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The United States House of Representatives on Thursday approved a large-scale defense spending bill that includes an amendment to prevent banks that work with legal marijuana companies from being penalized by federal regulators. Now, advocates and industry players are asking: what is the fate of Senate reform? And can he go to the president’s office?
New comments from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) – who is helping lead the charge to advance the full legalization of marijuana and who has severely criticized efforts to pass banking reform first – signal that the way forward followed to push gradual policy change through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could be threatened in the Senate. Other key senators have also expressed skepticism about the prospects for reform through this process.
For supporters, things might have been simpler if the Senate had decided to include cannabis banking reform in its own version, but the text of the NDAA published by the Senate Armed Forces Committee on Wednesday does not contain this language. This means that the matter will have to be settled by a bicameral conference committee after the full Senate officially passes its bill. At this point, negotiators from both chambers will endeavor to resolve the differences between their separate proposals.
Already, key senators have pushed back the inclusion of the Safe and Fair Banking Act (SAFE) in the NDAA that is ultimately sent to President Joe Biden. This is not particularly surprising given that leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have insisted on enacting full justice-focused marijuana legalization first rather than advance gradual reform of the banking sector. But recent statements raise questions about the prospects for passing reform through the defense bill.
It is not that the SAFE Banking Act is partisan or particularly controversial at first glance; it is a question of legislative priorities for some senators and a question of relevance in the NDAA. When the reform amendment was officially attached to the House version of the bill on Tuesday, it has now passed the House five times, usually along largely bipartisan lines.
Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), main sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, spoke to Marijuana Moment about the progress of the process in a telephone interview on Wednesday. He was optimistic about the prospects for the measure with the NDAA as a vehicle, although he admitted he had not spoken with Schumer or other key senators who are actively finalizing the legalization legislation they hope to see passed. first.
“I think the fifth time is the charm,” he said. “I mean, obviously we still have to do a little bit of work to make sure it’s still part of the NDAA as the House and Senate go to conference.” So we still have work to do with the Senate to ensure that it is still a part of it. But I think it will. “
“I mean, the fact that it deals with cartels and national security, in addition to the public safety need of this thing, I think we will be able to convince the conference committee and the speakers in general to keep it in, “he said.” But we still have work to do. “
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Some advocates have expressed support for adopting the achievable banking policy change while working to build support for more comprehensive reform.
“Enactment of the SAFE Banking Act would improve public safety and business efficiency in the 36 states that currently allow some form of retail marijuana sales,” NORML Policy Director Justin Strekal said. “The Senate should ensure that this provision remains in the final version of this funding and pass it quickly.” “
“The SAFE Banking Act is only the first step in ensuring that legal marijuana markets operate safely and efficiently,” he said. “The sad reality is that those who own or frequent these currently unbanked businesses would still be recognized as criminals in the eyes of the federal government and under federal law. This can only be rectified by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances.
Schumer and some other senators, meanwhile, insisted that the banking problem should be solved by holistically ending the ban on marijuana. They argue that it is inappropriate to enact what is seen as industry-driven reform that helps businesses and investors while leaving unanswered the damage done by decades of enforcing the racially disparate bans that should be. addressed through equity-oriented legalization.
Booker, who is helping Schumer alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) produce a final legalization bill, said he would work proactively to block all senators who would attempt to push through marijuana banking reform before enacting social justice-focused legalization legislation. .
And Booker told Politico on Wednesday that the cannabis bank was “something that shouldn’t be included” in the NDAA.
The Senate likes to send amendments to the NDAA for a vote by unanimous consent. If a senator objects to an NDAA amendment, he can kill or block him. Booker would not discuss his plans, but said he had “a lot of options as an individual senator” if the amendment came forward.
– Natalie Fertig (@natsfert) September 22, 2021
“It undermines the ability to get comprehensive marijuana reform and the kinds of things that are harder to do like erasing people’s records,” he said, echoing a point made by Schumer in an interview with Marijuana Moment in April. And a spokesperson for the majority leader said his position has not changed in light of developments in the House.
If a senator proposed a ground amendment to the chamber’s version of the defense bill to incorporate SAFE Banking, Booker left open the possibility of getting in his way.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), godfather of the stand-alone Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act, also declined to say whether he would lobby to tie reform to the NDAA and Recount Politico, he would like to “see if we can even make the most complete [reform]- that would be even better.
The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed (D-RI), meanwhile, Recount Roll Call that the issue was not discussed by members of its panel. And bipartisan reform supporters, including Sense Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rand Paul (R-KY), told the outlet they were unsure the Senate would prosecute the marijuana bank via the NDAA. .
Schatz also said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “doesn’t like” the marijuana bank proposal, and therefore “he’s going to have to consult with Republicans in his conference who are in favor of this reform. , but so so far it has blocked it.
Based on these comments, it seems increasingly clear that the effort to adopt SAFE Banking through the must-see defense bill faces a difficult path. And despite bipartisan support for the proposal itself, the question remains whether the negotiators of the competence committees will be able to reach a consensus.
At a first meeting of the House Rules Committee on NDAA on Monday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), who manages the bill for the chamber, acknowledged that while some members might view some amendments as “superfluous” in defense of spending, annual legislation has in the past been used as a vehicle to advance non-German legislation. He added, however, that this has historically required that the issues at issue enjoy broad bipartisan support in order to survive the House-Senate conference committee process.
He did not specifically cite the cannabis bank proposal, but Perlmutter himself said earlier in the hearing that “whatever is superfluous is always in the eyes of the beholder,” signaling that he believes the relevance of its measurement in this context is subject to interpretation.
Smith said that “whatever superfluous things the rules committee decides to tidy up and add to this bill, we go to conference and conference, we work in a bipartisan fashion.”
But beyond Smith and Reed, it will also be up to key members of the main committees that deal with banking matters to decide whether the measure will be transferred to the office of the president of the NDAA.
“We’re not going to shoot anybody here. We’re going to have to work with the jurisdictional committees – not just the presidents, but also the senior members – to come to an agreement on these before moving forward, ”he said. “So if you see an item that you consider superfluous added to the bill, don’t panic. “
The president’s comments on the need for support from the leadership of the jurisdictional committees raise questions as to whether the amendment stands a chance at the conference with the Senate after House approval. Not only Patrick McHenry (R-NC), a ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, voted against the stand-alone SAFE Banking Act this year and in 2019, but on the Senate side, even the Chairman of the Banking Committee , Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was generally half-hearted. on the progress of the reform.
On the flip side, House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) is a supporter of banking reform and presented it during her panel at the last convention. The ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, Pat Toomey (R-PA), for his part has already expressed his support for the advancement of the SAFE Banking Act.
Perlmutter said he appreciates the Senate leadership pushing for a more comprehensive end to the federal marijuana ban – and he agrees with Booker that promoting social fairness is an important goal – but he believes that the SAFE Banking Act is urgently needed to resolve public safety concerns. resulting from the industry’s lack of access to traditional financial institutions.
Some of the strongest supporters of sweeping reform, such as Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act in April although the body took further legalization action this session.
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