The House of Representatives approved a bill last week to protect banks that service marijuana businesses. But remarkable as it was to see the first standalone piece of cannabis reform legislation clear the chamber, perhaps even more impressive was the extent to which it garnered bipartisan support.
Every single Democratic present on the floor except one (229 members) voted in favor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). And nearly half of all Republicans (91 members) joined them. While advocates anticipated that it would pass, the final tally, 321-103, exceeded many expectations.
What changed since the last time Congress voted on cannabis banking?
This was a first-of-its kind vote on standalone marijuana legislation in the chamber. But a useful comparison comes from 2014, when the House voted on a similar but more limited appropriations amendment aimed at preventing the Treasury Department from penalizing banks that service cannabis businesses.
That measure passed 231-192 (though it was not enacted into law after the Senate declined to consider the provision). Among Democrats, 186 approved the earlier amendment, while 12 opposed it. About half as many Republicans voted for the 2014 amendment (45 members) than supported the SAFE Banking Act last week, while 180 voted against it.
In other words, Democratic support for a marijuana banking fix increased by 43 votes, or 21 percent, from 2014 to 2019. Republican support grew by 46 votes, or 68 percent, during that time period.
Among those present for both votes (235 members), here’s who flipped from “no” to “yes”:
- Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY)
- Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT)
- Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)
- Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK)
- Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA)
- Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX)
- Rep. Charles Fleischmann (R-TN)
- Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX)
- Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH)
- Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)
- Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
- Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)
- Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH)
- Rep. William Keating (D-MA)
- Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA)
- Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)
- Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL)
- Rep. Billy Long (R-MO)
- Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)
- Rep. David McKinley (R-WV)
- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
- Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)
- Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX)
- Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA)
- Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN)
- Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY)
- Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN)
- Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL)
- Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA)
- Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)
- Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH)
- Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA)
- Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO)
- Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)
- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
- Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR)
- Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL)
And “yes” to “no”:
- Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN)
- Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT)
All told, 44 members voted differently this year as compared to 2014, including 37 who flipped from “no” to “yes” and two who went in the other direction. Two lawmakers who previously voted “yes”—Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC)—were absent for this latest vote. One former “no” vote, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), was absent for this vote. And finally, two members who were absent in 2014 voted “no” this round, Reps. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) and Bradley Byrne (R-AL).
State marijuana action matters.
While support for letting banks service marijuana businesses isn’t necessarily indicative of support for legalization itself, it’s clear that the bill would benefit legal states, and Republican votes in favor of the legislation were significantly higher among those representing such states. Of GOP members representing states with either full adult-use or comprehensive medical cannabis programs, 41 opposed the SAFE Banking Act.
(The following analysis doesn’t include those states allowing CBD only.)
GOP members who voted “no” representing legal states:
- Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI)
- Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ)
- Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)
- Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL)
- Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO)
- Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA)
- Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)
- Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA)
- Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
- Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL)
- Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)
- Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT)
- Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ)
- Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA)
- Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO)
- Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD)
- Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)
- Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI)
- Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA)
- Rep. John Joyce (R-PA)
- Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL)
- Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA)
- Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
- Rep. Robert Latta (R-OH)
- Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ)
- Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK)
- Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI)
- Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK)
- Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)
- Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL)
- Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA)
- Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL)
- Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
- Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO)
- Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT)
- Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH)
- Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO)
- Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI)
- Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL)
- Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH)
- Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR)
Though it’s not clear from this vote which members might be inclined to extend their support for modest marijuana banking reform to broader policy changes such as descheduling, those who voted “no” would in all likelihood not be supportive of comprehensive reform at this point.
It was easy to find the outlier among Democrats, as only one member defected and opposed the bill: Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), whose office did not respond to a request for comment about why the congresswoman voted against the legislation.
But there were also some notable votes in favor of the SAFE Banking Act that came from Republican leadership in the House.
The highest ranking Republican in the House, Minority Leader McCarthy, voted in favor of the bill, while the rest of the party’s leadership—Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Policy Committee Chair Gary Palmer (R-AL)—voted no. (McCarthy is the only one of the bunch representing a state with a legal cannabis market.)
Collins, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, which plays a key role in shaping federal drug laws, changed his vote to “yes” after having been opposed to the 2014 amendment.
Stivers, an original cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act who voted in favor of it on Wednesday, voted against the previous amendment with the narrower scope.
