House panel approves marijuana banking bill

The House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would allow banks to work with marijuana businesses that are legal under state law.

The SAFE Banking Act was approved by the committee in a 45-15 vote, sending the bill to the full House.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterOVERNIGHT ENERGY: 20 states sue over Trump rule limiting states from blocking pipeline projects | House Democrats add 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking big amendment | Lawmakers seek extension for tribes to spend stimulus money House Democrats add some 'forever chemicals' provisions to defense bill after spiking major amendment For safety and economic recovery, Congress must prioritize cannabis banking MORE (D-Colo.) with 152 Democratic and 12 Republican co-sponsors, would allow banks to work with dispensaries, growers and other cannabis businesses, bringing traditionally cash enterprises into the financial system.

“Mr. Perlmutter may now take his victory dance up and down the aisle,” Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersMaxine Waters expresses confidence Biden will pick Black woman as VP Bill from Warren, Gillibrand and Waters would make Fed fight economic racial inequalities Waters rips Trump, GOP over mail-in ballots: 'They'll lie, cheat and steal to stay in power' MORE (D-Calif.) said after the vote.

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Currently, federal law prevents banks from servicing marijuana businesses, even as states increasingly are allowing the legal use of cannabis. Banks have been pushing for Congress to clear up the legal ambiguity to allow them to tap into a growing and lucrative industry and bring that money into the financial system.

“Huge piles of cash are developed by these businesses and particularly create real public safety hazards,” Perlmutter said at the markup. “We can get the cash off the street so this public safety element is no longer a problem that it is today.”

Perlmutter first introduced similar legislation in 2013 and has offered bills in every Congress since.

“This is the first markup of any bill concerning this particular issue,” he said.

The bill, though has faced criticism from both Republicans, who worry that Congress is moving too fast, and from the left, which wants bigger steps to decriminalize marijuana.

Perlmutter noted that some of those broader cannabis reforms would require other committees to come into play, including the Judiciary, Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means and Agriculture committees.

Waters called the bill, “a thoughtful piece of legislation that addresses the serious and growing problem across the country.”

She added that she is hopeful other committees will take up marijuana reforms and that the “House does not take a once and done approach.”

The panel’s top Republican, Rep. Patrick McHenryPatrick Timothy McHenryCheney battle raises questions about House GOP's future Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers House Republicans urge Trump to take action against Chinese hackers targeting coronavirus research MORE (N.C.), wrote to Waters last week requesting that the markup be postponed. 

“It is the single largest re-write of drug policy this Congress has undertaken,” he said. “We’ve done that with one hearing.”

The bill is expected to pass the House but could face an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Senate.