McGovern: Congress set to act on marijuana banking bill

A bipartisan bill protecting banks who serve marijuana business could pass in the House this month as key members of Democratic leadership vowed to make the bill a priority despite pressure to act on gun and immigration reforms.

“I have no doubt the votes are there to pass this. My expectation is that we will have a vote on this in the House soon,” said U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Worcester), who chairs the powerful House Rules Committee. Additional delay on the legislation could trigger political backlash, especially for pols in the 33 states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

“It’s a political liability not to take action on this,” said McGovern. “Members of Congress and Senate will have to answer to their constituents if they don’t act on this.”

McGovern said support for the SAFE Banking Act, which protects banks doing business with the cannabis industry from federal prosecution, has skyrocketed as the Massachusetts Cannabis Control commission continues to hand out recreational sale licenses.

“I get asked about this every time I’m out in the community,” said McGovern, adding it was the first question asked during his tour of the Worcester-based Hanover Insurance company last week.

“Bankers, law enforcement, insurers, everybody thinks we need to do this,” he said.

Currently, only GFA Federal Credit Union in Gardner and BayCoast Bank openly serve recreational marijuana businesses in Massachusetts despite the possibility of federal prosecution.

McGovern’s comments come as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer promised to bring the legislation up for a vote within the month. The bill faces a rockier road in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has remained indifferent to the needs of a rapidly growing marijuana industry.

“I don’t know what will happen to it in the Senate, but I want it to pass this year and there’s a very good chance it will,” said McGovern.

McGovern had indicated that the bill was headed to the House floor before the August recess, but it stalled as lawmakers clashed over whether to include criminal reforms in the language. McGovern hopes to pass the SAFE Banking act as-is.

“This bill is ready to go and last week the leadership told me that they intend to bring it up in the next few weeks,” he said.

In another sign of growing momentum for the bill, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) told Politico Friday he supports similar legislation despite his opposition to legal marijuana.

“The impact on the ability of small and large businesses to operate justifies our attention,” Crapo told Politico. He hopes to vote on the matter before the end of the year.

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