SAFE Banking Act Advances As Committee Votes For Approval

The House Financial Services Committee voted 45 to 15 to advance the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. Currently, Federal law prohibits banks from providing banking services to cannabis companies since cannabis is illegal despite some states legalizing cannabis.

Today’s legislation would keep regulators from taking punitive action against a bank that works with a cannabis business like limiting their charter or deposit insurance when the state has legalized cannabis. In addition to protecting banks in legal states, the legislation seeks to promote diversity by making bank regulators to make annual reports on the availability of banking services to minority and women-owned cannabis companies. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter D-Colo.

While the vote is considered to be a huge step and a sign of progress, it would still need to pass a full House vote and then move to the Senate to be approved.

“It’s clear that the SAFE Banking Act has a high likelihood of passing in the house,” said Kyle Sherman, CEO of cannabis tech company Flowhub. “With limited bipartisan support, however, it’s unlikely to pass the Senate. Either way, it’s imperative that cannabis companies get better access to banking like any other developed industry. I’m cautiously optimistic about SAFE.”

Manny Perez, who is the Vice President of Marketing at the cannabis data company Headset said, “Allowing banks to service cannabis businesses in legal states will help bring the industry forward. Providing access to bank accounts, transfer services, and debt financing, just to name a few, will be key to lower cost of capital; not to mention the end of the over-risky cash-only business practice.”

Not only would the effects be felt at the transactional level and on the capital raising end as Perez noted, but it will also have an effect on research funding. “This will open the door to more funding for medical marijuana companies that are developing first-in-class therapies for auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and more,” said Alex Somjen, the CEO of Resinco Capital Partners.

R.J. Lehman, the director of finance, insurance, and trade policy at R Street also pointed out that a 2017 report from the Wharton Public Policy found that half of all cannabis dispensaries had been robbed or burglarized.  “Extending credit to an indirect affiliate of a legitimate cannabis business or even counting the income of an employee as collateral for a home or auto loan could potentially trigger sanctions,” Lehmann said. “The SAFE Banking ACT would provide predictability and transparency to the lending market in an era of shifting and sometimes contradictory legal norms around cannabis.”

Debra Borchardt

Debra Borchardt is the Co-Founder, and Executive Editor of GMR. She has covered the cannabis industry for several years at Forbes, Seeking Alpha and TheStreet. Prior to becoming a financial journalist, Debra was a Vice President at Bear Stearns where she held a Series 7 and Registered Investment Advisor license. Debra has a Master's degree in Business Journalism from New York University.

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