Senators are urging action on a marijuana banking bill that was reintroduced last week, taking to Twitter to call for bipartisan work to enact the reform this session.
The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was filed with much fanfare, earning the early applause of top legislators like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). In the days since its introduction, more than a dozen senators have cheered the bill’s introduction with tweets.
While bipartisan lawmakers have filed a series of modest cannabis measures in recent weeks, advocates and industry stakeholders are especially focused on SAFE, which has been revised in several ways that equity activists say they’re encouraged by but hope to build upon as the legislation advances.
Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT)—along with Reps. Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)—are sponsoring the legislation.
The expectation is that it will first go to the Senate Banking Committee as a standalone proposal before potentially moving to the floor. But the chairman of that panel, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), recently said that the process has been delayed because of his concerns with banking sector representatives allegedly trying to use the bill to undermine broader regulations.
In any case, lawmakers across the aisle have expressed excitement about the prospects of finally enacting the legislation, which has cleared the House several times in recent sessions only to stall in the Senate.
Here’s what congressional lawmakers are saying about the SAFE Banking Act:
The SAFE Banking Act re-introduced this week would ensure cannabis businesses in states with legal cannabis have equal access critical banking infrastructure.
And I’m making it a top priority to ensure it contains social equity provisions to undo harm caused by the War on Drugs.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) April 27, 2023
I introduced the SAFE Banking Act to help make sure all legal cannabis businesses have access to the financial services they need to help keep their employees and their communities safe. We need to finally pass it in 2023, and we have a path to do it. https://t.co/Aa2iqJz5Y2
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) April 26, 2023
This will be a historic moment: the largest-ever cannabis reform package with bipartisan support. We have momentum on our side—we can get this done. https://t.co/Ie0wGy541x
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) April 26, 2023
When cannabis businesses are forced to operate on an all-cash basis, it stifles potential and makes them a target for crime.
Getting the SAFE Banking Act across the finish line will give cannabis businesses access to critical banking services to keep their communities safe.
— Senator John Hickenlooper (@SenatorHick) April 27, 2023
That’s right! Legally-operating cannabis businesses shouldn’t be forced to run on an all-cash basis.
They deserve access to critical banking services without fear of retribution by federal regulators – and that’s what we’re fighting for. pic.twitter.com/DAN3eHhfNI
— Senator John Hickenlooper (@SenatorHick) May 1, 2023
Legally operating cannabis businesses deserve full access to @SBAgov resources.
It's time to pass the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act to protect NV jobs, support small cannabis businesses, and increase public safety.https://t.co/Pe75I9qmWi
— Senator Jacky Rosen (@SenJackyRosen) April 29, 2023
In Nevada, legal cannabis businesses create jobs and boost our economy – they deserve access to basic banking services.
I'm supporting the bipartisan #SAFEBankingAct to give these businesses access to the financial services needed to keep employees and communities safe.
— Senator Jacky Rosen (@SenJackyRosen) April 27, 2023
Cannabis businesses are essential to Colorado's economy, but they're currently denied access to basic banking systems.
The #SAFEBankingAct makes it easier for legal cannabis businesses to access the same financial services the same way other businesses can.
— Michael Bennet (@SenatorBennet) April 30, 2023
Legal cannabis businesses shouldn’t be forced to operate in cash—it opens them up to robbery and money laundering.
I co-sponsored the #SAFEBankingAct to make sure these businesses can access the financial services they need to keep their employees and communities safe.
— Senator Alex Padilla (@SenAlexPadilla) April 29, 2023
Nevadans have chosen to legalize cannabis in our state – it's time for the federal government to allow these legal businesses to access the banking system so we can improve consumer safety and help our state's economy continue to grow. pic.twitter.com/LEYho2jaso
— Senator Cortez Masto (@SenCortezMasto) April 29, 2023
I'm proud to support bipartisan legislation like the #SAFEBankingAct. The SAFE Act is crucial legislation that allows legal cannabis businesses to access financial services. It's absurd for the federal government to continue to interfere with state marijuana laws and well past… https://t.co/2HbVidjZNF
— Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 28, 2023
In Massachusetts and across the country legal cannabis businesses are denied access to basic banking services. It’s unacceptable. We must pass the SAFE Banking Act to increase public safety and give these businesses access to the financial services they need.
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) April 27, 2023
The #SAFEBanking Act is just common sense: law-abiding cannabis shops shouldn't live in fear of being robbed because the law requires them to only take cash.
Our legislation will finally fix that and help keep these shops and their employees safe.
— Senator Patty Murray (@PattyMurray) April 28, 2023
Legal cannabis shops should be treated like every other business.
— Senator Tina Smith (@SenTinaSmith) April 27, 2023
I proudly cosponsored the #SAFEBanking Act to prioritize public safety, reduce cash transactions, and provide cannabis businesses access to financial services and insurance.
This is a crucial step in our long-sought fight for sensible cannabis reform.https://t.co/hbUnIAgBg3
— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) April 28, 2023
A legitimate, legal marijuana business shouldn’t be forced to run entirely on cash.
I’m co-sponsoring the #SAFEBankingAct this year so these businesses have access to the banking services they need.
— Senator Peter Welch (@PeterWelch) April 28, 2023
Passing the bill this year will likely be more complicated under a divided Congress, with Republicans in control of the House. But advocates are confident that they’ve built a solid coalition of supporters that bodes well for its advancement.
Last Congress, there was some pushback against the standalone proposal, with equity advocates voicing concern that its passage would primarily benefit large marijuana corporations, while potentially undercutting efforts to enact comprehensive legalization that addresses the harm of the war on drugs.
But there seems to be agreement around a new strategy that lawmakers have described: get a clean SAFE Banking Act through committee and onto the floor where they could attach justice-focused amendments and create a “SAFE Plus” package.
The standalone does contain some changes from the last version that advocates have applauded, including protections for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) that make commercial loans to minority-owned businesses.
Another addition to the bill that wasn’t in prior versions provides marijuana industry workers access to federally backed mortgage loans.
Further, the bill’s data collection and reporting requirements have been revised in a way that advocates say will provide more robust information about barriers to financial services and marijuana industry participation by minorities, women, veterans and small businesses.
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Schumer has reiterated 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.
But a vote in the Senate last week has raised 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.
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.
Blumenauer, who filed a bill to allow marijuana businesses to take federal tax deductions last month, 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.
There have been a number of cannabis reform proposals filed in recent weeks, particularly in the lead-up to the 4/20 holiday last month.
For example, bipartisan lawmakers in both chambers reintroduced legislation last week to provide a safe harbor to insurance companies that work with state-legal cannabis 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.
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.