Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says the bipartisan committee vote to advance a marijuana banking bill on Wednesday “underscores how much momentum we have right now” as he plans to bring the legislation to the floor “soon” and attach “very significant criminal justice provisions.”
In a floor speech on Thursday, Schumer said he’s “really proud of the bipartisan deal we produced” ahead of the Senate Banking Committee markup that saw the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act pass in a 14-9 vote.
“The next step is to bring SAFER Banking to the floor for a vote, which I will do soon,” he said. “I worked long and hard for years to get us to this point, and now the Senate is one step—one crucial step—closer to helping cannabis businesses operate more efficiently, more safely and more transparently in the states that allow cannabis to be sold.”
“SAFER Banking’s bipartisan vote in the Banking Committee underscores how much momentum we have right now on cannabis banking—and how important the issue is for so many business owners and communities across the country,” Schumer said. “No industry has the ability to thrive if its businesses can’t access basic banking infrastructure, especially not an industry growing as quickly and one as new as the cannabis industry.”
The majority leader also reaffirmed his commitment to attaching criminal justice reform provisions to the legislation. While he didn’t specify, and said he’d “talk more about that at a later time,” he’s previously described adding measures to incentivize state-level cannabis expungements and protect gun rights for marijuana consumers.
“Cannabis must always be in the business of promoting entrepreneurs, promoting small businesses, promoting job growth. SAFER Banking will do that precisely in the cannabis industry,” he said, adding that it will “connect cannabis businesses to resources like bank accounts and small business loans, creating a safer and more transparent environment in which they can grow.”
“When I go to the floor, we will add very significant criminal justice provisions to the bill as well, and that is important as well,” he said.
While the committee passage of the cannabis banking bill has received substantial bipartisan praise, other lawmakers have been critical of the revised deal and some are questioning whether it will even make it to the House of Representatives.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), a member of the Banking Committee, filed a pair of amendments at Wednesday’s meeting meant to bolster the bill’s equity provisions. But they were not adopted, leading the senator to vote against the legislation, as well as taking the unusual step of opposing a standard motion to allow staff to make technical and conforming amendments to get the measure in shape for the floor.
“Let’s be clear: the ‘SAFER Banking’ bill only makes life safer for the bankers & businesses, some of whom have been illegally profiting off of cannabis for years, while regular folks sit in jail cells for using or selling cannabis,” Warnock said in an X post on Wednesday.
Let’s be clear: the “SAFER Banking” bill only makes life safer for the bankers & businesses, some of whom have been illegally profiting off of cannabis for years, while regular folks sit in jail cells for using or selling cannabis.
— Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (@SenatorWarnock) September 27, 2023
Another amendment that was defeated based on a ruling that it was not germane to the committee came from Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN). It would have created additional civil penalties for marijuana operators that are involved in illicit fentanyl and methamphetamine trafficking.
“This is a very real concern. These cartels are moving fentanyl and methamphetamine right alongside marijuana sales, and there’s a loophole in this law,” Hagerty said on Wednesday. “I’m shocked that this Committee is willing to let this go through. This is supporting fentanyl and methamphetamine sales. This is an easy fix. I’m shocked at the result here.”
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), another Banking Committee member who voted against the bill, told Politico that “I don’t think this legislation leaves the Senate anyway. I just don’t think this thing has any legs at all.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who opposes marijuana reform, criticized the Democratic majority for focusing on the cannabis banking measure.
“As Congress seeks to avoid #SchumerShutdown, this is his priority: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says now is the time for Congress to pass legislation that would allow banks and credit unions to work with the legal cannabis industry,” he said in a post on X.
As Congress seeks to avoid #SchumerShutdown, this is his priority: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says now is the time for Congress to pass legislation that would allow banks and credit unions to work with the legal cannabis industry. @BGOV
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) September 27, 2023
But other congressional lawmakers, as well as top state officials, are expressing optimism about the bill’s path forward, which they say is necessary from a financial and public safety perspective.
“The inability of state-legalized cannabis businesses to access banking services is dangerous,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) said on Wednesday. “Operating as a cash-only enterprise is perfectly fine for my grandkids’ lemonade stand, but it is inadequate for an industry this controversial.”
The inability of state-legalized cannabis businesses to access banking services is dangerous. Operating as a cash-only enterprise is perfectly fine for my grandkids’ lemonade stand, but it is inadequate for an industry this controversial. pic.twitter.com/UEm9lmqaDs
— Sen. Kevin Cramer (@SenKevinCramer) September 27, 2023
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) said that “outdated federal law continues to prevent the industry from accessing fundamental services like banking and insurance,” and the SAFER Banking Act will help to “right this wrong.”
While NV has regulated the cannabis industry since 2017, outdated federal law continues to prevent the industry from accessing fundamental services like banking and insurance.
Today our bipartisan bill to right this wrong advanced out of committee. pic.twitter.com/bB0e6DXnWW
— Senator Jacky Rosen (@SenJackyRosen) September 27, 2023
At the state level, governors and top officials are also touting the committee vote to advancing the cannabis bill.
Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said that marijuana businesses “deserve to be safe and secure,” underscoring why Congress should pass the SAFER Banking Act “now.”
Cannabis businesses deserve to be safe and secure. That’s why we need Congress to pass the #SAFERBankingAct now. This bipartisan bill allows cannabis businesses to access the financial services they need to operate safely and legally. It’s time. https://t.co/kSokrbMlLU
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) September 27, 2023
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) similarly said the legislation “will provide more certainty to our small businesses in the cannabis industry.”
I am thrilled the Senate has finally taken up this important piece of legislation that will provide more certainty to our small businesses in the cannabis industry. I thank the Senators who voted in favor of this bipartisan bill. https://t.co/EwOvJxX4LP pic.twitter.com/xItN1TwyHZ
— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) September 28, 2023
Ahead of the committee markup, a bipartisan coalition of 22 state attorneys general also called on Congress to pass marijuana banking reform legislation.