Lawmakers, advocates and stakeholders across the spectrum are reacting to Wednesday’s committee passage of a bipartisan marijuana banking bill—with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pledging to bring it to the floor “very soon” and a group of four GOP senators vowing to kill the legislation.
Just before the Senate Banking Committee approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act, Schumer committed to bring the bill “to the floor for a vote as quickly as possible.”
“Our SAFER Banking Act will connect cannabis businesses, especially ones in minority and underserved communities, to find to traditional financial resources like bank accounts and small business loans, creating a safer and more transparent environment for the industry to grow,” he said. “Now is the time to get it done.”
On the eve of the vote, however, Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) led a letter to leadership that argued the reform 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.”
The Republican lawmakers wrote that the bill, which now heads to the floor, “would do nothing to address the public safety threat inherently posed by the existence of marijuana dispensaries.”
“The SAFER Banking Act is sold as an easy banking fix. In reality, the legislation is fatally flawed and its consequences are complex and sweeping,” the senators wrote. “We will remain opposed to liberalizing drug laws and will fight the SAFER Banking Act to protect our youth from dangerous policies that would result in increased promotion of marijuana use.”
The letter—which was also signed by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Budd (R-NC) and James Lankford (R-OK)—further calls for Justice Department testimony on the legislation before it advances any further.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), ranking member of the Banking Committee and a 2024 GOP presidential candidate, voted “no” by proxy while he was in California ahead of a primary debate on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for his office told Politico that the congressman is “concerned that allowing the banking of a federally illegal product while not doing enough to prevent the de-banking of legal industries like firearms manufacturers and energy producers sends the wrong message to the American people.”
A Democratic member of the Banking Committee, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) also stands opposed to the legislation as drafted, and he sharply protested its passage without amendments to address the harms of the drug war and ensure the legislation does not inadvertently exacerbate racial and financial disparities.
“This bill will make life safer for bankers for businesses and financial institutions, some of whom have been profiting from the cannabis industry illegally for years—which is ironic given many of the regular folks who illegally sold or used cannabis are sitting in jail cells right now,” the senator said.
“Let me be very clear: I’m not opposed to easing or undoing federal restrictions around cannabis. And I would support all of the provisions and reforms in this legislation if paired with broader cannabis reforms that substantively addressed the issue of restorative justice,” he said. “This bill does not do that.”
After two of Warnock’s proposed amendment were rejected by the panel, he defiantly challenged the ruling of a chairman on one of them that was deemed to be in violation of committee rules and then took the unusual step of voting against a standard procedural motion to allow staff to make technical and conforming amendments to the bill.
The senators’ opposition comes as 10 more Democratic senators joined the list of cosponsors on the revised SAFER Banking Act that was introduced last week, raising the total to 22—nearly one-fourth of the Senate. By and large, lawmakers across the aisle have applauded the bill’s passage, even if some are pushing for additional changes.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the lead Democratic sponsor of the bill, spoke at the committee after the vote on Wednesday, congratulating the chairman for his work “on a complicated topic that doesn’t seem like it should be so complicated.”
He touted the measure’s various provisions and said he would like to see it amended on the floor to incorporate legislation to facilitate cannabis expungements and protect gun rights for marijuana consumers, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has pledged to do.
Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and lead sponsors of a previously filed House companion version, said in a joint statement on Wednesday that the “legislation will save lives and livelihoods.”
“The overwhelming majority of Americans live in a state where cannabis is legal in some form,” they said. “It is common sense and an urgent matter of public safety that these legitimate cannabis businesses have access to standard banking services. We applaud the Senate for holding today’s committee vote.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said in a statement on Wednesday that the Senate is “finally on its way to making sure that small cannabis businesses can finally get access to banking services just like any other law-abiding businesses—no more wheelbarrows full of cash.”
“The Senate has got to get this important legislation across the finish line for the sake of public safety, for equity, and so that small businesses in my state—and now almost every state—get the chance to grow and compete,” he said.
The bill that cleared committee was slightly revised during the markup to make mostly technical changes, but lawmakers say they will continue to amend it, including as it concerns provisions related to broader banking regulations that Republicans hope to use to prevent discriminatory enforcement against industries like the firearms trade.
Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)—who along with SAFER Banking’s GOP lead sponsor Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced a bill last week to prevent federal marijuana rescheduling without congressional approval—told Punchbowl on Tuesday that the banking measure is “still under negotiation,” and she anticipates “the negotiations will continue” after the vote.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), who helped lead bipartisan negotiations on the revised bill as a member of the committee, said in a statement that the SAFER Banking Act “makes our communities safer and economically stronger—and it’s moving forward with bipartisan support.”
