Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) cheered President Joe Biden’s move to issue federal marijuana pardons in a new interview, but he says there’s “more that we can do” to address the drug war and he’s “very hopeful” that additional reform can be enacted before the end of this Congress.
The senator, who is sponsoring a federal legalization bill with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR), spoke about the need to more comprehensively address cannabis policy during an interview with NPR on Friday.
He called Biden’s pardon proclamation and directive for an administrative marijuana scheduling review a “significant step” from the White House. However, he made the case that “we still have longer to go” to right the wrongs of prohibition, by facilitating expungements, for example.
Booker said that he is optimistic that legalization could be enacted, even though the general consensus is that his wide-ranging legislation doesn’t have enough bipartisan support to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to clear the Senate. He pointed out that voters in red and blue states alike have approved ending prohibition at the ballot.
“I think that there’s enough space right now—and there are already conversations and dialogue going on about some kind of bipartisan movement—because we see problems within the banking industry and a lot of people who are winning licenses can’t get access to loans and more,” he said.
“So there’s a lot of folks who understand that we have to act on the federal level to do more than the president’s done, and I’m hopeful that this Congress, actually in the lame duck after the midterms, I’m very hopeful we can get something done,” Booker said.
The senator seemed to be alluding to a yet-to-be-introduced package of modest marijuana reform proposals that’s expected to address marijuana banking issues. He’s said that the bill will likely be introduced after the midterm elections.
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Schumer separately spoke about marijuana banking issues at a recent White House event, reiterating that he was working on the problem, according to the House sponsor.
The conversation between Schumer and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) happened at an event on inflation reduction and happened to coincide with the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) lobby days, with over 100 marijuana business leaders on Capitol Hill to push for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act.
Perlmutter said at an NCIA-organized press conference that he’s increasingly tempted to “go to the nuclear option” in the House Rules Committee of “holding up” separate legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in order to get the marijuana banking measure enacted.
The congressman and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the Senate sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, also outlined next steps for the cannabis banking reform at a briefing organized by the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) in July.
Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) released a paper in August that outlined what they view as shortcomings of the standalone SAFE Banking Act and recommended several amendments to bolster its equity impact.
Booker said at an event organized by CRCC that the standalone legislation “requires changes” if it’s going to advance before cannabis is federally legalized.
The senator initially signaled that he was coming around to marijuana banking reform (contingent on equity provisions) at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in July that he convened as chairman.
Meanwhile, Perlmutter also said in a recent interview that he feels the introduction of the Senate legalization bill alone means that lawmakers have overcome a legislative “hurdle” that’s kept SAFE Banking from advancing in the chamber.
On Monday, the governor of Colorado and other top state officials again pushed Congress to pass a bipartisan marijuana banking bill with what’s left of the session.
Meanwhile, with respect to Biden’s surprise marijuana announcement last week, federal agencies like the Justice Department and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have committed to quickly processing the federal cannabis pardons and carrying out a review into federal marijuana scheduling.
Biden also called on governors to follow the administration’s lead by providing relief to people with simple cannabis possession convictions at the state level, where the bulk of marijuana cases are prosecuted. Some governors have said that they’re reviewing their authority to that end.
A poll released on Friday found that a majority of Americans are in favor of Biden’s pardon proclamation, and most also want to see their own governors follow suit with state-level cannabis relief.