Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and several other key Democratic senators are meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss marijuana legislation, two Senate sources have confirmed to Marijuana Moment.
Advocates and stakeholders have been closely watching for any cannabis developments after efforts to pass modest reforms stalled out in the last Congress. Now the discussions are heating back up under different political dynamics, with Republicans in control of the House.
Schumer will be meeting with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV), along with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH), as Punchbowl News first reported.
— John Bresnahan (@bresreports) February 1, 2023
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) was also invited, but an aide told Marijuana Moment that he had an “an unavoidable scheduling conflict” so would be sending a senior staffer in his place.
It remains to be seen whether the senators will be discussing any particular bills or cannabis-related issues, but it seems likely that they’ll pick up where they left off last session, with a focus on the so-called SAFE Plus package of marijuana banking and expungements legislation.
Notably, however, no Republican senators are reported to have been included in the meeting, even though lawmakers such as Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) were previously confirmed as being part of talks on cannabis legislation near the end of the last Congress.
Schumer and Booker filed a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill last year, but it became quickly apparent that there wouldn’t be enough support for passage with the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. As a compromise, the majority leader led bipartisan and bicameral negotiations over the SAFE Plus deal.
Attempts to place the reform in large-scale defense and spending legislation proved fruitless, and Schumer placed blame on GOP senators for derailing the bipartisan proposals.
Brown, for his part, has been largely focused on the financial services components of the issue. As Banking Committee chair, he’d play a critical role in advancing the reform through the chamber. He’s made clear that he wants to see equity and justice provisions incorporated into the banking fix.
Rosen has consistently championed the idea of extending federal Small Business Administration (SBA) services to the cannabis industry. It was discussed as a possible addition to SAFE Plus during negotiations.
While Wednesday’s meeting represents a welcome development for advocates who’ve been waiting to see action from the Senate after a disappointing end to the last session, the prospects of advancing marijuana reform have shifted after the House flip.
Booker said in a recent interview that ongoing marijuana banking issues under prohibition amount to a “cannabis crisis,” and while he thinks there’s still a shot to enact reform, he’s emphasized the challenges of the new political dynamic on Capitol Hill.
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Booker has faced particular criticism from certain stakeholders over how his position on banking legislation has evolved, with the senator at one point vowing to block any efforts to advance a standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act without equity components but eventually expressing interest in compromise to get something done.
The senator said in an earlier interview following last year’s election that he believed it could take “many years from now” to pass cannabis legislation if Democrats didn’t get the job done during the lame duck session.
The White House was asked last week where President Joe Biden stands on marijuana banking reform, and Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the ball is in Congress’s court, with no current plans for administrative action to resolve the issue.
Biden hasn’t provided a clear policy position on marijuana banking, though he’s said that states should be able to decide their own cannabis laws without federal interference. His administration has also become more vocal marijuana reform since the president issued a mass cannabis possession pardon in October.
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.
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