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A bipartisan bill designed to protect banks that service the marijuana industry from being penalized by federal regulators will get a vote in a key congressional committee on March 26, 2019.

The legislation, which was discussed during the first cannabis-related hearing of the 116th Congress in February 2019, will go before the House Financial Services Committee.

Democratic Reps. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado and Denny Heck of Washington, along with Ohio Republican Reps. Steve Stivers and Warren Davidson, are the chief sponsors of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. It was formally filed earlier in March 2019, and currently has 138 cosponsors — more than a quarter of the 435-seat  House.

“For six years, Congress has failed to act on the issue of cannabis banking, putting thousands of employees, businesses, and communities at risk,” Perlmutter said in a statement emailed to Marijuana Moment. “However, the issue is finally receiving the attention it deserves with the first-ever congressional hearing and now a scheduled committee vote.”

Among the co-sponsors is the chair of the committee herself, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who spoke about addressing banking issues in the cannabis industry shortly before assuming the position. The Judiciary Committee Chair, Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, and the Rules Committee Chair, Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, have also signed onto the legislation — demonstrating its support among powerful Democratic leaders of the House.

All of this sets the stage for a potentially game-changing vote, as Republican leadership during the last Congress consistently blocked marijuana-related bills from even being considered. With Democrats in control and leading lawmakers embracing the legislation, it stands a good chance of heading to the full House and then on to the Senate.

Resolving banking problems for marijuana companies was one of several legislative goals that Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon outlined in a blueprint to end federal marijuana prohibition he sent to his party's leaders in 2018.

There were several changes made to the bill since it was last introduced in the 115th Congress. For example, the legislation clarifies that protections are extended to financial institutions that work with ancillary cannabis business — not just those that directly sell marijuana or marijuana products.

“[P]roceeds from a transaction conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business shall not be considered as proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction was conducted by a cannabis-related legitimate business,” the bill states.

It also calls on the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council to implement “uniform guidance and examination procedures for depository institutions that provide financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”

There have been widespread calls to tackle the banking problem, including from members of Congress and representatives of cannabis businesses. With this vote, it seems those calls are at least starting to be answered.

Meanwhile, Nadler has signaled that his Judiciary Committee may also take up broader marijuana legislation soon.

“With 97.7 percent of the U.S. population living in a state where voters have legalized some form of adult recreational, medical, or limited medical use of marijuana, congressional inaction is no longer an option,” Perlmutter said. “And with broad, bipartisan support in the House, I look forward to the SAFE Banking Act continuing to move forward in the Financial Services Committee and on the floor of the House.”


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