MOREAct comprehensive Cannabis legalization mark up promised
“Prohibition is over. Our bill is focused solely on
taking cash off the streets and making our
communities safe.” – Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO)
September 25, 2019: The House of Representatives passed a standalone marijuana reform bill for the first time in history.
The chamber advanced the historic legislation in a vote of 321-103.
All but one Democrat voted in favor of the bill while 91 Republicans voted for it with 102 opposed.
The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), will protect banks that service the cannabis industry from being penalized by federal regulators.
The bill cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March and was officially scheduled for a floor vote last week. The vote was held through a process known as suspension of the rules, meaning it required two-thirds of the chamber (290 members if all were present) to approve it for passage.
The House has previously approved cannabis amendments, including one this summer that protects all state marijuana programs from federal intervention, but those have to be renewed annually. This is the first time a standalone reform bill was approved and the policy will be permanently codified into law if the Senate follows suit and the president signs it.
For six years lawmakers have been pushing for the modest reform to increase financial transparency and mitigate the risks associated with operating on a cash-only basis.
A mood of celebration permeated the house after the vote, however, more effort lies ahead for lawmakers and advocates in order to enact the banking bill into law this Congress.
After Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced his intent to put the bill on the floor by the end of the month, several leading advocacy groups including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and Center for American Progress wrote a letter asking leadership to delay the vote until comprehensive legalization legislation passed.
The groups has expressed concerns that approving the banking bill first could jeopardize the chances of achieving more wide-ranging reform that address the historical racial and social inequities related to the criminalization of marijuana. They said they were caught off guard when Hoyer announced the vote.
Hoyer weighed in on the need for broader reform in a statement Wednesday, “I am proud to bring this legislation to the Floor, but I believe it does not go far enough. This must be a first step toward the decriminalization and de-scheduling of marijuana, which has led to the prosecution and incarceration of far too many of our fellow Americans for possession.”
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) released a statement saying that while he would vote yes on the SAFE Banking Act, he is committed to marking up his legalization bill, the MOREAct.
The MOREAct would legalize marijuana, require resentencing & expungement for old marijuana convictions, & invest money in communities most affected by the failed War on Drugs.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) applauded the Judiciary Committee chairman for announcing he will hold a markup of comprehensive cannabis legalization following this vote.
The vote signals that the House has a clear appetite for reform but it remains to be seen if the Republican-controlled Senate will approve the banking bill.
Anticipating that conservative lawmakers might not support the legislation, Perlmutter moved to add amendments last week that were designed to broaden its GOP appeal, including clarification (to the 2018 Farm Bill) that hemp and CBD businesses would also be protected and stipulating that federal regulators couldn’t target certain industries such as firearms dealers as higher risk of fraud without valid reasoning.
“If someone wants to oppose the legalization of marijuana, that’s their prerogative, but American voters have spoken and continue to speak and the fact is you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Prohibition is over,” Perlmutter said on the floor, “Our bill is focused solely on taking cash off the streets and making our communities safe.”
“Americans across the country are voting to approve some level of marijuana use and we need these marijuana businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, lines of credit and more. SAFEBanking will improve transparency & reduce the public safety risk in our communities.”
Executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project Steve Hawkins said, “the cannabis industry can no longer proceed without the same access to financial services that other legal companies are granted. This decision is an indication that Congress is more willing than ever to support and take action on sensible cannabis policies. The passage of the SAFE Banking Act improves the likelihood that other cannabis legislation will advance at the federal level.”
“Having worked alongside congressional leaders to resolve the cannabis industry’s banking access issues for over six years, it’s incredibly gratifying to see this strong bipartisan showing of support in today’s House vote,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
“Now, it’s time for the Senate to take swift action to approve the SAFE Banking Act so that this commonsense legislation can make its way to the President’s desk. This bipartisan legislation is vital to protecting public safety, fostering transparency and leveling the playing field for small businesses in the growing number of states with successful cannabis programs.”
In May U.S. state bankers associations jointly sent a letter to leaders of a key Senate panel saying that they support cannabis banking reform.
“We believe federal action is necessary and support a solution that would allow banks to serve cannabis-related businesses in states where the activity is legal,” the letter stated.
It was signed by all 50 state banking associations.