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Ten Years Since First Cannabis Banking Bill Was Filed and the Industry Is Still Waiting

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

This week marks the tenth anniversary of the first filing of the measure to ensure financial services for legal marijuana businesses.

For most occasions, an anniversary is a time for much celebration and positive reflection. However, when it comes to the issue of banking services in the cannabis industry, not all anniversaries are created equal. As first reported by Marijuana Moment, this past Monday marked the tenth anniversary of the first attempt by Congress to enact legislation protecting financial institutions from prosecution for providing financial services to cannabis companies.


First known as the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, the bill was introduced in the 113th Congress by former Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). Since then, the measure has evolved from a relatively straightforward seven pages to a much more complex and nuanced 38 pages. Likewise, it now goes by the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act title.


The milestone comes as lawmakers in both chambers attempt to once again advance the bill in what many hope and some have promised will be the final push necessary to take the measure out of its legislative purgatory and transform it into law.


The nation’s first recreational marijuana retail dispensaries weren’t even open when the legislation was introduced. However, now that 23 states have legalized adult-use cannabis and almost 80% have medical marijuana programs, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have a powerful and pressing sense of urgency to get the measure passed for the rapidly growing market.


Because cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal at the federal level, current rules make it a federal crime for banks and other financial institutions to provide services to marijuana businesses. As a result, banks face the significant threat of having their deposit insurance discontinued or limited and potential criminal prosecution if they allow cannabis companies access to their financial services.


The SAFE Banking Act would effectively eliminate that threat and allow legal cannabis companies the ability to utilize financial services from banks like every other business in the country.


The legislation would also help address a real and dire public safety threat. Because many cannabis companies cannot access the most basic banking services, they must operate a heavy cash-based business model. This reality has led to a massive spike in robberies, money laundering, and organized crime activity. The SAFE Banking Act would help protect human beings and taxpayer dollars from the dark and seedy elements of the ever-present marijuana black market.


Much of the frustration over passing the measure has come from the Senate side of the legislative process. On the House side, the bill has been passed in some form seven times over several recent sessions. With that historical track record in mind, this time around, the Senate is taking the lead, with Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) spearheading the effort to persuade his colleagues to pass the legislation finally.


“After ten years, there may finally be hope in the Senate for what the House has done seven times: pass this common-sense, bipartisan legislation that will save lives and livelihoods. The SAFE Banking Act is long overdue,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who is the top Democratic cosponsor of the latest House version of the bill.


"After ten years, there may finally be hope in the Senate for what the House has done seven times: pass this common-sense, bipartisan legislation that will save lives and livelihoods. The SAFE Banking Act is long overdue.”

- Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)


One encouraging sign for the potential passage of the measure during this session is the number of cosponsors who have joined the effort to enact the legislation. The first House bill finished the 113th Congress with only 32 cosponsors, only three of which came from the Republican side. Moreover, the Senate had no version of the measure for that session.


Flashforward to this year for the 118th Congress, and since being filed this past April, the current version of the SAFE Banking Act has collected 59 cosponsors so far, including 16 Republicans. In addition, there are 40 cosponsors on the Senate side (nearly half of the chamber), including seven GOP and three independent senators.


That level of increased support has provided a renewed sense of optimism to several lawmakers who have labored for many years to get this crucial bill finally passed into law. One of them is Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), the lead Republican sponsor of the bill, who, along with Blumenauer, serves as a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.


Echoing that positive sentiment, Joyce said, about the anniversary, “Ten years ago today, my friend, former Congressman Ed Perlmutter, introduced the SAFE Banking Act in an effort to reform the federal government’s outdated cannabis policy. Since then, support for this legislation has grown tremendously within the halls of Congress, amongst industry leaders, and with Americans across the country. Now, with broad support from both chambers and both sides of the aisle, I am confident we will get this long-overdue legislation over the finish line.”


"Ten years ago today, my friend, former Congressman Ed Perlmutter, introduced the SAFE Banking Act in an effort to reform the federal government’s outdated cannabis policy. Since then, support for this legislation has grown tremendously within the halls of Congress, amongst industry leaders, and with Americans across the country. Now, with broad support from both chambers and both sides of the aisle, I am confident we will get this long-overdue legislation over the finish line.”

- Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH)


As more and more states contemplate legalizing adult-use cannabis and lawmakers on Capitol Hill, along with the White House, gather feedback from the scientific community and the electorate on whether to end the prohibition on cannabis at the federal level, passing and enacting the SAFE Banking Act becomes critically paramount. Businesses can’t properly and safely function without access to financial services. Congress must take a definitive stand and pass this common-sense legislation thoughtfully and swiftly.


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