With Republicans projected to win a majority of the House of Representatives after last week’s midterm elections, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) says Democrats who want to enact marijuana reform must either do it “now” during the lame duck session or wait until “many years from now” when his party has a shot at controlling Congress again.
However, time is running short to act on reform while Democrats still have their majorities in both chambers, the senator cautioned.
In an interview with NJ Spotlight News that was posted on Sunday, Booker was asked about the prospects of cannabis legislation advancing in the lame duck, which lasts until the new 118th Congress begins in early January. He started by pointing out that time is of the essence if leaders are going to move on the issue.
“There’s a greater understanding on these issues—and I just have a feeling that we can get something done,” he said. “But the problem we have right now is the clock. There’s very little time in this lame duck and a lot of things that people want to do.”
He added that he spoke with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NJ) after the election, which saw Democrats keep their majority in the chamber, and said “it’s just going to be hard to get as much done as we need to.”
Booker has previously spoken about plans that are in the works to introduce a package of incremental marijuana legislation during the lame duck, and he’s seemed optimistic about advancing what’s colloquially known as SAFE Plus, a cannabis omnibus of sorts that’s expected to contain marijuana banking reform, as well as other bipartisan provisions that could include expungements, cannabis research and veterans’ access.
While he seemed to somewhat temper expectations on Sunday, he did signal that there’s an urgency around marijuana in particular over the next few weeks given the new political dynamics in the House with Republicans in control.
“When the House of Representatives takes over—even though there’s a lot of House members from states that have legalized marijuana in one way or the other—I just don’t see the Republicans wanting to advance that,” the senator said.
“So it’s either now, or it might be many years from now,” Booker concluded.
Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
Advocates have similarly predicted that a congressional situation where Democrats kept the Senate but Republicans took the House would have significant implications for negotiations around SAFE Plus in the short-term. The general thinking is that the pressure will be on for Democratic leadership, while reform friendly GOP members might similarly want to step up the push to pass some bipartisan reform.
Booker similarly said last month ahead of the elections that while he feels Congress has a “good shot” of passing modest marijuana policy changes in the lame duck, he worried that progress on the issue could be jeopardized with Republicans in control of either chamber.
After President Joe Biden issued a mass marijuana pardon and directed a scheduling review last month, the senator said he was “very hopeful” that additional reform can be enacted before the end of this Congress.
Meanwhile, Schumer said late last month that Congress is getting “very close” to introducing and passing the marijuana reform package, citing progress he’s made in discussions with a “bunch of Republican senators.”
The majority leader also spoke about cannabis banking issues at a recent White House event, reiterating that he was working on the problem, according to the House sponsor of the standalone legislation.
Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) released a paper in August that outlined what they view as shortcomings of the standalone SAFE Banking Act and recommended several amendments to bolster its equity impact.
Booker said at an event organized by CRCC that the standalone legislation “requires changes” if it’s going to advance before cannabis is federally legalized.
The senator initially signaled that he was coming around to marijuana banking reform (contingent on equity provisions) at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in July that he convened as chairman.
But in the months before he and his colleagues filed a legalization bill over the summer, Booker was adamant about enacting comprehensive reform before advancing the incremental banking legislation. He said at one point “I will lay myself down” before letting the Senate take on banking first.