Barr of Kentucky flipped to a “yes” even after voting against the measure in the House Financial Services Committee earlier this year. It’s likely that a last-minute amendment clarifying that the banking protections also apply to hemp and CBD businesses was a factor in his decision.
Griffith, Perry and Roe each voted “yes” this round, possibly related to their more recent involvement in medical cannabis-related legislation.
Two Democrats who voted against the banking amendment in 2014 and who are now facing primary challenges from progressive opponents—Lipinski and Cuellar—opted to approve the SAFE Banking Act this time.
Finally, Wasserman Schultz, who has stood out among Democrats in her longstanding opposition to marijuana reform even as a former chair of the party, voted in favor of the bill on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s vote is the latest example of waning support for the status quo of prohibition in the most marijuana friendly Congress in history.
Though not a vote on ending federal prohibition, the banking legislation represented what many advocates regard as the first step toward legalization, and the result proved promising for the prospects of broader reform. It’s less clear how the bill will fare in the Republican-controlled Senate, which officially received the SAFE Banking Act from the House on Friday, but the largely bipartisan nature of the vote could help push it forward in the other chamber.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID), whose panel already held a hearing on the issue earlier this year, said he wants to have a vote on cannabis banking legislation by the end of the year—a notable evolution from his previous criticism of advancing such a reform while marijuana remains federally illegal.
“The fact that it got nearly 100 percent of Dems and pretty close to 50 percent of Republican demonstrates how mainstream cannabis reform has come,” Michael Liszewski, senior regulatory affairs counsel at 4Front Ventures, told Marijuana Moment. “Even [Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)] couldn’t vote against. The fact that so many Republicans supported it shows that it can be successful in the Senate.”
“I won’t pretend to assume that we have a proportionate level of support for SAFE in the Senate, but even with a reasonable drop off, we can get to 60,” he said. “And now we can encourage all of the Republicans who voted in favor of SAFE to urge the senators from their states to cosponsor SAFE.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Trade Associations And Civil Rights Groups Send Mixed Messages On Marijuana Banking To Senate
A coalition of trade associations sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee leadership on Thursday, urging a vote on legislation to protect financial institutions that service state-legal marijuana businesses.
But those senators are also feeling pressure from leading civil rights groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which sent an earlier letter insisting that they not allow cannabis banking to detract from more comprehensive reform that addresses social equity.
The organizations involved in the latest letter—including the American Bankers Association and Credit Union National Association—said that advancing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act or similar legislation is pivotal to ensuring that stakeholders receive needed clarity and are shielded from being penalized by federal regulators.
The letter, addressed to Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), emphasized the bipartisan nature of the House passage of the bill in September and the growing movement at the state level to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes.
“Our organizations support an initial legislative step that allows the legal cannabis industry into the banking system,” the groups, which also include the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, International Council of Shopping Centers and National Association of REALTORS, wrote. “Ultimately, protecting law-abiding financial institutions and ancillary businesses from their currently untenable position and addressing increasing public safety concerns.”
As more states reform their marijuana laws, however, “distribution, sale, possession, research, transaction, housing, employment, and a broader landscape of cannabis is becoming increasingly problematic” for stakeholders under federal prohibition.
“Ultimately, this creates more legal and security concerns that impact the operations and safety of businesses and consumers,” they said. “Finally, the lack of an available safe harbor for cannabis will continue to challenge the full adoption and deployment of the legal hemp and CBD products market in the U.S. due to the inextricable link between hemp and cannabis.”
“To resolve this, we urge the Committee to vote on the SAFE Banking Act or similar measures. Such measures are meant to create a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to businesses in a state permitting the use of cannabis. A safe harbor will enable law enforcement and states to effectively monitor and regulate businesses while simultaneously bringing billions into the regulated banking sector.”
12 groups including ABA just wrote @MikeCrapo @SenSherrodBrown @senatemajldr @SenSchumer urging a vote on the #SAFEBanking Act. It's time to end the legal limbo over banking cannabis in the growing number of states where it's legal. Read the letter: https://t.co/1529vIHawq
— American Bankers Association (@ABABankers) December 12, 2019
The letter, also signed by Americans for Prosperity and R Street, recognizes that creating a federal regulatory scheme for marijuana will take time but says that the SAFE Banking Act represents “a critical first step to ensure that legal cannabis marketplaces are safe, legal, and transparent.”
