Cannabis banking bill gets bipartisan Senate push

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators threw its weight behind a key cannabis banking reform bill, urging House and Senate leadership to include it in a wider legislative package under negotiation to boost America’s economic competitiveness with China. 

The letter, signed by nearly two dozen Republican and Democratic senators and dated May 12, urged the senior congressional leadership to include the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act in the Chinese competition package. First introduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., in 2013, the bill would give banks regulatory cover to provide financial services to cannabis firms. 

A bipartisan group of Senators are urging leaders to include a stalled cannabis banking bill to be included in any forthcoming U.S.-China trade legislation.

Bloomberg News

“The House has now passed the SAFE Banking Act six times, including most recently as an amendment to its version of the bipartisan competition bill,” the senators wrote in the letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-N.C. “We ask you to ensure that the text of that amendment remains in the final conferenced version of the bill to be considered by both the House and the Senate.” 

The letter was signed by 22 senators in total, including Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley, Ore., Jacky Rosen, Nev., Gary Peters, Mich., Tammy Duckworth, Ill., Michael Bennet, Colo., Mark Kelly, Ariz., Martin Heinrich, N.M., Ben Ray Lujan, N.M., Patty Murray, Wash., Catherine Cortez Masto, Nev., Tim Kaine, Va., Bob Menendez, N.J., Mazie Hirono, Hawaii, Kyrsten Sinema, Ariz., Alex Padilla, Calif., Patrick Leahy, Vt., John Hickenlooper, Colo., and Chris Coons, Del. 

The Democrats were joined by several Republicans, including Sens. Steve Daines, Mont., Cynthia Lummis, Wyo., Dan Sullivan, Alaska, Kevin Cramer, N.D., and Lisa Murkowski, Alaska. Sen. Angus King Jr., a Maine Independent who conferences with the Democrats, also signed the letter. 

The letter is a high-water mark for Senate support for cannabis banking, which has yet to vote on the SAFE Banking Act. Since taking control of the chamber in 2021, Schumer has pushed instead for a comprehensive bill to legalize cannabis at the federal level — though analysts see bearish odds for its passage in the current Senate.

The lawmakers pointed to the public safety benefits of fully legalized cannabis banking, which the industry has argued would help eliminate a reliance on cash that has made it a target for crime in many states where the substance is legal. 

“Financial institutions are often reluctant to transact with cannabis-related businesses, even in states that have some form of legalized cannabis, due to legal and regulatory risks arising from inconsistent federal and state laws,” the senators wrote in their letter. “Allowing cannabis businesses operating legally and in compliance with state law to access financial services without federal reprisal would address public safety and compliance challenges, helping communities reduce cash-motivated crimes.” 

Lawmakers between both chambers of Congress have been negotiating the details of a final U.S.-China competition bill since early May, a massive bill expected to introduce billions in subsidies toward semiconductor chip manufacturing and scientific research, as well as efforts to bolster vulnerable supply chains. 

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