Published February 14, 2023
By Kyle Jaeger
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) held a second meeting on marijuana legislation for the new Congress on Tuesday—and this time, he convened a group of GOP senators to discuss next steps for crafting a passable bill, Senate sources tell Marijuana Moment.
The first meeting took place at the beginning of the month with Democratic colleagues. Now the majority leader has brought Republican members into the fold, including Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK).
The purpose of these latest conversations is to determine where lawmakers can find bipartisan consensus on legislative objectives for cannabis reform in the 118th Congress, which now has Republicans in control of the House while Democrats retain their Senate majority.
One source confirmed to Marijuana Moment that marijuana banking was a key issue that the senators discussed.
Advocates are hoping to see collaboration around a set of marijuana proposals known colloquially as SAFE Plus, which Schumer worked to advance up until the final days of the last session. That package was expected to cover cannabis banking and expungements, among other possible modest reforms.
All three of the GOP senators who participated in Tuesday’s meeting signed on as original cosponsors of the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act last Congress.
Sullivan, meanwhile, filed a bill last week with Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to promote research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis for military veterans. That legislation is set to be voted on in committee on Thursday.
The last marijuana meeting with the majority leader involved Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV), along with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) had a scheduling conflict, so he sent a senior staffer.
Schumer and Booker filed a comprehensive marijuana legalization bill last year, but it became quickly apparent that there wouldn’t be enough support for passage with the 60-vote threshold in the Senate. As a compromise, the majority leader led bipartisan and bicameral negotiations over the SAFE Plus deal.
Attempts to place the reform in large-scale defense and spending legislation proved fruitless, and Schumer placed blame on certain GOP senators for derailing the bipartisan proposals.
Booker said in a recent interview that ongoing marijuana banking issues under prohibition amount to a “cannabis crisis,” and while he thinks there’s still a shot to enact reform, he’s emphasized the challenges of the new political dynamic on Capitol Hill.
Booker has faced particular criticism from certain stakeholders over how his position on banking legislation has evolved, with the senator at one point vowing to block any efforts to advance a standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act without equity components but eventually expressing interest in compromise to get something done.
The senator said in an earlier interview following last year’s election that he believed it could take “many years from now” to pass cannabis legislation if Democrats didn’t get the job done during the lame duck session.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked last month where President Joe Biden stands on marijuana banking reform, and she indicated that the ball is in Congress’s court, with no current plans for administrative action to resolve the issue.
Biden hasn’t provided a clear policy position on marijuana banking, though he’s said that states should be able to decide their own cannabis laws without federal interference. His administration has also become more vocal marijuana reform since the president issued a mass cannabis possession pardon in October.