Over 20 lawmakers sign on to bipartisan push for cannabis bill

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.)
Greg Nash

More than 20 senators have signed on to a growing bipartisan push to include marijuana banking legislation in a larger package aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness with China, despite previous resistance from leadership on both sides of the aisle.

In a Thursday letter to Democratic and GOP leadership in the House and Senate, 24 senators pushed for a compromise competitiveness bill “to retain” the text of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act included in the lower chamber’s Competes Act. 

Select conferees from both chambers will be hashing out a final bill in the coming weeks.

The marijuana banking measure has already passed the lower chamber six times, most recently as an amendment to the House’s China competitiveness bill that passed earlier this year.

However, the measure was not included in the bipartisan competition bill that previously passed the Senate, also known as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA). It also has faced trouble finding footing in the upper chamber, where it’s been met with pushback from both Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for different reasons.

But in their letter to McConnell and Schumer on early Thursday, the bipartisan group of nearly two dozen lawmakers seeks to make the case for passage of the SAFE Banking Act, which they say “would allow banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions to offer banking services to legally-operating cannabis businesses without fear of punishment by federal regulators.”

“Currently, thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use, and eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow adult recreational use. As a result, the cannabis industry has become a powerful job creator and a significant generator of tax revenue,” they wrote. “However, financial institutions are often reluctant to transact with cannabis-related businesses, even in states that have some form of legalized cannabis, due to legal and regulatory risks arising from inconsistent federal and state laws.”

“Allowing cannabis businesses operating legally and in compliance with state law to access financial services without federal reprisal would address public safety and compliance challenges, helping communities reduce cash-motivated crimes,” they added.

Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) co-led the letter, which includes signatures from Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Angus King (I-Maine), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The Hill has reached out to Schumer and McConnell’s offices for comment.

Schumer has blocked the legislation in the past amid concerns from other Democrats that its passage could hurt the chances of a larger comprehensive marijuana reform bill passing in the future.

At the same time, Schumer and other Democrats have also been working to craft a sweeping marijuana legalization bill that would include measures aimed at restorative justice, with proposals to expunge certain marijuana-related convictions and help communities disproportionately impacted by the country’s war on drugs.

However, the chances of a legalization bill passing the Senate currently appear less likely, as overwhelming opposition from Republicans, as well from some Democrats, threatens its chances of passage in the upper chamber.

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), one of the conferees tapped to help complete the final compromise bill, also said on Wednesday that he thinks “it’s important that, in any legislation, we deal with the equity issues.”

“The long history of the ways in which the war on drugs has been prosecuted disproportionately in communities of color. Whole communities have been hollowed out by decades of the policing of substances,” he said, before adding those behind the growing push for the banking measure also “ought to be advocating for restorative justice.” 

McConnell, who has previously said he doesn’t support legalizing marijuana, also has already taken aim at the House-passed Competes Act’s inclusion of marijuana banking, along with other party-backed plans. And while the bill has 10 GOP co-sponsors, the leader didn’t tap any of the backers to serve on the conference committee.

“From Green New Deal follies to Big Labor handouts to marijuana banking, the House Democrats’ competing bill drags these efforts leftward and backward,” he said last month.

Other Republicans involved in discussions have also opposed keeping the banking measure in the competition bill, with one telling The Hill they think “it would be a mistake” and that “it diminishes the chances of USICA becoming law.”

Tags Cannabis Charles Schumer China competitiveness bill Jacky Rosen Marijuana marijuana banking Mitch McConnell Raphael Warnock Steve Daines

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