Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-CO, said he will once again push for the inclusion of cannabis banking protections in the latest coronavirus relief bill.
Speaking to Yahoo Finance Live this week, the congressman said he plans to ask that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act be part of the next COVID reconciliation bill. "Whether it gets in there or not, we'll see how that works," said Perlmutter, adding he also plans to introduce the legislation as a stand-alone bill.
SAFE Banking, which in 2019 passed in the House as a stand-alone bill before it stalled in the Senate, has twice been folded into coronavirus relief measures proposed by the House. The legislation was also included in a COVID relief proposal by then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, in October, that did not get a vote, according to Marijuana Moment.
"We've got to align the laws. Because banking laws are generally under the federal umbrella, it's difficult for some cannabis companies and cannabis-related businesses to have a legitimate banking relationship," said Perlmutter, who has introduced the SAFE Act to every Congress since 2013, according to the Denver Post. "We want to get that part straightened out."
The banking industry has largely been reluctant to service the industry because of cannabis's classification as a Schedule 1 drug, forcing many pot-businesses to deal primarily in cash. Cannabis reform advocates say the cash-only nature of the industry is a security issue, as the businesses are targets for theft.
The SAFE Act, which is backed by bank and credit union trade groups and cannabis reform advocates, sailed through the Democrat-controlled House, 321-103, in 2019 before it was met with apprehension by former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-ID, who said he couldn't support the legislation in its current form and refused to hold a committee vote on the bill.
But with Democrats now in control of the House and Senate, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, stepping in as the Senate Banking Committee's new chairman, some industry observers said 2021 will be the year for SAFE Banking, in addition to broader pot legislation.
"It matters who is setting the agenda," Ryan Donovan, a lobbyist for the Credit Union National Association, told the Denver Post. "With just that simple change from Crapo to Brown, different issues are going to come before the Senate Banking Committee than in the past, and this is one of those issues that could have a greater chance of being considered."
Colorado Bankers Association CEO Don Childears told the paper he thinks it's likely the bill could be enacted this year.
"I think it will receive a much friendlier reception in the Senate Banking Committee and get to the floor of the Senate relatively quickly by congressional standards — that means, in six months," he said.
Perlmutter on Tuesday said the Senate has been a "roadblock" to cannabis legislation, a stark contrast to the House's more progressive stance on the subject.
"We passed the broader bill, [the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act to legalize cannabis] and we passed the SAFE Banking Act and the Senate sat on it," he said. "The Senate's got to get busy and work on this subject."
Perlmutter said he discussed holding a Senate hearing about cannabis banking with Brown last session.
"He knows that this is a high priority for me; he and I talked about it. I haven't talked to him about it yet in this session but I certainly will," Perlmutter told the Denver Post.