SAFE Banking status: Q&A with marijuana industry ally US Rep. Ed Perlmutter

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Ed Perlmutter

Finding a bank would become much less difficult for marijuana companies in the not-too-distant future if U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s political crystal ball proves correct.

The Colorado Democrat is confident the SAFE Banking Act – which Perlmutter has sponsored every congressional cycle since first introducing it in 2013 – will be signed into law by President Joe Biden either this year or in 2022.

In September, Perlmutter succeeded in getting the cannabis banking legislation attached to a defense spending package, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2022.

If passed, SAFE would guarantee safe harbor to financial institutions that serve state-legal marijuana businesses.

MJBizDaily caught up with Perlmutter to get the latest on his sense of where SAFE stands in the political landscape in Washington DC.

Perlmutter said he believes the NDAA – which must be approved in December by a joint conference committee made up of both House and Senate members – will ultimately choose to keep the SAFE Banking in the final version of the must-pass defense spending bill, thereby getting SAFE to Biden’s desk.

And even if that falls through, Perlmutter is confident he’ll likely be able to get SAFE attached to other similar, must-pass omnibus bills.

What’s the latest with SAFE Banking? Where does it stand, and what do you think the odds are that it becomes law this year or next?

I feel good about it becoming law. It’s in two places:

  • In the Senate, right now, it is sitting in the Senate Banking Committee as a stand-alone piece of legislation. It’s sitting there, hasn’t moved, but there is conversation among the Banking Committee members and staff about the bill.
  • It also sits in the House, in the passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act, as an amendment.

So it’s sitting there in two versions. And I am optimistic that one or the other is going to pass.

What are the primary obstacles to SAFE becoming law, given the bipartisan support for it?

The biggest obstacle has been Senate tradition, or senators generally, in that we passed SAFE Banking 2½ years ago to the Senate, when the Republicans were in charge.

And Sen. (Mike) Crapo from Idaho (then the Republican chair of the Senate Banking Committee) felt the bill was too big and too broad.

Now, we pass it to the Senate, where Sen. (Sherrod) Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. (Chuck) Schumer (D-NY) and (Sen. Cory) Booker (D-NJ) have said, “We think it’s too limited and narrow.”

They’re looking for a much more expansive piece of legislation that would decriminalize, deschedule, provide for some criminal justice reform and taxation – all of which I support – and we’ve been able to pass something like that, here in the House.

But in the Senate, they’ve really never even taken cannabis up at any level, whether it’s narrow or big.

So, as a consequence, when the NDAA was working its way through the House, we added (SAFE) as an amendment so that there is another path to it getting passed by the Senate and then on to the president.

And we’ve had a lot of conversations with different senators, with members of the House who will be involved in that conference committee to really encourage everybody to include the SAFE Banking amendment in the NDAA.

What’s your response to concerns from some, such as Sen. Booker, that passing SAFE would be a handout to bigger companies and banks and would put social justice on the back burner?

I just think he’s wrong on that, for a variety of reasons.

SAFE didn’t start with the banks or financial institutions. In fact, we had to bring them along.

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It really started because people were getting robbed and killed in dispensaries and other kinds of cannabis businesses, because there’s so much cash.

That’s where it started; it started with the little businesses.

There’s a component in SAFE Banking that allows for access to credit to minority businesses. That doesn’t really exist today.

This is not, as Sen. Booker has suggested, a big-bank bill at all. It really comes from the industry and from a public-safety standpoint. So I don’t agree with him on that.

I don’t agree with him, either, that it will blunt any additional efforts.

I look at it just the opposite – that it really is the icebreaker, that it moves cannabis legislation forward, where it’s been stuck, more or less, for 50 years since cannabis was made illegal in 1971 under the Controlled Substances Act.

I would love to see them be able to pass a big, comprehensive bill. But they really don’t even have a bill yet. And they haven’t had any hearings.

And we know the SAFE Banking Act has tremendous bipartisan support, both in the House and in the Senate.

What’s the political path forward for it, as you see it? Will SAFE’s fate be determined by a conference committee, to get the NDAA approved by marrying the House and Senate versions? Is that the more likely route to success, instead of the stand-alone Senate bill?

Yes, I think that is the most likely path. I would love to see the Senate Banking Committee take up SAFE Banking, hold a hearing.

I think it will pass that committee if it were ever given a chance to be voted on. And I think it will pass the House or the Senate.

There are at least 10 Republicans who are co-sponsoring this, so it’s probably filibuster-proof. So it would be nice if it were just a stand-alone.

But if you’re asking me to choose which one is more likely, I’d say that the NDAA seems to be a quicker path.

Do you think the fate of SAFE Banking this year will likely be determined by who’s chosen to be on the conference committee and where those members stand on SAFE and marijuana in general?

No, I don’t think the fate of it rises or falls depending on the conference committee.

We’ve been working very hard to sensitize various senators to this amendment that’s been added to the NDAA, so that they know what’s coming, that it’s not a surprise, that it is an important amendment from the House’s point of view, that it’s got strong bipartisan support and that it remain in the bill through conference.

The place where we were able to add it was through the House Rules Committee, and I know I have the support of the members, Democrats and Republicans.

Other pieces of legislation that might come through the Rules Committee, which is pretty much everything, we could add (SAFE) again, as an amendment.

So I would say the NDAA is not the last stop by any stretch.

Whatever other pieces of legislation that come through that have potentials for amendments, you can bet I’m going to be watching for that. And sitting on the Rules Committee gives me a perch to do that.

The sentiment is there to pass (the SAFE Banking Act).

And I’m confident that one way or another – and I think it’ll be the NDAA – that the bill will ultimately pass the House and Senate, to the White House for the president’s signature.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

John Schroyer can be reached at