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), a Banking Committee member, said Wednesday’s vote is a “historic step forward that will help keep Nevadans safe and allow cannabis business owners who’ve created good-paying jobs across our state to access critical banking services.”
Meanwhile, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) and Parabola Center sent a letter to committee leaders on Wednesday, urging further revisions to ensure the bill is “equity-centered, justice-oriented and designed to promote fairness and designed with the intention of addressing past inequities and preventing future inequities.”
“By acknowledging the progress we’ve made and clearly identifying issues that remain unaddressed, we hope to continue to work with Congress and other stakeholders to ensure equity remains the center of marijuana policy reform and thank the ongoing efforts of advocacy organizations and policymakers to ensure that marijuana banking reform is fair,” the groups wrote.
Here’s how other advocates, stakeholders and state officials are reacting to the committee vote:
“This bipartisan legislation represents an improved version of the SAFE Banking Act,” NORML Political Director Morgan Fox said. “It allows state-licensed cannabis businesses to more easily access financial services, such as opening a simple bank account, and it provides entrepreneurs with greater access to lending and other services that are available to other legal businesses.”
“Marijuana businesses’ lack of access to these necessary financial services creates serious threats to the safety of cannabis consumers and the employees that serve them, limits transparency and accountability for those operating in this legal industry, and severely hinders the ability of small businesses to effectively compete with the underground market and with larger well-funded companies,” he said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D)
“I am thrilled the Senate has finally taken up this important piece of legislation that will provide more certainty to our small businesses and marijuana industry, this is an important step and I thank the Senators who voted in favor of this bipartisan bill,” Polis said.
“This bill supports cannabis-related businesses, supports minority, women, and veteran-owned small businesses, will help create jobs, and strengthen public safety in our communities and across the country,” he said. “We look forward to seeing a full vote in the Senate and passage in the House again soon.”
National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR)
“Today’s action is not only historic but also is at a time where it could not be more urgently needed to help the regulated cannabis industry in 38 states be able to compete against the growing threat of an illicit market that greatly risks public safety and consumer safety,” NCR Executive Director Saphira Galoob said.
“We are heartened to see broad bipartisan support move this bill out of committee, and we look forward to momentum and support continuing to build as it moves to the Senate Floor and ultimately to the House, which has previously overwhelmingly passed the bill—at long last getting this critical measure signed into law this Congress,” she said.
U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC)
“Today’s vote by the Senate Banking Committee marks the first time that cannabis banking reform has been passed out of a Senate committee,” USCC SVP of Public Affairs David Culver said. “This marks a critical step toward securing banking access for the nation’s $30+ billion licensed cannabis industry, which supports over 400,000 full-time jobs across the country.”
“The House has previously passed the SAFE Banking Act seven times, but the Senate has stopped short in the past. The primary obstacle was that SAFE had not advanced through regular order. With today’s vote, that obstacle is history,” he said. “The updated SAFER Banking Act is now in a strong position to be passed on the Senate floor, either as a stand-alone bill or part of a larger package. This is where our focus will remain.”
“With today’s committee passage of the SAFE Banking Act, and thanks to the leadership of Senators Schumer and Booker who have fought tenaciously to ensure that the HOPE Act will receive a vote as an amendment when bill gets to the floor, we have a real opportunity to thoughtfully advance both modest industry and criminal legal reforms in a meaningful way, setting the precedent that we all do better when we all do better,” BOWL PAC Founder Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment.
(Disclosure: Strekal supports Marijuana Moment’s work through a monthly pledge on Patreon.)
National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)
“The committee’s approval of the SAFER Banking Act which gives hope to thousands of compliant, tax-paying businesses desperately trying to access the basic financial services other businesses take for granted,” NCIA CEO Aaron Smith said. “This uniquely bipartisan legislation has the potential to save lives and help small businesses; it’s time for Congress to get it to the president’s desk without further delay.”
Minority Cannabis Business Association
“This morning’s successful markup of the SAFE(R) Banking Act is a historic step towards final passage of a critical policy building block for the cannabis industry and we are thankful to the committee for including MCBA’s suggestions in the latest version of this bill,” Kaliko Castille, the group’s president, said. “After years of dedicated advocacy work, our efforts have culminated in the inclusion of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in the SAFE Banking Act.”
