US House endorses cannabis banking reform as part of defense bill

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday night adopted by a voice vote a cannabis banking amendment as part of this year’s defense budget bill.

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 still must be passed by the full House, but the approval of the so-called SAFE Banking Act amendment clears the way for cannabis banking reform to be in the final measure.

It’s unclear, however, whether the U.S. Senate will similarly embrace the provision.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed cannabis banking reform by a strong bipartisan vote of 321-101 in April, but the Senate hasn’t taken up the issue.

Tucking the provision into a larger bill is an additional strategy to trying to get the measure passed by the upper chamber of Congress.

Cannabis banking and national defense might seem to be odd policy bedfellows, but Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat who has been the primary force behind the cannabis legislation, has always emphasized the security aspects of the legislation.

The SAFE Banking Act, he tweeted this week, “will strengthen the security of our financial system & keep bad actors like cartels out. Most importantly, it will reduce the risk of violent crime in our communities.”

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

Prospects for Senate passage appear brighter than in previous years, in part, because Democrats won slim control of the Senate in the November 2020 election.

State-legal marijuana businesses have struggled for years to gain access to traditional financial services such as checking accounts, payroll accounts and lines of credit.

U.S. Cannabis Council CEO Steven Hawkins, who also is executive director of the Washington DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, urged Congress to adopt the cannabis banking measure.

“Over $17 billion in legal cannabis was sold in the United States last year, overwhelmingly through cash transactions,” Hawkins said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Forcing legitimate, well-regulated cannabis businesses to conduct most of their business in cash is anachronistic and a clear threat to public safety.”