More than 30 cannabis industry trade groups are calling on Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-ID, to advance the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, a landmark bill that would provide a safe harbor for banks that service marijuana-related businesses.
In a major blow to the industry, Crapo said in December that he did not support the bill, and that the legislation does not address broader issues, such as a lack of research and public health and safety issues regarding cannabis.
- The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill in September, but the legislation has long been expected to face a tougher audience in the GOP-led Senate.
The co-signed letter, which was sent last week, echoes the arguments the cannabis industry and banks have been making for years: lack of access to financial services for marijuana-related businesses is a public safety issue.
Cannabis’s designation as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law has left many financial institutions reluctant to open bank accounts for the emerging industry. The lack of banking services has caused many cannabis-related businesses to operate using cash only.
“We are not writing to ask you to support federal legalization,” the cannabis industry groups wrote in the letter. “We are merely asking that you facilitate the availability of financial services to the state-legal cannabis industry in order to improve public safety, allow states to easily track and collect tax revenue, and assist the state-legal industry with displacing an illicit market that is currently operating free from any regulatory oversight.”
Crapo said he is concerned the bill does not address potency, marketing tactics to children, the lack of research and “the need to prevent bad actors and cartels from using the banks to disguise ill-gotten cash to launder money into the financial system.”
The American Bankers Association, however, in its own letter, urged Crapo to focus on the bill’s implications on the financial services industry, rather than try to address broad cannabis policy questions.
“While we appreciate that there is a wide universe of cannabis-related public policy concerns that require the attention of Congress, we strongly urge the Committee to maintain the narrow focus of the SAFE Banking Act on enabling the provision of basic financial services to state-sanctioned businesses,” James Ballentine, the ABA’s executive vice president of congressional relations and political affairs, wrote to the committee chairman this month. “The SAFE Banking Act enjoys broad bipartisan support in large part because it eschews broader questions of cannabis regulation policy and instead focuses on the immediate practical needs that communities, law enforcement and banks face today.”
Crapo surprised the industry in July, when he said his committee would hold a hearing on cannabis banking, after he previously indicated he wouldn’t take up the issue so long as the drug is illegal at the federal level. Crapo also told Politico in September he planned to hold a vote on the bill before the end of the year.
Any hopes the committee would hold a vote before the year’s end were squashed after Crapo outlined his concerns and requested feedback on the bill in December.