Senate Dems: Cannabis Banking Must Be Part of Broad Legalization Bill

Key Democratic senators vowed Wednesday to block marijuana banking legislation unless it is enacted as part of a comprehensive federal cannabis legalization measure.

“I will lay myself down and do everything I can to stop an easy banking bill,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said at a Capitol Hill news conference. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed, say that a banking bill would only deal “with a small part” of the issue.

Schumer, Booker and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Or., released a draft proposal that would end the “failed federal prohibition of cannabis.” “This is monumental,” Schumer said, adding that he will use his clout as majority leader to push the bill.

The bill would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act; that would allow cannabis to be taxed and regulated. It also would expunge federal marijuana arrests and convictions from offenders’ records—a key provision pushed by many civil rights groups.

However, the bill is likely to need 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a possible filibuster of the measure.

The House has passed marijuana banking legislation that would provide financial institutions with a safe harbor from regulatory sanctions for providing services to a cannabis-related business in states where the substance is legal. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., the leading sponsor of that measure, has urged the Senate to consider the banking bill separate from any other cannabis bill.

However, Senate Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has said his panel would not consider such a bill if it did not include an overhaul of federal sentencing rules.

The Credit Union National Association and the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions have endorsed marijuana banking legislation, but have not taken a position on overall legalization efforts.

Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said that while he is pleased with the legalization bill, he is concerned that the insistence that cannabis banking be enacted as part of a larger bill could hurt the political chances of a banking bill.

“Closing the door on broadly supported incremental reforms like the [banking bill] while the Senate seeks compromise on farther-reaching bills hurts the possibilities for consensus and ignores the very real needs of small business operators who have repeatedly said that access to banking services and traditional lending is an existential issue,” he said.

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