Lawmakers urge House, Senate leaders to pass marijuana banking reform

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Two Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday urged House and Senate leaders to include marijuana banking reform in an American competitiveness bill now being hammered out by a congressional conference committee.

The letter was written by Colorado’s Ed Perlmutter, who has been the key sponsor of the so-called SAFE Banking Act, and Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer, who is co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.

Many industry experts believe that the best chance for cannabis banking to pass this year is by attaching it to a larger spending bill such as the competitiveness measure.

The U.S. House previously passed SAFE as part of the America COMPETES Act, but the Senate didn’t include cannabis banking reform in its version, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. That and other differences in the two versions need to be reconciled by the conference committee.

SAFE Banking would enable financial institutions to serve state-legal marijuana businesses without fear of federal reprisal.

Currently, many marijuana businesses rely on cash transactions.

Cannabis banking reform would give state-legal marijuana businesses greater access to traditional banking services, including deposit accounts, credit cards and loans. It could especially help small businesses such as social equity entrepreneurs.

Perlmutter and Blumenauer also have urged the Senate to take up SAFE Banking as a stand-alone bill, especially now that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has delayed introducing his comprehensive marijuana reform bill until August.

The U.S. House passed SAFE Banking as a stand-alone bill by a vote of 321-101 on April 19. The House now has passed SAFE either as a stand-alone bill or part of a larger spending bill six times.

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In their letter Wednesday, Perlmutter and Blumenauer noted the urgency of passing the reform now: There’s been a rash of violent robberies, including killings at marijuana businesses in Washington state in recent weeks and months.

“This violence is widespread and ongoing, and it punishes the communities already most vulnerable and targeted in the War on Drugs,” Perlmutter and Blumenauer wrote.

“Expanding access to banking is a critical element of reform that centers (on) communities disproportionately harmed by punitive drug prohibitions, and this reform cannot wait.”