A newly filed large-scale spending bill to keep the government funded for the 2022 Fiscal Year does not include language to protect banks that works with state-legal marijuana dispensaries—and the sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act would like to know why.
In a lighthearted exchange in the House Rules Committee early Wednesday morning when the panel was discussing the omnibus spending package, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said with a smile, “I appreciate this bill. I hope the next one has SAFE Banking in it.”
“You mean it isn’t in it?” Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) jokingly asked.
“No, it’s not,” Perlmutter replied.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) chimed in so say, “I don’t know how we missed it, Ed.”
It’s far from the first time that Perlmutter has made a point to talk about enacting cannabis reform legislation during committee hearings on ostensibly unrelated or wider-ranging legislation.
At a hearing on a postal service reform bill before the panel last month, he said worker shortages could be partly resolved by ending federal cannabis prohibition, telling his colleagues to “kind of keep that in the back of the mind.”
Also last month in a separate Rules Committee hearing, the congressman stressed 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 the congressman has focused on other vehicles to attach his cannabis banking legislation, that wasn’t the case for this latest omnibus bill, which is expected to receive a House floor vote on Wednesday. Getting bicameral and bipartisan buy-in to achieve this reform through the massive spending bill would have likely proved challenging.
However, a spokesperson for Perlmutter told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday reiterated that the congressman has been in “constant communication” with relevant committee chairs and legislative leaders to find a path forward for his legislation and will “continue to look for every opportunity” to advance the reform.
Perlmutter has made clear that he’s not going to sit around and wait for the Senate to take up his standalone bill, even if that’d be an ideal pathway for the reform.
He got the language attached to House-passed COVID relief packages twice, though they didn’t make it into the final legislation.
He inserted the bill language into the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—but it was again excluded following bicameral negotiations.
Most recently, the SAFE Banking Act was placed in a large-scale bill focused on manufacturing and innovation called the America COMPETES Act.
In other words, it would have been par for the course for the congressman to try using this omnibus bill as another potential vehicle for his banking language.
But the exchange in the Rules committee shows that Perlmutter is living up to his commitment to “continue to be a real pest, and persistent in getting this done” before he retires from Congress at the end of the session, as he said during an event hosted by the American Bankers Association (ABA) on Tuesday.
Following the bipartisan House passage of the banking bill, Perlmutter said he naively expected it “to sail through the Senate, which is always a bad assumption, because nothing sails through the Senate.”
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But he’s taken pains to build support, including from current Senate leadership that has insisted on enacting comprehensive legalization with firm equity provisions in place before advancing a bill viewed as friendly to the industry.
Despite recently saying that he’s “confident” that the Senate will take up his bill this session, the congressman recognized that while he’s supportive of revisions related to criminal justice reform, taxation, research and other issues, he knows that “as we expand this thing, then we start losing votes, particularly Republican votes and we got enough votes in the Senate to do it” as is.
Perlmutter also brought up the fact that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has addressed the federal-state marijuana banking conflict and “she wants to get this off her plate and get it done.”
Ahead of the ABA event, the financial group released a poll that it commissioned showing that a strong majority of Americans support freeing up banks to work with marijuana businesses without facing federal penalties.
Meanwhile, the number of banks that report working with marijuana businesses ticked up again near the end of 2021, according to recently released federal data.
It’s not clear if the increase is related to congressional moves to pass a bipartisan cannabis banking reform bill, but the figures from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) signal that financial institutions continue to feel more comfortable servicing businesses in state-legal markets.
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, too. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue in December.
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.