act.

The comments echo points that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made on Tuesday, in which he also blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) for tanking the marijuana reform as part of the omnibus appropriations legislation. McConnell’s opposition has also been cited as the reason the reform wasn’t included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) earlier this month.

But Schumer’s remarks at a briefing on Tuesday didn’t reference specifics about what lawmakers were negotiations in terms of the much-anticipated SAFE Plus. While Politico first reported that gun rights would be a feature of the legislation, and sources have told Marijuana Moment the same over recent months, no legislative language of the deal has been publicly released.

“We have a bipartisan agreement which includes tweaks to SAFE Banking and important expungement and second amendment rights provisions,” Merkley tweeted on Wednesday.

That seems to reference the bipartisan Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, which would incentivize states and local governments to expunge cannabis records in their jurisdictions, and the Gun Rights And Marijuana Act (GRAM) Act, which would protect Second Amendment rights for cannabis consumers by exempting people in legalized states from a federal restriction that bars any “unlawful user” of a controlled substance from owning a firearm.

I’m not a fan of ginormous spending bills that are so large its impossible to learn what they contain until after they pass, so I’m not particularly disappointed that the SAFE Banking Act was left out of the current monstrosity. I am, however, all in favor of responsible gun owners in states that have legalized marijuana being able to use it just like their non-gun-owning friends and family, and the GRAM Act’s language is a reasonable step that allows them to do that without decriminalizing or legalizing cannabis on a federal basis, which may still be too heavy of a lift for the current makeup of Congress (even though that seems to me to be the simplest way to address the current conflict between states and the federal government).

I’ve often said that I’m skeptical that efforts like the GRAM Act will go anywhere because of Democratic hostility towards gun ownership and Republican animosity towards legalization of cannabis, but if Merkley’s tweet is true then there are at least enough Senate Democrats on board to approve a modified SAFE Banking Act that would include the GRAM Act’s protections. I only hope that the GOP is at least willing to consider these steps in the next session of Congress, because gun ownership shouldn’t disqualify you from enjoying any of the privileges of citizenship; whether using cannabis to cope with the side effects of chemotherapy or simply choosing to toke up instead of having a cocktail or beer in states that have removed their criminal penalties on marijuana possession or use. I’d argue you don’t have to be a fan of legalization in order to recognize the inherent unfairness of the status quo… and in fact I plan on making that very argument to my own congresscritter before the 118th session of Congress gets underway.