Cannabis banking reform removed from U.S.-China bill

WASHINGTON — A bill that would provide banks a legal safe harbor to work with cannabis firms was removed from a larger legislative package focused on bolstering U.S. economic competitiveness with China, lawmakers announced Thursday. 

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act will not be included in the bicameral version of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, despite significant political pressure from the banking industry as well as elected representatives in Colorado and Washington State, where the cannabis sector’s reliance on cash has made it a lucrative target for criminal activity.

“The Senate continues to ignore the public safety risk of forcing cannabis businesses to deal in all cash,” Rep. Ed Perlmutter, the chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, said in a statement.

Bloomberg News

The SAFE Banking Act’s longtime sponsor, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., blasted Senate leadership for once again removing the bill from consideration. SAFE Banking has now passed the House more than six times — most recently through the House version of the U.S.-China bill — but has never come to a vote in the Senate.  

“The Senate continues to ignore the public safety risk of forcing cannabis businesses to deal in all cash,” Perlmutter said in a statement released on Thursday. “In the wake of the Senate’s inaction, people continue to be killed, businesses continue to be robbed, and employees and business owners in the cannabis industry continue to be excluded from the financial system.” 

The development was first reported by Punchbowl News, which said the decision was “a GOP demand.” 

Perlmutter said he would continue to push for the SAFE Banking Act to be included in the U.S.-China bill, “other legislative vehicles, or for the Senate to finally take up the standalone version of the bill which has been sitting in the Senate for three and a half years.”

The U.S.-China bill was considered by policy analysts to be one of the three most likely avenues for cannabis banking to receive legislative approval in the current session of Congress. The second approach revolves around another substantial legislative package — the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023.

The SAFE Banking Act could also appear as a standalone bill in the Senate if Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s comprehensive cannabis legalization bill is officially abandoned. 

As a standalone bill, SAFE Banking would likely take on additional provisions to satisfy progressives, such as federal funds to help states expunge the criminal records of non-violent cannabis offenders. Republicans are also expected to push for capital markets access for cannabis companies, making it easier for institutional investors to back the industry.

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