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Key Senate Committee Chair Hopes To Hold Marijuana Banking Vote In ‘Next Two Or Three Weeks’ Following Negotiation With GOP



The Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says that he wants to hold a vote on a bipartisan marijuana banking bill, along with other legislation, “in the next two or three weeks.”

He added, however, that the exact scheduling is contingent on negotiations with his panel’s Republican ranking member.

“The Committee is managing several priorities, including the Fend Off Fentanyl Act and bank executive accountability legislation,” Brown’s office said in a statement to Marijuana Moment on Thursday. “The Committee will markup SAFE Banking soon.”

The senator had previously told Bloomberg Law on Tuesday that the panel is “looking at markup on the fentanyl issue, the executive compensation issue and the Safe Banking Act issue and we want to do all that in the next two or three weeks.

In a subsequent interview with Politico on Wednesday, the chairman clarified that his panel will “likely” first vote on the two unrelated bills next week as he works to reach a deal on the cannabis legislation with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC).

Asked whether he could provide a specific timeline for a markup on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, he said, “no,” and that “it depends” because “this is all in motion negotiating with” Scott.

After next week’s votes on the unrelated bills, “sometime in the near future will be SAFE banking, we hope,” Brown said.

The committee held an initial hearing on the SAFE Banking Act, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), last month.

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.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) 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.

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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.

This story was updated to include additional context and quotes from Brown.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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