Ouster of US House Speaker Could Delay Passage of Marijuana Banking Act

The removal of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House, and the potential for weeks or months without a replacement, is at least temporarily a bad sign for those hoping the SAFER Banking Act will be passed into law this year.

Last week the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs passed the SAFER Banking Act (S.2860), with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowing soon after to put it to a vote of the full Senate “very soon”. The measure is sponsored by 26% of the entire US Senate, with proponents optimistic it has enough votes to be approved.

The SAFER Banking Act would provide legal protections for financial institutions (including banks and credit unions) that are interested in providing financial services to marijuana businesses that are legal under their state’s law.

If the measure does pass the Senate soon, as predicted by Majority Leader Schumer, it would be sent to the House of Representatives for consideration. Although Republicans control the chamber, McCarthy had expressed an openness to considering the SAFER Banking Act, especially given the bipartisan support its received in the Senate. Now that McCarthy has been removed as House Speaker, it’s anyone’s guess who could replace him and whether or not they will be open to giving the bill a House vote.

Even worse, the lack of a clear path forward means the House – which can take no real action until a speaker is chosen – means the chamber will be deadlocked for weeks, and maybe even months. The unprecedented nature of the situation (no sitting House Speaker has ever been removed through a vote to vacate) leaves many in the marijuana industry uncertain of the path forward.

The more optimistically-minded individuals may argue that this is a temporary problem, and a new speaker may be chosen quicker than people think (it’s worth noting that McCarthy never gave any firm commitments to giving the bill a vote). One path forward (and maybe the only viable one) is for Republicans to find a group of moderate Democrats willing to support a moderate Republican speaker. In this instance it may very well be a speaker willing to consider the SAFER Banking Act, but if or when this could happen is entirely unknown.

In the meantime proponents of the SAFER Banking Act will put their focus on getting the measure through the Senate before they worry too much about the dynamics of the House.

Recently the CEO of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to pass the bill into law. A bipartisan group of 22 attorneys general sent a similar letter to congressional leaders.

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