"Last year we actually got to meet with members of Congress," Khoja said. "It's an indication of the progress we have made."
The industry can count some GOP friends in Congress, including Matt Gaetz from Florida, Dana Rohrabacher from California and Virginia's Tom Garrett, who introduced legislation this year to decriminalize marijuana. Another key Republican is Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who opposed his state's 2012 legalization of marijuana but has criticized Sessions' January directive to U.S. attorneys. For the last month, Gardner has retaliated against Sessions by blocking appointments to the Department of Justice.
John Kagia, an executive vice president with New Frontier Data, said he expects other lawmakers to challenge the Trump administration if it attempts to interfere with marijuana laws in their states. "The Trump administration is forcing the issue in ways we haven't seen in a while," he said.
For the SAFE Banking Act to be enacted, however, it would have to get through the House and Senate banking committees. Both are chaired by opponents of marijuana legalization -- Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho. Advocates see little hope the legislation will go anywhere this year, and are examining alternatives.
California is one state that is studying creation of a public bank to serve the marijuana industry. But the proposal faces numerous hurdles, including a potential start-up subsidy that the state treasury and taxpayers would have to bear.
The 2018 midterm elections could boost the prospects for federal banking reform. Hensarling is not running for re-election, meaning there will be a new chair of the House Financial Services Committee. There's also a chance that Republicans could lose their majorities in one or both chambers of Congress.
"Democrats have proven to be far more friendly to reform efforts and ending prohibition," Khoja said.
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