WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following last week’s reintroduction of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the House of Representatives, the bill has been reintroduced today in the U.S. Senate. If enacted, the legislation would provide legal protections for banks and insurers that provide services to licensed cannabis businesses. It also would safeguard against federal banking regulators prohibiting lawyers and landlords from providing services to state-legal cannabis businesses.
The Senate version of the bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).
Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chris Murphy (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) co-sponsor the legislation.
“Thanks to this bipartisan group of Senators for reaching across the aisle to introduce this bill that addresses an important public safety issue that comes with legal businesses that currently must operate on a cash-only basis,” said Credit Union National Association (CUNA) President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Nussle. “With both chambers introducing this bill in a bipartisan fashion, it’s clear Congress views this as an important priority, and CUNA, Leagues, and credit unions will continue their engagement to get it across the finish line.”
This is the second time the SAFE Banking Act has been introduced in the Senate. It first advanced to the branch in September 2019 but was delayed in early 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, there serves seventy-two U.S. Senators—twenty-five Republicans, forty-seven Democrats—who represent one of the forty-seven states in which medical and/or recreational cannabis has been legalized.
“[The SAFE Banking Act] will provide needed certainty for legal Montana cannabis businesses and give them the ability to freely use banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions without the fear of punishment,” said Senator Daines. “This in turn will help increase public safety, reduce crime, support Montana small businesses, create jobs, and boost local economies. A win-win for all.”
Increasing safety and reducing crime are two big motivations behind the SAFE Banking Act. Due to federal prohibition, state-legal cannabis businesses currently must operate on a cash-only basis. A fact that, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), “creates numerous public safety and transparency issues for the industry, law enforcement, government officials, and other service providers, and has led to cannabis businesses being increasingly targeted by criminals with sometimes fatal results.”
“No one working in a store or behind a register should have to worry about experiencing a traumatic robbery at any moment,” said Senator Merkley. “That means we can’t keep forcing legal cannabis businesses to operate entirely in cash—a nonsensical rule that is an open invitation to robbery and money laundering. Let’s make 2021 the year that we get this bill signed into law so we can ensure that all legal cannabis businesses have access to the financial services they need to help keep their employees safe.”
With Democrats now in control of the House, Senate, and White House, members of the cannabis and financial industries seem confident the SAFE Banking Act will pass this year.
“With new Senate leadership now firmly in favor of cannabis policy reform, we are optimistic that this narrowly tailored—but absolutely necessary—legislation will be allowed to progress through the hearing process without delay,” said NCIA Chief Executive Officer Aaron Smith.
Camilo Lyon, managing director and lifestyle brands and wellness analyst at global financial services firm BTIG, LLC, also is optimistic. “We continue to believe the bill can pass both chambers potentially by late summer, and while that would bring tangible benefits to the industry it would do little to change the already robust growth trajectory of it,” he said.