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Senators Celebrate Bipartisan Marijuana Banking Bill Reintroduction



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: 

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.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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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.

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