The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) and 44 state banking associations penned a letter to Senate leaders this week urging them to hear the Secure and Fair Enforcement Act, or the SAFE Banking Act, as a stand-alone bill or an amendment to another by the end of the year.
The letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said the act would “create a safe harbor from federal sanctions for financial institutions that serve cannabis-related businesses (CRBs), as well as the numerous ancillary businesses that serve them, in states and other jurisdictions where cannabis is legal.”
The bill has passed seven times in the House. Despite strong bipartisan support — the SAFE Banking Act has 42 bipartisan co-sponsors — it’s never received a full floor vote in the Senate.
An American Bankers Association survey in October found that 66% of Americans support allowing cannabis-related businesses to access traditional banking services, such as checking accounts and business lending, in states where cannabis is sold legally.
Most U.S. states allow cannabis in at least some cases. It’s fully legal in 19 states and Washington, D.C.; is legal for medicinal purposes in most other states; and is only fully illegal in five.
Both the medicinal and adult-use cannabis industries mean big business. New Jersey, which began adult-use cannabis sales April 21, raked in $79.7 million in revenue in the first 10 weeks of sales. The overlapping second quarter also brought in approximately $60 million in sales from the state’s 116,000 medical cannabis users, according to the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission.
The ICBA and partner associations called SAFE Banking “essential for the ongoing ability of community banks to effectively serve their communities.”
The bill would also alleviate “the threat to public safety posed by cash intensive CRBs effectively being shut out of the banking industry,” the associations wrote.
Advocates of the SAFE Banking Act argue that because dispensaries are cash-heavy businesses — few accept payment via cards because banks don’t want to deal with a Schedule 1 drug — they’re are a prime target for robberies.
Dispensaries in the American West saw at least 10 robberies over the past two months — five in Louisville, Colorado; two in Los Angeles; one in Tacoma, Washington; one in Vancouver, Washington; and one in Portland, Oregon. An attempted dispensary robbery in Oklahoma left the would-be robber dead after a shooting by an armed security guard.
An ICBA survey in September found that 71% of voters think allowing cannabis businesses to bank like normal businesses would reduce the risk of such crimes, “showing the importance of the policy to public safety,” the letter said.