Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he is continuing to “monitor” the progress of a bipartisan marijuana banking bill that he intends to amend to include “criminal justice provisions.” And key Senate Republicans say they’re prepared to move forward with the legislation, undeterred by the newly elected anti-marijuana House speaker.
In a constituent letter to cannabis industry investor Todd Harrison, the majority leader said he wants to fold in criminal justice revisions that he hopes to borrow from a separate federal legalization bill he’s sponsored—mentioning expungements as he’s done in the past but also citing in the letter additional measures such as resentencing for current federal cannabis prisoners.
In a constituent letter to cannabis industry investor Todd Harrison, the majority leader said he wants to fold criminal justice revisions from a separate legalization bill into the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act, which was approved in committee in September and now awaits floor action. He mentioned expungements as he’s done in the past—but also cited in the letter additional measures such as resentencing for current federal cannabis prisoners.
Notably, he also described various components of the broader legalization bill he’s sponsored—the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA)—and said he’s working with colleagues to “ensure” that its criminal justice provisions are attached to the banking legislation “when it reaches the floor.”
— Todd Harrison (@todd_harrison) November 1, 2023
It’s unclear when that will happen, but Republican SAFER Banking sponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) told Politico that his caucus is “still moving forward” with the reform, despite uncertainties around how the new GOP House speaker will approach the issue given his past opposition to every cannabis measure he has had the opportunity to vote on.
“We’re working with our House colleagues who have the companion bill to get alignment between both of the chambers,” Daines said.
For her part, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) said, “I really don’t think that it’s going to make any difference that the new speaker opposes it,” stating that it’s ultimately up to Schumer to schedule a floor vote on the bill.
Meanwhile, Schumer has repeatedly talked about amending the SAFER Banking Act to include provisions on incentivizing state-level expungements and protecting gun rights for cannabis consumers, but he seemed to cast a wider net in the letter, mentioning other CAOA provisions such as allowing “those currently serving time for federal non-violent marijuana crimes to petition a court for resentencing.”
“We have a moral responsibility in Congress to undo the terrible damage caused by the War on Drugs,” he said, “and I will continue working with my colleagues to pass commonsense cannabis legislation and ensure that criminal justice provisions like those included in CAOA are part of the SAFE Banking Act when it reaches the floor.”
“You will be happy to hear that I am in support of reforms taken in the SAFE Banking Act,” the letter says. “I also believe that any move toward legalization needs to address equity and criminal justice reform—which SAFE Banking alone does not.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to Schumer’s office for clarity on the scope of potential criminal justice provisions he’s considering with respect to the banking bill, including whether his new letter was meant to indicate he will be pushing for resentencing in addition to expungements, but a representative did not immediately provide comment.
Of course, the prospects of amending the SAFER Banking Act hinge on its floor consideration, and it’s unclear when that might happen. The bill has been largely paused amid disorder in the House, where the GOP majority spent three weeks selecting a new speaker after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R) was ousted and ultimately replaced with Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA).
Even before the speakership debacle, the GOP sponsor, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), had told an industry executive that his legislation was being held until lawmakers could ensure that there was enough support for passage in the House. The path became more complicated with Johnson’s ascent, as the speaker has voted against numerous marijuana bills, including prior versions of the incremental banking measure. That’s a contrast with McCarthy, who opposes legalization but did previously vote in favor of the SAFE Banking Act.
The bill’s Senate committee consideration had already been delayed over the summer amid partisan disagreement over a section of the legislation favored by Republicans, including Daines, that they say would prevent broader ideological discrimination against any industry such as the firearms trade by federal financial regulators.
While lawmakers negotiated a revised measure that retained and expanded Section 10, it’s still a key consideration as bipartisan talks continue. And Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the SAFER Banking Act, has raised concerns about the language, indicating that more work is needed to reach a bicameral consensus on the issue.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), meanwhile, sent a letter to Schumer in September to express concern about the Senate’s “ongoing prioritizing of legislation relaxing marijuana laws” over a separate measure the GOP senator favors to permanently prohibit fentanyl analogues.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is also stirring the pot over the cannabis banking bill, with an inflated interpretation of Schumer’s September floor remarks about his plans to amend the legislation with “criminal justice provisions.” Cotton claimed the majority leader wants to add provisions “letting drug traffickers out of prison.”
Additionally, Sens. Pete Ricketts (R-NE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Budd (R-NC) and James Lankford (R-OK) recently sent a letter to Senate leadership that argued the SAFER Banking Act would result in the cannabis industry producing higher potency products that would be harmful to youth and compromise “the integrity of the United States banking system.”
Meanwhile, just about one in 10 congressional staffers thinks the marijuana banking bill will be enacted this year, according to a recent survey—an outlook that deviates from supporters who’ve been encouraged by its bipartisan momentum.