A key congressman involved in bicameral negotiations on a large-scale manufacturing bill says he’s optimistic about the prospects of including marijuana banking reform in the final version of the legislation that gets signed into law.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a longstanding champion of cannabis legalization who is serving as a conferee on the America COMPETES Act, talked about the state of play and steps he’s taking to secure the banking language during a press briefing on Monday.
He said that there is a concerted effort among conferees in both chambers to make sure that the House-passed Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act is attached to the final conference report that’s sent to the president’s desk. And while Senate leadership has yet to cede the issue, he’s confident that the bicameral panel will seal the deal.
“There is a strong base support among the conferees for keeping this [marijuana banking] language and enacting it,” he said. “We think that this is a perfect opportunity to get some actual movement on this.”
“We’ve got a vehicle that needs to to be acted upon relatively soon. There’s broad support for it,” the Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair, who led a letter to leadership late last month that stressed the urgency of enacting the banking reform, said. “I think that there’s tremendous momentum.”
The conference committee held its first meeting on the America COMPETES Act last week, with multiple appointed conferees urging the body to attach the SAFE Banking Act language in the interest of economic competitiveness and public safety.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee and previously listed marijuana banking as a legislative priority ahead of the conference, said that the bipartisan nature of the reform proposal is “evident” based on the fact that the House included it in the chamber’s version of the manufacturing bill before it was removed in the Senate.
Additionally, nearly a quarter of all senators sent a bipartisan letter last week urging that cannabis banking be included in the final bill.
The third-highest-ranking Democratic member in the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), has taken special interest in marijuana banking reform, describing it as a priority of hers as an appointed member on the bicameral conference committee.
She said last week that she hopes “we can all come to an agreement to keep SAFE Banking in our final bill so that cannabis stores in states like mine do not have to operate entirely in cash.”
Blumenauer said on Monday that he believes that the conference could finalize its report within “the next couple of months” ahead of the summer recess, if not sooner.
Despite continually passing though the House, the Senate has been reluctant to advance the measure under Democratic and Republican control. Current Senate leadership has insisted on passing comprehensive legalization legislation first before the cannabis banking bill.
A top aide for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is working to finalize his own legalization bill, recently tempered expectations about the prospects of moving marijuana banking through the America COMPETES Act.
Asked by Marijuana Moment whether there are any specific, equity-centered policies that he’s discussed adding to the SAFE Banking Act with Senate leadership, Blumenauer said that he’d “prefer not to go into” discussions he may have had with Senate colleagues, and he put the onus on the opposite chamber to propose any specific changes that would make the legislation more palatable to them.
“They have the opportunity to move something forward, and I welcome those efforts,” he said. “I’m perfectly willing to work with them as far as they can go as long as it doesn’t get in the way of solving this.”
The standalone Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act currently has 42 cosponsors, including nine Republicans.
That reluctance on the Senate side was also the subject of a letter that SAFE Banking Act sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) sent to leadership last month.
In a previous statement to Marijuana Moment, Perlmutter pointed out that “more than two-thirds of the conferees have already voted for or cosponsored the SAFE Banking Act.”
The congressman has even made a point to talk about enacting the reform legislation during committee hearings on ostensibly unrelated or wider-ranging legislation, like at a recent House Rules Committee hearing.
Despite recently saying that he’s “confident” that the Senate will take up his bill this session, Perlmutter 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.
Meanwhile, the governor, attorney general and other top officials in Washington State sent a letter to congressional leaders earlier this month, again emphasizing the urgent need to pass marijuana banking reform as a public safety imperative.
Separately, Washington State officials also recently held a virtual roundtable to address the spate of deadly robberies targeting marijuana retailers, with regulators reiterating their call for a federal policy change and discussing steps the state can take on its own while Congress fails to act.
Washington State’s treasurer has been especially vocal about the need for congressional reform, and he wrote in a recent letter to his colleagues in other states that it’s “just not safe to have this financial volume in cash.”
He made similar remarks at a recent conference of the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST). And Colorado Treasurer Dave Young echoed that sentiment in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment.
In the absence of congressional action, more states are moving to enact marijuana banking reform policies on their own. For example, Pennsylvania House lawmakers filed a companion bill to a Senate-passed measure late last month that would provide banking protections and tax relief for marijuana businesses.
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.