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By Kyle Jaeger
A Republican senator says that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) plan to tackle marijuana banking and other legislation during the summer session isn’t going to happen, as the timeline makes the top Democrat’s “wish list” virtually impossible to achieve.
Speaking on the floor on Monday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said he was “interested to see” the majority leader’s Dear Colleague letter on Sunday that listed various legislative priorities and issues he’d like to take up during the work period before the August recess.
“Senator Schumer mentioned his desire to move forward on bills relating to drug pricing, fentanyl, permitting reform, rail safety, marijuana banking, China competition, artificial intelligence and a number of other topics in the next three weeks,” Cornyn said. “Now, to be clear, I don’t think the majority leader actually believes we are going to produce legislation in these areas.”
“Maybe you would call this a wish list,” the senator said. “But it is only wishful thinking to believe that in the U.S. Senate you are going to be able to get all of these necessary items addressed in the next ten working days.”
Schumer himself had acknowledged in the letter that it would “not be easy” to achieve his list of goals, emphasizing the need for GOP collaboration in the process. But he did signal that he thinks that cannabis banking reform, among other priorities, was achievable even under the tight deadline.
Cornyn, who blocked a veterans-focused cannabis research bill from moving to the floor last year, raised another potential issue with the majority leader’s plan, however. He questioned whether Schumer had “pre-vetted” the bills with the Republican-controlled House or inquired with the White House about whether the president would sign the legislation.
“That is how we legislate around here. It is not performance art. It is not show business. This is actually about doing the people’s business and passing legislation through an admittedly difficult process,” he said. “But this is where we find ourselves having waited until this late moment to deal with so much important legislation. The Democratic-controlled Senate has been downright sleepy for the last six months. And I have no reason that this letter, this wish list, will prompt some miraculous turnaround.”
He emphasized that the Senate must use its limited time to address other priorities like defense, agriculture and appropriations. Schumer did say that in his letter that appropriations and defense legislation are at the top of the agenda.
The likelihood that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act can pass during the summer window will be largely contingent on how quickly it moves out of the Senate Banking Committee, where it received a hearing in May and is expected to be marked up soon.
As it’s currently drafted as a standalone bill, the SAFE Banking Act is said to have enough support to pass the full chamber. But if it does reach the floor, the question will then be whether Democratic members will seek to significantly expand it in a way that potentially compromises bipartisanship around the reform.
Schumer has said repeatedly that he intends to attach an amendment on the floor to facilitate expungements for people with prior cannabis convictions—a revision that the GOP sponsor of the banking measure is “open” to, a staffer told Marijuana Moment—but the majority leader didn’t include mention of that in his letter.
Meanwhile, members of the Senate Banking Committee are also still debating Section 10 of the marijuana bill, which certain Democrats like Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) have voiced concern over, arguing that it would effectively undermine banking regulations outside of the cannabis space.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the Republican sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, said recently that members were “not quite there yet” on a final deal, but are “continuing discussions.”
Schumer also recently spoke with a cannabis industry leader who approached him at an unrelated event last month, and according to that entrepreneur, the Senate leader is feeling “confident” about the prospects of passing the cannabis banking bill.
While the SAFE Banking Act has yet to be scheduled for a committee markup, lawmakers from across the aisle are signaling that the votes are there for passage—so long as there are no major contentions or hiccups along the way, as Daines suggested.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) said last month that he’s a “yes” on the legislation. He just doubts that Democratic leadership will follow through on their pledge to get the job done this year.
Democrats would likely contest that characterization. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said last month that he wants to hold a vote on it “in the next two or three weeks.”
As its currently drafted, the measure would protect banks and credit unions, as well as depository institutions, from being penalized by federal regulators for working with state-licensed cannabis businesses.
Others have also floated other changes that they’d like to see incorporated into the cannabis bill such as expanding protections to free up marijuana industry access to all forms of financial services, including representation on major U.S. stock exchanges.
That request has faced some criticism from other advocates who say that would be an inappropriate move to help businesses while efforts to legalize marijuana stall in Congress.
A major cannabis lobbying firm apologized in May after sending a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership concerning the banking bill that contained “inappropriate” references to investments from China in a “misguided attempt” to push for amendments expanding the legislation.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also recently said that she wanted the SAFE Banking Act to pass with an amendment allowing cannabis businesses to access federal Small Business Administration (SBA) services.
In April, 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.
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.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who is a lead sponsor of 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.