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 PerlmutterFinancial sector's work on SAFE Banking Act shows together, everyone achieves more House passes bill to protect cannabis industry access to banks, credit unions Showing consumers health care pricing could lower costs 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 WatersDivides over China, fossil fuels threaten House deal to reboot Ex-Im Bank Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers unleash on Zuckerberg | House passes third election interference bill | Online extremism legislation advances in House | Google claims quantum computing breakthrough On The Money: Lawmakers hammer Zuckerberg over Facebook controversies | GOP chair expects another funding stopgap | Senate rejects Dem measure on SALT deduction cap workarounds 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 McHenryTrump roasts Republicans at private fundraising event North Carolina ruling could cost GOP House seats Divides over China, fossil fuels threaten House deal to reboot Ex-Im Bank 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.