Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) says that lawmakers are working to “resurrect” a package of marijuana reform legislation from last session, acknowledging that failure to advance a banking fix for the industry “literally means that hundreds of businesses go out of business.”
Advocates with the non-profit Minorities for Medical Marijuana (MMM) approached Booker following a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on unrelated issues on Thursday, urging the senator to push for passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to free up financial services for cannabis entrepreneurs.
— Minorities4MedicalMJ (@m4mmunited) April 20, 2023
“We know you support social justice and social equity opportunities, but we also have to be pragmatic about what’s going to pass,” MMM Founder Roz McCarthy told Booker. “This is where we are right now—but what can we do to get incremental changes passed?”
Booker, who has faced criticism from certain advocates and stakeholders for initially insisting that he wouldn’t allow SAFE Banking to pass without specific equity-focused provisions, said that he and colleagues secured a “good deal” last Congress that “got stomped at the one-yard line.”
“It was almost there,” he said, referring to a package of reforms that reportedly included banking as well as expungements provisions. “And we are working to resurrect it now and working to get it over the line this Congress because, as I said to my team, if we have to wait another two years, it literally means that hundreds of businesses go out of business.”
The senator, who also filed a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last year, said that he and his staff are working deliberatively to ensure that people who’ve been disproportionately impacted by prohibition have “have economic opportunities,” acknowledging that, “right now, the scorecard is horrible.”
Booker has expressed frustration with the state of not just federal prohibition, but also what he views as the shortcomings of the state-level legalization laws. He said recently that the reforms haven’t produced the “democratizing” effect that he’d hoped, while recognizing the federal laws are contributing to disparities in the industry.
He also notably called marijuana a “dangerous drug” that he nonetheless wants to legalize and regulate.
With respect to the SAFE Plus package that Booker said lawmakers are resurrecting, Schumer also pledged to continue working toward that goal during a 4/20 speech at an event hosted inside the Capitol Building on Thursday.
Schumer said that he was “disappointed” that the package of marijuana banking and expungements legislation he worked on last year didn’t advance, 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.
“Until we reach our goal, I promise to be in your corner and work like hell bringing federal cannabis policy into the 21st century,” the majority leader said. “We will need you, as we always do, to reach out to members of both parties, in both chambers—especially Republican—so we can make progress on cannabis reform.”
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Meanwhile, a number of cannabis bills have also been filed in the week leading up to 4/20, though lawmakers didn’t explicitly say that the timing was related to the holiday.
For example, Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced legislation on Thursday 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.
Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have filed a bill to incentive state and local marijuana expungements with a federal grant program.
Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) filed a measure this week that would allow state-legal cannabis businesses to claim federal tax deductions that are available to other industries. He told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that he believes the reform would ultimately generate revenue for the government.
On Wednesday, bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers refiled bills to legalize medical marijuana for military veterans.
Last week, 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.