Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) says that Congress has a “good shot” of passing modest marijuana reforms—including banking and justice provisions—during the lame duck session after the midterm elections. He also stressed that lawmakers might not have the same opportunity if Republicans retake either chamber next year.
In an interview with NJ.com that was published on Monday, the senator said that leadership was engaged in “active negotiations” over a package of cannabis proposals before the August recess. And he recently discussed the legislation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and felt that they’d made “progress” at the meeting.
“It’s very likely that during the lame duck—before the new Congress—we’re going to see a really good bipartisan attempt to move it,” Booker said. “Maybe it’s not the [legalization] bill I wrote with Schumer and [Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR)], but an effort to tie in restorative justice and some fair banking provisions.”
“I think it has a good chance because our Republican allies also understand that if one of the houses of Congress shifts to Republican, it will be very hard to do anything on marijuana,” he said. “We’ve got a good shot. I wouldn’t say it’s a great shot, but it’s on a good path.”
He also reiterated that he’s “still a little frustrated” that state-level legalization hasn’t seen the “democratizing effect” that advocates had hoped would come with reform with respect to industry equity. He pointed out that few New Jersey marijuana business licenses are owned by minorities.
“The Senate has got to move and pass a bill that deals with a lot of areas—restorative justice, making the banking industry equally available, and investing tax revenue to help with addiction and create economic opportunities and deal with the sins of the past,” Booker said.
The senator also weighed in on President Joe Biden’s recent move to issue mass pardons for people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses, saying again that he feels that “there are more steps to be taken.”
“The fact that we are deporting parents of American children for marijuana possession should outrage every American,” he said, referencing one group that was left out of the president’s clemency action. “And obviously, the folks who have been doing these low-level sales, we should look as we move closer to a majority of states moving toward legalization.”
“But I can do nothing but celebrate Joe Biden,” Booker said. “He and I had conversations during those debates—off stage—that were meaningful to me. Because he committed to me to do the things he did this week. I just think that’s a powerful thing for your elected leader to say he’s gonna do something and then follow through.”
He made similar remarks in another interview the day after Biden’s pardon proclamation, stating that he’s “very hopeful” that additional reform can be enacted before the end of this Congress.
During his 2020 presidential campaign, Booker repeatedly pressed Biden over his opposition to adult-use legalization, criticizing him on the debate stage and elsewhere as being out of step with the majority of his party and emphasizing the racial justice imperatives of ending prohibition.
A series of polls have shown that Americans strongly support the president’s pardon action, and they also don’t think that marijuana should be federally classified as a Schedule I drug, which could change following Biden’s separate directive for federal agencies to carry out a scientific review of cannabis.
Meanwhile, Schumer separately spoke about marijuana banking issues at a recent White House event, reiterating that he was working on the problem, according to the House sponsor.
The conversation between Schumer and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) happened at an event on inflation reduction and happened to coincide with the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) lobby days, with over 100 marijuana business leaders on Capitol Hill to push for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act.
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Perlmutter said at an NCIA-organized press conference that he’s increasingly tempted to “go to the nuclear option” in the House Rules Committee of “holding up” separate legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in order to get the marijuana banking measure enacted.
The congressman and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the Senate sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, also outlined next steps for the cannabis banking reform at a briefing organized by the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) in July.
Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) released a paper in August that outlined what they view as shortcomings of the standalone SAFE Banking Act and recommended several amendments to bolster its equity impact.
Booker said at an event organized by CRCC that the standalone legislation “requires changes” if it’s going to advance before cannabis is federally legalized.
The senator initially signaled that he was coming around to marijuana banking reform (contingent on equity provisions) at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in July that he convened as chairman.
But in the months before he and his colleagues filed a legalization bill over the summer, Booker was adamant about enacting comprehensive reform before advancing the incremental banking legislation. He said at one point “I will lay myself down” before letting the Senate take on banking first.
Meanwhile, Perlmutter also said in a recent interview that he feels the introduction of the Senate legalization bill alone means that lawmakers have overcome a legislative “hurdle” that’s kept SAFE Banking from advancing in the chamber.
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