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Top Democratic Senator Calls Marijuana Banking Bill A ‘High Priority’ Amid Growing Calls For Reform



Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says passing marijuana banking reform legislation this year is a “high priority,” reiterating his support as congressional attention shifts from funding the government to other outstanding legislative items.

In a brief interview with AskAPol on Thursday, Brown was asked about the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act that cleared his panel in September and now awaits floor action.

“It’s a high priority,” he said, adding that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) “wants to do it” and “I want to do it.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), ranking member of the Banking Committee, is “not up for it,” Brown said. But “plenty of members of the committee are.”

The chairman, who also recently told AskAPol in a separate interview that advancing the legislation is complicated by current House dynamics, said he hasn’t spoken to Vice President Kamala Harris about the SAFER Banking Act—nor was he aware that Harris held a cannabis clemency event last week where she called for broader reform.

“I didn’t know about it,” Brown said, though he noted that “we passed legalization in Ohio, as you know, by a wide margin.”

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers at a committee hearing on Thursday that ongoing federal marijuana prohibition has created a “real problem” for banks amid the growing state legalization movement, adding that it would be “desirable” for Congress to pass reform legislation to address the issue.

Talks around cannabis banking have picked up steam in recent weeks as Congress has worked to finalize appropriations legislation for the 2024 Fiscal Year, freeing lawmakers up to consider different items of the legislative agenda.

Schumer also told Marijuana Moment this month that the bill remains a “very high priority” for the Senate, and members are having “very productive” bicameral talks to reach a final agreement.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) separately said during an American Bankers Association (ABA) summit on Tuesday that he wants to see the SAFER Banking Act move.

He said that, “for whatever reason, the federal government has been slow” to act on the incremental reform that he supports even though he doesn’t identify as “a marijuana guy.”

Earlier versions of the legislation have cleared the House in some form seven times in recent sessions, with bipartisan support. But Senate leadership has delayed floor consideration since the bill’s committee approval, in part due to uncertainties around how the GOP-controlled House would approach it.

Another key factor that’s kept the bill from the floor is disagreement over mostly non-cannabis provisions dealing with broader banking regulations, primarily those contained in Section 10 of the legislation.

Bicameral negotiations have been ongoing, however, and recent reporting suggests that a final deal could be just over the horizon.

The Democratic Senate sponsor of the SAFER Banking Act, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), told Marijuana Moment this month that the legislation is “gaining momentum” as lawmakers work to bring it to the floor and pass it “this year.”

The office of the Republican SAFER Banking prime sponsor, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), separately told Marijuana Moment that “conversations have been productive and Senator Daines is working to get the bill across the finish line.”

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 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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At the close of the first half of the 118th Congress in December, Schumer said in a floor speech that lawmakers would “hit the ground running” in 2024, aiming to build on bipartisan progress on several key issues, including marijuana banking reform—though he noted it “won’t be easy.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) signed on as a cosponsor of the SAFER Banking Act this month, becoming the 36th member of the chamber to add their name to the legislation in addition to its lead sponsor.

If the SAFER Banking Act does make it to the Senate floor this year, it’s expected to be amended. For example, Schumer has discussed the “moral responsibility” of further amending it to add provisions on state-legal cannabis expungements and gun rights for cannabis consumers.

Separately, the original sponsor of the first cannabis banking reform bill, former Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), spoke with Marijuana Moment last month about his work with a national marijuana group lobbying on the legislation. He said he remains “hopeful” that there’s enough time and momentum to enact the measure this year.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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