A Democratic senator says that she wants to see a bipartisan marijuana banking bill amended to include provisions that would allow cannabis businesses to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) services.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) said on Tuesday that lawmakers “must fully support legally-operating cannabis small businesses, & that means giving them access to [SBA] loans & resources.”
We must fully support legally-operating cannabis small businesses, & that means giving them access to @SBAgov loans & resources.
That's why we must include my bill to level the playing field for these small businesses in the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act.https://t.co/sc05geMNds
— Senator Jacky Rosen (@SenJackyRosen) May 16, 2023
To that end, “we must include my bill to level the playing field for these small businesses” as part of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, the senator said, sharing a link to a recent Marijuana Moment op-ed in which Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) board member Tahir Johnson argued for the expansion of the legislation to include SBA aid.
Johnson on Tuesday reacted to Rosen’s tweet linking his op-ed by telling Marijuana Moment that “overwhelmingly, both supporters and opponents of cannabis legalization oppose the formation of a ‘big tobacco’ of marijuana.”
“The best defense against that is a strong offense which includes support for small, locally owned and diverse businesses armed with all of the SBA tools and resources accessible to the rest of the American economy,” he said.
Whether the banking bill is revised to include Rosen’s standalone SBA legislation, which hasn’t been refiled yet this session, remains to be seen. For now, discussions have centered around passing the SAFE Banking Act out of committee as a standalone, then moving on the floor to attach justice-focused provisions—namely expungements for people with prior cannabis convictions.
Rosen has been exploring other vehicles for the SBA reform, leading a letter in March that urged Senate appropriators to include language in spending legislation to free up the financial services for the marijuana industry.
The senator’s legislation was incorporated into a comprehensive cannabis legalization bill filed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last year.
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Another legalization bill that passed the House twice in recent sessions would have allocated cannabis tax revenue to support an SBA program to provide licensing grants to states and localities that have moved to expunge records for people with prior marijuana convictions.
The SAFE Banking Act, meanwhile, received initial consideration in the Senate Banking Committee last week, and Schumer said that he wants a vote scheduled in the panel “in the near future” so that it can advance to the floor.
That’s the stage when senators are expected to propose amendments to the legislation, including the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, which would provide federal grants to states and localities that facilitate cannabis clemency.
For his part, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said recently that senators planned to “move quickly” on the SAFE Banking Act.
Senators on both sides of the aisle have been pushing for urgent action on the standalone bill, which would protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
A former top aide to Schumer recently wrote an op-ed for Marijuana Moment explaining why the new makeup of the 118th Congress actually improves the prospects of passage for the SAFE Banking Act.
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 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.
Booker 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.
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.
Numerous other cannabis bills have been filed in Congress in recent weeks beside the banking legislation.
For example, bipartisan congressional lawmakers recently 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.
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.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.