Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hopes to announce the scheduling of a marijuana banking bill vote in his panel “in the next few days,” with plans to hold the markup during the current work session that ends October 6. But he also acknowledged that there are still some “outlying issues” that need to be resolved among members.
While a committee spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the vote would not be taking place next week as some cannabis industry observers have speculated, Brown says the actual markup date could be scheduled imminently as senators move toward the finish line in negotiations.
“We need to make sure we have enough votes. And I mean, there are still some differences some members still have,” the chairman told Punchbowl News on Monday night. “I’m not going to publicly talk about negotiating and what people are asking for or not. There are still some outlying issues—minor ones. But we hope to get people onboard and get a strong vote.”
It’s not clear by Brown’s remarks whether senators have addressed lingering disagreements over Section 10 of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. That section, which concerns broad banking regulations, was flagged by certain Democrats as problematic, while Republicans such as the lead GOP sponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) have insisted on keeping it.
In any case, Brown separately told Politico last week that he intends to move the cannabis legislation during the current work session that ends early next month.
Advocates and industry stakeholders have been closely watching for any signs of movement on the SAFE Banking Act since members reconvened from their August recess. Plans to advance the bill during the summer session failed to materialize, but Brown, Daines and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have all signaled in recent days that members had a productive recess and are close to a deal.
Brown previously said that he’s aiming to pass the legislation within “six weeks.”
Schumer, for his part, said in a Dear Colleague letter this month that “safeguarding cannabis banking” is one of his top legislative priorities, though he stressed the need for bipartisan buy-in. He also said in a floor speech last week that he’s committed to “making progress on cannabis” during the fall session.
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.
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.
As its currently drafted, the SAFE Banking Act 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 last week 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.