The governor of Colorado and other top state officials are again pushing Congress to pass a bipartisan marijuana banking bill with what’s left of the session.
Gov. Jared Polis (D), Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera (D), Attorney General Phil Weiser (D), Treasurer Dave Young (D) and Department of Public Safety (DPS) Executive Director Stan Hilkey sent a letter to congressional leaders on Monday to drive home the urgency of the legislation in terms of public safety and industry equity.
“The lack of safe banking and financial services for the cannabis industry in the State of Colorado has become a dire public safety issue for highly regulated cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state law,” the officials wrote to House and Senate leaders.
“Further, the lack of safe banking exacerbates the uneven playing field faced by small and minority-owned cannabis businesses, despite their serving the same communities and being subject to the same increased state regulation as other cannabis businesses in the State,” they said.
The letter comes in the backdrop of news from the White House that President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of Americans who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses and initiated an administrative scheduling review of cannabis.
While advocates have widely cheered the development, many are still holding out hope that Congress will act on marijuana reform during the lame duck session following the midterm elections. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is generally considered the base of what lawmakers could pass.
“We are proud of the robust cannabis structure established in our state that protects public safety, supports responsible innovation and importantly, enhances the myriad economic development and social benefits the industry has provided to all Coloradans, especially minority-, women-, and veteran-owned small businesses,” the Colorado leaders’ letter says.
Passage & enactment of Rep. Perlmutter’s SAFE Banking Act will protect cannabis-related businesses, support minority, women, and veteran-owned small business owners, create jobs, and strengthen public safety in Colorado communities and the states.https://t.co/pL1FLFygMD pic.twitter.com/D1x8SOHXTr
— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) October 10, 2022
“This industry has served as a model internationally and helped to make Colorado an even stronger part of our nation’s overall competitiveness and contributor to our nation’s deficit reduction efforts,” it continues. “However, all of these successes are undermined and, in fact, nullified for many businesses by their lack of access to federally-insured banking services and electronic payment processing, among other services currently available to less regulated businesses.”
The governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and treasurer have each advocated for the passage of the bipartisan banking bill in the past, but it’s notable that the head of DPS joined the officials on this letter. Hilkey’s department oversees law enforcement agencies like the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and State Patrol.
As the officials pointed out, the SAFE Banking Act has passed the House in some form seven times now, only to stall in the Senate under Republican and Democratic control. Senate leadership is reportedly moving to enact the reform as part of a package of marijuana proposals that’s being finalized, however.
“We applaud and support larger efforts between the House and the Senate to address legalization and reform nationally,” they said. “However, we understand such efforts continue to be ongoing and that the pathway toward enactment is uncertain at this time.”
“Therefore, given the demonstrated broad support for the SAFE Banking Act, coupled with the undeniably strong public policy demands for the immediate relief this legislation will provide, we strongly urge you to take action now and ensure that licensed cannabis businesses have access to banking and financial services. Passage and enactment of the SAFE Banking Act will protect cannabis-related businesses, support minority-, women-, and veteran-owned small businesses owners, create jobs, and strengthen public safety in our communities and in the states.”
“We urge Congress to take real stories, such as those in our state of Colorado, to heart and to efficiently prioritize policy approaches that promote safe banking and public safety,” the letter concludes.
Members of the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST), including Young, recently reaffirmed the organization’s support for a resolution voicing support for the SAFE Banking Act. Young told Marijuana Moment that the status quo has created a “21st century Wild West in which armed hold ups and storefront heists are becoming an all-too-common risk.”
Colorado’s attorney general also led a letter to Senate leadership in April that similarly underscores the need to enact the banking reform.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—who sponsored a comprehensive legalization bill that was filed in July with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR)—has increasingly signaled his interest in advancing cannabis banking legislation even as he pushes for broader reform.
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Schumer separately spoke about the banking issue at a White House event, reiterating that he was working on the problem, according to the House sponsor.
The conversation between Schumer and Perlmutter happened at an event on inflation reduction and happened to coincide with the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) lobby days, with over 100 marijuana business leaders on Capitol Hill to push for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act.
The expectation is that leadership will include banking in the in-the-works marijuana omnibus legislation, in addition to potential proposals on cannabis research, veterans medical marijuana access and more.
Perlmutter said at an NCIA-organized press conference that he’s increasingly tempted to “go to the nuclear option” in the House Rules Committee of “holding up” separate legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in order to get the marijuana banking measure enacted.
The congressman and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the Senate sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, also outlined next steps for the cannabis banking reform at a briefing organized by the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) in July.
Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) released a paper in August that outlined what they view as shortcomings of the standalone SAFE Banking Act and recommended several amendments to bolster its equity impact.
Booker said at an event organized by CRCC that the standalone legislation “requires changes” if it’s going to advance before cannabis is federally legalized.
The senator initially signaled that he was coming around to marijuana banking reform (contingent on equity provisions) at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in July that he convened as chairman.
Meanwhile, Perlmutter also said in a recent interview that he feels the introduction of the Senate legalization bill alone means that lawmakers have overcome a legislative “hurdle” that’s kept SAFE Banking from advancing in the chamber.
A recent poll found that Republican voters are on board with a number of marijuana reform proposals—from medical cannabis legalization to expungements for prior marijuana convictions to letting states set their own policies without federal interference.
According to a poll from Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) that was released in September, a majority of American voters (65 percent) support allowing banks to work with state-legal marijuana businesses—and most people believe it will both improve public safety and promote social equity.
The survey results are consistent with the findings of a separate poll from the American Bankers Association (ABA) that was released in March. It also showed that 65 percent of Americans back the marijuana banking reform.
Separately, the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently voted to adopt a revised policy directive that expresses support for federal marijuana descheduling and cannabis banking reform amid the state-level legalization movement.
Read the letter from the Colorado officials on marijuana banking reform below: