On Monday, the Republican-controlled Senate rolled out new Coronavirus relief legislation—a counteroffer to the $3.4 trillion package unveiled by House democrats back in May. The Senate’s relief bill comes with a much smaller price tag of only $1 trillion dollars, which it achieves by slashing much of the benefits proposed by the House.
In addition to the dramatic cuts to the weekly enhancements of state unemployment benefits and safety net programs proposed in the House’s version (The HEROES Act), the Senate’s package does not include language that would protect banks who service the legal cannabis industry.
SAFE Banking Act
The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which was originally proposed as a standalone bill sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), would allow legitimate legal cannabis businesses access to financial services regardless of federal prohibition. Despite being initially approved by the house months ago, the Senate Banking Committee has continued to take no action on the bill. In order to circumvent the Senate Banking Committee, House Democrats included a version of the SAFE Banking Act in their Coronavirus relief bill.
According to the summary provided in the HEROES Act, the SAFE Banking section would “allow cannabis-related legitimate businesses, that in many states have remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic as essential services, along with their service providers, to access banking services and products, as well as insurance.”
The executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, Aaron Smith, tweeted out his approval of SAFEs inclusion in the House’s relief bill, stating: “On behalf of the legal cannabis industry, we commend the congressional leadership for prioritizing public health and safety by including sensible cannabis banking policy in this legislation.”
Criticism From Senate Republicans
Despite the fact that forcing essential businesses to continue operating as cash-only during a global pandemic seems counterintuitive to stopping the spread of the virus, Senate Republicans have leveled criticism at the addition of marijuana banking protections to the Coronavirus relief bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been particularly vocal about his opposition to including protections for cannabis businesses in any relief package, stating: “I am opposed to non-germane amendments, whether it’s funding for the FBI building…or other non-germane amendments in the House bill like marijuana studies or aid to illegal immigrants…”
McConnell’s disapproval is not only aimed at the germaneness of the SAFE Act being included in the House’s relief legislation, but also at the diversity report provisions that it contains. Back in May, McConnell gave a speech on the Senate floor where he responded to the passing of the House’s HEROES Act. During it, McConnell sardonically referred to the section on marijuana banking protections as “the cherry on top.”
He continued in a similar tone: “Let me say that again, Democrats’ proposed coronavirus bill includes taxpayer-funded studies to measure diversity and inclusion among the people who profit off of marijuana.”
The Future of the SAFE Banking Act
As of now, it is unclear whether or not House Democrats will push for a section on cannabis banking protections to remain during the upcoming bicameral negotiations that will take place to merge the two chambers bills into one.
As for the Standalone bill, there is no reason to think the Senate Banking Committee will take further action any time soon.