Cannabis Banking Act Begins Again

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was reintroduced in the House of Representatives today. This bill, which was introduced by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), and Warren Davidson (R-OH), would provide a safe harbor for banks and other financial institutions working with state-legal cannabis businesses.

“Thousands of employees and businesses across this country have been forced to deal in piles of cash for far too long,” said Rep. Perlmutter. “It is time to enact SAFE Banking to align federal and state laws and reduce the public safety risk in our communities. I appreciate the partnership of the cannabis industry and businesses across this country who have added their voice to this effort. The SAFE Banking Act is an important first step to treating cannabis businesses like legal, legitimate businesses and beginning to reform our federal cannabis laws.”

In the last Congress, this legislation was the first cannabis policy reform bill brought to the floor of the House in recent history – with 206 co-sponsors – and was the first to be approved by either chamber of Congress with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 321-103 in September 2019. The bill moved to the Senate but was delayed due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The House also approved two separate pandemic relief bills last year that included the legislation’s language.

“At a time when small businesses need all the support they can get, and after cannabis businesses specifically have been providing essential services and generating significant tax revenues for states and the federal government with little to no financial relief, it is more imperative than ever to get the SAFE Banking Act passed into law,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder and CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA). “Lack of access to banking services continues to create serious unnecessary issues for public safety, transparency, and access to traditional lending that smaller operators desperately need. These businesses are contributing billions of dollars to the national economy every year, and need to be treated like any other legal regulated industry. We are grateful to the sponsors of this legislation who have generated strong and consistent bipartisan support year after year, and we are confident that it has a clear path to approval again.”

The NCIA said in a statement that the SAFE Banking Act would protect financial institutions from federal prosecution for providing banking and other services to cannabis businesses that are in compliance with state law, as well as help address serious public health and safety concerns caused by operating in predominantly cash-only environments. NCIA said, “The legislation would make traditional lending more accessible for the cannabis industry, helping alleviate the lack of access to capital that has presented major hurdles for smaller businesses. It would also mandate a study on diversity in the cannabis industry. The latest version makes clear that protections would extend to financial services providers working with the hemp industry as well.”

National Cannabis Roundtable First Vice Chair, Dr. Chanda Macias said, “SAFE is a win, win, win, for providers and their communities. It will create more jobs, more opportunity, and more public safety. We will work hard for passage of this key piece of bipartisan cannabis reform in this Congress.” A letter from the Roundtable also noted the bill’s opportunities for BIPOC communities. Social equity programs in states in which cannabis is legal are often hobbled from the outset because minority applicants cannot access traditional financial services to cover startup costs – like loans and lines of credit – that are available to every other legally operating business in the United States.” Dr. Macias added, “Offering those financial avenues could have a profound effect.”

Steve Hawkins, interim president of the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) and leader in civil and human rights, said.“While the SAFE Banking Act is not the only cannabis legislation the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) expects this session, it is integral to the success of the responsible cannabis industry of the future. This essential step forward will positively impact social equity candidates often redlined from receiving financial backing and even access to traditional banking services. The SAFE Banking Act provides access to financial services such as small business loans, which create equal opportunity, ensuring more diverse representation within the industry. The Act also protects public safety as the billions of dollars in annual retail revenues are from mostly cash transactions, creating targets for crime and unnecessarily endangering communities.”

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