Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says that bringing a marijuana banking bill to the floor is a matter of securing more GOP votes—a task he says is made more difficult by the fact that some lawmakers are afraid that their constituents, “particularly the older ones,” don’t want them to embrace reform despite overall majority voter support.
In an interview with Yahoo News that was published over the weekend, Schumer said marijuana legalization is an issue whose “time has come,” adding “the people are on our side,” as demonstrated by the recent vote in Ohio that saw a strong majority elect to end prohibition at the ballot.
But despite support for the broader reform nationally, the majority leader said modest cannabis banking legislation that cleared the Senate Banking Committee in September is still being held from the floor as senators work to assembly a firmer bipartisan coalition around the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act.
He said at different parts of the interview that he’s waiting to secure “10 or 11 Republican votes” and “three [or] four votes.” For the former, he may have been speaking more generally about the overall need to get about 10 GOP members to join all Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold for passage. The latter reference could be his sense of the number remaining within the Republican caucus to reach that goal.
In any case, Schumer said the Senate is “getting close” to being able to pass the legislation, and he urged viewers to contact their representatives and urge them to support it.
“It’s bipartisan. It has support in the House. We could make it law soon,” he said, without giving a specific timeline for floor consideration in his chamber.
That perspective appears to depart from that of the GOP lead sponsor of the SAFER Banking Act, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who has maintained that enough of his Republican colleagues in the Senate are already prepared to advance the bill on the floor.
Daines has suggested that the key question at this stage is whether the measure has enough support to pass the House. He said last month that senators are working with their House counterparts “to get alignment between both of the chambers.”
On broader legalization, Schumer said that the majority of the public has embraced legalization, with states leading the way and showing how opponents’ “scare tactics” about increased crime and addiction “didn’t meet the facts.” But Congress has so far failed to tackle the issue because “you still have a lot of legislators who are still back in that world.”
“They’re worried their constituents, particularly the older ones, are back in that world,” he said. “And so they’re reluctant to go forward. But we are making progress.”
Schumer also talked about how the legislation he’s working to advance “tries to rectify” some of the harms of the drug war, “because so much was taken out of minority communities in terms of human resources and in terms of money and everything else when cannabis was over criminalized.”
“So we put provisions in this bill that favors small minority businesses over the big ones,” he said.
It’s not clear if he was describing the SAFER Banking Act or the comprehensive marijuana legalization bill he introduced last session. With respect to the banking measure, there is language that’s meant to support equity objectives, but Schumer has also discussed the “moral responsibility” of further amending it on the floor to add provisions on state-legal cannabis expungements and gun rights for cannabis consumers.
“There’s so much that this bill could do,” he said.
The majority leader said he wasn’t sure the extent to which ending marijuana prohibition would normalize cannabis use. But he said, “certainly, if it’s decriminalized, people can make a decision to use it without worrying about the long arm of the law coming down on it, and that makes a great deal of sense.”
“We do that for cigarettes. We do that for alcohol. We do that for lots of other things,” he said. “It’s just antiquated now that we don’t do it for marijuana.”
The Yahoo News host also asked Schumer if he’s ever personally used marijuana, and the senator said he hasn’t, pointing out that “it was illegal” when he was in college.
“I didn’t want to—but I believe in it. I believe as strongly as anybody else,” he said. “I didn’t make that choice, but anyone who wants to make that choice should without the criminal law over their heads.”
Al Harrington, a former NBA star who owns the cannabis company Viola and worked with the league’s players’ union on a CBD company partnership last year, also participated in the interview and chimed in to welcome Schumer to try his brand of cannabis if he ever decided to partake.
The senator laughed and gave Harrington a thumbs up.
Meanwhile, as lawmakers continue to push for the SAFER Banking Act, a coalition of 20 congressional Democrats is urging Treasury Department officials to update federal guidance to prevent financial institutions from discriminating against marijuana business owners over prior cannabis-related activity that’s since been made legal at the state level.