With a House vote on Democratic leadership’s latest coronavirus relief package expected on Friday, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) is making the case for a provision he’s championing that would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
During a Rules Committee hearing on Thursday evening—and then on the floor the following morning—the congressman stressed that while some Republican lawmakers have argued the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act doesn’t have a place in a COVID-19 bill, the legislation would actually protect public health by reducing the threat of spreading the virus through cash transactions.
“Cannabis businesses across the country have been deemed essential during this pandemic, and these businesses and their estimated 243,000 employees deserve equity with other legal businesses,” he said. “The SAFE Banking Act would address the increased health risk of spreading COVID-19 on bank notes and coins as well as the increased public risk in this cash-only industry. This bill will help protect jobs and safe lending in our communities.”
He made similar points the prior day, adding that the bill passed along bipartisan lines in the House last year in a vote that included 91 GOP ayes. Perlmutter said certain colleagues have expressed to him that while they will likely vote against the coronavirus package due to opposition to other issues that are included, they’re supportive of his marijuana banking provision.
“There’s a health safety element because of the cash and the potential for transmission of the virus because of this,” he said in committee.
Advocates and stakeholders have been mounting a strong push to include some kind of cannabis reform as part of the health crisis legislation. Beside banking access issues, they’ve also noted that marijuana businesses—and those that work indirectly with the industry—are barred from receiving federal coronavirus relief through the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Perlmutter also talked about how these companies are ineligible for SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program. Despite calls to extend SBA access to the industry, however, language providing for that did not make it into the latest package even though Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a standalone bill that modeled how to resolve the problem.
Republicans in both chambers seem to have coordinated anti-cannabis messaging on the Democratic-led bill, with numerous legislators—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) voicing criticism of including the SAFE Banking Act in the legislation in a floor speech on Thursday. They argue it is not germane to coronavirus and is part of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) “political-pipe-dream” or “unserious wish list.”
Still, it’s notable that GOP members declined to offer any amendments to strike the cannabis provisions from the bill when they had the opportunity on Thursday when the legislation was before the House Rules Committee. But given the strong bipartisan support the standalone bill enjoyed, as Perlmutter noted, it is likely that any attempt to gut the language would be defeated on the House floor.
What’s more, most of the criticism of the banking section that’s coming from Republicans concerns a proposal to require studies of diversity in the marijuana industry—rather than focusing on the main point of the bill, which is to provide banking access to the industry.
Should the House approve the package on Friday, it is still an open question as to whether the Republican-controlled Senate will go along with the SAFE Banking Act’s inclusion, let alone other provisions of the Democratic bill. The standalone cannabis banking legislation currently sits in the Senate Banking Committee, with negotiations stalled due to the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.