US: Senate cannabis banking sponsor gives details about forthcoming ‘SAFE Plus’ reform package

A key U.S. senator believes “it’s time to close the deal” on a cannabis reform package that he says will include provisions to protect banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses, as well as equity components to build support from lawmakers who have held out for broader justice-focused change. However, a key financial services regulator is tempering expectations about the prospects of Congress getting the job done this session.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the sponsor of the standalone Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, spoke at the PBC Conference on Thursday, discussing the so-called “SAFE Banking Plus” bill that sources say is near completion following bicameral and bipartisan talks.

While the final text has not been released—and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) previously said that the cannabis omnibus legislation likely wouldn’t be advanced until after the November midterm elections—Merkley said that proposals to facilitate expungements of cannabis convictions (specifically those that occurred in now-legal states) and fund community grant and reinvestment programs are expected to be included.

That would help address pushback from advocates over the standalone SAFE Banking Act, which is viewed as principally favorable to large industry interests without deliberately addressing concerns about equity in the market.

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