The SAFE Banking Act hasn’t even yet been reintroduced in either the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives, but cannabis industry trade groups aren’t waiting. They’re already asking for a Senate hearing on the upcoming bill, which is intended to open up the broader U.S. banking system to state-legal cannabis companies.
In a letter to members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, a quintet of marijuana industry trade organizations begged lawmakers to “prioritize cannabis banking,” due to the industry being “at severe risk of being continually targeted by criminal activity.”
The letter, which was sent to Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tim Scott (R-SC), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, respectively, was signed by:
- National Cannabis Roundtable
- National Cannabis Industry Association
- U.S. Cannabis Council
- Minority Cannabis Business Association
- National Hispanic Cannabis Council
Industry Letter to Senate Banking on SAFE 3.21.23
But the letter is something of a Hail Mary, since there are so many moving parts, politically speaking, said Mike Correia, chief lobbyist for NCIA. The chief concern now, he said, is that Congress is preoccupied with how the U.S. banking system itself is on the brink, following the collapse of Signature Valley Bank and other financial institutions.
“You can just see, Republicans are going to come out and say, ‘Our financial system is collapsing, and you’re focused on cannabis banking? What’s your problem?’ That will be the talking point,” Correia said. “The last thing you can do is have a cannabis banking hearing before you have a hearing on the collapse of banks.”
But Correia is still optimistic about SAFE Banking based on what he’s heard from Congressional offices since January. That’s a shift from the end of the last Congressional session, which adjourned in December. The new Congressional make up was a wild card, with a Democratic Senate and Republican House, which can’t seem to agree on anything, let alone marijuana reform.
Still, getting any reform bill through remains a tough hurdle to clear, Correia said, particularly because some high-profile Democratic supporters of SAFE Banking have for months been floating the possibility of adding new provisions to the bill to make it a so-called “SAFE Banking Plus,” Correia said.
But a new version of SAFE hasn’t been released with new language for lawmakers to debate.
“The issue is always going to be 60. What are 60 senators going to agree on?” Correia said. “Is that SAFE? Is it SAFE Plus? What does SAFE Plus look like? Is it expungement? Is it social equity? How many provisions are going to be added to Plus before you start losing votes?”
He predicted that if last session’s version of SAFE Banking were to be reintroduced, it could pass both chambers “easily.” But whether Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders like Sens. Cory Booker and Sherrod Brown will be on board is a different matter.
“That’s the big $64,000 question,” Correia said. “How far are (Democratic Senate leaders) willing to go? Because they’ve already said, ‘We want to do more than just SAFE.’ So they want SAFE Plus. It’s how much of that ‘Plus’ that’s going to be the key.”
Correia believes the political will is there to get SAFE Banking – or some version of it – through to President Joe Biden for his signature, but whether it will actually happen still has several hurdles to clear.