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Inside Cannabis (Sep 25th, 2019)

Today’s big news from Washington, D.C. has nothing to do with impeachment, at least, not for the cannabis industry. The first-ever standalone marijuana bill goes before the House of Representatives today, and here’s what you need to know about the SAFE Banking Act. 


Today’s vote is only within the House of Representatives, and would merely be a first step. Even if the bill were to pass the House of Representatives, and it needs a two-thirds majority to do so, it still has a ways to go before becoming law. The bill would also have to pass the Senate, where a vote is not yet even scheduled. Cannabis trade groups tell MJ Biz Daily that the number of Republican votes today will have a strong influence on whether the Senate bothers to take up their own companion bill. 

The bill is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Industry watchers do expect the bill to be passed, after all, it has 206 cosponsors in the House, so those are all certainly ‘yes’ votes. The bill does need a two-thirds supermajority, which in the House is 290 votes, so only 84 more votes are required. Early Wednesday morning, cannabis opponent Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana tweeted a preliminary concession of defeat, saying, “It’s clear #SAFEBankingAct will pass House mainly bc of support for issues added to the bill at the last minute.”

The measure needs a two-thirds supermajority because it’s being passed under a parliamentary maneuver called ‘suspension of the rules.’ House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) brought the measure to a full vote under a process called suspension of the rules. That means no one can bring any amendments or changes to the bill once it comes to the floor, but the trade-off is that it will need a two-thirds supermajority to pass. As Rep. Perlmutter said himself in a release, such a move is “generally reserved for non-controversial legislation” that is expected to pass easily. 

The most notable opposition to the bill is coming from Democrats, not Republicans. Many liberal representatives feel the bill doesn’t do enough to address criminal and social justice reforms. Early this morning, Marijuana Moment broke the news that House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) allegedly broke a promise to take up these reforms before the SAFE Banking Act vote. If the vote fails, there is a backup plan to vote on it again this year. While this has not been announced publicly, industry lobbyists tell MJ Biz Daily that if today’s vote fails, there is a plan to send it to the House Rules Committee who would then bring it to the floor again for a simple majority vote. 

The vote is not expected to be affected by the vaping lung illness scare. As Forbes notes, the American Bankers Association and other financial industry groups are not deterred from supporting the bill, despite the climbing death toll from the mystery lung illness.  Even if it passes the House, the bill is not expected to pass the Senate. Though the Senate version of the bill does have 33 cosponsors, it remains bogged up in committee. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is not expected to allow the measure a Senate floor vote. But the Senate may still create a Republican-sponsored version, which McConnell would be far more likely to allow. Senate Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) told MJ Biz Daily that he hoped to craft his own version of the bill by the end of the year. 

The SAFE Banking Act would effectively legalize banking for the cannabis industry. Even though cannabis is now legal in some form in 33 states and Washington, D.C., the drug remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government. Because of that, banks cannot do business with marijuana companies and do not allow them to have bank accounts, making the multibillion cannabis industry an all-cash sector. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, first introduced by Colorado Rep Ed. Perlmutter (D) in 2017, would allow financial institutions to serve legal marijuana businesses without fear punishment from the DEA of the federal government. After years of committee hearings and revisions, the bill gets a vote on the full House of Representatives floor today.  

Joe Kukura has been the cannabis writer for SF Weekly since 2016, and his work has appeared in Thrillist, the Daily Dot, and NBC Bay Area. You can follow him on Twitter at @ExercisingDrunk.

Edited by: Kim Lyons (Pittsburgh-based journalist and managing editor at Inside).

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