Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is reiterating his commitment to advancing marijuana banking reform as the chamber comes back into session from the August recess.
In a floor speech on Tuesday, Schumer discussed various legislative priorities for the coming weeks and months. That includes “making progress on cannabis” through the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, he said.
However, he stressed that “we are under no illusion that we can make progress on the Senate floor unless we get bipartisan cooperation” on marijuana reform and other priorities such as curbing the price of insulin and competing against China in the global economy.
“None of this will be easy either,” he said. “The bills will require a lot of work and compromise. But if we can progress on these items, we will greatly improve the lives of average Americans.”
Watch Schumer discuss marijuana banking and other legislative issues in the video below:
“Finding bipartisan compromise on issues like these is never easy, but that’s what it’ll take to get things done—and our efforts to do precisely that have already led to significant accomplishments under this majority,” he said. “As we gavel back in, we will keep going to reward the trust the American people have placed in us.”
The majority leader made similar points in a Dear Colleague letter that was distributed last week, listing “safeguarding cannabis banking” right after “lowering the cost of insulin and prescription drugs.”
The next step for the marijuana banking bill is a markup in the Senate Banking Committee, which advocates and stakeholders hope will be scheduled within weeks.
Possibly adding momentum to the reform as lawmakers return to Capitol Hill, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now recommending that marijuana be moved from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)—a move that would, among other things, free up state-licensed cannabis businesses to take federal tax deductions.
Schumer described the SAFE Banking Act as a priority in a separate Dear Colleague letter in July that laid out the summer agenda. But efforts to advance the bill fell short at the time amid disagreement between key senators over a single section concerning broader banking regulations.
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.”
The bill “has always been a priority for me,” he said. “So there’s a lot to do when we get back.”
At this point, the SAFE Banking Act has 42 cosponsors—nearly half of the Senate—and that includes eight Republicans and three independents. So there is a degree of bipartisanship to the reform, earlier versions of which have cleared the House multiple times. The problem at hand is Section 10, which certain Democrats believe 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.
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.
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Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and lead SAFE Banking Act cosponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) 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.