US Senate Committee Approves Bipartisan Marijuana Banking Bill
The Senate Banking Committee has approved a bipartisan marijuana banking bill with amendments and sent it on its way. On Wednesday, members voted to pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT), by a 14-9 vote. This comes a week after it submitted revisions intended to strengthen its bipartisan buy-in.
“It has been a journey”, said committee chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) at the start of the meeting. “No matter how you feel about states’ efforts to legalize marijuana, this bipartisan bill is necessary. It will make it safer for legal cannabis businesses and service providers to operate, to protect their workers first and foremost, and to operate in their communities.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the lead GOP sponsor of the SAFER Banking Act, stressed that he does not see the legislation as a step toward legalization, which he opposes. But “the current all-cash model for legal cannabis companies makes him a target for theft, for tax evasion and for organized crime,” he said.
“The key to managing this risk is to ensure that all legitimate businesses have access to the banking system,” said Daines.
The committee adopted an amendment by Brown that made technical clean-up changes that are considered non-controversial.
The panel also considered several amendments that were not ultimately adopted.
Amendments rejected by the committee
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA): Suspend the SAFER Banking Act after five years unless the Treasury Department, in consultation with other agencies, submits a report to Congress certifying that the measure has reduced the racial wealth gap and ameliorated other negative economic effects of the war on drugs
Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID): Remove and replace Section 10 with language providing that federal regulators cannot pressure financial entities to “refuse to provide services to a lawful entity” unless that business is engaged in “unsafe and unsound practices.”
Amendments introduced and withdrawn
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD): Cancel the bill if marijuana is federally rescheduled.
Amendments considered not relevant to the Committee’s jurisdiction
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN): Prevent the “laundering of fentanyl and methamphetamine revenues via the sale of marijuana.”
Amendments were disqualified because the application did not comply with the Committee’s rules.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA): Require a study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) within two years of enactment on “the racial wealth gap and the percentage of minority-owned cannabis-related businesses before and after the passage of the SAFER Banking Act,” according to a summary.
Members were expected to consider several additional amendments on issues such as the cannabis industry’s access to stock exchanges and a broad fairness-focused marijuana reform and more. However, senators did not formally offer these proposals.
Warnock gave a speech in which he expressed his concerns about the bill as drafted, claiming that it “will make life safer for corporate and financial institution bankers, some of whom have been profiting illegally from the cannabis industry for years.”
“I am not against relaxing or lifting federal restrictions on cannabis. And I would support any provisions and reforms in this legislation if combined with broader cannabis reforms that substantively addressed the issue of restorative justice. he said. “This bill does not do that.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said she agreed with Warnock’s comments, although she said she supports the underlying bill because it represents the “common sense policy” and “a good step in the right direction to make federal cannabis legislation a little less out” touch with the reality on the ground in states across the country.”
“Ultimately, we need to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act altogether,” she said. “It makes no sense for marijuana to remain a Schedule I drug while the state legal marijuana industry flourishes. The communities that have shouldered the burden of marijuana criminalization for decades should not be left behind.”
The road to Wednesday’s vote has been a bumpy one. While the Parliament has passed previous versions of the legislation several times, this marks the first time the Senate has taken the lead – and bipartisan negotiations have proven strenuous.
The leadership aimed to move the bill through committee in July, but disagreement over provisions related to broad banking rules pushed down that timeline. Then, during the August recess, lawmakers drafted a revised version, with a slightly updated title and new language that received some praise from both sides of the aisle.
But the amended SAFER Banking Act finally released last week is unlikely to be in its final form. In addition to amendments adopted during Wednesday’s markup, there are also plans to change the word. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wants to use that opportunity to incorporate legislation to incentivize cannabis restrictions at the state level, as well as protect gun rights for marijuana consumers.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) predicted last week that the SAFER Banking Act will pass “decisively” out of his panel. In light of reports of increased tensions over certain provisions, it remains to be seen.
In a statement last week, Daines, the lead GOP sponsor, hailed provisions in the legislation that he said would protect firearms and energy companies in Montana “from the left’s waking agenda.” His office has also said the senator is open to attaching the takings provisions proposed by Schumer.
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