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McConnell pans proposals to add marijuana, permitting provisions to defense bill 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday poured cold water on Democratic efforts to add language allowing banks to do business with state-approved marijuana businesses and permitting reform, a priority of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), to the annual defense authorization bill.  

McConnell called on Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to strip the pot-related language and Manchin’s permitting reform proposal, which he dismissed as reform “in name only,” from the defense bill.  

“House and Senate Democrats are still obstructing efforts to close out the NDAA by trying to jam in unrelated items with no relationship whatsoever to defense,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, referring to the National Defense Authorization Act.  

“We’re talking about a grab bag of miscellaneous pet priorities, like making our financial system more sympathetic to illegal drugs or permitting reform in name only that’s already failed to pass the Senate earlier this year,” McConnell said.  

The Senate GOP leader noted that Democrats could have brought the marijuana banking bill to the floor earlier this year or even have scheduled it for a vote this week, which instead is being devoted to confirming President Biden’s nominees.  

He called on Democratic leaders to cut the controversial provisions from the defense bill to give it a better chance of passing Congress before the end of the year.  

“My colleagues across the aisle need to cut their unrelated hostage-taking and put a bipartisan NDAA on the floor,” he said.  

Schumer said at a campaign debate in October that “we are getting very close to a deal” on allowing financial institutions to do business with cannabis-related businesses that are legal on the state level but not at the federal level.  

Schumer indicated the legislation would also expunge records for nonviolent marijuana-related crimes.  

“I am working in a bipartisan way with Democrats and Republicans to take the SAFE Banking Act, which allows financial institutions to involve themselves in cannabis companies and lend money to them — but it also does things for justice, such as expunging a record,” Schumer said at the debate hosted by Spectrum News.  

Schumer is also trying to add Manchin’s permitting reform bill to the defense bill after failing to get it attached to the short-term government funding bill that passed Congress in September.  

Manchin told The Hill on Monday that he still thinks he has a shot of passing his permitting reform bill before the end of the year.  

“Well, wait and see,” he said when asked about the likelihood of attaching it to the defense bill.

Rep. Mike Rogers (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters last month that there was “zero chance” of adding permitting reform to the defense authorization measure.  

Another obstacle to getting a bipartisan deal on the defense bill is the demand by Republican lawmakers in both chambers to add language to end the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.  

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said that Democratic leaders had previously indicated they would add a provision ending the vaccine mandate to the defense bill but now are asking Republicans to also agree to the marijuana banking and permitting reform legislation in return.  

He said passing a bill with such controversial policy riders would be a “heavy lift.” He suggested that Democratic demands on adding marijuana-banking and permitting reform provisions are a “non-starter” with Republicans. 

“My understanding is they stripped out the vaccine provision in the House bill, which I think is going to make it a heavy lift over here,” he said. 

“The ransom the Democrats wanted for stripping the vaccine mandate is a whole bunch of things — to include the permitting reform — but also some other things that are just going to be, I think, non-starters on our side,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to get in the business of allowing them to hold us hostage after they already agreed to something.”

“They agreed to put that [vaccine] provision in the House [bill] and then all of the sudden at the last minute they decided they wanted us to pay a big ransom to get it,” he added.