All eyes are on the U.S. House as the SAFE Banking Act heads to the floor today.
This is the first standalone cannabis bill to be considered in Congress, and would allow financial institutions to work with legal cannabis businesses despite federal prohibition. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced last week that the bill will be considered under suspension, a process that does not allow lawmakers to make amendments to the bill on the floor and requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
The bill, which passed out of the House Financial Services Committee in March, got an unprecedented hearing in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in July.
And Hoyer told Cannabis Wire on Friday, “[I] believe it has the votes to pass.”
However, there is opposition from advocacy groups, and some of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are pushing for broader legalization legislation to be considered before banking. In a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Hoyer on September 17, seven advocacy groups, including Drug Policy Alliance and American Civil Liberties Union, said they are “concerned” that if the SAFE Banking Act passes in the House, “it will undermine broader and more inclusive efforts to reform our country’s marijuana laws.”
“The banking bill does not address marijuana reform holistically,” the letter said. “Instead, it narrowly addresses the issues of banking and improved access to financial services, measures that would benefit the marijuana industry, not communities who have felt the brunt of prohibition.”
Hoyer acknowledged these concerns to Cannabis Wire. “It is clearly not enough,” Hoyer added, of the SAFE Banking Act that. “We must reform our laws to decriminalize and deschedule marijuana. There are a number of bills that address this, including legislation from Representative Barbara Lee, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, and Representative Jerry Nadler, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to make progress on this issue.”
Hoyer was referencing legislation such as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, introduced by House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler, which would decriminalize and deschedule cannabis at the federal level and use tax revenues from cannabis sales to invest in communities most affected by cannabis criminalization.
House Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern and Nadler agreed with Hoyer.
“I think it’s critically important that we move quickly to decriminalize and deschedule cannabis while providing reinvestment, restorative justice, and expungement to persons and communities of color that were and continue to be adversely impacted by the War on Drugs,” McGovern told Cannabis Wire. “That is why I am an original co-sponsor and very strong supporter of the MORE Act. I look forward to voting for the MORE Act as soon as it progresses through the Judiciary Committee.”
Nadler said in a statement on Tuesday that he would vote for the SAFE Banking Act and that he will continue pushing for the MORE Act in the House.
“This bill will address one of the many serious problems that results from the criminalization of marijuana at the federal level,” Nadler said of the SAFE Banking Act. He continued, “As the sponsor of the MORE Act, I also strongly support additional marijuana reform to deschedule marijuana federally and to provide critical assistance and relief to individuals and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the racially biased war on drugs. I am therefore committed to marking up this bill and look forward to working with reform advocates and my colleagues in this important effort going forward.”
Colorado Representative Ed Perlmutter, who introduced the SAFE Banking Act, and other cosponsors of the bill have been talking with their colleagues in the House and also feel confident about the vote, a Perlmutter spokesperson told Cannabis Wire. McGovern’s communications director, Matthew Bonaccorsi also told Cannabis Wire that most Republicans that McGovern has spoken to are supportive of the Act.
Perlmutter recently added two new amendments to the bill—one that clarifies that banking protections will apply to hemp and CBD businesses, and another that prevents financial regulators from going after certain industries, such as firearms, that are considered to be at a higher risk for fraud.
The bill is a top priority for the cannabis industry, which has been aggressively pushing for safe access to financial services since the start of this year. It is the most popular cannabis related legislation in Congress with bipartisan support from 206 co-sponsors in the House.
Cannabis Wire reported earlier this year that major banking and insurance companies and associations such as Wells Fargo, Citigroup, HSBC North America, and the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers have also lobbied on the Act this year.