Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said last week that he is “open to compromises” on federal cannabis policy reform, indicating he would support a hybrid bill pairing social equity provisions with legislation to provide traditional banking services for legal cannabis businesses. The suggestion of a compromise follows previous assertions from Booker that he would block the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act from passing before legislation to decriminalize marijuana and address harms caused by the War on Drugs is signed into law.
The junior senator from New Jersey said in an interview with NJ Spotlight Newsposted online on July 29 that SAFE Banking is “very important” legislation, and that he is a “supporter of that.” He added, however, that he wants the bill to be “balanced with us having some restorative justice as well.”
Booker’s talk of compromise legislation came only days after he and Senate Majority Chuck Schumer of New York and Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden of Oregon, both fellow Democrats, introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), a bill to legalize cannabis at the federal level. Under the legislation, marijuana would be removed from the nation’s list of banned drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, leaving the states to set their cannabis regulatory policies. The comprehensive also includes provisions to tax regulated cannabis businesses, with revenue dedicated to funding economic development and restorative justice programs.
Booker told NJ Spotlight News that the CAOA is a “gold standard bill” for national marijuana legalization. But he added that he is also receptive to a more measured pace of cannabis policy reform.
“I’m open to compromises that are going to achieve my goals of safety, of investment opportunities that are equal for business communities and, finally, to make sure we do something for all of these people right now who have marijuana possession charges that deserve some relief from the impact that it’s having on their economic and family wellbeing,” Booker said.
Both Schumer and Booker have acknowledged that they might not have the 60 votes necessary to get the comprehensive CAOA passed in the Senate, where it will be a hard sell with many conservative Republican senators and some moderate Democrats. As an alternative, the majority leader has reportedly been holding bipartisan talks with members of both houses of Congress on an incremental approach to reform, including the banking bill that could get enough support in the Senate to pass this year.
Booker’s Reservations About Cannabis Banking Bill
Booker’s suggestion of a compromise contrasts with his prior opposition to the SAFE Banking Act. When the legislation was introduced in the Senate nearly three years ago, Booker noted that the bill did not include social equity provisions to address the harm caused by generations of cannabis prohibition and the War on Drugs.
“As the SAFE Banking Act now heads to the Senate, we can and we must do more. With this legislation, we can both address the pressing need for cannabis businesses to access financial institutions and provide real restorative justice for those most harmed by the failed War on Drugs,” Booker said in a September 2019 statement. “It’s simply not enough as it stands without reinvestment in communities most hurt by the failed drug war and while people of color are left to languish in federal prisons for marijuana-related offenses. Low-income Americans and communities of color have been devastated by the War on Drugs—we should be repairing the damage inflicted on these communities. The end we seek is not just legalization or access to financial institutions, it’s justice.”
Booker reiterated his opposition to passing cannabis banking legislation without social equity provisions in July 2021 when the trio of Democratic senators released what was characterized as a discussion draft of the CAOA. The senator said that passing the SAFE Banking Act alone would take pressure off lawmakers to pass broader reforms.
“I will lay myself down to do everything I can to stop an easy banking bill that’s going to allow all these corporations to make a lot more money off of this instead of focusing on restorative justice aspects,” the senator said at the time.
Booker clarified the comments the following week, saying, “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.”
After signaling that he is open to a compromise, Booker said the deal would likely include the banking bill with legislation to expunge federal marijuana convictions.
“It would have to be a SAFE Banking Plus bill” to receive his support for comprehensive legislation like the CAOA, Booker told Cheddar News on August 3. “I know there’s a lot of small businesses that are really suffering right now. They can’t access the financial industry to get loans for it. They can’t find a way to get out of using enormous sums of cash, which end up making them targets for criminal activity.”
“I know the urgency for SAFE Banking for the little woman or little guy in terms of getting this done,” he added. “But I also know that if we get that done—which is being pushed by large corporations and other large financial interests—we will leave behind the millions of Americans who had themselves or their families been affected by these low-level drug charges.”