The House sponsor of a marijuana banking bill says that he sees signs that the Senate will finally act during the lame duck session—but he is cautioning that he’s “been disappointed before.”
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who is retiring after this session, told Yahoo Finance on Tuesday that he’s an “eternal optimist” who still believes that Congress will pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. But he’s also a “realist” who recognizes that “time is short” to get something done.
“The optimist says, ‘we’re gonna get it done.’ There are several ways we can do it,” he said, noting that the reform could be enacted through a larger vehicle like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or omnibus appropriations legislation, or as a standalone.
“But the realist in me says, ‘I’ve been disappointed before.’ And the industry has been disappointed before because it’s gotten stuck in the Senate and time is short,” Perlmutter said.
“I think given the activity in the Senate that we’ve seen over the course of the last month—both out of the Banking Committee, as well as out of [Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY)] office, I think something is going to happen, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that it does, at least on the House side,” he said.
When it comes to the SAFE Banking Act, it’s not clear what more can be done on the House side, as the chamber has already approved the bill seven times in some form. What supporters are waiting to see is what comes out of the Senate in the coming days or weeks as Schumer finalizes what’s expected to be a package of cannabis banking and expungements legislation.
Perlmutter said that there are other components that some senators have expressed interest in adding to the so-called SAFE Plus package, including promoting marijuana research and “maybe a pilot program dealing with PTSD” within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“There’s a way to fashion this that I think keeps Republicans in the Senate—we need 10 at least, I think, to pass it out of the Senate with the Democrats—and move it back to the House, where I know we could pass it and send it on to President Biden,” the congressman said.
Talks on the omnibus bill have been intensifying in recent weeks, with the majority leader discussing the proposal with key bipartisan senators. But as Perlmutter noted, time is running thin, and advocates say it’s critical that the Senate act soon given that Republicans will have the majority in the House following this month’s election.
Schumer said late last month that Congress is getting “very close” to introducing and passing the marijuana banking and expungements bill, citing progress he’s made in discussions with a “bunch of Republican senators.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), meanwhile, said following the election that Democrats who want to enact cannabis reform must either do it “now” during the lame duck session or wait until “many years from now” when his party has a shot at controlling Congress again.
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For some advocates, support for the so-called “SAFE Plus” package will be largely contingent on what happens with the banking language, as they’re discontent with the current provisions that have passed the House in some form seven times now.
Specifically, they’d like to see the bill amended to provide funding for Minority Deposit Institutions (MDIs) and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that lend commercial loans to minority-owned businesses.
They’re further calling for changes to require banks that work with the cannabis industry to demonstrate non-discrimination in lending, as Supernova Women Executive Director Amber Senter wrote in a recent op-ed for Marijuana Moment.
These amendments align with some of the SAFE Banking Act recommendations that Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) outlined in a paper sent to legislative leaders in August.
The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), meanwhile, sent a letter to Senate leadership on Monday, calling for a floor vote on the SAFE Banking Act “without further delay” by the year’s end.
“This legislation enjoys strong, bipartisan support, would resolve a conflict between state and federal law, and addresses a critical public safety concern,” ICBA, which commissioned a poll demonstrating that support earlier this year, said. “We urge its enactment without further delay.”
Another poll released on Monday found that three in four American voters—including bipartisan majorities—support ending federal marijuana prohibition, expunging prior convictions and allowing banks to work with state-legal cannabis businesses.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.