Looking Ahead to 2024: Jonathan Robbins Chair of Akerman’s Cannabis Practice, Explores the SAFER Banking Act and Revised Farm Bill, Discussing Potential Legislative and Policy Shifts for the Industry.
Diving into the intricate landscape of cannabis policy reform in 2024, Jonathan Robbins of Akerman offers invaluable insights into pivotal initiatives shaping the industry’s trajectory.
From the SAFER Banking Act’s evolving fate to the prospect of federal legalization bills and the unfolding dynamics of Florida’s adult-use ballot measure, Robbins navigates the intricate web of legislative developments.
With an eye on rescheduling challenges and the anticipated impact of the 2023 Farm Bill, the cannabis industry stands at a critical juncture, and Robbins’ expertise sheds light on the potential shifts on the horizon.
1. SAFER Banking Act
The SAFE Banking Act, which has been passed by the U.S. House seven times since 2019, underwent a makeover this year. Lawmakers revealed a revised version in September, just before a scheduled committee markup.
The updated bill, now known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act of 2023 (S. 2860), was approved by the Senate Banking Committee on September 27. The legislation’s fate on the Senate floor is uncertain, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has committed to a prompt vote on the SAFER Banking Act.
Expressing skepticism, Robbins doesn’t foresee the legislation passing this year, even though he had been more hopeful back in September. Robbins suggests that Congress will likely prioritize other pressing issues, causing SAFER Banking to be postponed once again.
It seems that despite the ongoing industry discussions about banking reform, there’s a less optimistic outlook for the passage of the SAFER Banking Act in 2024.
Robbins proposes enhancing the legislation by enabling cannabis businesses to utilize U.S. public exchanges. He is frustrated with U.S. companies resorting to Canadian exchanges for public offerings. Despite regulators’ interest in change, there is hesitancy.
Robbins states, “I would be hopeful that the passage of that act if it ever happens, would open the door to U.S. exchanges being a little more welcoming of the industry.”
2. Federal Legalization Bills
As federal officials review cannabis scheduling under the CSA, Congress is looking at various cannabis legalization bills. In September, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., reintroduced the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R. 5601). This bill aims to deschedule and decriminalize cannabis federally, offer expungements for specific cannabis offenses, and create reinvestment opportunities for those harmed by prohibition.
Last month, Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., introduced the States Reform Act of 2023 (H.R. 6028). This builds upon the States Reform Act filed in November 2021. According to previous reporting by Cannabis Business Times, The updated bill aims to amend the Controlled Substances Act regarding marijuana.
Furthermore, In December, Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, reintroduced the STATES Act, a federal cannabis reform bill. The goal is to let each U.S. state decide how to handle cannabis legalization within its borders.
Unfortunately, Robbins has his doubts, stating, “Unfortunately, cannabis reform or even reform with respect to psychedelic substances is not going to be a priority, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time, so there’s certainly no reason why this can’t be addressed as well.”
3. Florida’s Adult-Use Ballot Measure
In 2023, several states, including Delaware, Minnesota, and Ohio, embraced adult-use legalization. 2024 is poised to be significant as these states launch commercial adult-use sales. Robbins anticipates more states, such as Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Hawaii, and notably, Florida, to follow suit.
Despite the Legislature’s slow response and active opposition, Robbins remains optimistic about his home state’s potential shift. Smart and Safe Florida is pushing for an adult-use legalization measure, aiming for the November 2024 ballot. However, the proposal faces criticism from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and awaits a decision from the state Supreme Court on its eligibility for the upcoming ballot.
In 2021, attempts to legalize cannabis in Florida for the 2022 ballot were halted by the Supreme Court, citing misleading language. Despite strong opposition from Governor Ron DeSantis, proponents have invested significant time, effort, and money in crafting legislation.
Robbins believes the language is clear and compliant with rules. The matter is now before the Supreme Court again, and he is hopeful it will make the November 2024 ballot. Robbins is optimistic about its chances to pass and states, “Hopefully it will result in a lot of tourism dollars and tax dollars to the state.”
Robbins thinks the SAFER Banking Act might face delays in 2024, partly due to the HHS suggesting in August that cannabis be reclassified under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
While HHS hasn’t officially disclosed the details, Bloomberg reported seeing an unredacted letter sent to the DEA letter sent to the DEA, indicating HHS officials proposed a shift to Schedule III.
With 2024 being an election year, Robbins anticipates action on rescheduling before voters go to the polls in November. He suggests that President Biden might want a significant point to present to voters, prompting him to likely urge the DEA to evaluate and potentially reschedule cannabis to Schedule III under the CSA before the election.
Furthermore, Robbins prefers cannabis to be descheduled rather than rescheduled.
He believes that rescheduling could be harmful to small businesses, as they might be required to undergo clinical trials with the FDA and face additional regulatory scrutiny associated with producing and selling a Schedule III controlled substance.
Robbins emphasizes the uncertainty surrounding the practical effects of rescheduling on the industry, particularly for small cultivators in Oregon or retailers in California.
5. The Farm Bill
As we step into 2024, the cannabis industry is abuzz with discussions about the 2023 Farm Bill. Forecasts suggest that the legislation won’t meet its year-end deadline and will likely extend into the next year.
Robbins is hopeful that the final version will bring clarity to outstanding matters, specifically focusing on delta-8 THC and other psychoactive hemp-derived cannabinoids. These were overlooked in the 2018 Farm Bill that federally legalized hemp.
Robbins expresses that there has been extensive debate and disagreement within the industry regarding cannabinoids beyond delta-9 THC in the plant, questioning their legality and commercialization prospects. Furthermore, Robbins is excited to see how the 2023 Farm Bill ties up loose ends in 2024.
As we navigate the complex terrain of cannabis policy reform, the year 2024 emerges as a crucial chapter in the industry’s evolution.
Jonathan Robbins’ perspectives on the SAFER Banking Act, federal legalization bills, Florida’s adult-use aspirations, rescheduling debates, and the implications of the 2023 Farm Bill provide a comprehensive view of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
The intricate dance between legislation and industry dynamics will undoubtedly shape the course of cannabis policy in the coming year, making it imperative for stakeholders to remain vigilant and engaged.