At the tail end of last week, the House passed the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength (America COMPETES) Act of 2022, a bill aimed at promoting domestic research and manufacturing. Lawmakers also approved 220 amendments to the bill, including the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, a long-needed law that would reform the country's policies on cannabis banking.
This marks the sixth time that the House has approved the SAFE Banking Act in some form or other. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), has successfully added this measure as an amendment to several major bills, including this year's military defense budget bill, and the House even passed it as a piece of standalone legislation. Representatives have passed the SAFE Banking Act so many times now that lawmakers didn't even bother debating it this time around, but simply approved it with a voice vote.
But despite the widespread acceptance of the SAFE Banking amendment in the House, the Senate has shot it down each and every single time it has crossed into their chamber. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) removed the amendment from the defense budget bill only two months ago, arguing that Congress should focus on comprehensive cannabis reform rather than minor stopgap measures. Schumer is currently working with his fellow Democratic senators to pass the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA), which would completely legalize cannabis on the federal level.
Some lawmakers and industry insiders believe that Congress has little chance of actually passing this bill, though, especially since President Biden opposes it. Unwilling to take this gamble, Perlmutter has been fighting to add the SAFE Banking Act to as many unrelated bills as he can. Advocates are again pressuring the Senate to advance this separate reform, but it remains to be seen whether the amendment will make it to the final version.
“It is imperative for the interests of public safety, transparency, and the economic viability of small cannabis businesses that this legislation is approved as soon as possible,” said NORML Political Director Morgan Fox in a statement. “The fact that the people’s chamber has approved this measure in various forms so many times is a clear indicator of where voters stand on this issue.
“Continued inaction by the Senate on this popular bipartisan reform puts workers and customers at risk of violence, makes it harder for regulators to accurately track cannabis revenue, and perpetuates the high costs and lack of access to capital that are increasingly widening the gap between large and small businesses in the cannabis space when it comes to their chances to succeed,” Fox added. “The Senate should ensure this provision remains in the final version of this funding package and approve it swiftly.”
At a recent meeting with cannabis advocacy groups, Schumer suggested that he would actually be open to passing a cannabis banking measure, but only if it were amended to address social equity concerns. These measures, which were proposed by the Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC), include the creation of federal incentives for community deposit institutions that could lend capital to minority-owned cannabis startups.
“The SAFE Banking Act is only the first step toward making sure that state-legal marijuana markets operate safely, efficiently, and fairly,” Fox said. “But unfortunately, the sad reality is that those who own or patronize these currently unbanked businesses are still nonetheless recognized as criminals in the eyes of the federal government and by federal law. This situation can only be rectified by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances, and there are several pending legislative vehicles before Congress that can accomplish this goal. In the meantime, the passage of the SAFE Banking Act is a step in the right direction that will directly improve many people’s lives.”