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Marijuana banking bill is just an 'icebreaker' to more reform: Congressman who co-authored SAFE

Zack Guzman
Senior Writer

The Colorado congressman behind the nation’s first marijuana banking bill that seeks to allow banks to work with cannabis companies is defending its passage in the U.S. House of Representatives from fellow Democrats in the Senate.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, the Democrat who co-authored the SAFE (Secure and Fair Enforcement) Banking Act, which will allow cannabis companies and retailers to shift away from being cash-dependent if it passes the Senate, defended its passage as a first step to addressing other issues progressives are calling for.

“This is a bill that really is the icebreaker,” Permutter told Yahoo Finance’s YFi PM Thursday. “Remember marijuana was made illegal back in 1970 [and] there hasn’t been a single bill through an authorizing committee or brought to the floor that actually breaks the ice to do something like gain access to banking services, or allow for research, or taxes.”

Not all Democrats saw it that way, however. Senator Cory Booker, for example, has chastised the bill for not addressing the impact that prior marijuana arrests have had on communities of color, which statistics show have been disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of marijuana laws. Booker, who is also a presidential hopeful, called on his colleagues to do more on that front after the SAFE Banking Act overwhelmingly passed the House with bipartisan support Wednesday.

WHITE BOARDS: Despite the fact that marijuana usage rates among whites and non-whites in the U.S. are mostly similar, and the fact that communities of color face a higher number of marijuana arrests, a Yahoo Finance analysis shows the boards of the top marijuana companies are still disproportionately made up of white men.

“As the SAFE Banking Act now heads to the Senate, we can and we must do more,” Booker said in a statement provided to Yahoo Finance. “With this legislation, we can both address the pressing need for cannabis businesses to access financial institutions and provide real restorative justice for those most harmed by the failed War on Drugs.”

Notably, Booker has instead pressed for his Marijuana Justice Act, which would legalize marijuana at a federal level and automatically expunge the records of people convicted of federal marijuana crimes and possession. The bill counts fellow presidential candidates Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris among its list of co-sponsors, but would face a tougher time in the Republican-controlled Senate.

SAFE still needs enough votes

Perlmutter’s less broadly ambitious SAFE Banking Act still faces a similar challenge in winning Senate approval. In the House vote, Democrats voted 99% in favor of the bill, compared to just 47% Republican support. The bill would need similar bipartisan support to pass the Senate.

But Perlmutter reiterated confidence in sustaining that momentum displayed in the House, and hit back against the idea that his bill would detract from other marijuana reforms.

“Those other bills — and its research, taxes, criminal justice and justice reform — that I think will be able to follow along after this,” he said. “All that needs to be addressed, but this one involves public safety today.”

Zack Guzman is the host of YFi PM as well as a senior writer and on-air reporter covering entrepreneurship, cannabis, startups, and breaking news at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @zGuz.

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