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GOP Senator Backs Marijuana Banking Bill, But Doubts Democratic Leadership Will Advance It



A GOP senator says that while he supports a bipartisan marijuana banking bill, he feels that Democratic leadership is being generally uncooperative, casting doubts on the prospects of passage.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), said that he’d be a “yes” vote on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act if it reaches the floor.

“We need to get it passed, but the Democrats obviously control the Senate floor, and there is no way we can get it down there,” the senator, who won his seat after defeating former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a primary election, said.

“You know, a lot of them want to legalize marijuana entirely, which is a separate issue,” Tuberville told reporters last week, according to Alabama Today. “But SAFE Banking is about the access to basic banking services for businesses that are legal in the states where they operate.”

“Under current federal law, banks and credit unions are not allowed to bank for legal cannabis businesses or businesses that provide services to legal cannabis businesses,” he added. “So we’ve got to protect people’s cash.”

The senator said that he’s been in “contact with people from all over the country who have worked with cannabis over the last few years, and it is a major public issue of people storing cash in their businesses [outside of the traditional banking system].”

“We have got to make it safer; And if it is going to be legal in the state of Alabama, which medical marijuana is headed our way, then we have got to make sure people are safe,” he said. “That is what the SAFE Banking Act is all about, but getting it on the floor… [Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)] is not very cooperative with Republicans, and so we will see what happens with that.”

Schumer has been a vocal advocate for the cannabis banking legislation, and so it’s not clear what the senator means by suggesting that the majority leader represents an obstacle to the reform, though it could be an allusion to the desire of some Democrats to attach broader social justice provisions to the financial services bill. There is concern by some stakeholders that going too far in that direction could cause Republicans to oppose the measure, jeopardizing its chances of passage.

The bill from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT) received an initial hearing in the Senate Banking Committee last month, and Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said earlier this month that he wants to hold a vote on it “in the next two or three weeks.”

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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.

Schumer and others have discussed plans to amend the legislation on the floor to adopt “critical” criminal justice provisions such as expungements for prior marijuana convictions, calling broader effort to repair the harms of the drug war a “moral responsibility” for Congress.

It’s unclear if members will move to make any revisions to the measure in committee at the markup, whenever that might be, but at least one Democratic senator on the panel has previewed changes he would like to make to the main banking provisions.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and some consumer groups have raised concerns that Section 10 of the bill could inadvertently limit the ability of regulators to take action against people exploiting banking services.

Brown himself previously said that he worried banking representatives were trying to use the legislation to “weaken bank rules” and “undermine” regulations.

Advocates, stakeholders and certain lawmakers 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 last month 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.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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