A coalition of state marijuana associations is imploring Senate leaders to pass a bipartisan cannabis banking bill “without further delay.”
The American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH)—along with trade groups representing marijuana businesses in 16 states plus Washington, D.C.—sent a letter about the need for the reform to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC) on Friday.
But while the organizations are pressing the committee to urgently act on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, the letter comes one day after a cannabis lobbyist reported that Brown told him there will be no vote in his panel next week, meaning it will not advance during the summer session. After the end of this month, senators won’t reconvene again until September.
In any case, ATACH and the state associations say that the status quo that leaves many marijuana businesses without access to banks and other traditional financial services is untenable, and the “public health and safety consequences are dire.”
“Many cannabis state licensed cannabis retailers are forced to do business in all cash and cannabis businesses are being targeted for violent robbery,” they wrote. “The latter examples have turned violent with dispensary robberies in places such as Washington, Oregon, Michigan, and Oklahoma.”
ATACH and the state organizations—representing businesses in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Nevada, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington State—said that they “strongly support passage of the SAFE Banking Act without further delay.”
ATACH President Michael Bronstein said in a press release that “as Congress continues to debate the merits of the SAFE Banking Act, it fails to take into account that for every moment that goes by, state legal businesses and workers suffer the real world consequences of break-ins, armed robberies, and sometimes violent confrontations that have resulted in deaths.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had included the marijuana bill in his list of legislative priorities for the summer session—and Brown himself said in early June that he hoped to hold a markup of the bill “in the next two or three weeks”—but those plans did not materialize.
More recently, 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.
Daines has also 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.
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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.
Read the cannabis associations’ letter on SAFE Banking below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
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