Bi-partisan federal banking bill filed for legal marijuana industry
Twenty-two U.S. Senators introduced the senate version of the House’s SAFE Act on Thursday hoping to alleviate financial concerns and instability for the medical marijuana industry.
This bill was introduced two weeks after the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act cleared the House Financial Services Committee in a bipartisan vote of 45 to 15, a bill that now has 160 cosponsors signed on.
The bill filed by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with 20 other cosponsors, allows banks to deal with legal marijuana businesses while insulating them punishment or penalty by federal regulators.
Along with Merkley and Gardner, the other initial cosponsors of the Senate legislation are Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Rand Paul (R-KY), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Angus King (I-ME), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
“Forcing legal businesses to operate in all-cash is dangerous for our communities,” Merkley said. “It’s absurd that cannabis business owners in Oregon have to shuttle around gym bags full of cash to take care of their taxes or pay their employees. Operating in cash is an invitation to robbery, money laundering, and organized crime. This is a public safety issue, and I hope that this will be the Congress when we build a bipartisan consensus to put this common-sense fix into law.”
The bill text removes the impediment of banking by legal businesses by stating federal authorities may not “prohibit, penalize, or otherwise discourage a depository institution from providing financial services to a cannabis-related legitimate business or service provider or to a State, political subdivision of a State, or Indian Tribe that exercises jurisdiction over cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr advocated for the passing of the STATES Act rather than putting legal states in conflict with federal law.
“The situation that I think is intolerable and which I’m opposed to is the current situation we’re in, and I would prefer one of two approaches rather than where we are,” he said during a Senate hearing. “Personally, I would still favor one uniform federal rule against marijuana but, if there is not sufficient consensus to obtain that, then I think the way to go is to permit a more federal approach so states can make their own decisions within the framework of the federal law and so we’re not just ignoring the enforcement of federal law… I would much rather that approach—the approach taken by the STATES Act—than where we currently are.”
Some cannabis stocks dropped after Barr spoke on the bill.
A previous version of the bill was worked through previously, but the new Senate version incorporates revisions made during the House markup of that chamber’s last version.
The Senate version includes amendments clarifying that protections issued by the bill extend to insurance companies as well as banks.
It also requires the federal government to study diversity and inclusion in the cannabis industry.
“The problems caused by lack of access to financial services are a serious issue for the cannabis industry and any entity that interacts with it, and these problems will only continue to grow as more states regulate cannabis,” Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said. “Every day that Congress waits to pass this legislation prolongs unnecessary risks for everyone involved.”