The U.S. House of Representatives has again debated and passed legislation to expand cannabis industry access to banking by a 321 to 101 vote. While the SAFE Banking Act of 2021 was expected to sail through the House on Monday, it remains far from certain that the Senate will follow suit.
The House is no stranger to the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, or H.R. 1996, which would eliminate the threat of federal enforcement against banks and other financial institutions that work with cannabis businesses, thus expanding cannabis industry access to financial services. The bill would also offer protections to ancillary businesses, like real estate companies and accountants, for example. Lawmakers in the chamber passed the Act in a historic vote back in 2019, but it then stalled in the Senate.
This year, things might play out differently due to the slim Democratic majority in the Senate, among other factors. For example, cannabis businesses were declared “essential” during pandemic-related shutdowns, but while other businesses tried to steer clear of cash to reduce spread, many of these businesses had to remain cash-only.
Virginia Rep. Bob Good kicked off Monday’s debate on the bill by sharing that he’s opposed to the SAFE Banking Act because it’s about “legitimizing and bankrolling the marijuana industry and making legalization inevitable.”
“We’re not even directly debating our drug laws. No, we’re cowardly debating if we should reward states that are undermining the rule of law. Despite what the swamp says, we don’t need recreational marijuana.”
Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter said that 47 states, four US territories, and the District of Columbia have passed some kind of cannabis law, meaning that 318 million Americans live in a state with some form of legal cannabis. Perlmutter emphasized that the bill is about “public safety,” “accountability” and “respecting states’ rights.”
“We need these businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, payroll accounts, lines of credit, credit cards, and more,” Perlmutter said. “This will improve transparency and accountability and help law enforcement root out illegal transactions to prevent tax evasion, money laundering, and other white collar crime.”
Cannabis businesses have also become targets of burglaries and, at times, employees have been hurt or even killed.
The SAFE Banking Act will “reduce the risk of violent crime in our communities,” Perlmutter said. Cannabis conversations in Congress have changed over the years, Perlmutter said during a news conference the day after the Act was reintroduced last month, adding that he has reintroduced versions of this legislation since 2013.
“When I first started bringing it up, people would chuckle,” Perlmutter said. ”There’s no more chuckle factor. Everyone knows this is a serious issue that Congress needs to address.”
On Monday, Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers referred to himself as an “unlikely” supporter of the SAFE Banking Act because he’s opposed to adult use legalization. Stivers said that he “came to this” because of the ripple effects of federal prohibition on ancillary businesses. Stivers said that a nutrient company located just outside his district that counts 25% of their revenue from the state-legal cannabis industry is “being threatened” with potentially losing their banking services.
“We’ve got to make sure that we stand up for safety and stand up for common sense. That’s what this bill does,” Stivers said, adding that the SAFE Banking Act “encourages safety” because it would allow money in a bank account to be frozen, if necessary, and tracked.
“That’s why a lot of folks in law enforcement like this bill,” Stivers said.
Stivers said during last month’s news conference announcing the reintroduction of SAFE that he’s “had conversations” with Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, Ranking Member of the Senate Banking Committee and Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, a current member of the Committee and its former chair.
“We showed that we can get great Republican support on this bill last year with 91 Republican votes for it. And I feel confident that there will be a lot of Republican senators that will vote for this when it gets a vote in the Senate,” Stivers said.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden are expected to release a draft of a broader cannabis reform bill, with an emphasis on justice, any day now.
Perlmutter said during Monday’s debate that there’s still much to do on cannabis law reform, and that he hopes the SAFE Banking Act serves as an “ice breaker for those in the House to take up other reforms and finally remove the conflict between state and federal laws.”
Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said after the reintroduction of the SAFE Banking Act last month that broader cannabis reforms are “coming,” but that the SAFE Banking Act needed to be prioritized, and that it is “distinct” from how some lawmakers “feel about comprehensive reform.”
“There’s no need,” Blumenauer said, “for us to wait on the banking issue. This is an issue that is putting the public at risk.”
Cannabis banking has attracted major lobbying registrations, as Cannabis Wire has reported.
SAFE Banking has prompted some heavy-hitter lobbying registrations, including major financial institutions and entities. Here’s a quick summary, according to Cannabis Wire analyses of lobbying data:
- Wells Fargo
- HSBC North America
- American Family Mutual Insurance Company
- M&T Bank Corporation
- Canopy Growth
- Surterra Holdings (now Parallel)
- Curaleaf Inc
- PAX Labs
- Cannabis Wire has also covered the myriad cities and towns that have lobbied on the SAFE Banking Act, from the cities of Sacramento and Oakland to the Office of the Governor, State of Colorado and the State of Nevada.