Last week the House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019, which could finally make access to banking and financial institutions a reality for the cannabis industry.
The SAFE Banking Act would protect banks that work with the cannabis industry from being penalized or from violating federal anti-money laundering and illicit finance laws. For years the cannabis industry has struggled to gain access to even the most basic banking services.
“We applaud the House for approving this bipartisan solution to the cannabis banking problem, and we hope the Senate will move quickly to do the same,” said Neal Levine, chief executive officer of the Cannabis Trade Federation, which lobbied in support of the bill.
“This vital legislation will have an immediate and positive impact, not only on the state-legal cannabis industry but also on the many communities across the nation that have opted to embrace the regulation of cannabis. Allowing lawful cannabis companies to access commercial banking services and end their reliance on cash will greatly improve public safety, increase transparency, and promote regulatory compliance.”
This is the first time that the House of Representatives has passed standalone marijuana legislation. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) sponsored the SAFE Banking Act, and it passed with a vote of 321-103. All but one Democrat and 91 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, giving it broad bipartisan support.
The bill still needs to pass in the Senate, and it’s unknown if or when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will call it to a vote. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) said that he wants to vote on cannabis banking legislation by the end of the year.
Despite being a multibillion-dollar industry, marijuana businesses have largely been given the cold shoulder by banks and credit unions, leaving them holding literal bags of cash.
“If someone wants to oppose the legalization of marijuana, that’s their prerogative, but American voters have spoken and continue to speak, and the fact is you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Prohibition is over,” Perlmutter said while speaking in support of the legislation. “Our bill is focused solely on taking cash off the streets and making our communities safe, and only Congress can take these steps to provide this certainty for businesses, employees and financial institutions across the country.”
While some cannabis advocates and legislators see the bipartisan support for the SAFE Banking Act as a step closer to federally legalizing cannabis, others would prefer comprehensive cannabis legislation that includes social and criminal justice reform.
“I am proud to bring this legislation to the Floor, but I believe it does not go far enough,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said. “This must be a first step toward the decriminalization and de-scheduling of marijuana, which has led to the prosecution and incarceration of far too many of our fellow Americans for possession.”