The US House of Representatives passed a bill that would ensure banks could provide financial services to state-legal cannabis businesses without fear of federal reprisal.
Following an earlier voice vote, the legislation – the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act – received 321 votes in favor and 101 votes against.
This marks the fourth time the SAFE Banking Act has been approved by the House. It was first introduced by Rep. Earl Perlmutter (D-CO) in 2019 under a process known as suspension of the rules. This meant the bill couldn’t be amended and required a two-thirds supermajority to pass, rather than a simple majority.
After the House first approved the measure in a strong show of bipartisan support, the SAFE Banking Act languished in the Republican-controlled Senate. The House, however, once again picked up the legislation as part of its first and second coronavirus relief packages in order to support small cannabis businesses hit hard by the pandemic, but its provisions were ultimately removed from the final version of each bill voted through by Congress.
Speaking on the House floor, Perlmutter argued the largely cash-only nature of state-legal cannabis businesses makes them a target for crime, and that in turn makes communities less safe.
“The fact is that people in states and localities across the country are voting to approve some level of cannabis use, and we need these cannabis businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, payroll accounts, lines of credit, credit cards and more,” Perlmutter said. “This will improve transparency and accountability, and help law enforcement root out illegal transactions to prevent tax evasion, money laundering and other white collar crime. But most importantly, this will reduce the risk of violent crime in our communities.”
The only House member to speak out against the bill was Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) who said that “regardless of your position on this bill, I do think the fact remains that cannabis is a prohibited substance under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act—and let me further state, by enacting this legislation, we’re effectively kneecapping law enforcement and legalizing money laundering.”
His Republican colleague, Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), instead argued the bill was a matter of the federal government getting out of the way of small businesses as they look to recover from the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’m proud to help lead this common sense and overdue effort. At a time when small businesses are just beginning to recover from the economic destruction caused by COVID-19, the federal government should be supporting them, not standing in their way,” Joyce said.
Though previous efforts to advance the SAFE Banking Act faltered in the Senate, many are now confident the bill stands a better chance of passing given the Democrats now hold a slim majority in the upper chamber. President Joe Biden would then be widely expected to sign the measure into federal law as while he’s wary of full marijuana legalization, he’s not expressed any opposition to reforms that would allow cannabis banking.