The decade-long saga of legal cannabis businesses having access to legitimate financial services may come to an end as a key Senate committee passed The SAFER Banking Act earlier this week. 

The bill is the Senate’s answer to The SAFER Banking Act first passed by the House. It was passed by the House in various forms during the 116th Congress and the 117th Congress.

The new SAFER Banking Act is being spearheaded by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT). They have heavy support from the Senate leadership. That’s likely one of the reasons the chains have moved further than ever toward the end goal. This is the biggest first down that activists in support of the issue have ever seen. Now they prepare for the bill to reach a floor vote with a lot of positivity in the air. 

From there it would be back to the House, hopefully by the end of the year according to one congressional insider with knowledge of the bill. There the House would likely make its own tweaks, pass it, and then send whatever is agreed to in conference committee when the House and Senate bills would be merged onto President Biden. 

Reps Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who cosponsored the SAFER Banking Act in the House, noted it had passed their end of Congress seven times before this committee vote took place. 

“This legislation will save lives and livelihoods. The overwhelming majority of Americans live in a state where cannabis is legal in some form. It is common sense and an urgent matter of public safety that these legitimate cannabis businesses have access to standard banking services,” the pair said in a statement after the vote. “We applaud the Senate for holding today’s committee vote.”  

The industry was also happy to see the day’s progress. 

“The committee’s approval of the SAFER Banking Act which gives hope to thousands of compliant, tax-paying businesses desperately trying to access the basic financial services other businesses take for granted,” said National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) CEO Aaron Smith. “This uniquely bipartisan legislation has the potential to save lives and help small businesses; it’s time for Congress to get it to the President’s desk without further delay.”

NCIA also noted the bill is endorsed by the National Association of Attorneys General, the National Association of State Treasurers, the American Bankers Association, Credit Union National Association, Independent Community Bankers of America, the NAACP, Americans for Prosperity, United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and a bipartisan group of 20 state governors.

Minorities for Medical Marijuana believe there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the language of The SAFER Banking Act. 

They argue that the legislation only gives the cannabis industry access to depository institutions, greatly limiting available funds for operators that already struggle to enter the market.  

They are supporting a recently filed amendment that would see the expansion of the types of institutions that could provide financial support to cannabis operators, putting it on the same playing field as the hemp industry. They argued the amendment would lower barriers to entry and make the legal cannabis market more equitable.  

Joseph “Joe” Lynyak is a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney. He has been tracking the cannabis banking fight for years. 

“The past opposition to The SAFE Act banking bill has been the perfect example of ‘getting in the way of the good’ (or useful),” says Lynyak. “The last time the bill was supposed to come up for a vote in the Senate, Sen. Booker halted consideration because he insisted on completely decriminalizing cannabis (rather than authorizing banks to provide banking services to cannabis companies).” 

Lynyak noted the issue goes beyond bipartisan and into the realm of public safety. 

“The issue of cannabis and the SAFE Act appears to be one of the few policy questions that crosses the aisles of Congress, with both proponents and opponents coming from both the left and the right,” Lynyak said. “Most law enforcement entities would prefer having cannabis companies conduct their operations within the banking system because of the resulting transparency that would afford enforcement agencies the ability to better monitor cannabis for legal and illegal transactions.” 


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