The House sponsor of a bipartisan marijuana banking bill says he will continue to push for the measure’s inclusion as part of a large-scale defense bill—and that support should be bolstered by a new, “positive” Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis that found the reform would save taxpayer dollars if enacted. He also addressed a potential broader cannabis omnibus bill that’s being discussed that could include this and other reforms.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) spoke about the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act during a House Rules Committee meeting on Tuesday. For the second year in a row, the congressman filed an amendment seeking to add the cannabis banking language to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that the panel is considering.
“I’m trying to figure out every path possible to get this thing done so that fewer people are killed,” Perlmutter said, referring to deadly robberies at cash-intensive dispensaries. “And this does involve international cartels, so that really is the nexus to the NDAA, the criminal international component to this.”
The congressman made similar arguments as he pushed for SAFE Banking as part of last year’s NDAA. The House included the measure in its version of that bill at the time, but could not reach an agreement with the Senate to enact it as part of the final package.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he agreed with Perlmutter that the issue is “crucially important, and it’s deeply troubling to me that we can’t get the Senate to agree with us and address this.” However, as the Rules Committee works through nearly 1,200 amendments to NDAA, he signaled that there’s a chance SAFE Banking won’t be enacted through the vehicle again this time despite their mutual agreement that it should be.
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The ranking member on Armed Services, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), said he similarly supports the banking measure as both a standalone bill and an amendment, but “the problem” is that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) represents an obstacle as he continues to push for more comprehensive reform before advancing the incremental legislation.
Perlmutter also said that “there is a hope that we can move forward with SAFE Banking as the nucleus for a slightly broader type of effort” outside of NDAA. He described what is effectively a marijuana omnibus of modest reforms that are reportedly being considered in high-level, bicameral talks.
Cannabis banking could be a key component of that package, which might also include provisions related to marijuana research for military veterans, cannabis industry access to federal Small Business Administration (SBA) services and incentivizing states to expunge prior marijuana records, Perlmutter said.
“In a perfect world, that will move forward in the Senate. I’m pretty sure we have the votes here in the House to pass something like that—where it’s not as broad as some of the things that the majority leader has talked about, but is substantial,” he said. “I hope that that’s the approach that we take, otherwise we have to pursue through the NDAA, where there is a germane component.”
There’s no questioning that the SAFE Banking Act enjoys bipartisan support, based on the six times that it’s passed through the House in some form and the cosponsorships that the companion bill has in the Senate.
But between Schumer’s insistence on passing comprehensive reform first, and the recalcitrance of Republican minority leadership in the chamber when it comes to marijuana issues, the measure’s prospects of moving to the president’s desk remain in doubt.
Many stakeholders and advocates had hoped that the banking language would be included in the final report for a manufacturing bill called the America COMPETES Act that’s currently in bicameral conference, but leadership recently reached an agreement to exclude it during negotiations. That’s why Perlmutter is again filing it as an amendment to NDAA.
He said that the “same basics apply” to this amendment as they did last year, with respect to public safety aspects of the reform proposal. What’s different this round, he said, is that his office received a CBO score that shows the measure actually “brings money into the United States.”
It remains to be seen whether the CBO opinion will change the political dynamics in the Senate, but Perlmutter’s office confirmed to Marijuana Moment that they received a score that showed that the SAFE Banking Act would result in cost savings of about $500,000 over a 10-year period (2022-2032). A staffer was not able to share the text of the analysis, however, and CBO did not respond to a query by press time.
The marijuana banking legislation is just one of about a dozen drug policy-related proposals that the Rules Committee is taking up on Tuesday. The panel will determine which, if any, of these will be made in order for floor consideration.
Lawmakers have tried to attach drug policy reform to NDAA in past session, with mixed results. For the Fiscal Year 2023 bill, however, there seemed to be even wider, bipartisan interest in using the defense bill as a vehicle for cannabis and psychedelics policy.
Two marijuana measures were already added to NDAA in the House Armed Services Committee, including one from Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD) that concerns cannabis sentencing standards under military code, mandating that the Military Justice Review Panel “develop recommendations specifying appropriate sentencing ranges for offenses involving the use and possession of marijuana.”
Another amendment sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) would require the Department of Defense (DOD) to research marijuana as an opioid alternative for military members with certain health conditions.
Other amendments touch on policies such as VA home loan benefits for veterans who use medical cannabis and allowing VA doctors to fill out recommendations for medical marijuana, for example.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill to provide military veterans with access to medical marijuana was reintroduced in Congress last month, with Reps. Earl Blumeanuer (D-OR) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) as the chief sponsors.
The reform, which is identical to committee-approved versions from past years and also cosponsored by Cannabis Caucus co-chair Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), was previously pursued through the appropriations process as an amendment.