A key Senate committee has officially scheduled a vote on a bipartisan marijuana banking bill, signaling that disagreements between certain Democrats and Republicans over key provisions have been addressed.
The Senate Banking Committee formally released a schedule on Friday showing members will hold a markup of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act on Wednesday, September 27—a critical step on the measure’s path to the floor.
This comes a day after media reports began citing sources who disclosed plans to hold a markup on the last week of September, though there was some ambiguity about the exact date until now. The time of the meeting on the 27th is listed as “to be determined.”
It’s unclear how the bill will be amended by the panel following weeks of negotiations. Senators have discussed revisions around provisions related to a key section on broad banking regulations, but other lawmakers and stakeholders have floated changes concerning Small Business Administration (SBA) access and stock uplisting for the cannabis industry.
After the Senate reconvened this month, Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said he was aiming to move the SAFE Banking Act, among other priority bills, within “the next six weeks.” Last week, he said an agreement was “imminent,” and he said on Monday that he hoped to announced the scheduling of the legislation in “the next few days.”
“We need to make sure we have enough votes. And I mean, there are still some differences some members still have,” the chairman said. “I’m not going to publicly talk about negotiating and what people are asking for or not. There are still some outlying issues—minor ones. But we hope to get people onboard and get a strong vote.”
Several industry insiders predicted that the markup would be held next week, but a Banking Committee spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Monday that wasn’t the plan.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the GOP sponsor of the legislation, had “very productive” discussions with Democratic members over the recess, his office told Marijuana Moment recently, adding that they were “moving in the right direction.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for his part, cited the cannabis banking bill as a legislative priority several times since returning from recess, including in a floor speech and Dear Colleague letter outlining the fall agenda.
The prospects of passing the SAFE Banking Act through the full Senate this fall are contingent on a number of factors, including the fact that moving must-pass spending legislation to fund the government is expected to take up a significant amount of senators’ time. But also key to passage is the resolution of senators’ disagreement over Section 10 of the cannabis bill.
Some Democrats believe that Section 10 of the legislation would undermine banking regulations and are seeking to amend or remove. Republicans have said they view that option as a “non-starter,” however. And it remains unclear if any progress was made over the recess to reach an agreement.
At this point, the SAFE Banking Act has 42 cosponsors—nearly half of the Senate—and that includes eight Republicans and three independents. As a standalone in its current form, insiders say the measure has enough Republican buy-in to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for passage in the Senate.
Brown and Daines sparred over next steps for the bill in the lead-up to the August recess. Brown has insisted that Daines needs to secure more GOP cosponsors, but Daines argued that Republicans are already prepared to move the legislation as previously agreed to through the floor.
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.
A spokesperson Daines told Marijuana Moment in July that he is “open” to including the additional reform provision, even as he’s cautioned Democrats against significantly expanding the bill’s scope in a way that could jeopardize GOP support. As a standalone in its current form, insiders say the measure has enough Republican buy-in to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for passage in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH)—along with trade groups representing marijuana businesses in 16 states plus Washington, D.C.—sent a letter to Brown and Banking Committee Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC) in July, imploring them to pass the cannabis banking bill “without further delay.”
Schumer also spoke with a cannabis industry leader earlier this summer after being approached at an unrelated event, and according to that entrepreneur, the Senate leader is feeling “confident” about the prospects of passing the cannabis banking bill.
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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.
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.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) has also 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.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said in April that lawmakers were 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 Democratic sponsor of the House version of the SAFE Banking Act, said at a press briefing in April 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.
July also marked the 10-year anniversary since the introduction of the first version of what is now known as the SAFE Banking Act.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) separately said in a recent letter to President Joe Biden that he should throw his support behind the congressional push for marijuana banking reform as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) begins its review of cannabis scheduling after receiving a rescheduling recommendation from the top federal health agency.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.