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What will cannabis banking (and baseball) do without Rep. Ed Perlmutter?

Retiring Colorado Democrat talks about what’s next

“I think the baseball team will probably do better without me playing, but they will miss my coaching,” says Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo.
“I think the baseball team will probably do better without me playing, but they will miss my coaching,” says Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Out of all the many retirement announcements in Congress this year, Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s might’ve been one of the most surprising. Sure, some younger members are calling it quits, as are some who were once seen as their party’s future. 

But there are few other retiring members who seemed to really enjoy their time in Congress like Perlmutter. The Colorado Democrat has been a fixture at traditions like the softball and baseball games and a happy legislative warrior even during the most interminable of committee markups. Perlmutter was always happy to wheel and deal with Republicans, happy to talk to reporters, happy presiding over a floor debate — just happy to be here. 

So will he miss it? “Yeah, I’m going to miss it,” he said. “But it was time.”

Perlmutter spoke with Heard on the Hill last month, shortly after the House passed a bill to legalize marijuana, still grinning from ear to ear (even though he thinks his less ambitious bill to let banks work with state-licensed dispensaries has a better chance of passing the Senate this year). 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: So you’re retiring. What are the Democrats’ baseball team and softball team going to do without you?

A: I think the baseball team will probably do better without me playing, but they will miss my coaching, because I’m what they call the designated heckler. My job is to yell at everybody and kind of keep things light-hearted. 

Softball, I’ve been coaching that since they started. I played baseball one day, coached softball the next day, played baseball the next day — it really has been one of the most enjoyable things around here. It’s just so normal to do some sports like that.

Q: When I used to cover financial services and had to sit through all those three-day markups, you were one of the few people who seemed happy to be there. Are you worried you’re going to miss it?

A: I’ve done this now for 16 years, and part of the responsibility all of us have is to build a bench for new people, new ideas, new vision to come in. We’ve been doing that in Colorado, and we’ve got a good bench, particularly on the Democratic side. 

I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I like the issues. I like the people — on both sides of the aisle, I’ve got tons of friends. So, yeah, I’m going to miss it, but it was time.

Q: You put together a bill, the SAFE Banking Act, that would end penalties for banks that serve the cannabis industry. But this spring the House passed the MORE Act that would legalize cannabis altogether. Are you concerned your work will go to waste, and what do you think the Senate will do?

A: I mean, the best thing you can do is just deschedule [marijuana]. The simplest and most elegant way is to get rid of the schedule, and then it’s no longer illegal, and the banks and financial institutions can provide services. But the MORE Act passed by only about 15 votes, while the SAFE Banking Act was 321-101. 

MORE is a broad bill, in effect legalizing cannabis at a federal level. It has a research component, veterans and PTSD components, a taxation component, and expungement — all of which I support. I’m a co-sponsor. But I don’t know that there are enough votes in the Senate for it. I’m pretty confident there are enough votes for SAFE Banking, and maybe [you could] add research, maybe add some money to help district attorneys determine whose records should be expunged.

When the Republicans were in charge and we passed SAFE Banking with big numbers in the House, [Idaho Republican] Sen. Mike Crapo was the chair of the Banking Committee, and it was too big and too broad. Now with the Democrats in charge, really coming from the majority leader and [New Jersey Democratic] Sen. Cory Booker, the bill is too limited and too narrow. In my opinion, I hit the Goldilocks spot. If one side thinks it’s too big and too broad and the other thinks it’s too limited and too narrow, I think it’s going to end up passing. 

Q: What advice would you give any young Democrats making their first run for Congress this year? 

A: It’s not for the faint of heart. Listen to people. Be proud of the things that have been done by Democrats and by this administration, whether it’s the American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure bill, the postal reform bill, the defense authorization, or advancing causes for the environment, for health, for people of color and minority communities. We’re about getting things done, and we’re about saving the democracy, which has been on the verge of being overthrown, and I personally don’t want to see that happen ever.

I’ve got five rules, and four of them come from a book called “The Four Agreements.” Tell the truth, do your best, don’t assume, don’t take it personally — which is a hard one for me — and have some fun. 

Q: One of the joys of retiring is that you get the chance to tell everyone what you really think as you walk out the door. What will you say?

A: I love the people here. Some are pretty unique in the way they look at things and are insane on some of their political points of view, but I like almost everybody. When I’ve said that before, people ask me, “How could that person be your friend?” Well, on some things, they are my friend. Some days it’s hard, because you just don’t understand where somebody might be coming from, but then the next day on a different subject, you’re perfectly aligned. 

Quick hits

Last book you read? “Dune.” I read it in college, and it’s way better the second time.

Least popular opinion? My dad would always say, “How do you know you don’t like onions? You’ve never had one.” I said, “Dad, I’ve just hated them since I was born.”

One thing you would change about Congress? I’d like to change the seating so it’s not so confrontational. In the Modernization Committee, we’re talking about rearranging some of the committee rooms so it’s more collaborative.

What are you most proud of? Getting a VA hospital bill passed. And getting some World War II vets who were stranded in Okinawa to Iwo Jima [for the battle’s 65th anniversary], working with the White House and the Marines and the Japanese. 

What’s next for you? I’ll go back to practicing law. I’m going to look for a firm that’s got a Denver and a D.C. office. 

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