Senate panel advances weed bill in historic step

WASHINGTON — The Senate Banking Committee took a historic step Wednesday by advancing marijuana-related legislation to the floor for the first time.

The legislation, known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation Banking Act, would allow legal marijuana businesses to use major financial and banking institutions. The committee reported out the bill by a 14-9 vote with the support of Republicans Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Steve Daines of Montana and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. Only one Democrat, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, voted against approving the bill for floor consideration.

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Under current federal law, banks and creditors can face federal prosecution if they provide services to businesses selling pot.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning that he would soon bring the legislation to the floor for full Senate consideration. Senators are then expected to have the chance to offer amendments.

A person smokes marijuana in New York on May 1, 2021.A person smokes marijuana in New York on May 1, 2021.Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images file

“For too long, cannabis businesses have been forced to rely primarily on cash transactions, no credit or debit cards,” Schumer said. “Dealing only in cash stifles these businesses’ growth, opens them up to so many risks, makes them easy targets for theft, robbery and other crimes. No industry has the ability to thrive if they can’t access banking infrastructure, especially not an industry that’s growing as quickly and is as new as the cannabis industry.”

In a statement, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said that advancing the measure out of committee was a “historic moment” and that he is “committed to building bipartisan momentum to finally get a bill signed into law that ends the cannabis cash economy and improves public safety across the nation.”

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Even if the so-called SAFER Act passes in the Senate, its fate in the House is less certain.

Some Republicans in leadership roles, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, have voted for the bill in previous years. Now in control of the gavel, McCarthy has not said whether he would prioritize the effort in this Congress given the slim majority that has complicated his tenure.

Julie Tsirkin

Julie Tsirkin is a correspondent covering Capitol Hill.

Rebecca Shabad

Rebecca Shabad is a politics reporter for NBC News based in Washington.

Liz Brown-Kaiser

Liz Brown-Kaiser covers Capitol Hill for NBC News.

Frank Thorp Vcontributed.