Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spoke at a marijuana rally in New York City on Saturday, vowing again to pass federal cannabis banking reform legislation as Congress works to end prohibition.
Schumer was among a variety of lawmakers, officials, advocates and entrepreneurs to reflect on the progress of the reform movement at the NYC Cannabis Parade & Rally (NYCCPR), which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Saturday.
This is the third year in a row that the majority leader has participated in the event. He told attendees that there’s ample reason to celebrate, from the rollout of New York’s adult-use market to progress on federal cannabis policy reform on Capitol Hill.
“We struck a real victory here in New York with legalization, which I pushed the legislature to do,” Schumer said. “And while there are definitely real changes in implementation in this state, no one—no one—can take away what legalizing marijuana means as a bellwether in this country. Now Congress has to catch up. I’m working on Congress to catch up to New York.”
He touted the recent scheduling of a Senate Banking Committee hearing on cannabis banking issues and the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which will take place on Thursday.
“We will put the bill on the floor—god willing we get the votes in committee—and we will add to it expungement of the records of all of those who suffered from the over criminalization of marijuana,” Schumer said at the event. ” The SAFE Banking Act is a good thing.”
“We need to do social justice and attach it to the SAFE Act and pass it together,” the majority leader said. “So I’m with you all the way. I can’t wait when we’ll come back and celebrate here in Union Square in the near future and say cannabis is legalized in all of the United States of America.”
The last time Schumer spoke at NYCCPR, he focused on legislation he was drafting at the time to end federal marijuana prohibition. While he said at a 4/20 event in the Capitol last month that he plans to refile that bill, the majority leader is making clear that the first major task will be passing the banking measure in a divided Congress.
Prior to the scheduling of the marijuana hearing in the Senate Banking Committee, Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told reporters that senators planned to “move quickly” on the legislation from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT).
Senators on both sides of the aisle have been pushing for urgent action on the standalone measure.
The SAFE Banking Act would protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. The latest version has been amended in several ways that have encouraged advocates, but as Schumer explained, the plan is to further revise it on the floor to incorporate additional equity provisions.
The bill is considered one of the more passable pieces of cannabis legislation this session with Republicans in control of the House. A former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently wrote an op-ed for Marijuana Moment explaining how the new political dynamics could actually bolster the bill’s prospects of passage this year.
Schumer has emphasized his commitment to advancing the 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.
A vote in the Senate last month on separate marijuana legislation, however, has raised some 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.
Last month, Schumer 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.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who is sponsoring 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.
Numerous cannabis bills have been filed in Congress in recent weeks beside the banking legislation.
For example, bipartisan congressional lawmakers filed a bill to mandate the automatic sealing of criminal records for certain non-violent federal marijuana convictions.
House and Senate lawmakers also reintroduced legislation last month to provide a safe harbor to insurance companies that work with licensed marijuana businesses.
Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) introduced legislation last month 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.
Also last 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.