Two key senators behind the push for a bipartisan marijuana banking bill seem to be at odds over what it’s going to take to get a committee vote to send the legislation to the floor. And as time runs short for action in the summer session, a senior GOP staffer tells Marijuana Moment that the key remaining contention is over a single section of the measure that certain Democrats are seeking to amend, which Republicans view as a “non-starter.”
In interviews this week, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and lead GOP Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act sponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) shared conflicting stories about the state of negotiations over the legislation.
Brown told Politico that he’s entrusting Daines to shore up more Republican support and specifically get additional members of his caucus to sign onto the SAFE Banking Act as cosponsors to codify that support.
“We’re not going to take a bill to the floor and have [Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)] undercut it with 58 or 59 votes,” Brown said. “He’s done that many times. So, we want Daines…to sign on the dotted line on this and really commit to get members to co-sponsor. If they’re serious, they co-sponsor.”
But according to Daines, the issue isn’t a lack of Republican support; it’s the fact that Democratic members are pushing for amendments that would break the agreement that the he and the chairman made over the measure as introduced.
Daines told Punchbowl News that Republicans are “ready to move forward” on the bill, but Democrats “are trying to change it.” He added that he didn’t “see positive yardage” in bipartisan negotiations over the recent Fourth of July recess.
A senior GOP Senate aide, meanwhile, told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that the remaining issue comes down to Section 10 of the SAFE Banking Act. Democrats like Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) have called the language problematic, arguing that it would broadly undermine banking regulations outside of the cannabis sector.
“Reed’s Section 10 concerns are the main issue holding up the bill,” the staffer said, adding that “gutting the section is a non-starter for Republicans.”
Brown, meanwhile, called the section “a concern, and Jack is very much a straight shooter in this as he is everything else. We’ve got to work it out.”
But conservative members support the section, and eliminating it could jeopardize some of the bipartisanship behind the bill as introduced.
Telephone Tuesday: Sherrod Brown told Politico he's waiting on Steve Daines to secure GOP support before moving ahead on SAFE Banking.
Daines told us the ball didn't move over July break and issues remain
— Brendan Pedersen 🏦 (@BrendanPedersen) July 11, 2023
Daines has also cautioned against attempting to expand the measure with social justice reforms that progressives would like to add, though his office previously told Marijuana Moment that the senator is “open” to adding expungements language, as proposed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
In any case, the window to schedule a summer markup in the Senate Banking Committee, where the bill received an initial hearing in May, is gradually closing.
“The Committee is working towards a markup vote on the SAFE Banking Act,” a spokesperson for Brown said in a statement to Marijuana Moment on Wednesday. “Senator Brown remains committed to working with Banking and Housing Committee members on both sides of the aisle to find a path forward for SAFE Banking and other committee priorities.”
Daines’s office told Politico that “Senator Daines and Chairman Brown had an agreement when he reintroduced the bill and now Democrats are demanding changes.”
“We have enough Republican votes to get it passed but Democrats keep moving the goalposts,” the spokesperson said.
In a Dear Colleague letter that was distributed on Sunday, Schumer said that advancing SAFE Banking remains a legislative priority, but he also acknowledged that getting the job done “will not be easy” and require GOP buy-in.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), meanwhile, said on Monday that the majority leader’s summer agenda is too ambitious, and he expressed serious doubts that marijuana banking—among a list of other legislative items that Schumer identified in the letter—will advance in the summer session.
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For what it’s worth, Schumer also recently spoke with a cannabis industry leader who approached him at an unrelated event last month, and according to that entrepreneur, the Senate leader is feeling “confident” about the prospects of passing the cannabis banking bill.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), for his part, said last month that he’s a “yes” on the legislation. He just doubts that Democratic leadership will follow through on their pledge to get the job done this year.
As its currently drafted, the measure 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.
A major cannabis lobbying firm apologized in May after sending a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership concerning the banking bill that contained “inappropriate” references to investments from China in a “misguided attempt” to push for amendments expanding the legislation.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also recently 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.
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.
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 a lead sponsor of 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.
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.
Monday also marked the 10-year anniversary since the introduction of the first version of what is now known as the SAFE Banking Act.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.