• April 14, 2021

Marijuana Cut from COVID Relief, but Top Dems Still Bullish

 Marijuana Cut from COVID Relief, but Top Dems Still Bullish

Photo by Matt Laslo

WASHINGTON — The US House of Representatives just passed a sweeping, $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, but unlike two similar proposals Speaker Nancy Pelosi ushered through her chamber in the last Congress, this time around the bill doesn’t include any marijuana provisions. The author of the SAFE Banking Act, which would grant cannabis companies access to the US financial system, is fine with that.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter — a member of the more centrist, economic-focused New Democrat Coalition — hails from the suburbs of Denver. Walking to a vote on the grounds of the Capitol, in his now signature bright yellow, red, blue and white Colorado flag mask, he explained to The News Station why he doesn’t want to rush his measure through in this new Congress.   

“We have a new majority in the Senate,” Perlmutter said.

I mean, there’s still substantial bipartisan support for it in the House, and now we have a chance for something to move in the Senate

Rep. Ed Perlmutter

In the last Congress, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) was the Senate Banking Committee chair. He never held a hearing on any of the House-passed measures. In fact, Perlmutter says they never even talked about marijuana banking policy, even as the two held enormous power over the issue last year.

With Joe Biden in the White House and Chuck Schumer now the leader of the Senate, it’s a new day in Washington. So even as — for two straight years — Perlmutter never talked to former-Chair Crapo about his banking bill, in just two months he’s already discussed the topic with newly minted Banking Chair Sherrod Brown of Ohio. The two share the same goal — to allow locally legal marijuana firms to simply use American financial institutions — but they still have some areas they need to smooth out.

“I just know [Brown] wanted to be more expansive,” Perlmutter said. “And I said, ‘Well, that’s all fine and dandy. We’ve been able to pass the SAFE Banking and the MORE Act.’ They have yet to have a hearing.”

Perlmutter said he isn’t worried about the differences in the minutiae of what the two chambers end up debating because their visions are aligned: To end the federal government’s unofficially official current policy that resigns most cannabis firms to being all cash businesses.

To Perlmutter, who is now in his seventh term in Congress, that’s how it’s supposed to be in a legislative branch comprised of two separate chambers — even when they hail from the same party.    

“So whatever happens over there, great. But first, we’ve got to take care of our own business,” Perlmutter said of his hope — and expectation — that Pelosi will bring the bill up for a vote in the coming months.  

He also said there’s a chance House Democrats have to do what they did in the last Congress: Pass it as a standalone bill — then, if that doesn’t move in the Senate, they’ll tack it to other, must-pass pieces of legislation.

“Ether move it individually, which I think we will, or we will attach it to some things as they move through the process,” Perlmutter said.

That more laissez faire attitude is shared by one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and they seem to be using the same, DNC-sponsored calculator. That’s why not getting the SAFE Banking Act included in this latest round of coronavirus stimulus funding isn’t a big concern. Rather, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told The News Station earlier this month that it would be a mistake to do that.

“I think we’re set with our lineup in the Senate to have some things happen, and I don’t think we should expend any political capital jamming anything down now because we’re well positioned,” Blumenauer said. “It’ll happen when it happens. We key off of them.”  

And Blumenauer said Democrats in Congress are also giving this new administration time and space to get its policy priorities in order.

“Part of it is obviously we’re keying off the administration, and they’re, I think they’re processing their stance on a variety of things. There’s a huge amount of stuff coming out,” Blumenauer added.  

As for the timeline? Perlmutter of Colorado isn’t offering any this go round.

“I had several timelines last session,” Perlmutter said through a laugh, “so I’m not going to guess on this this time, but we’re going to move it over here.”

Matt Laslo

Based in Washington, Matt Laslo is a veteran political and music reporter. Since 2006, he’s been a contributor with VICE News, VICE News Tonight HBO, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Billboard, The Atlantic, NPR, etc. He’s taught journalism at Boston University (MA) and The University of Maryland (BA). And he teaches political communications at The Johns Hopkins University MA in Government and Public Policy program. He can be found on most all social media platforms as @MattLaslo.

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