Bipartisan lawmakers in both chambers of Congress on Wednesday reintroduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in an effort to normalize banking and financial services for the legal cannabis industry. Sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in the Senate and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Dave Joyce (R-OH) in the House, the updated SAFE Banking Act would protect banks and other institutions from federal prosecution for serving state-legal cannabis companies.
Under current federal law, banks are discouraged from providing services to state-licensed cannabis companies due to the ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis, and the lack of banking has led to an industry based almost entirely on cash transactions. The heightened levels of cash (and cannabis, which remains valuable on the illicit market) have made state-legal cannabis companies prime targets for criminals — Sen. Merkley tweeted on Wednesday that the current system is “dangerous” and “ripe for robbery, assaults, tax fraud, and money laundering.”
The House of Representatives has previously approved the SAFE Banking Act seven times, as both a standalone proposal and as part of a broader legislation package, but the Senate has yet to ever formally consider the bill. This year’s Senate version of the proposal, however, carries a total of 40 co-sponsors including five Republicans.
“The introduction of the SAFE Banking Act puts us on a path to move through the Senate Banking Committee and get a vote on the floor of the Senate,” said Sens. Merkley and Daines in a joint statement issued after the proposal’s reintroduction.
“We expect SAFE Banking to go through the Banking Committee, and on the floor there will be an opportunity to add additional regular-order passed provisions – such as the HOPE and GRAM Acts – before final Senate passage. This expanded ‘SAFE Banking Plus’ package will represent the largest-ever cannabis reform legislation with bipartisan support in Congress. We are committed to making 2023 the year a bill is signed into law that ensures all legal cannabis businesses have access to the financial services they need.” — Statement by Sens. Merkley and Daines
A 2022 poll by Data for Progress found that 72% of U.S. voters, including nearly two-thirds of Republicans, support giving legal cannabis companies access to traditional financial services.
“It is irresponsible to shut this heavily regulated industry out of the US financial system,” NORML Political Director Morgan Fox said in a press release. “Every day that Congress fails to act further endangers small businesses and consumers, puts regulators and law enforcement at a disadvantage, and facilitates the activities of unlicensed operators and criminal organizations.”
Cannabis is legal for medical purposes in 38 states and for recreational use by adults in 22 states, with Delaware being the latest to adopt adult-use reforms.
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