You may have seen the news that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, N.Y., put his full weight behind legal cannabis reform last week. Democratic Sens. Cory Booker, N.J., and Ron Wyden, O.R., joined the effort and flanked Schumer at the press conference. It was an historic moment in the history of cannabis prohibition.
The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, in its draft form, would allow states to support the growing cannabis industry. It would de-schedule “marijuana” as a Schedule I narcotic, opening up a world of possibilities. It was a big step by Democrats, even if President Biden still opposes decriminalizing cannabis.
But did you notice a senior GOP senator quietly supporting cannabis banking reform a day earlier?
SAFE Banking Act gets ninth GOP sponsor
On July 13, Sen. Roy Blunt, M.O., signed on as a co-sponsor to S. 910, the SAFE Banking Act of 2021. This according to GovTrack, a site that provides updates on legislation. Blunt’s Communications Director didn’t respond to an email requesting comment on the reasoning. No statements were issued by Blunt about his support.
While we don’t know what prompted the change, Blunt made clear in April that he doesn’t support federal cannabis decriminalization.
“I don’t see any significant Republican support for decriminalizing, nor would I imagine there’d be a majority of senators who would decriminalize,” Blunt told reporters on April 21, according to Bloomberg. A day earlier, the House approved their version, H.R. 1996, in a bipartisan 321-101 vote.
Blunt’s support for relaxing banking rules would be encouraging, were it not for Booker’s remarks the following day.
Does Booker support the SAFE Banking Act?
“I don’t know about others members of the Senate,” Booker said last week. “I will lay myself down to do everything I can to stop an easy banking bill as opposed to focusing on the restorative justice aspects.”
Booker’s comments when introducing the CAO Act draft, which would decriminalize cannabis federally, worried the cannabis industry. Even though the draft includes banking rule changes, cannabis stock prices took a hit after the announcement.
Yahoo Finance pushed Booker to clarify his position yesterday.
“Don’t get me wrong, I support the SAFE Banking Act.” Booker said. “For me, a good bipartisan bill like the banking bill is a necessary sweetener to get people to move along on the equitable justice elements that are really critical.”
Booker’s own comments show that he understands the need for bipartisanship. However, many Republican senators took no interest. If Booker continues to insist on an all-or-nothing approach, cannabis banking could be safely smothered in committee, as was the 2019 bill.
The chances of SAFE Banking Act passing
Senate bill 910, protecting cannabis businesses and their financial institutions, now has 39 co-sponsors, including nine Republicans. That might seem a hopeful sign, but in a divided Senate, any legislation needs 60 votes to pass. Finding 21 like-minded senators would be hard enough. However. when a single senator can prevent a floor vote. Booker doesn’t need to “lay himself down.” He’ll just notify leadership.
GovTrack gives a prognosis on odds of a particular bill becoming law. The assessment of a 13% chance still seems accurate, if not high. With Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown, O.H.-D, refusing to schedule markup on the bill, and Booker strongly opposing it, SAFE Banking seems dead.
This doesn’t mean that cannabis banking reform won’t happen this session. There are other bills, including larger appropriations bills that can be passed with a simple majority. The MORE Act and CAO Act remain possibilities, as well, though less likely.
#SAFEBankingWatch will continue to track news, but if cannabis banking reform is passed before the mid-terms, it’s not likely to be via the SAFE Banking Act.
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