In a letter to several members of the House Financial Services Committee today, the American Bankers Association expressed support for the SAFE Banking Act of 2021, which would provide a safe harbor for depository institutions seeking to serve legitimate cannabis-related businesses in states where such activity is legal.
On Thursday, The United States House of Representatives reintroduced a critical cannabis banking bill. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), and Warren Davidson (R-OH) brought the SAFE banking act back to the House along with the support of over 100 additional cosponsors. The bill, which is expected to effortlessly advance, previously passed the house in 2019 and 2020 but was squashed by the Republican-controlled senate. However, now that Democrats control both the White House and Senate, the bill has a real chance of passing.
What Is The SAFE Banking Act? The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act would allow legitimate cannabis businesses acting within the confines of the law access to the same banking services as other companies. Currently, despite the industry generating millions of dollars in tax revenue, cannabis entrepreneurs are seen more like criminals in the in the eyes of major financial institutions. Not only are cannabis operations effectively barred from traditional lending, but it’s also nearly impossible for these businesses to legally open a bank account. As a result, dispensaries and other cannabis businesses are obligated to deal primarily in cash-only transactions, making them prime targets for criminals. According to Representative Perlmutter, “Thousands of employees and businesses across this country have been forced to deal in piles of cash for far too long. It is the responsibility of Congress to step up and take action to align federal and state laws for the safety of our constituents and communities.” The bill remains largely the same as it was in 2019 and 2020, but with added language that explicitly includes hemp and hemp-derived CBD related businesses, which still struggle in accessing financial services despite the legalization of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. The current version of the bill has been updated slightly to include minor technical changes to the safe harbor, strengthened hemp provisions, and other technical updates.
The SAFE Banking Act’s Path Forward In 2019, The SAFE Banking Act was introduced as a stand-alone bill. Despite overwhelmingly passing the House, it would never see the Senate floor. A year later, House Democrats attempted to embed the bill in part of their larger Coronavirus relief package, pointing out the inherent dangers of operating an “essential business” in a cash-only capacity during the height of a catastrophic pandemic.
After considerable criticism from Republicans, the House eventually dropped the SAFE Banking Act from the relief bill’s final draft. Perlmutter harkened back to this subject in his Thursday address, saying, “In many states, the industry was deemed essential yet forced to continue to operate in all cash, adding a significant public health risk for businesses and their workers. As we begin our economic recovery, allowing cannabis businesses to access the banking system would also mean an influx of cash into the economy and the opportunity to create good-paying jobs.”
The Senate is expected to introduce its own version of the bill this week. For the last two years, this is where the SAFE Banking Act has predominantly run into challenges. However, this time around, the Senate has a more favorable makeup—split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tiebreaker. Perlmutter remains optimistic the bill will make it all the way to President Biden’s desk. He said, “I think this is going to get a full legislative review, and we’re going to get a good product, a good piece of legislation, and send it to the White House.”