“MCBA remains committed to ensuring the final version of the SAFE(R) Banking Act not only opens the doors for legal cannabis banking but also focuses on positively impacting those who have been disproportionately affected by cannabis prohibition,” Castille said. “We look forward to seeing HOPE added on the floor and seeing this bill eventually signed by President Biden so that we can move on to a comprehensive package that finally ends a decades long war on black and brown communities that is still actively locking people up for a plant.”
Credit Union National Association (CUNA)
“We thank the committee for moving forward on this important legislation to bring consistency and common-sense to the intersection of banking regulation and legal cannabis businesses,” CUNA Deputy Chief Advocacy Officer for Federal Government Affairs Jason Stverak said. “This bill will allow credit unions to lawfully serve these businesses and addresses the serious public safety issue of forcing these businesses to deal in only cash.”
The statement is notable given that, ahead of the vote, a CUNA official told Politico that they were “very concerned” with “untenable” changes to the bill related to regulators’ authority to “dictate” financial services contacts for its members.
American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp (ATACH)
“We’re pleased SAFER has advanced out of committee with bipartisan support and will move to the Senate floor. The time is now for real change,” ATACH President Michael Bronstein said. “State-sanctioned cannabis programs deserve protections as do financial institutions providing financial services to them.”
“The current status quo is unfair, outdated, and unsafe as proven by numerous cannabis robberies motivated by businesses forced to operate in cash,” he said. “Yet today’s vote is monumental in securing the change that is needed and is the first time a cannabis bill has cleared a Senate committee and we applaud the Banking members for their work.”
American Bankers Association (ABA)
“This urgently needed, bipartisan legislation will resolve the ongoing conflict between state and federal law so that banks can serve state-authorized cannabis and cannabis-related businesses while enhancing public safety, tax collection and financial transparency,” ABA President Rob Nichols said. “The status quo is simply untenable for consumers, small businesses and banks operating in states where cannabis is legal. Based on today’s bipartisan vote, we urge the full Senate to promptly consider this bill.”
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW)
“We applaud the Senate Banking Committee for taking this critical step toward creating a more secure financial future for cannabis workers,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said. “Across the country, workers in this industry go to work and are forced to deal with large sums of cash, leaving them more vulnerable to theft and robberies.”
“The cannabis industry is a completely legitimate and lawful industry in many states and should not be excluded from basic financial protections,” he said. “The SAFER Banking Act addresses these issues, providing a pathway for legitimate cannabis businesses, and their employees, to have access to traditional banking services.”
“As America’s cannabis union, the UFCW has been involved with cannabis legislation across the country, testifying in front of the Senate just this past year in support of the SAFE Banking Act,” he continued. “We remain committed to fighting for a better life for cannabis workers everywhere and call on all of our nation’s elected officials to support and uplift our cannabis workers.”
Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America
“The Senate committee’s passage of significant cannabis reform legislation is notable, but this bill fails to comprehensively address the issues prevalent in today’s poorly regulated cannabis marketplace,” Francis Creighton, the group’s president and CEO said. “The lack of federal regulation of cannabis is a threat to public health and safety. Congress should pass comprehensive legislation that creates a strong regulatory system, akin to the successful alcohol regulatory system. Anything short puts consumers and non consumers at greater risk.”
National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU)
“After today’s committee passage of the SAFER Banking Act, NAFCU thanks Senator Brown and members of the Senate Banking Committee for their leadership on this issue and willingness to make changes to address concerns raised by credit unions and other community financial institutions,” NAFCU Senior Vice President of Government Relations Greg Mesack said.
“This legislation is necessary to protect credit unions and the communities they serve in states where legal cannabis businesses are seeking financial services,” he said. “It will help reduce risks by providing some legal clarity and expanding access to deposit accounts and other financial products. NAFCU looks forward to continuing the conversation as the bill moves forward to a full body vote.”
“As Congress works to establish the necessary guardrails around cannabis legalization, the labor and safety interests of workers must be paramount,” Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien said in a letter to committee leaders last week that was promoted on Wednesday. “Passing SAFER banking is a necessary part of this process and can help improve working conditions while easing operational burdens for employers across the country.”
Washington State Treasurer
“Access to secure and reliable banking services is a necessity for small businesses and their employees in Washington state to effectively and safely operate,” the treasurer’s office posted. “Great to see that #SAFEBanking is making progress in the US Senate.”
Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM)
The Senate Banking Committee “failed to do its job and protect Americans from these drugs,” SAM President Kevin Sabet said in a statement.
“Now it’s up to the full Senate to show Americans who really runs Washington—the people, or the banking and addiction industry lobbyists,” he said.
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