Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, clarified his stance on a cannabis banking bill last week, telling Yahoo Finance he supports the legislation, which would provide protections for banks that service the cannabis industry.
Booker’s comments last week follow a statement he made during a press conference this month, announcing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), comprehensive draft legislation that would decriminalize the drug and expunge federal nonviolent marijuana crimes. When asked during the press conference about the future of the SAFE Banking Act, Booker said he would "lay myself down" to block the bill if comprehensive reform isn’t approved first.
But Booker clarified those comments last week. "Don’t get me wrong, I support the SAFE Banking Act. I think it’s a phenomenal bill," he 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 stance on the SAFE Banking Act and his more comprehensive bill, whose co-sponsors include Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, signals a divide among Democratic lawmakers over the order in which they believe cannabis legislation should take effect.
"The banking bill only deals with a small part of this, but not what needs to be done. We need a broad comprehensive bill," Schumer told reporters this month.
While Democrats successfully passed the SAFE Banking Act in the House in April, the push from Senate Democrats to enact comprehensive reform before the narrow banking bill could sideline SAFE Banking, which some say only serves the interests of the banking industry.
"I’m hoping that all the industries out there that know that they’re going to make tremendous profits join me in standing up for what I think is the greatest act of patriotism there in saying, ‘I’m not going to put my interest alone. I’m actually going to look out for my fellow American. I’m actually going to pledge to them that I’m going to fight for those people who are in economic devastation because of a nonviolent marijuana charge, that I’m going to make sure that we take care of everybody,'" Booker told Yahoo Finance last week.
But not everyone is convinced the CAOA has a chance to become law, even with Democrats in control of the House and Senate.
The bill’s sweeping reforms could deter lawmakers from putting their full support behind it, said William Bogot, co-chair of the cannabis law practice group at Fox Rothschild LLP.
Bogot called the draft bill an "overshooting wish-list" that will likely face an uphill battle to become law in its current form.
"[T]he Discussion Draft will be negotiated for a long time, both before it is ever introduced as a bill and in both houses," he told Banking Dive this month.
The SAFE Banking Act, he argued, is not as controversial and disputed as the CAOA by either party and would provide immediate relief to the largely cash-based cannabis industry, a sector that banks have largely refused to serve due to cannabis’s federal classification as a Schedule 1 drug.
"While politicians acknowledge that the challenges of decriminalization and commerce are intertwined, when they argue that one has to happen before the other is exactly why we still don't have reform," Kevin Hart, founder and CEO at Green Check Verified, a firm that provides cannabis banking and advisory services to financial institutions, told Banking Dive this month.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Perlmutter D-CO, the main sponsor of the House-passed bill, has continued to urge lawmakers to pass SAFE Banking in addition to broader reform.
"I urge the Senate to take immediate action to pass the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act to reduce the significant public safety risk threatening our communities," he tweeted this month, referring to instances where some cash-only dispensaries have become targets of theft.