Bipartisan talks over a marijuana banking bill were “very productive” over the August recess, the office of the lead GOP Senate sponsor tells Marijuana Moment, as a key Democratic chairman says an agreement on advancing the legislation is “imminent.”
As the Senate reconvenes from its summer break, those most involved in negotiating the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act have been expressing tentative optimism that it could move to a vote soon.
That includes Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the top Republican sponsor. A spokesperson for his office told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that the senator “had very productive talks over the recess and we’re moving in the right direction.”
Democratic members, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH), have similarly touted progress on the legislation, which Brown said he’s aiming to move within “the next six weeks.”
“We think there is an agreement imminent that there’ll be general agreement on,” Brown, whose panel would be marking up the bill to bring it to the floor, said, according to Politico. “We know that some members of the committee are going to vote no regardless, but we think there’ll be something good that gets a good majority.”
While he wouldn’t give a specific timeline for a potential markup, he said on Monday that the SAFE Banking Act was among several priority measures that he wants to advance by October.
Schumer, meanwhile, said in a Dear Colleague letter last week 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 on Tuesday that he’s committed to “making progress on cannabis” during the fall session.
The prospects of passing the SAFE Banking Act this fall are contingent on a number of factors, including the fact that moving must-pass spending legislation to fund the government is expected to take up a significant amount of senators’ time. But there’s also the matter of disagreement over one key section of the bill that prevented it from advancing during the summer session before lawmakers broke for the August recess.
Some Democrats believe that Section 10 of the legislation would undermine banking regulations and are seeking to amend or remove. Republicans have said they view that option as a “non-starter,” however. And it’s unclear if any progress was made over the recess to reach an agreement that would allow the bill to move through the Senate Banking Committee and onto the floor.
Marijuana Moment reached out to Brown’s office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
At a press conference in late July before lawmakers broke for recess, Schumer said that senators were “making good progress” in bipartisan negotiations over the legislation and predicted a a “very, very productive fall in the Senate.”
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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 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.
Brown and Daines sparred over next steps for the bill in the lead-up to the August recess. Brown has insisted that Daines needs to secure more GOP cosponsors, but Daines argued that Republicans are already prepared to move the legislation as previously agreed to through the floor.
Daines has also previously cautioned against attempting to expand the measure with social justice reforms that progressives would like to add, though his office has told Marijuana Moment that the senator is “open” to adding expungements language, as proposed by Schumer.
Meanwhile, the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH)—along with trade groups representing marijuana businesses in 16 states plus Washington, D.C.—sent a letter to Brown and Banking Committee Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC) in July, imploring them to pass the cannabis banking bill “without further delay.”
Schumer also spoke with a cannabis industry leader earlier this summer after being approached at an unrelated event, and according to that entrepreneur, the Senate leader is feeling “confident” about the prospects of passing the cannabis banking bill.
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.
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.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) 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 on Tuesday 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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.