The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act again passed the Democratic House today. Now, for the first time ever, it heads to a Democrat-controlled Senate where cannabis is very much on the menu.
The SAFE Banking Act would grant the cannabis industry access to traditional banking options. It would be huge for everyone involved – from the smallest mom-and-pop operation to the scariest investor-owned weed-glomerate. That being said, it would be a lot easier for the little guy to fight off the big money with a bank account they don’t lose every couple of years and proper tax deductions.
The actual functional mechanism of the bill bars federal regulators from taking punitive measures against banks and financial institutions providing services to state-legal operators.
Democrats approved the stand-alone version of the bill and attached it to pandemic relief efforts in the previous Congress. Despite then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s newfound love of hemp, it went nowhere.
But congressional cannabis leaders in the Cannabis Caucus continued to champion the now popular issue and today sent it on to the next chamber with new wind in its sails.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, spoke to the day’s bipartisan victory in a statement following the vote.
“Cannabis will soon be a $20 billion industry and is overwhelmingly supported by the American public. The insane prohibition on banking services serves no one’s interest, except for money launderers, tax evaders, or those who are going to rob these cash-rich businesses,” Blumenauer said. “As we continue to push forward with full legalization, addressing this irrational, unfair, and unsafe denial of banking services to state-legal cannabis businesses is a top priority. This is a critical element of reform that can’t wait, and I urge our cannabis champions in the Senate to take up this legislation as soon as possible.”
Blumenauer has regularly pointed to the dangers of having a cash-heavy cannabis industry. This time, he referenced the freshest data from Wilmette Weekly that found in the 10 months leading up to March 2021, Portland cannabis shops were robbed, burglarized or looted 95 times. Many times, firearms were involved and there was one fatality.
The industry shared in Blumenauer’s hopes of continued progress.
“We are incredibly grateful to the bill sponsors who have been working with us for the last eight years to make this sensible legislation become law and have shepherded it through the House time and again,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and chief executive officer of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
Smith also addressed the importance of protecting the industry from the dangers of massive cash piles and a level playing field.
“The SAFE Banking Act is vital for improving public safety and transparency and will improve the lives of the more than 300,000 people who work in the state-legal cannabis industry,” Smith said. “It will also help level the playing field for small businesses and communities with limited access to capital. It is time for the Senate to start considering the companion legislation without delay.”
The nation’s oldest cannabis reform organization has spent years working on the issue. NORML Political Director Justin Strekal issued a statement on the effort’s first win of the Biden era.
“For the first time since Joe Biden assumed the presidency, a supermajority of the House has voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization,” Strekal said. “However, the SAFE Banking Act is only a first step at making sure that these state-legal markets operate safely and efficiently. The sad reality is that those who own or patronize the unbanked businesses are themselves criminals in the eyes of the federal government, which can only be addressed by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances.”
For the newly formed U.S. Cannabis Council, this was the first time watching the SAFE Banking Act get the win. That’s not to take away from those at the Marijuana Policy Project who had previously and still take part in the effort, but the new group shared in the old guard’s newest round of glory this afternoon.
“This is the first step on the road to achieving comprehensive reform on cannabis regulation, and the bipartisan support reflects support from voters across the nation,” said Steven Hawkins, interim president and founding member of the USCC. “The SAFE Banking Act provides small businesses, including many minority and women-owned businesses – and their 321,000 employees – with urgently-needed banking services. It enhances public safety and economic growth. We thank Speaker Pelosi for bringing this measure to a vote and the bipartisan group of leaders behind this bill, including Representatives Ed Perlmutter, Steve Stivers, Nydia Valezquez, and Warren Davidson. The Senate should also immediately pass the bill.”
NORML and NCIA both spoke to the road ahead.
“Today’s vote is another important mile marker on the road to repealing federal prohibition, yet much more action must still be taken by lawmakers in both chambers,” Strekal said. “In the Senate, we are still waiting on a comprehensive proposal promised by Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden and in the House, we anticipate additional efforts to move forward and pass comprehensive reform legislation like The MORE Act – which was approved in the previous Congress – in order to ultimately comport federal law with the new political and cultural realities surrounding marijuana.”
NCIA said advocates are hopeful that Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-OH) takes the bill up in committee as soon as possible.