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By Kyle Jaeger
A key Senate chairman says that a bipartisan marijuana banking bill will “not” get a committee markup next week, according to an advocate who spoke with him. And that means it will not be addressed during the summer session as leadership had hoped.
Lobbyist Don Murphy of the Marijuana Leadership Campaign said on Thursday that he spoke to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who told him that his panel will not be voting on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act before the start of recess beginning on July 31.
Murphy told Marijuana Moment that he posed the question to Brown as the senator was leaving a hearing on Thursday, jokingly asking whether he should make vacation plans early or if SAFE Banking would be receiving a markup next week before lawmakers leave town for the summer. After the end of this month, the Senate isn’t scheduled to return until September 5.
The news comes as a disappointment for advocates and stakeholders, who were previously encouraged when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) included the cannabis legislation in a list of legislative priorities for the summer session, even while he acknowledged that it would be challenging.
Brown himself said in early June that he hoped to hold a markup of the bill “in the next two or three weeks.”
More recently, though, there have been signs that senators had reached a temporary impasse over the bill, with Brown insisting that the GOP sponsor, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), find more Republican members to formally cosponsor the measure. Daines, meanwhile, said Republicans were ready to act on the SAFE Banking Act as introduced.
The hold up, according to insiders, is disagreement over one section of the bill that concerns broader banking regulations. Certain Democrats like Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) have pushed to remove or alter Section 10, but one senior GOP staffer told Marijuana Moment that doing so would be a “non-starter” for Republicans.
As recently as Wednesday, a spokesperson for Daines told Marijuana Moment that “talks are continuing and we remain hopeful.”
But those talks apparently did not produce an actionable agreement in time for the summer session.
Marijuana Moment reached out to Brown’s committee staff to confirm Murphy’s report about the chairman’s new remarks, but a representative was not immediately able to provide comment or confirmation.
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), the lead sponsor of the House version of the bill, said on Thursday that his chamber “has passed the SAFE Banking Act seven times with strong bipartisan support.”
“I am disappointed to see continued delays in the upper chamber and strongly encourage my colleagues in the Senate to act swiftly on this critical legislation,” he told Marijuana Moment.
Daines, for his part, has previously cautioned against attempting to expand the measure with social justice reforms that progressives would like to add, though his office has told Marijuana Moment that the senator is “open” to adding expungements language, as proposed by Schumer.
In a Dear Colleague letter that was distributed this month, Schumer said that advancing SAFE Banking remains a legislative priority, but he also acknowledged that getting the job done “will not be easy” and require GOP buy-in.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), meanwhile, said last week that the majority leader’s summer agenda is too ambitious, and he expressed serious doubts that marijuana banking—among a list of other legislative items that Schumer identified in the letter—will advance in the summer session.
For what it’s worth, 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.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), for his part, 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.
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.
Last week also marked the 10-year anniversary since the introduction of the first version of what is now known as the SAFE Banking Act.