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Pot banking backers stand firm in face of Crapo’s opposition

WASHINGTON — After Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo poured cold water on legislation enabling banks and credit unions to serve the marijuana industry, several key supporters of the effort are pushing back.

The Idaho Republican announced his opposition Wednesday to the House-passed Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, or SAFE Banking Act, saying that there are a number of public safety, interstate commerce and money laundering concerns that the bill fails to address.

But the bill’s supporters, including Republicans and Democrats from states that have already legalized marijuana, say Congress is failing to recognize the need to give legal cannabis businesses access to banking as more states continue to ease pot restrictions.

“Every day that Congress continues to ignore reality, unintended negative consequences pile up for legitimate businesses — both in the cannabis industry and outside it,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, a vulnerable Colorado Republican up for re-election in 2020. “The conflicting federal and state marijuana laws are an impediment to needed relief for those with serious medical issues, and do nothing to help improve law enforcement or transparency in the industry.”

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., who has been leading the marijuana banking effort for more than six years in the House, warned about public safety risks if the SAFE Banking Act isn't signed into law.

“There is an urgent public safety risk facing the majority of communities and Americans today that needs to be resolved, and I believe our bill, which passed the House with 321 Democratic and Republican votes, responsibly addresses the conflict between state marijuana laws and federal banking laws,” Perlmutter said.

Both lawmakers have said they originally opposed marijuana legalization in Colorado, but have been pushing for the cannabis industry to get access to banking since the substance was legalized through a voter referendum.

Crapo’s comments have also frustrated the banking industry. James Ballentine, executive vice president of congressional relations at the American Bankers Association, said he believes a number of Crapo’s concerns were already addressed in the House-passed bill. Those concerns include the status of legacy cash that marijuana businesses have accumulated, and the effects of an Obama-era initiative to choke off certain business sectors such as payday lenders from the banking system.

“ABA, like many other stakeholders, has already provided the committee relevant information on several of the issues identified by the chairman including legacy cash, interstate commerce and ‘Operation Chokepoint,’ ” Ballentine said. “We continue to believe that the SAFE Banking Act responsibly addresses the current legal limbo over cannabis banking, and a strong bipartisan majority in the House shares that view.”

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