Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff took a shot at Democrats' efforts to fold cannabis banking legislation into their $3 trillion coronavirus relief package Thursday, calling its inclusion one of several items on a "liberal wish list," during an appearance on Fox Business.
"In one instance they provided guarantees for banking access for marijuana growers. That has absolutely nothing to do with coronavirus," Marc Short said, referring to the inclusion of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act into the House bill.
Democrats argue the legislation's inclusion will ensure legal cannabis-related businesses have access to financial services, reducing the amount of cash those businesses handle, which would help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
After stalling in the Senate in December, the SAFE Banking Act saw no movement for several months until Democrats attached it to the House relief package in May, arguing its inclusion was a matter of public safety amid the pandemic.
Marijuana's designation as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law has left many financial institutions reluctant to open bank accounts for businesses tied to the industry. The SAFE Banking Act, which has garnered support from several trade groups including the Credit Union National Association and the American Bankers Association, would create protections for financial institutions that provide services to cannabis-related businesses.
Republicans, however, remain critical of its provision in the House bill.
"I am opposed to non-germane amendments, whether it’s funding for the FBI building ... or other non-germane amendments in the House bill like marijuana studies or aid to illegal immigrants," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said during a press conference last month, according to Marijuana Moment.
Momentum for the SAFE Banking Act began building last year, but the bill’s journey has faced its fair share of ups and downs.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, surprised many in July 2019, when he said his committee would hold a hearing on cannabis banking, after he previously indicated he wouldn't take up the issue so long as the drug is illegal at the federal level.
Crapo said the following month he planned to hold a vote on the bill before the end of the year.
The Democrat-controlled House passed the landmark bill in September by a 321-103 vote with the support of 229 Democrats and 91 Republicans.
By December, however, the bill hit a roadblock in the Republican-controlled Senate after Crapo said he did not support the legislation in its current form, calling for its language to address broader issues, such as a lack of research and public health and safety issues regarding cannabis.
Meanwhile, the lack of agreement between Democrats and Republicans on the latest pandemic relief package prompted President Donald Trump to take executive action Saturday.
Trump's executive actions include a temporary extension of unemployment benefits, deferrals of payroll taxes and federal student loans, and a freeze on evictions.