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Marijuana Banking Has A ’50-50′ Chance To Pass Senate In Coronavirus Package, Sponsor Says

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The lead sponsor of a marijuana banking reform bill that was inserted into a House-passed coronavirus relief package last week said on Thursday that he thinks there’s a 50-50 chance the Republican-controlled Senate will go along with the provision’s inclusion.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) was asked about his Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act—which would protect banks that service cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators—during an interview with Yahoo Finance on Thursday.

Specifically, he was pressed about House Democratic leadership adding the bill’s language to their latest COVID-19 legislation—a move that generated seemingly coordinated opposition messaging from GOP lawmakers who argued that the provision is not germane in the context of a public health response to the pandemic.

“It was one piece of a very big bill,” the congressman said, adding that when the standalone version of the SAFE Banking Act went up for a vote in the House last year, it enjoyed significant bipartisan support, with 91 Republicans joining a majority of Democrats voting in favor of the legislation.

Perlmutter again made the case that the marijuana banking language is necessary because it mitigates the risk of spreading the disease through the transfer of cash.

“Clearly this was a bipartisan measure and, at that time, the focus really was on public safety and the fact that so much cash is piled up that it really puts people in jeopardy for assault and battery, for robbery and those kinds of things,” he said. “But now there’s this added element of the potential transmission of the virus on cash.”

He went on to note that providing the industry with access to the banking system could help the estimated 28,000 marijuana businesses operating legally at the state-level throughout the country that have been deemed “essential” during the health crisis but that are also denied federal relief dollars.

“That’s why we really put it in there, both from an employment standpoint as well as a safety standpoint,” he said.

“We have the support of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. Jeff Merkley and Michael Bennett, two Democrats, are championing it. Cory Gardner, Republican, is championing it,” the congressman said. “I think it has a chance.”

That’s despite the fact that numerous GOP lawmakers—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—have characterized the cannabis banking language in the House coronavirus bill as being part of a Democratic wish list. Notably, however, McConnell’s repeated remarks have taken specific issue with a provision in the SAFE Banking Act to study diversity in the cannabis industry, rather than blast the legislation’s inclusion outright.

“There are big chunks of that bill that I know the Senate is going to have to do something about,” Perlmutter said of the overall House coronavirus legislation.

Asked to give a percentage chance of the Senate agreeing to include the banking language in the next COVID-19 bill, he said “I think 50-50.”

“I do think there’s a real effort to get this done, and it would be done in a bipartisan way,” he said. “And I think the White House and certainly [Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin], they’re familiar with this and we’ve been talking to them about it for quite some time. So I think 50-50.”

The congressman noted that the SAFE Banking Act is now available for senators to advance as both a standalone bill in the Senate Banking Committee as well as in the coronavirus package.

Gardner, a chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate, has said that lawmakers are “close” to reaching a deal with Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID), who made a series of recommended changes to the bill when it entered his chamber. That said, negotiations have largely stalled due to the congressional focus on a COVID-19 response.

Beyond the bipartisan support for the standalone bill in the House last year, a coalition of 34 state and territory attorneys general—including seven Republicans—are urging Congress to pass the coronavirus legislation with the banking language.

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