The Senate Banking Committee is planning to vote on a bipartisan marijuana banking bill during the last week of September, a Senate source familiar with the discussions confirmed to Marijuana Moment on Friday.
The tentative date of the committee vote on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is now September 27 after senators reached an agreement on the legislation, according to multiple media reports. That date hasn’t been officially announced yet, so it may change—but the expectation is that it will take place during the week of September 25, the Senate source said.
It’s unclear how the bill will be amended by the panel following weeks of negotiations. Senators have discussed revisions around provisions related to a key section on broad banking regulations, but other lawmakers and stakeholders have floated changes concerning Small Business Administration (SBA) access and stock uplisting for the cannabis industry.
The news of a forthcoming markup is consistent with recent remarks from key senators, including the GOP sponsor of the bill Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who said this week that he was hoping for a committee vote “sometime in September.”
“We’ve got enough votes to get it passed,” Daines told NBC News, which first reported the markup being pegged for the week of the 25th, on Thursday. Punchbowl and Politico also reported that sources said the committee action will occur that week.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said recently that he wanted to move the legislation during the current work session that ends October 6. And his office told Marijuana Moment that it wouldn’t happen next week, leaving just the two remaining weeks to push it through.
“I want to see a strong vote come out” of the committee, Brown told reporters on Thursday. “It helps us with momentum on the floor and the House.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has also said in recent days that members have had productive discussions about advancing the SAFE Banking Act this fall.
One of the key contentions that delayed a tentatively planned committee vote during the July session was Section 10 of the bill, which deals with broad banking regulations—something Democratic members such as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) have pushed to revise or remove but which GOP senators like Daines have insisted on keeping intact.
Reed didn’t say whether his concerns have been addressed, but he did offer that lawmakers are “making progress” in an interview with The Hill this week.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), another member of the Banking Committee, said earlier this week that he wanted to ensure that Section 10 is preserved. And in a new interview, he said he feels “pretty good about passing the bill,” signaling that he’s satisfied with where negotiations landed on that policy.
Schumer, for his part, has pushed to add incentives for state-level cannabis expungements to the banking bill. Daines has cautioned against adding additional provisions to the legislation, but he’s amenable to that one specific reform.
The majority leader 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.
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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.
Booker 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.
Separately, a former top Los Angeles cannabis regulator said in a new research paper that advocates must continue to push for modest but meaningful changes to the SAFE Banking Act in order to maximize its social equity impacts.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.