Marijuana banking bill easily passes House panel

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The first federal marijuana bill to be considered by the 116th Congress easily passed a key hurdle Thursday in the House Financial Services Committee, putting the bipartisan measure on path toward a full vote.

Committee members voted 45-15 in favor of advancing the bill, called the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, in spite of concerns raised by the panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, in a letter last week to committee chair Maxine Waters, California Democrat.

Passage of the bill, introduced by Rep. Earl Perlmutter, Colorado Democrat, would effectively establish protections for the nation’s various state-legal marijuana industries by declaring that “proceeds from a transaction conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business shall not be considered as proceeds from an unlawful activity.”

Thirty-three states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, including seven that allow adults to purchase the plant from regulated dispensaries. Pot is federally prohibited on accounts of its status as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, however, making licensed financial institutions reluctant to do businesses with cannabis industry stakeholders such as dispensaries and growers.

“Our federal banking laws were designed to prevent illicit activity and help law enforcement do their jobs,” Mr. Perlmutter said following the committee vote. “These laws need to be applied to legitimate marijuana businesses and employees in order to improve transparency and accountability and help root out illegal transactions. Most importantly, the SAFE Banking Act will get cash off our streets, reducing the risk of violent crime and making our communities safer.”

More than 150 co-sponsors have endorsed the SAFE Banking Act since its introduction March 7, including 12 Republicans.

Mr. McHenry, the financial panel’s top Republican, is hardly on board with the bill, however. He led a letter last week raising concerns with Ms. Waters and urging the chairwoman to postpone consideration until “Congress has done its due diligence.”

“Any change to these statutes, or those that impact them, has the potential to divide the Congress and the country,” Mr. McHenry wrote with Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Missouri Republican.

The bill was ultimately advanced Thursday after garnering the support of every Democrat on the finance committee and a minority of its Republican members.

It is the third stand-alone marijuana reform bill ever to advance out of congressional committee, Forbes reported. Two others were sent to the full House in 2018 but died before being brought to a vote.

Several bills pending on Capitol Hill would end federal marijuana prohibition if passed, including a broader bill backed by several Democrats seeking the party’s presidential nomination.

Congress will hold a full vote on federal marijuana reform “within the next several weeks,” the chairman of the influential House Committee on Rules said Wednesday, meanwhile.

“If we have a strong bipartisan vote that will increase the pressure on the Senate to do something,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat.

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