Passing a marijuana banking bill is a priority during the upcoming summer work session in the Senate, but it “will not be easy” and needs GOP support to advance, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a letter to colleagues that notably omitted his typical call for attaching criminal justice provisions like expungements.
The letter that Schumer released on Sunday says that lawmakers will first focus on advancing must-pass appropriations and defense legislation. But he said that Democrats “will also continue our work with our Republican colleagues to advance legislation in a range of policy areas.”
That includes “making progress on bipartisan bills” like one to “safeguard cannabis banking” that already received a hearing in the Senate Banking Committee in May and that advocates hope will be taken up for a vote in that panel this month.
“Passing these bills will not be easy, and we will depend on cooperation of our Republican colleagues to get any of them done,” Schumer said. “I applaud our committees and our caucus for the continued work to make positive and meaningful changes in the lives of every day Americans.”
The majority leader has said several times that he considers the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to be a legislative priority, though he usually adds that it must be amended to incorporate language on expunging prior cannabis convictions. He declined to restate that point in the new letter, however.
That said, a spokesperson for the lead Republican sponsor of the standalone SAFE Banking Act office told Marijuana Moment recently that he is “open” to including the additional reform provision, even as he’s cautioned Democrats against significantly expanding the bill’s scope in a way that could jeopardize GOP support. 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.
Senate Democrats will continue to work together to grow our economy, strengthen our democracy, and confirm President Biden’s highly-qualified nominees. pic.twitter.com/OS0awwvZji
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) July 9, 2023
“Our agenda is ambitious and with a closely divided Senate, we face an uphill battle on many fronts,” Schumer said. “It is always my hope that we will be able to find consensus and develop a path forward with our Republican colleagues; but where that is not possible, we must purse all options available for advancing programs to protect and expand America’s middle class.”
Meanwhile, members of the Senate Banking Committee are also still debating Section 10 of the marijuana bill, which certain Democrats like Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) have voiced concern over, arguing that it would effectively undermine banking regulations outside of the cannabis space.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the GOP sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, said recently that members were “not quite there yet” on a final deal, but are “continuing discussions.”
Schumer also recently spoke with a cannabis industry leader who approached him at an unrelated event last month, and according to that entrepreneur, the Senate leader is feeling “confident” about the prospects of passing the cannabis banking bill.
As he noted in the letter, however, getting the measure across the finish line will demand Republican support. And key GOP members like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have previously posed obstacles to the incremental reform.
It’s also unclear when the Senate will be able to complete its work on appropriations legislation and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Schumer suggested will need to be addressed first before moving onto the other bipartisan bills.
On the House side, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have filed a number of drug policy reform amendments to that chamber’s version of NDAA, including provisions to expand access to medical marijuana for military veterans, facilitate the rescheduling of certain psychedelics, protect people from being denied security clearances over marijuana and allow servicemembers to use CBD products.
Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently released a report for a spending bill that calls on VA to facilitate medical marijuana access for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
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While the SAFE Banking Act has yet to be scheduled for a committee markup, lawmakers from across the aisle are signaling that the votes are there for passage—so long as there are no major contentions or hiccups along the way, as Daines suggested.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) said last month that he’s a “yes” on the legislation. He just doubts that Democratic leadership will follow through on their pledge to get the job done this year.
Democrats would likely contest that characterization. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said last month that he wants to hold a vote on it “in the next two or three weeks.”
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.
A major cannabis lobbying firm apologized in May after sending a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership concerning the banking bill that contained “inappropriate” references to investments from China in a “misguided attempt” to push for amendments expanding the legislation.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also recently 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.
The majority leader has been holding meetings with Democratic and Republican members in the early months of the new Congress to discuss cannabis reform proposals that might have bipartisan buy-in this year.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said recently 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 sponsor of the House version of the SAFE Banking Act, said at a recent press briefing 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.