Head of NORML optimistic on cannabis banking through NDAA

Head of NORML optimistic on cannabis banking through NDAA

As the U.S. Senate again takes up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today, the cannabis industry looks on eagerly.

While defense bills don’t usually attract the attention of cannabis advocates, an amendment added by Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) includes the language of the SAFE Banking Act in the NDAA. With the standalone bill stalled in the Senate Banking Committee, an amendment to the “must-pass” legislation could be the key to getting it done.

Erik Altieri, executive director of national cannabis advocacy group, NORML, tells Profiles in Legalization that he thinks cannabis banking reform will be included in the defense bill.

“There are still threats of filibuster and plenty of debate not related to cannabis,” Altieri said in a Tuesday phone interview, “but we feel good about SAFE Banking language making it into the final bill.”

With less than two weeks until the end of business for the year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is having trouble moving the bill forward. On Monday, only 45 senators voted to begin debate on a final version; fifteen votes short of the needed supermajority. The Senate continued to consider the bill on Tuesday and is scheduled to take it up again today.

Colorado Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, publicly urged their colleagues last week to keep the amendment. They framed it as an issue of public safety for cannabis businesses forced to adopt a cash-only business model.

“In Denver, cannabis businesses make up less than 1 percent of all local businesses,” the senators wrote, “but accounted for 10 percent of reported business burglaries from 2012 to 2016.”

Including the SAFE Banking Amendment in the NDAA will align federal and state laws, promote economic growth and public safety, and increase access to the cannabis industry for underrepresented individuals. Congress has a responsibility to address inequities and public safety concerns that exist as a result of current law.

Sens. John Hickenlooper & Michael Bennet in a statement

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) also led a bipartisan group from the Senate Armed Services Committee in calling for the cannabis provision to be retained.

“Enacting the SAFE Banking Act via the NDAA,” Rosen said in a November 23 letter, “would support a rapidly growing industry that creates jobs, supports small businesses, and raises revenue in states that have chosen to legalize cannabis, while reducing safety risks.”

The House passed H.R. 4350 on September 23 with strong support (316-113). After the Senate passes the annual defense bill, the House and Senate versions would need to be reconciled before being sent to President Biden. Amendments can disappear in the Senate-House negotiations.

Altieri acknowledged that the amendment may not survive in conference, but he remains optimistic.

“There will be a lot of horse trading, and the amendment may be removed, but we think it has a good chance.”