Perlmutter again introduces SAFE Banking Act to connect cannabis industry with banking system

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DENVER – Rep. Ed Perlmutter and a bipartisan slate of cosponsors have again introduced the bill that would allow the cannabis industry to utilize the federal banking system, and the Arvada Democrat says he feels better than ever that it could be signed into law this Congress.

Perlmutter, along with Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2021 on Thursday and discussed the bill in a call Friday morning.

The bill has been passed by the House previously but was never brought up in a hearing in the Senate. It first passed the House on its own in September 2019, in a 321-103 vote, with 91 Republicans voting in favor of it, and was included in the House-passed Heroes Act.

Perlmutter said Friday that he felt some of the previous times he introduced the bill over the past eight years, he was met by colleagues with what he called the “chuckle factor.”

“There is no more ‘chuckle factor,’” he said Friday. “Everyone knows this is a serious issue that Congress needs to address.”

Forty-seven states have already legalized either recreational or medical marijuana programs, as has the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories. But because cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug that is illegal on the federal level, most cannabis businesses are not able to utilize banking accounts and have to operate with cash-only models.

And banks have been skeptical to work with cannabis businesses over fears of running into problems with federal insurers and the government.

Perlmutter has long pushed the measure because he says that the cash-only model is a public safety issue because the businesses become easy targets for armed robberies and burglaries.

But he said Friday that the pandemic has added a public health concern to the mix and said that allowing cannabis businesses to have access to banking systems “would mean an influx of cash into the economy.”

“In many states, the industry was deemed essential yet forced to continue to operate in all cash, adding a significant public health risk for businesses and their workers,” Perlmutter said. “As we begin our economic recovery, allowing cannabis businesses to access the banking system would also mean an influx of cash into the economy and the opportunity to create good-paying jobs.”

Perlmutter said the U.S. cannabis industry was currently valued at around $17 billion. His two Ohio Republican cosponsors said safety and business operations in their state was paramount to their support, even though Stivers is not supportive of recreational marijuana use.

“We have a responsibility to legislate for the reality we live in, and the reality is that legal businesses in thirty-three states, including Ohio, are being denied access to the banking system and forced to assume huge risks as a result of operating solely in cash,” Stivers said.

The bill has bipartisan support from Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and Steve Daines (R-Mt.) after former Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) supported the bill last Congress.

And with the Senate and Senate Banking Committee controlled by Democrats, so long as the House can put together the support for the bill it saw in 2019, it is likely to receive a committee hearing and possibly be moved to the full Senate, as Stivers said that he had spoken with two of the Republican senators on that committee.

The bill would need 60 votes in favor to pass the Senate, so it would need bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans. Perlmutter said he believed the House would vote on the measure later this spring. Perlmutter’s office said Thursday the bill already had more than 100 cosponsors.