The U.S. Senate’s top Democrat said on Thursday that Congress should go much further in enacting federal marijuana reform than just passing a cannabis banking bill.
“We need decriminalization at the federal level, criminal justice reform, and investment in opportunity for minority & women-owned small businesses,” he tweeted, noting that a number of civil rights groups are asking House leaders to hold off on a planned vote on the financial services legislation
Those organizations—the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Drug Policy Alliance, among others—are concerned that if lawmakers pass a cannabis banking bill it will undermine efforts to pass broader legislation ending federal marijuana prohibition and taking steps to repair the harms of the war on drugs.
Schumer’s post, in which he quote-tweeted a Marijuana Moment story about a letter the organizations wrote to House leaders urging a delay on the vote, also mentioned Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who on Thursday indicated she agrees with the groups’ concerns.
“@RepAOC and these civil rights groups are right,” the top Senate Democrat wrote.
.@RepAOC and these civil rights groups are right.
Congress should not enact banking reform alone and think the job is done.
We need decriminalization at the federal level, criminal justice reform, and investment in opportunity for minority & women-owned small businesses. https://t.co/PM22Bmk5Pl
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) September 19, 2019
While Schumer didn’t say explicitly that the banking vote should be called off until broader reform is passed—instead just tweeting that Congress shouldn’t just enact it “alone and think the job is done”—he did say that groups who are pushing for such a delay are “right.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced last week that he intends to bring the legislation to the floor by the end of this month. Leaders plan to advance the proposal under an expedited procedure called suspension of the rules, through which a two-thirds majority—or 290 votes—is needed to pass.
Already, 206 cosponsors have proactively signed onto the legislation, and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the chief sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act moved to amend the legislation in an attempt to bring in even more GOP votes.
The congressman plans to make a series of changes to the bill—including clarifying that banking protections would apply to hemp and CBD companies and also prevent financial regulators from targeting certain industries such as firearms dealers as higher risk for fraud—in order to bolster its Republican appeal. That said, the legislation is already viewed as largely bipartisan.
The bill is believed to face a tougher road in the Senate, however, where Schumer’s counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), excitedly shepherded hemp legalization to enactment last year but regularly says he doesn’t support the crop’s “illicit cousin” marijuana.
That said, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) surprised observers when he said this month that he planned a vote on cannabis banking legislation in his panel by the end of the year.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, told Marijuana Moment that while she recognizes concerns outlined by advocacy groups calling for a delay on a marijuana banking vote, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has yet to advance his wider-ranging legalization bill, tying the hands of House Democrats.
“[W]hat’s going to happen is Mr. Perlmutter’s bill that gives safe harbor to the banks is going to move, and whenever Judiciary gets that bill done, then it’s going to move too with the same kind of support that Mr. Perlmutter’s bill is going to get,” she said.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is leading the companion version of the broader marijuana reform legislation in the Senate.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, one of the groups that signed the letter calling on House leaders to pull the planned banking vote, thanked Schumer for his comment, stating that “Congress needs to address marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively by considering” broader reform legislation.
Congress needs to address marijuana prohibition holistically and inclusively by considering the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act.
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) September 20, 2019
Schumer, for his part, filed a separate bill in May that would federally deschedule cannabis and promote participation in the industry by individuals from communities negatively impacted by prohibition.
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.