Republican senators stepping up efforts to stall marijuana banking legislation, with one member writing a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) criticizing his legislative priorities and another making misleading claims about planned amendments to the bill.
While the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act passed the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday with bipartisan support, longstanding prohibitionists in the chamber are making their opposition known in different ways.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to Schumer on Thursday to express concern about the Senate’s “ongoing prioritizing of legislation relaxing marijuana laws” over a separate measure the GOP senator favors to permanently prohibit fentanyl analogues. He attached 11 other letters from families of people who’ve died from opioid overdoses that voice support for the fentanyl legislation.
“Instead of addressing this crisis, the Senate appears to be turning its attention to legislation designed to ease the movement of marijuana money through the financial system, and provide access for Wall Street to invest billions of dollars into this industry,” Grassley wrote.
“Further complicating matters,” the senator said, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has advised the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). He complained that “the Senate has not considered the interplay between reclassification and the SAFE Banking Act.”
The letter also referenced recently released data from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network that found a record number of banks and credit unions are reporting that they’re servicing cannabis businesses.
“Many of these service requests occurred in California, a state that serves as a cautionary tale for marijuana legalization,” Grassley argued. “There, marijuana legalization ‘triggered a surge in illegal cannabis on a scale California has never before witnessed’ and ‘criminal enterprises operate with near impunity.’ All the while, driver fatalities testing positive for drugs increased to half of all driver fatalities.”
While Schumer recently called on supporters to push for federal marijuana legalization in a campaign email blast, neither the SAFER Banking Act nor a Schedule III reclassification would federally legalize cannabis.
“Congress should develop tools to dismantle violent crime, fentanyl distribution networks, and the cartels. Instead, you are advancing legislation, now titled the ‘SAFER Banking Act,’ which could equip criminal actors with resources to expand their influence,” Grassley’s letter concludes. “I was disheartened to hear of your plan to ‘bring the SAFER Banking Act to the Senate floor with all due speed.’ I encourage you to abandon it and take up the worthy cause of [Fentanyl Related Substances] scheduling. As always, I remain eager to work with my Democrat and Republican colleagues to end the fentanyl epidemic.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is also stirring the pot over the cannabis banking bill, with an inflated interpretation of Schumer’s floor remarks on Thursday about his plans to amend the legislation with “criminal justice provisions.”
Schumer has so far only discussed amending the bill to include measures incentivizing state-level cannabis expungements and protecting gun rights for marijuana consumers, but Cotton said Schumer wants to add provisions “letting drug traffickers out of prison.”
Drug overdoses are at a record high, and a huge amount of marijuana trafficking benefits the same cartels sending fentanyl to the U.S.
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) September 28, 2023
“The beneficiaries of Schumer’s leniency will not be low-level criminals charged with marijuana possession. There are essentially none in federal prison,” he said. “It will be hardcore, repeat traffickers who have committed many other crimes.”
Republicans should have no part in Democratic efforts to encourage more crime.
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) September 28, 2023
While Schumer has pledged to quickly bring the SAFER Banking Act to the floor, it has not been scheduled and no amendment text has been filed.
The majority leader has talked about attaching the bipartisan Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act to the bill—which he reiterated in a tweet about two hours after Cotton’s post—but the standalone bill filed this session would not involve releasing anybody from prison. And it targets local and state records, so it’s unclear what Cotton meant when he said “federal prison.”
The @SenateBanking Committee passed our SAFER Banking Act.
It’ll connect cannabis businesses to resources like bank accounts, creating a safer, more transparent environment.
And when we bring it to the floor, we’ll add the HOPE Act which expunges nonviolent cannabis offenses.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) September 28, 2023
Marijuana Moment reached out to Cotton’s office for clarification, but representatives were not immediately available.
Grassley and Cotton aren’t the only GOP marijuana hardliners to speak out against recent reform developments.
For example, Sens. Pete Ricketts (R-NE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Budd (R-NC) and James Lankford (R-OK) sent a letter to Senate leadership on Tuesday that argued the SAFER Banking Act would result in the cannabis industry producing higher potency products that would be harmful to youth and compromise “the integrity of the United States banking system.”
Separately, Sens. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Steve Daines (R-MT), the lead GOP sponsor of the marijuana banking bill, filed legislation last week that would prevent federal agencies from rescheduling cannabis without tacit approval from Congress.
Despite the vocal opposition from Senate drug warriors, insiders are confident that the SAFER Banking Act in its current form has enough bipartisan buy-in to clear the full chamber if it’s brought up for a vote. And the amendments Schumer has committed to pursuing—on expungements and gun rights—generally enjoys bipartisan support as well.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan coalition of 22 state attorneys general is also calling on Congress to pass the cannabis banking reform.
Read Grassley’s letter to Schumer on the SAFER Banking Act below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.