Republican lawmaker on decriminalizing marijuana: 'Cat is already out of the bag on that'

Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversLawmakers highlight housing affordability, struggling businesses in push for more COVID-19 aid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by UAE - Vaccine breakthrough spurs markets; McConnell warns Trump on Afghanistan GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power MORE (R-Ohio) is pushing back against critics who claim that marijuana legalization will make cannabis more accessible, and therefore, more widely used and misused.

Stivers has teamed up with Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterColorado governor, spouse test positive for COVID-19 Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview MORE (D-Colo.) on a bipartisan marijuana banking bill that would prevent federal regulators from punishing financial institutions who serve cannabis businesses operating legally under state law.

Though Stivers has said he does not support recreational use of the drug, he told Hill.TV that the "cat is already out of the bag" on decriminalization efforts.

“When there’s only 3 states that have no medical or other marijuana legalization, I think the cat is already out of the bag on that,” Stivers said during an interview on Friday when asked about the bill's impacts.

“This is about banking and safety and that’s what this bill is going to be focused on, it does have protections and to make sure that we keep these products away from children, to make sure there’s no organized crime and to make sure that these businesses are legitimately following state laws,” he continued.

Under current federal law, marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration, even though more and more states have started legalizing marijuana in some form.

Perlmutter, who introduced the bill in the House, noted that marijuana’s status on a federal level makes banks and other financial institutions “very reluctant” to provide any kind of service even to legal cannabis companies. As a result, many marijuana growers, processors and retailers are largely forced to operate on a cash-only basis.

“There’s a lot of cash out there and we want these businesses to be able to have credit cards, checking accounts, payroll accounts and get the cash off the street really from a public safety standpoint,” he said.

Both lawmakers are optimistic that the marijuana banking bill will pass Congress. The measure was approved by the Financial Services Committee in March and is expected to go to the House floor for a vote. There’s also a companion bill that’s moving through the Republican-led Senate, where it will likely face a more uphill battle.

The House bill currently boasts 165 co-sponsors, including 17 Republicans. But since the committee vote, Stivers said he has been able to pick up more support from his fellow Republicans after he proposed adding an amendment to extend the legislation’s protections to insurers.

“Since the committee we’ve gotten a deal to add an amendment to the bill and there are four more Republicans from the committee who voted ‘no’ that will vote yes on the floor,” Stivers said.

—Tess Bonn