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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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.”
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 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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