Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is reiterating his commitment to advancing marijuana banking legislation with criminal justice provisions included, calling the broader effort to repair the harms of the drug war a “moral responsibility” for Congress.
Just one day after bipartisan House and Senate lawmakers refiled the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, Schumer delivered a floor speech on Thursday, affirming his intent to pass the bill while continuing to work on an expanded package that promotes equity in the industry and justice for people harmed by the “war on drugs.”
“The SAFE Banking Act would ensure cannabis businesses that operate in states with legal cannabis have equal access to critical banking infrastructure,” he said. “Clearly, this bill has provisions particularly aimed at helping minority business owners who are at a critical disadvantage in the cannabis industry.”
“Right now, the norm for the cannabis businesses is to operate on all cash, and that is simply not fair: it exposes them to too many risks and stifles their opportunities to grow,” Schumer said. “Congress should be in the business of promoting entrepreneurs, promoting job growth, not holding these things back.”
Watch Schumer discuss the SAFE Banking Act in the video below:
Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), along with Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), are sponsoring the standalone banking bill.
The legislation, which has been slightly revised since last session, would protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
This latest version further makes clear that the safe harbor is extended to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) that make commercial loans to minority-owned businesses—a new provision that advocates pushed for last Congress.
Another addition to the bill that wasn’t in prior versions provides marijuana industry workers access to federally backed mortgage loans.
Schumer said that while the banking fix is imperative, “the work will continue” on a so-called SAFE Plus package that is also expected to contain language on cannabis expungements and gun rights for cannabis consumers.
The SAFE Banking Act re-introduced this week would ensure cannabis businesses in states with legal cannabis have equal access critical banking infrastructure.
And I’m making it a top priority to ensure it contains social equity provisions to undo harm caused by the War on Drugs.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) April 27, 2023
“I’ve also made it clear that one of my top priorities to ensure SAFE Banking passes is that it contain critical criminal justice provisions, most importantly, expunging criminal records for certain low-level marijuana offenses,” the majority leader said.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said earlier this month that his panel will take up cannabis banking reform on its own, leaving equity and criminal justice proposals to other committees of jurisdiction.
Merkley and Daines, the Senate sponsors, released a joint statement on Wednesday that addressed the prospects for SAFE Plus, saying the introduction of the revised standalone bill “puts us on a path to move through the Senate Banking Committee and get a vote on the floor of the Senate,” but there will be an “opportunity to add additional regular-order passed provisions” when it reaches the floor.
“We have a moral responsibility in Congress to undo the terrible damage caused by the War on Drugs, and almost always has affected people of color,” Schumer said in the new floor speech. “So I am going to work very hard with my colleagues to make sure criminal justice provisions are part of SAFE Banking when it reaches the floor.”
“I look forward to working with my colleagues—Democrat and Republican—to make progress on SAFE Banking Plus this Congress,” he said. “And I hope this portends more bipartisan cooperation on future cannabis legislation.”
With a divided Congress that has Republicans in control of the House, the expectation is that lawmakers will need to focus on incremental marijuana measures like the banking bill, instead of broader justice-centered legalization, to get any amount of reform passed this session.
But a vote in the Senate on Wednesday has raised questions about whether any modest cannabis reform is achievable under the current congressional makeup. Senate Republicans blocked a procedural motion to advance a bipartisan bill to simply require studies into the medical potential of cannabis for military veterans with chronic pain and PTSD.
The standalone SAFE Banking Act has been approved along largely bipartisan lines in the House in some form several times in recent years. But it’s consistently stalled out in the Senate under both Democratic and Republican leadership.
Advocates have been anticipating that the legislation would originate in the Senate this round, but it appears that lawmakers decided to start with a bicameral push.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that he was “disappointed” that the so-called SAFE Plus package of marijuana banking and expungements legislation he worked on last year didn’t advance, 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.
For his part, 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.
Blumenauer, who filed a bill to allow marijuana businesses to take federal tax deductions last week, 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.
There have been a number of cannabis reform proposals filed in recent weeks, particularly in the lead-up to the 4/20 holiday last week.
For example, bipartisan lawmakers in both chambers reintroduced legislation on Thursday to provide a safe harbor to insurance companies that work with state-legal cannabis businesses.
Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced legislation last week to protect the Second Amendment rights of people who use marijuana in legal states, allowing them to purchase and possess firearms that they’re currently prohibited from having under federal law.
Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have filed a bill to incentive state and local marijuana expungements with a federal grant program.
Earlier this month, Joyce and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) filed a measure designed to prepare the federal government for marijuana legalization, directing the attorney general to form a commission to study and make recommendations about regulating cannabis in a way similar to alcohol.
On the House side, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) said she recently made a deal with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who agreed to hold a committee debate and vote on her yet-to-be-reintroduced marijuana legalization bill as one condition of her support for his legislation to raise the debt ceiling.