The lead GOP Senate cosponsor of a bipartisan marijuana banking bill says a planned floor vote is on pause until he can ensure the legislation will later pass the Republican-controlled House, according to a cannabis financing executive who spoke with the senator this week.
While the House prospects of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act have long factored into Senate leadership’s thinking, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) apparently made it clear in his conversation with Pelorus Capital Group President Rob Sechrist on Tuesday that until he’s assured there’s a pathway to passage in the opposite chamber, the bill will not be taken up on the Senate floor.
That represents a notable rhetorical shift, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has said repeatedly since the bill cleared the Senate Banking Committee last month that he intends to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote “as quickly as possible,” without explicit mention of that step being contingent on House dynamics.
Sechrist, paraphrasing, told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that Daines said to him at a National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) event in California that he’s “going to slow this down until there’s a clear path through on the House side.”
Met with @SteveDaines and we spoke about #SAFEbanking. He said he wants to make sure the House can get it passed before he pushes it across the finish line in the Senate. He said it's meaningless unless the legislation is passed by both the Senate and the House. pic.twitter.com/QSY6uCG3xB
— Rob Sechrist (@m5_rob) October 11, 2023
Daines, who chairs the NRSC, said that “his goal is to make sure that this gets passed, and not just go and die in the House,” Sechrist said. “He was passionate about making sure that I understood that this is not about a political win and just getting it over to the House. He is adamant that he wants to make sure that this gets done this time all the way through.”
The private lending company executive said he expressed to Daines that some of his industry colleagues might be “disappointed” to hear that he’s delaying Senate action, but he described the senator as responding that a pessimistic view is “not the way to look at it—I want to make sure this gets all the way done.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of Daines, Schumer and the lead Democratic sponsor of the SAFER Banking Act Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.
While earlier versions of the cannabis banking bill have advanced through the House several times under Democratic majorities, its chances of advancing this session came into question after Republicans took control of the chamber. Significantly contributing to the current complications is the fact that the House is without a speaker after a historic vote last week to remove Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from the position.
McCarthy was viewed as a potential ally on the incremental marijuana reform, as he previously voted in favor of the legislation even while he has not championed broader cannabis issues. Now, advocates and stakeholders are watching closely to see who eventually replaces him once the GOP conference reaches some kind of agreement after a week marked by internal splintering.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) was the initial favorite within the party, but he’s since dropped out. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) is still in the running, but it’s unclear if he will be able to secure enough votes if formally nominated as speaker. Both voted against dozens of cannabis reform measures over their tenures, including marijuana banking legislation. Jordan even opposed legislation to make it slightly easier to conduct scientific research on cannabis.
As of Friday, meanwhile, Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) filed to run for the speakership. He voted in favor of marijuana banking reform last year, though he opposed the reform in 2019 and 2014. He supported a bipartisan bill to promote cannabis research—but he’s voted against other modest reforms such as protecting medical cannabis states from federal interference, and he voted against a comprehensive legalization bill.
Some insiders have tried to temper concerns about what it would mean to have a proactively anti-cannabis lawmaker helm the House, contending that they may personally oppose it but would not block the measure if it enjoyed significant bipartisan support as it’s had in the past. But one thing is certain: no legislation will advance in the House until a speaker is appointed. And with each passing day without a top leader, floor time for legislation dwindles, and there are more pressing priorities for Congress, including funding the government to avoid a shutdown and providing aid to Israel amid its war with Hamas.
That may likely contribute to Daines’s reported thinking on the issue and why he says Senate floor action on the SAFER Banking Act must wait for now.
Then there is the question of what type of bill the GOP House would be willing to move if it does get sent over. Schumer has already talked about plans to amend it such that it incorporates measures on expunging prior cannabis records and protecting gun rights for marijuana consumers. Others like Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) have floated additional equity-centered amendments, and the Banking Committee’s refusal to adopt certain of his proposals led him to be the sole Democratic member to vote against the cannabis bill last month.
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The bill’s committee consideration had already been delayed over the summer amid partisan disagreement over a section of the legislation favored by Republicans, including Daines, that they say would prevent broader ideological discrimination against any industry such as the firearms trade by federal financial regulators.
While lawmakers negotiated a revised measure that retained and expanded Section 10, it’s still a key consideration as bipartisan talks continue. And Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the SAFER Banking Act, has raised concerns about the language, indicating that more work is needed to reach a bicameral consensus on the issue.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), meanwhile, sent a letter to Schumer last month to express concern about the Senate’s “ongoing prioritizing of legislation relaxing marijuana laws” over a separate measure the GOP senator favors to permanently prohibit fentanyl analogues.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is also stirring the pot over the cannabis banking bill, with an inflated interpretation of Schumer’s floor remarks last month about his plans to amend the legislation with “criminal justice provisions.”
While Schumer has so far only discussed amending the bill to include the expungements and gun rights provisions, Cotton claimed the majority leader wants to add provisions “letting drug traffickers out of prison.”
Additionally, Sens. Pete Ricketts (R-NE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Budd (R-NC) and James Lankford (R-OK) recently sent a letter to Senate leadership that argued the SAFER Banking Act would result in the cannabis industry producing higher potency products that would be harmful to youth and compromise “the integrity of the United States banking system.”
Meanwhile, just about one in 10 congressional staffers thinks the marijuana banking bill will be enacted this year, according to a recent survey—an outlook that deviates from supporters who’ve been encouraged by its bipartisan momentum.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.