The Senate Banking Committee will not be voting on cannabis banking legislation next week, despite the suggestions of some key insiders and analysts.
While top Senate players on both sides of the aisle have indicated that they’re prepared to move the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act this fall after a “productive” August recess, a Banking Committee spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the “markup won’t be next week.”
To be clear, no lawmakers involved in the legislation have publicly committed to holding a vote next week. But there’s been amplified speculation about that timeline, with GOP lobbyist Don Murphy and other industry observers predicting a markup on the week of September 18.
Jesse Redmond, an analyst with the firm Water Tower Research, noted in a report on Monday that “multiple sources” said the vote would take place the week of September 18.
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Murphy said in a X (formerly Twitter) Spaces chat last week that people invested in the SAFE Banking Act might consider planning a visit to Washington, D.C. that week as well. When contacted by Marijuana Moment, the lobbyist clarified that he meant it was his understanding the the vote would be held then based on reliable sourcing.
Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) did recently say that he’s aiming to advance the legislation within “six weeks,” so the fact that predictions about a markup next week proved inaccurate doesn’t necessarily signal that anything major has changed with the timeline. But the exact forecast for a vote remains hazy.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the lead GOP sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, said last week that a vote was “imminent,” and a spokesperson for his office told Marijuana Moment that talks over the August recess were “very productive,” adding that things were “moving in the right direction.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for his part, said in a Dear Colleague letter this month that “safeguarding cannabis banking” is one of his top legislative priorities, though he stressed the need for bipartisan buy-in. He also said in a floor speech last week that he’s committed to “making progress on cannabis” during the fall session.
So while some may be disappointed to hear that the markup won’t be taking place as early as some predicted, key lawmakers have been consistent about their intent to move the bill sooner than later.
That said, the prospects of passing the SAFE Banking Act this fall are contingent on a number of factors, including the fact that moving must-pass spending legislation to fund the government is expected to take up a significant amount of senators’ time. But there’s also the matter of disagreement over one key section of the bill that prevented it from advancing during the summer session before lawmakers broke for the August recess.
Some Democrats believe that Section 10 of the legislation would undermine banking regulations and are seeking to amend or remove. Republicans have said they view that option as a “non-starter,” however. And it’s unclear if any progress was made over the recess to reach an agreement that would allow the bill to move through the Senate Banking Committee and onto the floor.
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At this point, the SAFE Banking Act has 42 cosponsors—nearly half of the Senate—and that includes eight Republicans and three independents. As a standalone in its current form, insiders say the measure has enough Republican buy-in to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for passage in the Senate.
Brown and Daines sparred over next steps for the bill in the lead-up to the August recess. Brown has insisted that Daines needs to secure more GOP cosponsors, but Daines argued that Republicans are already prepared to move the legislation as previously agreed to through the floor.
Daines has also previously cautioned against attempting to expand the measure with social justice reforms that progressives would like to add, though his office has told Marijuana Moment that the senator is “open” to adding expungements language, as proposed by Schumer.
As its currently drafted, the SAFE Banking Act would protect banks and credit unions, as well as depository institutions, from being penalized by federal regulators for working with state-licensed cannabis businesses.
Others have also floated other changes that they’d like to see incorporated into the cannabis bill such as expanding protections to free up marijuana industry access to all forms of financial services, including representation on major U.S. stock exchanges.
That request has faced some criticism from other advocates who say that would be an inappropriate move to help businesses while efforts to legalize marijuana stall in Congress.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) has also said that she wanted the SAFE Banking Act to pass with an amendment allowing cannabis businesses to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) services.
In April, Schumer said that he was “disappointed” that a so-called SAFE Plus package of cannabis reform legislation didn’t advance last year, 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.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said 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 a lead Democratic sponsor of the House version of the SAFE Banking Act, said at a press briefing in April 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.
The American Bankers Association (ABA) also recently renewed its call for the passage of the legislation. And all 50 of its state chapters did the same, as did insurance and union organizations, in recent letters to congressional leadership.
July also marked the 10-year anniversary since the introduction of the first version of what is now known as the SAFE Banking Act.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) separately said in a letter to President Joe Biden last week that he should throw his support behind the congressional push for marijuana banking reform as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) begins its review of cannabis scheduling after receiving a rescheduling recommendation from the top federal health agency.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.