Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) says that he’s “open to compromises” on marijuana reform, including the possibility that the Senate pass modest cannabis banking legislation with social equity components before advancing a wide-ranging legalization bill that he introduced last month.
In an interview published by NJ Spotlight News on Friday, the senator was asked whether he could see a path forward for more incremental marijuana policy reform, as he signaled he was considering at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing last week that he convened as chairman.
Booker has faced criticism from some advocates and stakeholders over his prior opposition to moving anything in the Senate before comprehensive legalization was enacted.
“Look, I’m a compromise guy. New Jersey sent me down here to get things done—not to make stands where I make good points but don’t pass bills,” the senator said.
Booker said that the new Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) that he filed alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) is a “gold standard bill” for federal marijuana reform. But that doesn’t mean he’s unwilling to take a more dialed-back approach to the issue.
“I’m open to compromises that are going to achieve my goals of safety, of investment opportunities that are equal for business communities and, finally, to make sure we do something for all of these people right now who have marijuana possession charges that deserve some relief from the impact that it’s having on their economic and family wellbeing,” the senator said.
The reporter asked Booker specifically whether that meant he would be open to advancing the bipartisan Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would provide protections for financial institutions that work with state-legal cannabis businesses.
Booker said that SAFE Banking is “very important” legislation, and he’s a “supporter of that.” However, he said he wants the bill to be “balanced with us having some restorative justice as well.”
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To that end, Schumer has been holding high-level bicameral and bipartisan talks with different offices about possibly introducing a package of incremental marijuana reforms, including the banking measure, that could reach the 60-vote threshold to pass in the Senate this year.
Both senators have indicated that they’re aware of the fact that CAOA might not have enough support to move this session, so it’s possible that various provisions of the legislation could be used as the basis for a different reform vehicle.
Meanwhile, the bicameral sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act, Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), laid out next steps for the cannabis banking reform last week at a briefing organized by the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC).
Also at that briefing, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said that he recently spoke with Booker about the pathway for marijuana reform this session, and they had a “great conversation” about finding areas of compromise.
“I think the senator is fully aware of the consequences of this failed policy of prohibition in terms of what it does with the SAFE Banking Act and the threat that is made to the very communities he wants to support,” the congressman said in response to a question from Marijuana Moment. “I think he’s trying to be able to thread the needle.”
Perlmutter also said in a recent interview that he feels the introduction of CAOA alone in the Senate means that lawmakers have overcome a legislative “hurdle” that’s kept SAFE Banking from advancing in the chamber.
Meanwhile, the third-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Assistant Majority Leader Patty Murray (D-WA) signed on to CAOA following its introduction, but in a statement, she also stressed that lawmakers must enact the bipartisan banking bill in the interim.