Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says a committee vote on a marijuana banking bill will be scheduled “in the near future” following an initial hearing on Thursday—and he is reiterating plans to attach criminal justice reform provisions to the financial services measure.
In a speech on the floor on Thursday evening, Schumer said that the Senate Banking Committee meeting represented a “big step” for the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which was refiled by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT) last month.
“SAFE Banking would ensure cannabis businesses have equal access to critical banking infrastructure in states that have legalized cannabis,” he said. “We’ve all heard the tales of small businesses and even larger ones walking around with a huge amount of cash because they can’t do banking. SAFE Banking would change that and allow them to bank as other businesses because it is legal in many states.”
He also reiterated plans to incorporate additional “criminal justice provisions…most importantly the expungement of criminal records for certain low marijuana offenses” after the bill clears committee and moves to the floor. On Thursday, he and two other top senators specifically discussed their intent to attach language from the Harnessing by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, providing federal grants to states and localities that facilitate cannabis clemency.
“We’ve made a lot of good, bipartisan progress on SAFE Banking last Congress, and after today’s hearing we hope there will be a markup on this bill in the near future,” Schumer said on Thursday. “We’re really moving forward in a record way on a very important issue.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also said recently that senators planned to “move quickly” on the legislation.
Senators on both sides of the aisle have been pushing for urgent action on the standalone bill, which would protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
A former top aide to Schumer recently wrote an op-ed for Marijuana Moment explaining why the new makeup of the 118th Congress actually improves the prospects of passage for the SAFE Banking Act.
Schumer has emphasized his commitment to advancing the marijuana banking legislation with criminal justice provisions included, calling the broader effort to repair the harms of the drug war a “moral responsibility” for Congress.
A vote in the Senate last month on separate marijuana legislation, however, has raised some questions about whether any modest cannabis reform is achievable under the current congressional makeup. Senate Republicans blocked a procedural motion to advance a bipartisan bill to simply require studies into the medical potential of cannabis for military veterans with chronic pain and PTSD.
The standalone SAFE Banking Act has been approved along largely bipartisan lines in the House in some form several times in recent years. But it’s consistently stalled out in the Senate under both Democratic and Republican leadership.
Last month, Schumer said that he was “disappointed” that the so-called SAFE Plus package 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.
Booker 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 sponsoring 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.
Numerous other cannabis bills have been filed in Congress in recent weeks beside the banking legislation.
For example, bipartisan congressional lawmakers recently filed a bill to mandate the automatic sealing of criminal records for certain non-violent federal marijuana convictions.
House and Senate lawmakers also reintroduced legislation last month to provide a safe harbor to insurance companies that work with licensed marijuana businesses.
Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced legislation last month to protect the Second Amendment rights of people who use marijuana in legal states, allowing them to purchase and possess firearms that they’re currently prohibited from having under federal law.
Also last month, Joyce and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) filed a measure designed to prepare the federal government for marijuana legalization, directing the attorney general to form a commission to study and make recommendations about regulating cannabis in a way similar to alcohol. (Full Story)