Passing a marijuana banking bill is a priority during the upcoming summer work session in the Senate, but it “will not be easy” and needs GOP support to advance, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a letter to colleagues that notably omitted his typical call for attaching criminal justice provisions like expungements.
The letter that Schumer released on Sunday says that lawmakers will first focus on advancing must-pass appropriations and defense legislation. But he said that Democrats “will also continue our work with our Republican colleagues to advance legislation in a range of policy areas.”
That includes “making progress on bipartisan bills” like one to “safeguard cannabis banking” that already received a hearing in the Senate Banking Committee in May and that advocates hope will be taken up for a vote in that panel this month.
“Passing these bills will not be easy, and we will depend on cooperation of our Republican colleagues to get any of them done,” Schumer said. “I applaud our committees and our caucus for the continued work to make positive and meaningful changes in the lives of every day Americans.”
The majority leader has said several times that he considers the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to be a legislative priority, though he usually adds that it must be amended to incorporate language on expunging prior cannabis convictions. He declined to restate that point in the new letter, however.
That said, a spokesperson for the lead Republican sponsor of the standalone SAFE Banking Act office told Marijuana Moment recently that he is “open” to including the additional reform provision, even as he’s cautioned Democrats against significantly expanding the bill’s scope in a way that could jeopardize GOP support. 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.
“Our agenda is ambitious and with a closely divided Senate, we face an uphill battle on many fronts,” Schumer said. “It is always my hope that we will be able to find consensus and develop a path forward with our Republican colleagues; but where that is not possible, we must purse all options available for advancing programs to protect and expand America’s middle class.”
Meanwhile, members of the Senate Banking Committee are also still debating Section 10 of the marijuana bill, which certain Democrats like Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) have voiced concern over, arguing that it would effectively undermine banking regulations outside of the cannabis space.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the GOP sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, said recently that members were “not quite there yet” on a final deal, but are “continuing discussions.”
Schumer also recently spoke with a cannabis industry leader who approached him at an unrelated event last month, and according to that entrepreneur, the Senate leader is feeling “confident” about the prospects of passing the cannabis banking bill.
As he noted in the letter, however, getting the measure across the finish line will demand Republican support. And key GOP members like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have previously posed obstacles to the incremental reform.
It’s also unclear when the Senate will be able to complete its work on appropriations legislation and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Schumer suggested will need to be addressed first before moving onto the other bipartisan bills.
On the House side, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have filed a number of drug policy reform amendments to that chamber’s version of NDAA, including provisions to expand access to medical marijuana for military veterans, facilitate the rescheduling of certain psychedelics, protect people from being denied security clearances over marijuana and allow servicemembers to use CBD products.
Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee recently released a report for a spending bill that calls on VA to facilitate medical marijuana access for veterans and explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. (Full Story)