Senators Aim For Marijuana Banking Vote This Month In Committee, With Republican Sponsor ‘Open’ To Including Expungements Provisions

July 4, 2023 ·

Key senators say they’re aiming to hold a committee vote on a marijuana banking bill when they return from the July 4th recess—though at least one section of the measure remains in dispute amid negotiations. And when it comes to progressives’ push to expand the scope by attaching justice-focused reforms to the financial services measure, the Republican sponsor’s office told Marijuana Moment that he’s “open” to including expungement provisions.

Several lawmakers weighed in on the status of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in recent interviews with Punchbowl News, with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) saying that he “would like to” hold a markup on the bill this month. He added, however, that “it depends” on first shepherding unrelated legislation that his panel has passed through the Senate floor.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the lead Democratic sponsor of the cannabis banking proposal, told the news outlet that lawmakers are “going to do a deep plunge now and try to set the stage, hopefully, for a markup when we return from break.”

It’s not just a matter of timing and legislative priorities, however. The committee, which held an initial hearing on the SAFE Banking Act in May, is also still debating Section 10 of the 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) told Punchbowl that members were “not quite there yet” on a final deal, but are “continuing discussions.”

He recently said in a separate interview that the bill stands the “best” chance of passage this Congress, even with Republicans in control of the House. However, he cautioned that the measure could be tanked if Democratic senators insist on significantly expanding its scope.

A spokesperson for Daines’s office told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he is amenable to revising the legislation in at least one way, however: adding provisions to facilitate expungements for people with prior cannabis convictions on their record, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has described as a “critical” addition.

“Daines is open to including the [Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act] in the final package and should it come to the floor there will be an open amendment process,” the staffer said.

Still, speaking with Punchbowl, the senator reiterated that lawmakers must “keep it focused on SAFE Banking to keep it in a bipartisan way.”

“I thought we were there when I reintroduced the bill. The goalposts maybe moved a little bit,” he said. “We’re working in good faith to get it locked down so we can have a markup. That’s my task.”

Meanwhile, on the House side, the GOP prime sponsor of the chamber’s version of the SAFE Banking Act, Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), said that he’s currently focused on separate appropriations legislation so he’s been “a little tied up with my own stuff.” He added that his office is “still monitoring progress” on the cannabis bill.

Schumer, for his part, 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 marijuana banking bill.

While the SAFE Banking Act has yet to be scheduled for a committee markup, lawmakers from across the aisle are signaling that the votes are there for passage—so long as there are no major contentions or hiccups along the way, as Daines suggested.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) said last month that he’s a “yes” on the legislation. He just doubts that Democratic leadership will follow through on their pledge to get the job done this year.

Democrats would likely contest that characterization. Brown said last month that he wants to hold a vote on it “in the next two or three weeks.”

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.

A major cannabis lobbying firm apologized in May after sending a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership concerning the banking bill that contained “inappropriate” references to investments from China in a “misguided attempt” to push for amendments expanding the legislation.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also recently 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.

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.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) 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 a lead sponsor of 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. (Full Story)

In category:Federal Policy
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