Marijuana reform: Sen. Cory Booker clarifies stance on key banking bill

After introducing new draft legislation last week to end the federal prohibition of marijuana alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Oreg.), Sen. Cory Booker made it a point to emphasize that any marijuana legislation that didn't also correct America's failed "war on drugs" wouldn't be going far enough.

At the press conference unveiling the progressive bill, known as the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which seeks to expunge the records of non-violent cannabis offenders, Booker noted he'd do everything he could to stop other marijuana reform bills that lack social reforms but offer ways for "corporations to make a lot more money off of this." Cannabis stocks sold off as investors interpreted that as a slight at the more moderate SAFE Banking Act, which would open access to traditional financial services for cannabis companies that have had to largely operate as cash-only businesses.

In a new interview with Yahoo Finance Wednesday, Booker clarified his stance a bit to affirm his support for the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act, conceding it could be a sweetener to get moderates on board with more progressive reforms.

“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."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to unveil their plan to end federal marijuana prohibition. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to unveil their plan to end federal marijuana prohibition. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images) (Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images)

Proponents of the SAFE Banking Act note that it has successfully passed the House four times with bipartisan support, but never made it to the Senate for a vote when the chamber was under Republican control. While the bill lacks an outright focus on restorative justice, advocates note that the bill does address issues around access to banking that impacts minority entrepreneurs and corporations alike. The bill's co-sponsor in the House, Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D., Colo.), has also repeatedly warned that cannabis workers having to handle large amounts of cash remains a public safety issue.

Ending "the nightmare" of marijuana prohibition

Booker said he saw himself as a key proponent in the Senate for getting any sort of reform through. “I feel like I am one of their greatest champions when it comes to ending the nightmare of prohibition and the ridiculousness of so many businesses having to operate in cash that increases danger,” he said.

Still, uncertainty remains over how the battle among Democrat leaders might shake out over an "all or nothing" approach to marijuana reform. Leaders of some of the largest cannabis companies, like Canopy Growth CEO David Klein, have supported both the SAFE Banking Act and Booker's more ambitious Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

"If you're going to start having the discussion around Safe Banking, the question that I have is why not try to go all the way? Why not try to fully legalize cannabis, create a federal structure for regulating cannabis and use some of the excise taxes that would be imposed from that federal program to reinvest in communities that have disproportionately been impacted by cannabis prohibition," Klein said.

For his part, Booker called on others on the corporate side to not neglect advocating for more than just their corporate interests.

“I’m hoping that all the industries out there that know that they’re going to make tremendous profits join me in standing up for what I think is the greatest act of patriotism there in saying, ‘I’m not going to put my interest alone. I’m actually going to look out for my fellow American. I’m actually going to pledge to them that I’m going to fight for those people who are in economic devastation because of a nonviolent marijuana charge, that I’m going to make sure that we take care of everybody,'” he said.

Zack Guzman is an anchor for Yahoo Finance Live as well as a senior writer covering entrepreneurship, crypto, cannabis, startups, and breaking news at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @zGuz.

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