WASHINGTON — Ahead of the Senate Banking Committee’s much anticipated markup next week of what was the SAFE Banking Act but has evolved into the SAFER—Secure And Fair Enforcement Regulation—Banking Act, we scored this exclusive, if brief, interview with Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
Working from a Capitol on the brink of a government shutdown and trying to tackle an issue that’s evaded supporters for years now, Brown’s sounding bullishly optimistic about their compromise banking measure’s chances this session of Congress.
“Next week, I don't know what the vote will be, but I know we’ll pass it decisively,” Brown exclusively tells Ask a Pol.
The third-term Democrat’s hoping momentum coming out of next week’s markup will send a strong bipartisan signal to the rest of their Senate colleagues, many of whom know little about marijuana beyond just saying “no” right alongside Nancy Reagan, that the measure’s time has come.
The Banking Committee’s diverse ranks provide cover for even some of the Senate’s most ardently anti-cannabis senators, including Democrats like Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire or Jon Tester of Montana, who happens to be a member of the committee. On the Democratic side of the aisle that also includes Rev. Sen. Raphael Warnock who still preaches from Martin Luther King Jr.’s former pulpit in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Weed-wary Republicans who feel the need for a shield (even though marijuana’s way more popular than American politicians are with their 19% approval rating) have a powerful one in the Banking Committee’s ranking member, GOP presidential contender Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. The head of Senate Republican’s campaign arm, the NRSC, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, is also an original sponsor of the measure.
Those strange bedfellows have Brown confident ahead of next week’s hearing.
“We need it strong on both sides so we can get it through the floor. That’s what this is gonna be about,” Brown says.
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The 70-year-old chair says his aim has been to show “strong” support of the new measure on both sides of the proverbial aisle, just as his committee did when it unanimously passed the FEND (or Fentanyl Eradication and Narcotics Deterrence) Off Fentanyl Act or when its members approved the RECOUP (Recovering Executive Compensation Obtained from Unaccountable Practices) Act by a vote of 21-2.
“This one will not be that overwhelming,” Brown admits.
As for all the so-called poison pill proposals that have tanked earlier iterations of the SAFE Banking Act? Brown’s mindful of some potential landmines—”I know there's talk on the credit card bank issue,” he tells us—but he’s not worried about them. Yet.
“I don't see really controversial amendments,” Brown says. “It’s possible, but I think there will be enough agreement that we will keep the bill together.”
From day one of his chairmanship, Brown’s vowed to put the “Housing and Urban Affairs” part of his committee’s title on par with the bankers (and their teams of over-priced lobbyists) who’ve, historically, set much of the agenda.
While Brown may still be on the fence over recreational cannabis, he’s never swayed from arguing any cannabis banking measure must provide the little guys and gals as much access to capital—let alone access to traditional financial services—as the big players in this multi-billion dollar industry.
“We don’t want the cannabis industry to become like big tobacco—concentrating industry power in just a few giant players, hurting workers and pushing out thousands of small businesses, which are more likely to be owned by Black and brown entrepreneurs, women, and veterans,” Brown said at his May hearing. “We want small banks and credit unions, MDIs, and CDFIs to be able to serve small businesses and their workers, and level the playing field in an industry that is increasingly concentrated.”
LISTEN: Matt Laslo’s RAW interview with Banking Chair Sherrod Brown (Sept. 21, 2023)
Since 2006, Matt Laslo’s covered drug policy—from its medicinal promises to the justice system—for Rolling Stone, Playboy, VICE/ VICE News Tonight, The Daily Beast, NPR, et. He runs The LCB—a regionally-focused, national wire service—and he lectures on new media at Johns Hopkins University (MA).