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Democrats Looking for a Weed Deal

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer doesn’t have the votes to pass a sweeping marijuana decriminalization bill — despite repeatedly touting his support for ending federal prohibition.

That realization is leading Senate Democrats to look for a compromise on weed.

In interviews with more than a dozen lawmakers, staffers, advocates and lobbyists, all agreed that in recent weeks the tone has changed on Capitol Hill. Senators previously opposed to anything but a major marijuana decriminalization bill are slowly warming to another option: adding provisions to a broadly supported bill that would allow financial institutions to offer banking services to the cannabis industry, called the SAFE Banking Act. The change in approach is driven in part by the fact that the clock is ticking on Democratic control of Congress — experts say the House will likely flip in November, and the Senate could join it. Despite the often-bipartisan nature of cannabis legislation, it does not enjoy strong support from GOP leadership in either chamber. So lawmakers involved in weed policy are looking more seriously at what they can accomplish in the last six months of this Congress.

“There’s a greater sense of urgency,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has been trying to shepherd cannabis legislation through Congress for decades. “I think there’s a broader base of support.”

Discussions have happened or are scheduled between Schumer and weed-friendly Republicans such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio). But Joyce told POLITICO earlier this month that his conversation with Schumer did not include any formal strategy or legislative plans. Right now, most of these talks are among Senate Democrats, who eventually want to agree on something they can propose to Republicans.

Some hope that a deal on cannabis — an issue that enjoys support from both sides of the aisle — could also ride the Senate’s current bipartisan wave. Democrats and Republicans in the upper chamber have recently reached agreements on thorny issues like gun control and insulin pricing.


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