Bipartisan Lawmakers Discuss Marijuana Banking Bill Prospects, With GOP Senator Worrying Reform Will Promote Fentanyl Trafficking

Marijuana Moment
Mon, Apr 15
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Congressional lawmakers from across the aisle are weighing in on the prospects of a marijuana banking bill—sharing predictions about the prospects of passage, different legislative vehicles to advance the reform and, for one GOP senator, his concern that the cannabis legislation could inadvertently benefit illicit fentanyl traffickers.

In a series of interviews posted The Dales Report on Monday, key bipartisan members of the Senate and House shared their views on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act and the ongoing federal marijuana scheduling review.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the GOP sponsor of the cannabis banking bill, reiterated that he believes Congress is in “the best spot we’ve ever been in getting SAFE Banking across the finish line.”

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said, though he added that he’s “given up trying to forecast” the outcome and timeline for the legislation. Notably, he said lawmakers are exploring different “vehicles” to advance the bill, pointing to “some ideas in the works in the House.”

He said the “good news” is that the House and Senate positions on the measure are “pretty well congruent,” suggesting that outstanding issues that emerged in bicameral negotiations have been largely resolved.

“I’m cautiously optimistic we get this done in ’24,” Daines said, adding that it’s important for members to understand that the proposal is a means of ensuring “public safety” given that the lack of banking access for the industry has made state-legal marijuana businesses unique targets of crime.

Another Republican supporter of the SAFE Banking Act, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), estimated that the bill enjoys anywhere from 60-70 percent support in both chambers of Congress.

The senator said both parties are partly to blame for inaction on the legislation, conceding on the one hand that, because Democrats are broadly more in favor of the reform than Republicans, the measure is “less likely to come up in the House,” which is under GOP control, because of the “political nature” of the issue.

On the other hand, he criticized Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for failing to bring the bill to a vote when Democrats held majorities in both chambers while also promoting separate broader legalization legislation that doesn’t enjoy the same level of bipartisan support in Congress.

The banking bill has “languished and languished” in recent sessions, Paul said. If Schumer brought it up for a vote, “I think it would probably pass. I think there’s enough Republicans with Democrats to get to 60 votes.”

That said, in the House, “it’s unlikely” to advance given both the partisan dynamics and the fact that anti-marijuana Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) wants to avoid “another headache” given the challenges of moving even must-pass legislation to keep the government funded.

“I think that’s where we are right now. And I’m still supportive of [SAFE Banking] and continue to try—and I’ve worked with Schumer on it. I think the logistics of it are difficult right now.”

Former Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), a chief proponent of the marijuana banking bill both in Congress and now in the private sector, echoed recent reporting about the most likely pathway for the SAFE Banking Act in the House. He said his expectation is that it’s most likely to advance in the chamber as part of a package attached to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation before the election or during the lame duck period following the election.

“I think those are the two possibilities that you can see that legislation move,” he said. “I don’t see much happening outside of those two. But right now, that’s kind of where the ballgame is.”

Lawmakers “have to figure out how much time they have delegate because, if somebody wants to object—if one senator out of 100 people wants to object to a bill—it could draw the process out for weeks,” Gardner said.

“The leaders are looking and saying, ‘Well, we don’t have time if that happens, so that means it has to be coupled with other things.,'” he said.”I think what you see now is the negotiating process to try to figure out, ‘What can we put this in? Where can it go?'”

The premiere of The Dales Report feature that was posted on Monday also shows some high-profile members such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) going about their business and making short statements of support for reform and others preoccupied who did not comment such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) also dodged a question while heading into his office about what it would take for him to recognize the therapeutic value of cannabis.

Meanwhile, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) was asked about his opposition to the marijuana banking bill, and he shared a quizzical perspective about how he and other bipartisan members believe the legislation “was crafted in such a way that actually would have opened up access to banking resources for fentanyl traffickers and others.”

“You have to do this in the right way,” he said. “You obviously want people to access financial services—but if you do it the wrong way, you can actually promote illicit activity, and that’s what I want to prevent.”

Asked about how the potential rescheduling of marijuana under federal law could affect the momentum for SAFE Banking, Vance said that’s “never been my particular focus and my particular cause of concern.” He added that he doubts that the cannabis banking measure is a priority for the GOP-controlled House.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) also shared his thoughts on the path forward for the marijuana banking bill, and he said that while he similarly believes that federal cannabis laws need to be comprehensively reformed with criminal justice reform in mind, he doesn’t want that principle to derail the incremental policy change.

“My hope is that, as much as I support some of the justice efforts that some of my colleagues want to see happen, I don’t think we should hold up the SAFE Banking provisions to get the cannabis industry banked,” he said.

“I think some people have ideological problems with the issue. I also think some people want to see justice for those who are criminally accused of minor usage and want to see justice for them,” the senator said. “They see this bill as the vehicle to achieve that. And while I support their efforts in terms of what they want to accomplish, I don’t think we should continue to allow the cannabis industry—millions and millions of dollars—to go unbanked.”

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus and prime sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act in the House, suggested he remains optimistic that the cannabis banking measure could pass through his chamber, so long as there’s not “some major redo of it, which I don’t foresee.”

“Everybody comes to him with a different twist, if you will, and trying to make it work,” the congressman said. “But we’ve been consistent in that more and more states have come online. Whether it’s medicinal or full legal, it’s an important thing to get this done now.”

He added that he’s “sort of agnostic on whether [marijuana] gets rescheduled or descheduled” in the interim.

“That doesn’t really bother me. I want to get make sure we get SAFE Banking in place to make sure that money is where it should be: inside the financial system, instead of out there on the street.”

Meanwhile, Schumer recently reiterated his intent to pass legislation to “safeguard cannabis banking” as part of a “busy agenda” that he hopes to achieve in the “weeks and months ahead,” though he again stressed the need for bipartisan cooperation.

He also recently asked people to show their support for the SAFER Banking Act by signing a petition as he steps up his push for the legislation. A poll released last month by the American Bankers Association (ABA) shows that roughly three out of five Americans support allowing marijuana industry access to the banking system.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) said that that “if Republicans want to keep the House,” they should pass the marijuana banking bill, arguing that “there are votes” to approve it.

Schumer told Marijuana Moment last month that the bill remains a “very high priority” for the Senate, and members are having “very productive” bicameral talks to reach a final agreement.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also said last month that passing the SAFER Banking Act off the floor is a “high priority.” However, he also recently said in a separate interview that advancing the legislation is complicated by current House dynamics.

House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) separately said during a recent American Bankers Association (ABA) summit that he wants to see the SAFER Banking Act move.

He said that, “for whatever reason, the federal government has been slow” to act on the incremental reform that he supports even though he doesn’t identify as “a marijuana guy.”

One key factor that’s kept the bill from the Senate floor is disagreement over mostly non-cannabis provisions dealing with broader banking regulations, primarily those contained in Section 10 of the legislation.

Bicameral negotiations have been ongoing, however, and recent reporting suggests that a final deal could be just over the horizon.

The Democratic Senate sponsor of the SAFER Banking Act, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), told Marijuana Moment last month that the legislation is “gaining momentum” as lawmakers work to bring it to the floor and pass it “this year.”

At the close of the first half of the 118th Congress in December, Schumer said in a floor speech that lawmakers would “hit the ground running” in 2024, aiming to build on bipartisan progress on several key issues, including marijuana banking reform—though he noted it “won’t be easy.”

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