Crapo has said that he’s interested in holding a vote on resolving the cannabis banking issue in his panel before the year’s end, but so far nothing has been scheduled. The chairman told Marijuana Moment in earlier interviews that there are several changes to the House-passed bill that he’d like to see but that he’s worried impeachment proceedings against the president will interfere with plans to hold a vote.
All that said, pressure from civil rights advocacy groups could complicate congressional efforts to get the banking bill approved. In October, several organizations including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance, Human Rights Watch and Center for American Progress sent a letter to Senate leadership, as well as Crapo and Brown, demanding that “marijuana legislation considered in the Senate include provisions that will guarantee equity in the industry.”
The letter, which doesn’t appear to have been previously reported and was obtained by Marijuana Moment, states that while the coalition agrees the SAFE Banking Act “is an incremental step toward rolling back the federal prohibition of marijuana, it fails to help communities that have been historically and disproportionately devastated by United States’ punitive drug laws.”
“As the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs considers similar legislation, we insist that the legislation include provisions that ensure equity in the marijuana industry by creating opportunities for individuals who have been prohibited from this growing business either by legal or financial means,” the letter, which was also signed by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and National Association of Social Workers, states.
“Indeed, this Congress has shown it understands the economic impact of legalization. But while progress on the business side of legalization is promising, it is not sufficient. Federal marijuana legislation must be comprehensive and lead with equity, addressing past and current harms to communities of color and low-income communities who bore the brunt of the failed war on drugs. We demand that any marijuana reform or legalization bill considered by the Senate] include robust provisions addressing equity. More than simply adding equity provisions to bills that address industry concerns, we need comprehensive reform that deschedules marijuana and addresses the inequities and harms continually inflicted by the failed war on drugs.”
In other words, the groups are insisting on broad reform prior to a vote on a bill viewed as largely beneficial to the cannabis industry—similar to a request they made of House members prior to the legislation’s passage in the chamber.
Read the marijuana banking letters from the trade associations and civil rights groups below:
GOP Congressman Knocks His Party For Failing To Pass Marijuana Reform
A Republican congressman says that whichever party is responsible for passing federal marijuana reform will “instantly” shoot up in the polls, while lamenting the fact that the GOP failed to do so when they controlled the House.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a vocal advocate for hemp, was asked by Fox Business host Kennedy on Wednesday whether cannabis should be rescheduled under federal law.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The first party that does this—and I don’t understand why either party won’t do it—is going instantly gain 10 points in the general poll on which party versus the other.”
“We should have done it when we were in the majority,” he added. “The liberals should be asking Pelosi why she hasn’t put it on the floor yet.”
The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation last month to end federal marijuana prohibition, but it hasn’t yet been scheduled for floor action.
Massie made similar points during an interview with Marijuana Moment earlier this year, stating that if Republicans had advanced states’ rights-focused marijuana legislation, “I think we might still be in the majority.”
Of course, while Massie has supported legislation to allow states to set their own cannabis policies without federal intervention, as well as other more modest reform measures such as protecting banks that service marijuana businesses, he’s so far declined to cosponsor any bills that seek to deschedule cannabis.
The congressman has also expressed interest in changing federal gun control laws to allow cannabis consumers to purchase firearms.
Though it’s not clear exactly how much of a boost either party would get by passing a marijuana reform bill, a Pew poll released last month does show that there’s majority support for legalization among those who lean Republican (55 percent) as well those who lean Democratic (78 percent).
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Rep. Massie.
State Department Warns Travelers About Flying With Cannabis Oil Internationally
The U.S. State Department is warning international holiday travelers that while hemp-derived CBD might be legal in the U.S., it can land you in trouble if you take it certain places abroad.
“Make sure your gift isn’t a fa la la la la la la la la fail,” the department said in a tweet on Thursday. “Bringing along gifts like drones, CBD oils, and firearms can land you in trouble in foreign countries. Research what is and isn’t allowed before you travel.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Flickr/DHS.