The House of Representatives coronavirus stimulus plan announced yesterday includes language identical to the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow legal cannabis businesses access to traditional banking and loan services.
The stand-alone SAFE Banking Act was approved by the House last September but has since languished in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. The push for normalized banking for the industry comes as most states consider medical and recreational cannabis businesses “essential” under coronavirus response orders.
“The purpose of this section is to increase public safety by ensuring access to financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers and reducing the amount of cash at such businesses.” – Text of provision in HEROES Act
Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, commended House lawmakers for including the reforms in the $3 trillion relief package and “prioritizing public health and safety by including sensible cannabis banking policy in this legislation.”
“Our industry employs hundreds of thousands of Americans and has been deemed ‘essential’ in most states,” Smith said in a statement. “It’s critically important that essential cannabis workers are not exposed to unnecessary health risks due to outdated federal banking regulations.”
The NCIA, along with a host of other cannabis advocates, earlier this month sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) urging them to include banking access for the industry in future coronavirus stimulus legislation.
That letter notes that forcing cannabis industry employees to handle cash puts them at risk because banknotes can serve “as a vector for the virus” and “cash transactions reduce the effectiveness of social distancing measures.”
“State cannabis businesses proactively implemented social distancing measures including limiting the number of employees, patients, and consumers in dispensaries and, where permitted, switching to delivery and curbside pick-up,” the letter says. “Unlike other essential industries with access to remote payment processing and the use of credit cards to make a transaction entirely contactless, an industry limited to cash transactions must do business in close proximity to the public, including immunocompromised and otherwise medically vulnerable patients.”
Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D), who had pushed for the industry’s inclusion in coronavirus relief packages, tweeted that the crisis “has only exacerbated the risk posed to cannabis businesses [and] their employees [and] they need relief just like any other legitimate business.”
Previous federal coronavirus stimulus legislation has not included relief for the cannabis industry and specifically prohibits cannabis-adjacent businesses – including testing laboratories, grow light and hydroponic system sellers and installers, accountants, and consultants – from accessing small business stimulus funds.
Last month Perlmutter, along with Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D), introduced the Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act, which would allow cannabusinesses to access coronavirus relief programs. That bill is in the House Committee on Small Business.