The House has passed The SAFE Banking Act in a major step towards providing state-legal cannabis businesses access to proper banking services and a safer atmosphere that comes with not having giant piles of money.
The bill passed late Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 321 to 103. Republicans were nearly split, with 91 voting in favor of cannabis banking and 102 against. One lone Democrat voted against the bill.
Its next stop in the Senate looks promising thanks to provisions that will help rekindle Mitch McConnell’s beloved Kentucky hemp industry with better banking services, and then it’s off to the White House.
On the eve of the historic vote, one of the most powerful members of Congress, and a newly minted champion of federal cannabis reform, House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadlerput put his weight behind the vote.
Members of the Cannabis Caucus actually called Nadler’s MORE Act better than the SAFE Banking Act, but will be supporting both pieces of legislation.
Rep. Kendra Horn of the booming cannabis state of Oklahoma was the first person to speak on the SAFE Banking Act the day of the vote. A lot of the day’s discussions prior to the vote had been on the Debbie Smith Act and the current news cycle around President Donald Trump’s Ukraine call.
About 30 Minutes into the House’s day Horn took the podium. She called the bill an important piece of pragmatic legislation.
“The SAFE Banking Act is a bipartisan bill that confronts a problem that has arisen from the conflict between state and federal law and is currently endangering communities. As well as hindering small businesses from growing,” Horn said.
According to Horn, this past April Oklahomans spent more than $18 million on medical cannabis.
“This industry is bringing revenue to our state, helping small businesses, and helping those who suffer from physical ailments,” she said.
But that was just the pregame. Things would be dominated for the next few hours by the Ukraine scandal and the southern border. But the timing would end up almost perfect when it came time to start the cannabis banking debate.
Four minutes after 4:20 p.m. the house commenced debate on H.R. 1595. Everyone was really excited about how nice they were to each other compared to recent topics in Congress, like the whistleblower complaint resolution earlier in the day.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, the bills main sponsor, and Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina would each control 20 minutes of time for the debate. But we use the term debate loosely. While there were some quick references to health concerns, the idea cartels wanted to launder their money in a heavily scrutinized industry, and an old school “Did you know these states are breaking the law?” Generally, things were pretty pro-pot or public safety on both sides of the aisle.
Perlmutter kicked things off saying he was proud to pass this public safety bill that was about accountability and respecting states’ rights. He also covered the most pragmatic aspects.
“We need these marijuana businesses and their employees to have access to checking accounts, lines of credit, payroll accounts, and more,” Perlmutter said.“This will promote transparency and accountability, and help law enforcement root out illegal transactions.”
Perlmutter then again stressed the most important thing was not allowing dispensaries and their employees to continue to be the targets of violent crime.
McHenry took the mic next saying he stood in opposition to the bill not because of the lack of goodwill going around, or willingness to engage, but said it’s just a fundamental difference in approaches. McHenry said he had a lot of respect for the way everyone on both sides was conducting themselves around an issue that could cause a lot of controversy.
“If we seek to give financial institutions certainty, we should deal with the listing of cannabis as a Schedule I substance. Not debating a solution for financial institutions to what is a much larger problem and a larger societal issue we must wrestle with,” McHenry said. “Should continue to be allowed to violate federal law? Does federal law need to be changed… when it comes to the scheduling of cannabis?”
McHenry went on to call The SAFE Banking act one of the biggest changes to U.S. drug policy in his lifetime. But he felt it was done with little debate and pointed to some questions he had for Financial Services Subcommittee Chairwoman Maxine Waters in March that were yet to be answered.
Waters followed McHenry. She spoke on the amount of effort everyone had put in over the years to get to the vote and stuck to the general public safety angle. Waters also noted on the ancillary services like plumbers and electricians that would benefit from getting a check and not piles of cash.
Some drug policy organizations had been wary of pushing cannabis banking through without wider conditions to support the communities hit the hardest by the War on Drugs. But Waters explained how the bill would promote diversity by giving minority and women-owned businesses access to the credit they need to compete.
The Drug Policy Alliance released a comment on the passage of the bill.
“We had no objections to the substance of the SAFE Banking bill,” said Queen Adesuyi, DPA’s Policy Coordinator at its Office of National Affairs, “However, DPA and allies from the civil rights community sent a letter of concern because we believe it is a mistake for the House to pass an incremental industry bill before passing a comprehensive bill that prioritizes equity and justice for the communities who have suffered the most under prohibition. We have long feared that passing SAFE Banking would undermine passage of the MORE Act by taking the momentum out of marijuana reform. The onus is now upon House Democrats to prove us wrong and pass the MORE Act.”
The debate would also feature the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Rep. Barbara Lee, standing in support. Early in the debate, Perlmutter called Blumenauer the quarterback of all the various marijuana bills currently making their way through Congress.
Blumenauer would be one of the first to offer a statement following the victory.
“Today’s vote is historic,” Blumenauer said. “The House of Representatives took the most significant step thus far in addressing our outdated and out-of-touch federal cannabis laws. It never made any sense to deny state-legal cannabis businesses access to banking services. It not only seriously disadvantaged these businesses, but it also was an open invitation to theft, tax evasion, and money laundering. Congressmen Perlmutter and Heck have fought tirelessly to bring their bill to the floor, and I applaud Chairwoman Waters and House leadership for their support.”
Blumenauer also said states have outpaced the federal government on this issue, “and state-legal cannabis industries and their employees have suffered. There is much more to be done to end this senseless prohibition. This is just the beginning.”
NORML Political Director Justin Strekal was quick to weigh in on the historic vote.
“For the first time ever, a supermajority of the House voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization,” Strekal said.
Strekal went on to give his hopes on the other half on Congress.
“Now we look to the Senate, where we are cautiously optimistic,” Strekal said. “Given the strong bipartisanship of the House vote, coupled with Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo’s recent pledge to hold a markup on this issue, we believe that Congress’s appetite to resolve this important issue has never been greater.”
The National Cannabis Industry Association has been working on the banking issue for the past six years and today’s vote marked one of their biggest victories ever.
“It’s incredibly gratifying to see this strong bipartisan showing of support in today’s House vote,” said NCIA Executive Director Aaron Smith after speaking on NCIA’s congressional partners. “We owe a great debt of gratitude to the bill sponsors, who have been working with us to move this issue forward long before anyone else thought it was worth the effort.”
Smith called on the Senate to act swiftly in getting the bill to the President’s desk. “This bipartisan legislation is vital to protecting public safety, fostering transparency, and leveling the playing field for small businesses in the growing number of states with successful cannabis programs,” Smith said.
The SAFE Banking Act’s companion bill in the Senate is S. 1200. It was introduced by Senators Cory Gardner and Jeff Merkley in April. NCIA noted that The Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on it in July and Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo announced cannabis banking legislation is very possible and being taken seriously.
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