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Washington Lawmakers Bail on SAFE Banking, Again

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Even with ongoing momentum from six passages in the U.S. House, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was dealt another defeat June 23.

The act, which many advocates hope will provide clarity and safe harbor to financial institutions servicing state-legal cannabis industries, was removed Thursday from the America COMPETES/USICA Act—extensive legislation that involves a historic investment to surge production of American-made goods and tackle supply-chain vulnerabilities to increase global competitiveness, among other priorities.

Passing SAFE Banking would improve safety and opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people and foster economic development in a majority of states, reform group NORML’s Political Director Morgan Fox said in a news release Thursday.

“It is mind-boggling that this is now the sixth time that SAFE Banking has been approved by the House but stalled by the Senate,” Fox said. “This narrowly tailored, incremental, and necessary legislation has broad bipartisan support in both chambers, and it is incredibly disappointing that politics continue to get in the way of saving lives and helping struggling small businesses disrupt and ultimately replace the underground cannabis market. If there is a legislative version of the Twilight Zone, the SAFE Banking Act seems to be stuck in it at this point.”

SAFE Banking passed the U.S. House five times between 2019 and 2021, including twice as a standalone bill, but stalled before making headway in the Senate each time. That’s despite the bill’s author, Rep. Ed Perlmutter, receiving broad bipartisan support in his chamber each time, including a 321-101 roll call vote in April 2021.

Most recently, House members approved SAFE Banking a sixth time via an en bloc amendment package to the American COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology) Act, which the lower chamber passed in its entirety on a 222-210 vote Feb. 4.

RELATED: Rep. Perlmutter Makes Final Push on SAFE Banking

In late March, the Senate voted 68-28 to substitute the text of the House’s COMPETES Act (House Bill 4521) with the text of the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) of 2021 and sent it back to the House.

The House rejected the substituted legislation and requested a conference to reconcile the differences. In a recent push among top Washington lawmakers to find middle ground before their July 4 break, the aim is to pass the legislation before the August recess.

Part of that reconciliation process included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreeing to the GOP demand from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to remove the SAFE Banking Act as an amendment to the legislation, Punchbowl News reported Thursday morning.

That news came as a disappointment, but not a surprise, U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) CEO Steven Hawkins said in a news release.

“Cannabis banking reform is absolutely relevant to American competitiveness, but it is not at the core of this particular piece of legislation,” he said. “It was always going to be an uphill climb, and we thank the House and Senate conferees who pushed hard to keep SAFE Banking in the final version.”

Hawkins added that USCC members remain optimistic that SAFE Banking will find full passage this Congress because the legislation has such broad support on Capitol Hill and throughout the country, where state-legal dispensaries continue to be targeted by criminals seeking cash.

RELATED: Washington Dispensary Worker Fatally Shot During Robbery

“The support and political will [are] there to get the SAFE Banking Act across the finish line,” Hawkins said. “We are encouraged by conversations about pairing the bill with other helpful cannabis and criminal justice reforms. We look forward to working with our members and allies to help get the job done.”

In his push to enact SAFE Banking before retiring at the end of his current term, Perlmutter said earlier this year that he will pursue every possible avenue to get the bill signed into law.

The veteran Democrat from Colorado took to social media following his bill’s sixth defeat on Thursday.

“By excluding the SAFE Banking Act from the USICA/COMPETES bill, the Senate continues to ignore the public safety risk of forcing cannabis businesses to deal in all cash,” he said on Twitter. “In the wake of the Senate’s inaction, people continue to be killed and businesses continue to be robbed.”

Perlmutter added, “I will continue to push for SAFE Banking to be included in COMPETES, other legislative vehicles, or for the Senate to finally take up the standalone version of the bill which has been sitting in the Senate for three and a half years.”

Schumer, who has continued to say he plans to sponsor a broader bill for full federal legalization with Senate colleagues Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., has repeatedly kicked that can down the road without a formal introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.

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