A Watched Pot Never Boils: SAFE Banking on the Backburner Again

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“I’m tellin’ ya, don’t believe the hype.”

– The Reytons, On the Back Burner

Advocates of the SAFE Banking Act – who by now must be feeling a little like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football – were dealt another setback last week. The beleaguered proposal finds itself simmering in committee just in time for Congress’s August recess.

The SAFE Banking Act would “create protections for financial institutions that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses.” More specifically, it “would remove uncertainties surrounding federally regulated financial institutions, allowing financial institutions to bank the legal cannabis industry with less legal, regulatory, and reputational risk.”

When asked about the bill recently, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) responded with a simple “we’re working on it.” Notably, Schumer declined to blame Republicans for the bill’s delays. Don Murphy, the director of Government Relations for the Marijuana Leadership Campaign, believes that this signals the end of a yearslong “blame game” between Democrats and Republicans over SAFE’s stagnation. Murphy also thinks Schumer’s comments were a “silver lining” and a sign of progress despite the bill’s slow movement through Congress.

Although Senate Banking Committee infighting keeps stalling the bill, senators on both sides of the aisle appear ready to vote on it. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is “optimistic that” the committee will be ready “to work through the [bill’s] details” when they come back after the August recess. And Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), the lead SAFE cosponsor on the other side of the aisle, pushed for a vote before August, arguing that Republicans were ready to vote the bill through on the Senate floor. 

The question remains whether the bill will lose all its steam during this month’s recess. In a hopeful development for advocates, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently signed on as a cosponsor. This brings the “total number of cosponsors on the bill to 42, including eight Republican members.”

With each passing year, the SAFE Banking Act sits up there on Capitol Hill. And with each passing year, it’s just a bill. If that episode of Schoolhouse Rock were written about SAFE, it might sound a little bit more like The Killers – with the SAFE bill begging the Banking Committee, “you know you gotta help me out, yea, oh, don’t you put me on the back burner.”

When we first wrote about this bill back in 2019, we knew that the SAFE Banking Act had “a long, long journey ahead.” Maybe one of these days, Hunter.