The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday formally attached a marijuana banking reform amendment to a large-scale bill dealing with innovation and manufacturing—the latest development in a years-long effort to protect financial institutions that work with state-legal cannabis businesses.
The amendment from sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) was preliminarily approved on a voice vote as part of an en bloc group with other amendments on Wednesday, but a roll call was requested. The chamber took that package back up on Thursday and passed it in a 262-168 vote.
There was no floor debate about the cannabis provision itself, demonstrating how relatively noncontroversial the bipartisan-supported reform is in the House. The Senate, as observers of the issue know, is a different story.
Next, advocates will wait to see if the full America COMPETES Act—with the newly attached Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act—will officially pass the House on Friday, when a final vote is expected. The banking amendment was first made in order by the Rules Committee for floor consideration on Tuesday.
Stakeholders have long 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.
— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) February 3, 2022
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.
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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.