Perlmutter’s ‘Milestone’ Marijuana Banking Bill Finally Clears US House

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Brennan Linsley/AP
A customer pays cash for retail marijuana at 3D Cannabis Center, in Denver, May 8, 2014.

The House of Representatives passed legislation that would make it easier for licensed marijuana businesses to access financial services.

Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who for more than six years has been trying to get the SAFE Banking Act passed, called it “a major milestone.” It’s the first major piece of cannabis legislation passed by a congressional chamber since marijuana was listed as a schedule one drug. The bill passed with strong bipartisan support, 321-103.

“That is a big step forward on what is a controversial piece of legislation,” he said.

The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal drug. That's why fellow Coloradan, Republican Doug Lamborn voted against the measure.

“To say we're going to let you bank for something that's illegal, to me is a very inconsistent message that we're sending out,” he said.

Caitlyn Kim/CPR News
U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter (right), Denny Heck (D-WA-10) and Reps. Steve Stivers (R-OH-15) celebrate passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the House.

Perlmutter contends getting access to banking is something licensed Colorado businesses have been asking for. It will help get “cash off our streets” and provide certainty for financial institutions who want to work with cannabis businesses and employees.

To co-sponsor Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat from Washington, that's a public safety issue. He cited the killing of a security guard during a robbery at a dispensary in Aurora. “This should never have happened. And it should never happen again,” he said.

Perlmutter attributes the successful passage of the bill to Heck, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, Chair of the Financial Services Committee, and Republican Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio.

Stivers said getting two amendments added to the bill helped create a good package that was “important to a lot of people.”

One amendment ensures hemp businesses will also have access to banks. The other would prevent financial regulators from asking or ordering banks to terminate accounts based solely on a customer’s reputation.

“Everybody probably didn’t like everything in this bill, but this package is a good package that is good for public safety and good for banking law in America,” said Stivers.

And he said it’s a great jumping off point for the Senate, where the bill heads next.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon are the bill's sponsors, where they had succeeded in getting a hearing on the SAFE Act in the Senate Banking Committee.

Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, who chairs that committee, said he’s working with Gardner and Merkley to use the SAFE banking act as a starting point. “We're working on the issues right now to craft the appropriate resolution,” he said. Crapo is hopeful it can get done this year.

Perlmutter pointed out that's how the system works, and the bipartisan team that got it through will deal with any possible changes. “My guess is we're going to be able to work with the Senate on this, and get this thing passed and to the White House.”