Three Democratic presidential candidates and the party’s top Senate leader are taking the stand that Congress should not pass marijuana banking legislation without also moving to end federal cannabis prohibition and repair the harms of the war on drugs.
All four lawmakers—Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY)—tweeted links to Marijuana Moment coverage of a growing dispute between legalization supporters who say the banking bill is a first step that will bolster broader cannabis reform and those who are concerned that passing the limited proposal will undermine efforts to advance more far-reaching legislation.
House leadership announced on Friday that the first full floor vote on a standalone piece of cannabis reform legislation—a bill to protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators—will be held on Wednesday.
The scheduling of the vote came over the objections of several advocacy groups—including ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance—that wrote a letter asking that the vote be postponed until more wide-ranging reform legislation is passed.
“I am proud to stand with these civil rights organizations,” Sanders said in his tweet on Saturday. “In the fight for marijuana legalization, we must prioritize racial and economic justice—that means revenues from this industry must be invested in the communities that have been devastated by the so-called ‘war on drugs.'”
I am proud to stand with these civil rights organizations. In the fight for marijuana legalization, we must prioritize racial and economic justice—that means revenues from this industry must be invested in the communities that have been devastated by the so-called "war on drugs." https://t.co/5IGh53QI7j
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 21, 2019
“We shouldn’t do this without addressing the reality that people of color are being shut out of the legal marijuana industry,” Harris wrote in her Saturday Twitter post. “That means not only legalizing marijuana but also expunging criminal records and providing a path for people of color to enter the industry.”
I agree. We shouldn’t do this without addressing the reality that people of color are being shut out of the legal marijuana industry.
That means not only legalizing marijuana but also expunging criminal records and providing a path for people of color to enter the industry. https://t.co/M1Ri1iDKra
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) September 21, 2019
On Friday, Booker tweeted that “marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs” in order to get his vote.
Although the senator didn’t directly reference the banking bill in his post, his press secretary confirmed to Marijuana Moment in an email that the tweet was sent directly in reaction to the House banking vote news.
As I said earlier this year, any marijuana legislation moving through Congress must include restorative justice for those most harmed by the War on Drugs in order to get my vote.https://t.co/Y1dOwgHbm2
— Sen. Cory Booker (@SenBooker) September 20, 2019
On Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the top Democrat in the body, tweeted that “we need decriminalization at the federal level, criminal justice reform, and investment in opportunity for minority & women-owned small businesses,” adding that groups who say there can be no movement on banking without broader justice reform are “right.”
.@RepAOC and these civil rights groups are right.
Congress should not enact banking reform alone and think the job is done.
We need decriminalization at the federal level, criminal justice reform, and investment in opportunity for minority & women-owned small businesses. https://t.co/PM22Bmk5Pl
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) September 19, 2019
Though it isn’t exactly clear that all four Democrats would vote against a marijuana banking bill should it come to the Senate floor prior to more far-reaching cannabis reform—and Harris and Sanders are cosponsors of the financial services legislation—their tweets come at a crucial time in the debate about the issue, and could be interpreted by House Democrats who share their concerns as a signal that it would be OK for them to oppose the limited reform when it comes up for floor consideration this week.
To that end, Schumer’s tweet mentioned Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who earlier on Thursday indicated she agrees with the groups’ concerns and may vote against the banking bill if the chamber doesn’t first tackle social equity issues.
“She feels strongly that addressing racial justice should be the first priority,” a staffer for the congresswoman told Marijuana Moment.
The House plans to advance the proposal under an expedited procedure known as suspension of the rules, through which a two-thirds majority—or 290 votes—is needed to pass. While the bill currently has 206 cosponsors and has been expected to bring in the super majority of votes needed to advance, opposition from progressive lawmakers like Ocasio-Cortez could potentially jeopardize passage.
Groups signing the letter of concern to House leadership told Marijuana Moment they aren’t sure whether they will ask lawmakers to vote against the banking legislation now that their concerns on timing have been rejected, but some said they are still pushing to convince the body to delay consideration.
Perhaps anticipating some liberal defections, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the chief sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act moved last week to amend the legislation in an attempt to bring in even more GOP votes—including clarifying that banking protections would apply to hemp and CBD companies and also adding language preventing financial regulators from targeting certain industries such as firearms dealers and payday lenders as being at a higher risk for fraud.
Even before Senate Democrats began publicly expressing their concerns about the limited reform, the banking bill was believed to face a tougher road in the chamber, where Schumer’s counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), shepherded hemp legalization to enactment last year but often says he doesn’t support the crop’s “illicit cousin” marijuana.
But Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) surprised observers when he said this month that he planned a vote on cannabis banking legislation in his panel by the end of the year.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, one of the groups that signed the letter calling on House leaders to pull the planned banking vote, thanked Schumer and Sanders for their tweets.
Congress needs to address marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively by considering the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act.
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) September 20, 2019
Thanks, @SenSanders. We agree.
For decades, people of color have suffered under harsh and racially biased marijuana laws. We need broad and more inclusive efforts to reform them. https://t.co/OXz6iHDhQb
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) September 21, 2019
The groups want Congress to first move legislation such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which Harris and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced in July. That bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and fund programs aimed at undoing the past damage of the drug war.
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.