- The SAFE Banking Act, Which Was Approved Last Year as a Standalone Bill, Has Been Passed By the House Once Again, This Time as Part of the New Sweeping Coronavirus Relief Package
- After Passing the House Vote, the COVID-19 Stimulus Bill Heads to the Senate Where the Original Cannabis Banking Legislation Still Remains
- Can the Democrats Garner Enough Republican Support in the Senate to Finally Make Cannabis Banking Reform a Reality in the United States?
Last week, House Democrats introduced a massive COVID-19 stimulus bill worth more than $3 trillion. The relief package included provisions to protect banks and financial institutions that service state-legal cannabis businesses from federal penalty.
Because lawmakers, investors, and advocates have been pushing hard for the inclusion of cannabis provisions to be a part of the COVID-19 relief package, the fact that the SAFE Banking Act was included represents a significant win for the legal marijuana industry. However, there’s no guarantee that the inclusion will be approved by the Senate.
Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), the chief sponsor of the cannabis legislation that’s now included in the relief package, recognized that while some Republican lawmakers might feel that cannabis considerations have no place in the bill, it’s actually a public health measure — as it would result in fewer physical cash transitions, thus reducing the threat of spreading the virus.
“I’m encouraged that the House recognizes the urgency of this issue and has taken this strong and necessary position,” said Steven Hawkins, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Continuing to exclude the cannabis industry from accessing basic and essential financial services during this time will result in more harm than good. Not only will it make the country’s economic recovery that much harder, but the provisions intended to help minority-owned businesses would continue to be absent within the industry.”
The GOP Continues to Resist
Not surprisingly, several high profile Republicans protested the cannabis and banking provisions right up until the moment of the vote on Friday, stating that the bill had become a Democratic ‘wish list.’ For example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took exception to a requirement of the SAFE Banking Act, which mandated the study of diversity in the cannabis industry. McConnell did not, however, reject the rationale of allowing for banking access within the industry.
“The Democrats’ supposed coronavirus bill includes taxpayer-funded studies to measure ‘diversity and inclusion’ in the cannabis industry. It’s a parade of absurdities that can hardly be taken seriously,” tweeted McConnell. “This week, Speaker Pelosi published a 1,800-page catalogue of left-wing oddities and called it a coronavirus relief bill. It proposes tax hikes on small business, giveaways to blue-state millionaires, checks for illegal immigrants, and diversity detectives for the cannabis industry,” added McConnell on Twitter.
The Democrats’ supposed coronavirus bill includes taxpayer-funded studies to measure “diversity and inclusion” in the cannabis industry. It’s a parade of absurdities that can hardly be taken seriously. pic.twitter.com/2aCyOEnnAZ
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) May 15, 2020
The Republican U.S. House Committee on Financial Services echoed the critical sentiment.
“Democrats are continuing to take advantage of this crisis to move unrelated policies,” tweeted the Financial Services GOP. “Did you know: In Speaker Pelosi’s bill, the word cannabis appears more times than the word job. An emergency is no time to play political games.”
Based on the aligned backlash from Republicans in both the House and the Senate, it seems likely that the cannabis provisions could be shut down when the bill reaches the Republican-controlled Senate.
According to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the reason the legislation “talks about cannabis more than it ever mentioned a job” is because of the limited number of people involved in crafting the COVID-19 bill.
“Yes, this bill is up in smoke, and it should end that way,” said McCarthy. “But we should get back to what the American people expect of us.”
Republican Senator John Thune, from South Dakota, agreed wholeheartedly with McCarthy.
“The House Democrats, who are not here but who, remarkably, from afar have evidently put together this fantasy wish list of things they would like to see accomplished,” said Thune. “If you can imagine a 1,815-page bill, they mention ‘cannabis’ way more times than they mention ‘jobs.’”
Democrats Continue to Push Forward
Democrats, on the other hand, refuse to back down. Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda, from California, described the cannabis provision as smart capitalism that can be financially justified.
“If my colleagues find the inclusion of smart-capitalism provisions like giving cannabis companies access to banking reprehensible — they can bring their concerns to the bargaining table instead of walking away.” tweeted Rouda. “Re: cost — the $3 trillion price-tag is only $1 trillion more than the 2017 Republican tax bill…except this helps working families and small businesses survive a pandemic. It provides the $$ necessary to meet this unprecedented moment.”
Director of Federal Policies at Marijuana Policy Project, Don Murphy, made his position clear that the Senate has many good reasons to approve the newly proposed cannabis legislation.
“Given the public health and public safety benefits of this specific change in policy, the Senate has good reason to pass this language into law,” explained Murphy. “This is a change in policy that the banks are asking for even more than the cannabis companies. We urge the Senate Banking Committee to adopt the SAFE Banking provisions to ensure financial institutions can provide basic banking services to businesses that are compliant with state law.”
As is so often the case with progressive bills in U.S. federal politics — it appears we’re two steps forward, one step back.