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House Approves Marijuana Banking On Voice Vote Without Debate, But Roll Call For Final Approval Expected Thursday



The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday preliminarily approved an amendment that would protect banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses. But while the measure was procedurally adopted in a voice vote without debate as part of an en bloc package with other amendments, a roll call vote was requested for formal passage, which is expected on Thursday.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) has been seeking potential vehicles for his Safe and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which has previously cleared the chamber five times in some form. His latest attempt is to attach the measure to large-scale innovation and manufacturing legislation that’s now advancing through Congress.

Following roll call votes on amendments on Thursday, floor action to officially pass the comprehensive bill known as the America COMPETES Act is planned by the end of the week.

The banking amendment was first made in order by the Rules Committee for House consideration on Tuesday.

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This legislative narrative is familiar to advocates and stakeholders who have been pushing for the SAFE Banking Act as a modest step toward reforming federal marijuana laws. Perlmutter previously tried to get the policy change enacted through a large-scale defense bill, but the language was stripped following bicameral negotiations.

The congressman shifted much of the blame on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who has insisted on advancing comprehensive legalization legislation like the bill he’s finalizing before moving the banking bill.

The Senate already passed its related version of the new innovation bill, with a focus on competing with China trade, and that legislation does not contain the cannabis banking language. What that means is that there will likely be another round of  bicameral negotiations that could decide the fate of the marijuana reform through this latest vehicle.

At Tuesday’s Rules Committee hearing, Perlmutter said that he’s planning to offer the SAFE Banking Act as an amendment to “every single bill I possibly can until it’s passed,” and he acknowledged that his colleagues are probably “becoming all too familiar with” the legislation in light of his repeated advocacy for it.

While Schumer may have played a key role in blocking SAFE Banking through the National Defense Authorization Act late last year after the House attached the cannabis language to its version of the bill, he did say in a meeting with equity advocates last week that he’s open to passing cannabis banking reform if additional provisions were attached that specifically benefit communities most impacted by prohibition.

Still, stakeholders have grown impatient with the leader’s interference in passing the SAFE Banking Act given that it’s considered a passable, bipartisan bill, whereas comprehensive legalization does not have a clear path in the Senate, even with a slim Democratic majority.

Perlmutter, meanwhile, is retiring from Congress after this session and has emphasized that he’s committed to passing his bill first.

Even 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. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue last month.

In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.

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