The lead Republican Senate sponsor of a bipartisan marijuana banking says he’s hoping for a committee vote “sometime in September,” while a Democratic lawmaker who previously voiced concerns about a key section of the legislation says bipartisan lawmakers are “making progress” in negotiations.
In a series of interviews this week, a number of senators from across the aisle weighed in on the status of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. The plan, according to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH), is to hold a markup during the current work session that ends October 6.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the top GOP sponsor of the bill, told The Hill that “there’s a chance to get a markup done,” and he specified that it could happen in the remaining weeks of September. A spokesperson for the Banking Committee told Marijuana Moment on Monday that it wouldn’t take place next week, however, so that would leave the final week of the month.
Senators, including Brown, Daines and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have said in recent days that members have had productive discussions about moving the SAFE Banking Act this fall, signaling that they’ve reached agreements on certain outstanding issues.
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 a new interview with The Hill.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), another member of the Banking Committee, told the Capitol Hill newspaper that he thinks “there’s a desire to sort of level the playing field” in negotiations over SAFE Banking.
“I, for one, would like to see the same premise applied obviously to banks and things like Operation Choke Point,” he said, referring to a policy opposed by Republicans that affects oversight of the gun and payday lending industries. Section 10 was designed to address that policy.
“Try to eliminate some of that nonsense,” Cramer said. “I think there is a discussion ripe for some compromise and some deal-making.”
The chairman, for his part, said that while there are still “some outlying issues, minor ones,” he hopes to “get people on board and get a strong vote.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of Brown and Daines for clarification around the timing and status of negotiations, but representatives were not immediately available.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), meanwhile, told The Hill that “robust conversations are going on that makes me very hopeful that we can get SAFE done [and] we can get some equity issues.”
“My pillars: opening up the banking industry, creating more equity opportunities for women and minorities to have access to that banking industry, and trying to get some social criminal justice things done,” Booker said.
Schumer 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.
In the meantime, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) took note of the fact that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended federally rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act, calling it “good” and “another potential breakthrough.”
“We’re moving to finally end the days of ‘Reefer Madness,’” he said. “The federal government [has] just been behind on pot.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said the HHS recommendation to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA is “a recognition of reality.”
“The idea that you’ve got marijuana [legal] in over half the states, and yet at the federal level, it’s still categorized in the same category as heroin—it seems a bit out of touch with the science,” the senator said.
With respect to the SAFE Banking Act, advocates and stakeholders are eagerly awaiting news about the committee markup scheduling, which Brown said on Monday he hopes to announce within “the next few days.”
Sen. Jeff Merkely (D-OR), the lead Democratic sponsor of the cannabis banking bill, told Politico on Wednesday that the chairman is “in the best position to allow the date” for a vote.
Daines has repeatedly said that the votes are there to pass the bill as previously agreed to with bipartisan support, but not all Republican members are on board with the incremental reform.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who sits on the Banking Committee, said he’s unsure if supporters have the votes for passage, adding that “they don’t have my vote at this stage of the game.”
“I don’t think making access to marijuana at this stage of the game is necessarily helpful,” he told The Hill.
The majority leader, for his part, 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.
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At this point, the SAFE Banking Act has 42 cosponsors—nearly half of the Senate—and that includes eight Republicans and three independents.
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 Mike Latimer.