Schumer, Merkley, Booker & Other Senate Dems Push For Cannabis Banking Bill: 'We're Gaining Momentum'

Zinger Key Points
  • Sen. Brown is optimistic and thinks that the time for the cannabis banking reform is now.

Senate Democrats are not giving up on marijuana banking reform.

Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) met Wednesday with several other Democratic senators to “ponder the path” that would push cannabis legislation toward approval in this Congress, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore) told The Hill.

“We’re trying to find the formulation of Safe Banking Plus that can allow us to end this cash economy that’s doing so much to hurt so many across the country,” Merkley said ahead of Wednesday’s meeting in Schumer’s office. “Hopefully we can find a formulation and have bipartisan support and get it done.”

SAFE Banking Act 

Under existing federal law, financial institutions are still not allowed to provide their services to marijuana businesses even in states with legal programs. Enter the  Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2021 (SAFE Banking Act) that seeks to resolve this issue - one of the biggest in the industry.

Weed companies are compelled to rely on cash to operate, which makes them ideal targets for robbery. Also, the lack of financial services (i.e., loans) makes it difficult for smaller operators to enter the burgeoning industry.

Unfortunately, in December lawmakers opted not to put cannabis banking reform in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to secure its approval.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell targeted cannabis banking reform when he called on Democrats  Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to strip the pot-related language from the defense bill in the week before the NDAA was revealed.

“House and Senate Democrats are still obstructing efforts to close out the NDAA by trying to jam in unrelated items with no relationship whatsoever to defense,” McConnell said on the Senate floor at the time. “My colleagues across the aisle need to cut their unrelated hostage-taking and put a bipartisan NDAA on the floor.” 

Shortly after, McConnell gloated when the final version of the NDAA did not contain marijuana banking reform.

“Just as Republicans insisted, just as our service members deserve, this NDAA is not getting dragged down by unrelated liberal nonsense,” McConnell said. “Good smart policies were kept in and unrelated nonsense like easier financing for illegal drugs was kept out.”

Democrats continued. They attempted to attach SAFE to a must-pass omnibus spending bill. This effort also failed.

What’s Next? 

Democratic senators Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Jacky Rosen (Nev.) joined Merkley and Schumer on Wednesday in an effort to figure out the next best move.

“I think every Congress I’ve been here … has been a climb, but we’re gaining momentum,” Booker told The Hill. “There are people now, bipartisan and bicameral, who support some sort of reform legislation, and we’re going to continue to work on it this Congress.”

The talks this week did not include any GOP senators.

Sen. Brown is optimistic, saying the time for cannabis banking reform is now. “This…can be a bipartisan issue and bicameral,” Brown told The Hill. “I think it’s realistic because so many different people and groups I know — the bankers want it. … I bring up the bankers because that’s what will move Republicans.”

Photo: Benzinga edit with images by Anton_AV on Shutterstock and Kristie Boyd U.S. House Office of Photography, U.S. Senate Photographic Studio Jeff McEvoy and Senate Democrats on Shutterstock

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Posted In: CannabisNewsMarketsCharles SchumerCory BookerJacky RosenJeff MerkleyMarijuana Banking reformMitch McConnelNancy PelosiSAFE Banking ActSherrod Brownthe hill
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