The House sponsor of a bipartisan marijuana banking reform bill isn’t giving up the fight to get the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act enacted this year, introducing an amendment to a must-pass defense bill on Thursday that would incorporate the reform.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) filed the amendment to the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This marks the second year in a row that the congressman has pursued the cannabis banking policy change through the large-scale annual defense legislation.
The House included the SAFE Banking Act in its version of that bill last year, but could not reach an agreement with the Senate to enact it as part of the final package. The House Armed Services Committee marked up the 2023 version of NDAA last week, and now the marijuana language is again being offered as an amendment. The House Rules Committee will decide which submitted amendments can be cleared for floor consideration at an upcoming meeting that has not yet been scheduled.
For those who’ve been following Perlmutter and the banking bill, this doesn’t come as an especially big surprise. He’s been adamant about getting the reform across the finish line through any possible legislative vehicle. This latest development comes after congressional leadership agreed to exclude the SAFE Banking Act from a large-scale manufacturing bill known as the America COMPETES Act that’s moving through bicameral conference.
“As I’ve repeatedly said, I will pursue any and all legislative avenues to get SAFE Banking across the finish line this year,” Perlmutter said in a press release on Thursday. “We have a critical window of opportunity between now and the end of the year to enact common sense cannabis reforms starting with access to the banking system. Continued inaction on this issue is dangerous and neglectful, and continues to put communities, businesses, employees and patients at risk across this country.”
The House Armed Services Committee approved two separate amendments to NDAA last week that deal with marijuana-related issues in the armed services.
The first, from Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD), concerns cannabis sentencing standards under military code. The other from, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), calls for a Department of Defense (DOD)-led study into the medical efficacy of cannabis over opioids for certain conditions.
Perlmutter, meanwhile, noted that 14 veterans service organizations (VSOs) endorsed the SAFE Banking Act in a letter to leadership last month.
“The call to serve should be backed by service and support when the troops come home. Offering SAFE in the NDAA is a matter of national security and preparedness and a reflection of our country’s strength,” Gary Hess, CEO of the Veterans Alliance for Holistic Alternatives, said. “SAFE would help the tens of thousands of veterans who already work in the cannabis industry and protect the millions of others who are turning to it for therapeutic options and future employment opportunities.”
Cosponsors of the SAFE Banking Act amendment to NDAA include Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Warren Davidson (R-OH), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Barbara Lee (D-CA).
Another possibility for the marijuana banking bill would be to include the legislation is a package of incremental reforms that is apparently being discussed as an alternative to a comprehensive legalization bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and colleagues are finalizing.
Still, the lack of SAFE Banking in America COMPETES was a setback for supporters, especially considering the number of lawmakers from both chambers who insisted that the issue is a priority and vowed to push for its inclusion.
The conference committee on the America COMPETES Act held its first meeting on that bill last month, with multiple appointed conferees urging the body to attach the SAFE Banking Act language in the interest of economic competitiveness and public safety.
The standalone Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act currently has 42 cosponsors, including nine Republicans.
That reluctance on the Senate side to advance the issue was also the subject of a letter that Perlmutter sent to leadership last month.
In a previous statement to Marijuana Moment, Perlmutter pointed out that “more than two-thirds of the conferees have already voted for or cosponsored the SAFE Banking Act.”
The congressman has even made a point to talk about enacting the reform legislation during committee hearings on ostensibly unrelated or wider-ranging legislation, like at a recent House Rules Committee hearing.
Despite recently saying that he’s “confident” that the Senate will take up his bill this session, Perlmutter recognized that while he’s supportive of revisions related to criminal justice reform, taxation, research and other issues, he knows that “as we expand this thing, then we start losing votes, particularly Republican votes and we got enough votes in the Senate to do it” as is.
Additionally, nearly a quarter of all senators sent a bipartisan letter this month urging that cannabis banking be included in the final bill.
Congress has been facing pressure on multiple fronts to get the marijuana banking bill enacted this year.
That includes pressure from the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS), banking associations representing all 50 states and one U.S. territory and the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA).
Outside of the direct financial sector, an organization representing mayors from across the U.S. adopted a resolution this month imploring Congress to pass a bill to safeguard banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses from federal penalties.
The GOP Senate sponsor of the banking bill recently released an ad that features the CEO of the Montana Bankers Association explaining what he sees as the benefits of the incremental reform legislation.
Separately, a coalition of marijuana advocacy groups recently launched a campaign meant to promote education about the need for the incremental reform, highlighting what they see as the social and economic equity advantages of freeing up businesses in the industry to access traditional financial services.
Last month, a coalition of cannabis regulators representing 40 U.S. states and territories separately explained to Congress what the current lack of access to traditional financial services means—not just for the businesses and the programs they oversee, but for the regulators navigating this federal-state conflict themselves.
The non-partisan Cannabis Regulators Association (CANNRA), which doesn’t take a stand on legalization itself, sent a letter to congressional leaders, outlining areas of concern for their states’ respective marijuana markets under the status quo of federal prohibition.
But not everyone is accepting the idea that SAFE Banking alone will provide the relief and resources to disadvantaged communities that proponents are arguing it will.
Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition has also weighed in on the cannabis banking conundrum, arguing in a Marijuana Moment op-ed that the SAFE Banking Act is insufficient. The group says advocates should push to add provisions to the bill providing interim safeguards for Community Financial Depository Institutions (CFDIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), as well as measures to prevent predatory lending and promote loan availability for people from disadvantaged communities.
Meanwhile, the governor, attorney general and other top officials in Washington State sent a letter to congressional leaders last month, again emphasizing the urgent need to pass marijuana banking reform as a public safety imperative.
The number of banks that report working with marijuana businesses ticked up again near the end of 2021, according to recently released federal data.
It’s not clear if the increase is related to congressional moves to pass a bipartisan cannabis banking reform bill, but the figures from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) signal that financial institutions continue to feel more comfortable servicing businesses in state-legal markets.
Some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House, too. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue in December.