A major national banking association, along with 44 state partners, is asking Senate leadership to bring a House-passed marijuana banking reform bill to a vote on the floor “without further delay.”
In a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Monday, the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) asked for urgent consideration of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, before the end of the year.
“The SAFE Banking Act is essential for the ongoing ability of community banks to effectively serve their communities,” the letter says. “The Act would also alleviate the significant threat to public safety posed by cash intensive CRBs effectively being shut out of the banking industry.”
ICBA said that the legislation should be advanced during the lame duck session either as a standalone bill or as an amendment to another proposal.
ICBA and 44 affiliated state community banking associations called on Senate leaders to take up and pass ICBA-advocated legislation to establish a cannabis banking safe harbor in states where cannabis is legal. #SAFEBankingAct https://t.co/Ydh16rNwtH
— Independent Community Bankers of America (@ICBA) November 29, 2022
Schumer has been working to finalize a package of marijuana reform legislation that’s expected to contain the language of the SAFE Banking Act, as well as a separate bipartisan proposal on expunging prior cannabis convictions.
Talks on that omnibus bill have been intensifying in recent weeks, with the majority leader discussing the proposal with key bipartisan senators. But time is running thin, and advocates say it’s critical that the Senate act soon given that Republicans will have the majority in the House following this month’s election.
“This legislation enjoys strong, bipartisan support, would resolve a conflict between state and federal law, and addresses a critical public safety concern,” ICBA, which commissioned a poll demonstrating that support earlier this year, said. “We urge its enactment without further delay.”
Another poll released on Monday found that three in four American voters—including bipartisan majorities—support ending federal marijuana prohibition, expunging prior convictions and allowing banks to work with state-legal cannabis businesses.
ICBA and other financial associations like the American Bankers Association (ABA) have long been pushing for the enactment of the SAFE Banking Act, urging Senate leadership to consider various vehicles for the reform.
Schumer has felt that pressure. And he said late last month that Congress is getting “very close” to introducing and passing the marijuana banking and expungements bill, citing progress he’s made in discussions with a “bunch of Republican senators.”
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Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), meanwhile, said following the election that Democrats who want to enact cannabis reform must either do it “now” during the lame duck session or wait until “many years from now” when his party has a shot at controlling Congress again.
For some advocates, support for the so-called “SAFE Plus” package will be largely contingent on what happens with the banking language, as they’re discontent with the current provisions that have passed the House in some form seven times now.
Specifically, they’d like to see the bill amended to provide funding for Minority Deposit Institutions (MDIs) and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that lend commercial loans to minority-owned businesses.
They’re further calling for changes to require banks that work with the cannabis industry to demonstrate non-discrimination in lending, as Supernova Women Executive Director Amber Senter wrote in a recent op-ed for Marijuana Moment.
These amendments align with some of the SAFE Banking Act recommendations that Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) outlined in a paper sent to legislative leaders in August.
Advocates don’t necessarily believe that GOP-controlled House means that cannabis reform will be dead on arrival in the chamber, especially with Republican reform champions like Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), the sponsor of a legalization bill that she filed earlier this year.
“I don’t want us to sit on the sidelines and do nothing next session like we always have,” Mace recently told Marijuana Moment. “We’ve got to modernize our laws, modernize our regulations. We need to make sure that we’re not funding the cartels by not moving the ball forward—that we are being smart about it and saving lives. This is where we can make that work happen.”
The congresswoman said that she hoped her GOP colleagues watched last week’s House Oversight subcommittee hearing on federal and state marijuana reform that she helped put together as ranking member. She said it underscored how the issue could be thoughtfully discussed and advanced on a bipartisan basis.
Meanwhile, as those talks continue, lawmakers are still exploring additional cannabis reforms.
For example, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said at this month’s hearing in the Oversight subcommittee that he chairs that he will soon be introducing a bill aimed at protecting federal workers from being denied security clearances over marijuana.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) has filed a bill that would allow state-legal cannabis businesses to access certain federal Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and services that are available to companies in any other industry.
Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) recently announced that he will soon be introducing legislation to direct the attorney general to create a commission charged with making recommendations on a regulatory system for marijuana that models what’s currently in place for alcohol.
Read the new letter from the banking associations on Senate consideration of the SAFE Banking Act below: