A key Senate committee chairman says that he’s spoken with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) about moving bipartisan marijuana banking legislation, which he hopes to advance along with several other priority bills “in the next six weeks.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told Punchbowl News on Monday that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is one of the top bills on his fall legislative agenda. And while he didn’t comment on the substance of his conversation with Schumer, the majority leader has made clear in letters to colleagues and in a floor speech on Tuesday that cannabis banking is a priority.
“We want to get RECOUP. We want to get SAFE Banking. We already have, in the NDAA, the FEND Off Fentanyl Act. All three of those are my priorities,” Brown said, referencing banking accountability and opioid-related enforcement legislation in addition to the marijuana measure. “We want to do all that in the next six weeks.”
The prospects of passing the SAFE Banking Act this fall are contingent on a number of factors, including the fact that moving must-pass spending legislation to fund the government is expected to take up a significant amount of senators’ time. But there’s also the matter of disagreement over one key section of the bill that prevented it from advancing during the summer session before lawmakers broke for the August recess.
Some Democrats believe that Section 10 of the legislation would undermine banking regulations and are seeking to amend or remove. Republicans have said they view that option as a “non-starter,” however. And it’s unclear if any progress was made over the recess to reach an agreement that would allow the bill to move through the Senate Banking Committee and onto the floor.
Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of Brown and the lead GOP SAFE Banking sponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) for comment, but representatives were not immediately available.
For his part, Schumer stressed on Tuesday that “we are under no illusion that we can make progress on the Senate floor unless we get bipartisan cooperation” on marijuana reform and other priorities such as curbing the price of insulin and competing against China in the global economy.
“None of this will be easy either,” he said. “The bills will require a lot of work and compromise. But if we can progress on these items, we will greatly improve the lives of average Americans.”
At a press conference in late July before lawmakers broke for recess, Schumer said that senators were “making good progress” in bipartisan negotiations over the legislation and predicted a a “very, very productive fall in the Senate.”
At this point, the SAFE Banking Act has 42 cosponsors—nearly half of the Senate—and that includes eight Republicans and three independents. As a standalone in its current form, insiders say the measure has enough Republican buy-in to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for passage in the Senate.
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Brown and Daines sparred over next steps for the bill in the lead-up to the August recess. Brown has insisted that Daines needs to secure more GOP cosponsors, but Daines argued that Republicans are already prepared to move the legislation as previously agreed to through the floor.
Daines has also previously cautioned against attempting to expand the measure with social justice reforms that progressives would like to add, though his office has told Marijuana Moment that the senator is “open” to adding expungements language, as proposed by Schumer.
Meanwhile, the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH)—along with trade groups representing marijuana businesses in 16 states plus Washington, D.C.—sent a letter to Brown and Banking Committee Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC) in July, imploring them to pass the cannabis banking bill “without further delay.”
Schumer also spoke with a cannabis industry leader earlier this summer after being approached at an unrelated event, and according to that entrepreneur, the Senate leader is feeling “confident” about the prospects of passing the cannabis banking bill.
As its currently drafted, the measure would protect banks and credit unions, as well as depository institutions, from being penalized by federal regulators for working with state-licensed cannabis businesses.
Others have also floated other changes that they’d like to see incorporated into the cannabis bill such as expanding protections to free up marijuana industry access to all forms of financial services, including representation on major U.S. stock exchanges.
That request has faced some criticism from other advocates who say that would be an inappropriate move to help businesses while efforts to legalize marijuana stall in Congress.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) has also said that she wanted the SAFE Banking Act to pass with an amendment allowing cannabis businesses to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) services.
In April, Schumer said that he was “disappointed” that a so-called SAFE Plus package of cannabis reform legislation didn’t advance last year, saying “we came close,” but “we ran into opposition in the last minute.” He said lawmakers will continue to “work in a bipartisan way” to get the job done.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said that lawmakers are working to “resurrect” the cannabis reform package, acknowledging that failure to advance a banking fix for the industry “literally means that hundreds of businesses go out of business.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who is a lead Democratic sponsor of the House version of the SAFE Banking Act, said at a press briefing in April that thinks it’s important that advocates and lawmakers align on any incremental proposals to end the drug war, warning against an “all-or-nothing” mentality.
The American Bankers Association (ABA) also recently renewed its call for the passage of the legislation. And all 50 of its state chapters did the same, as did insurance and union organizations, in recent letters to congressional leadership.
July also marked the 10-year anniversary since the introduction of the first version of what is now known as the SAFE Banking Act.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) separately said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday that he should throw his support behind the congressional push for marijuana banking reform as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) begins its review of cannabis scheduling after receiving a rescheduling recommendation from the top federal health agency.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.