Members of the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act on Monday, a bill that would provide protections to financial institutions that offer services to marijuana-related businesses.
- The bill has been introduced every Congress since 2013 by Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-CO, and passed in the House in 2019, only to stall in the then-Republican-controlled Senate. House Democrats tried to fold the legislation into two coronavirus relief measures proposed by the House, but the language was not included in the bill President Joe Biden signed last month.
With Democrats now in control of the Senate, SAFE Banking proponents are hopeful the legislation will become law this year.
"After years of bringing up this issue, I’m thrilled to see overwhelming support for this bipartisan, commonsense legislation in the U.S. House once again," Perlmutter said in a statement. "I feel optimistic about the path forward for the SAFE Banking Act and, more broadly, reforms to our federal cannabis laws."
Banks have largely shied away from servicing marijuana-related businesses due to cannabis’s classification as a Schedule 1 drug. As a result, many such businesses deal primarily in cash, making them targets of theft, cannabis reform advocates have said.
The American Bankers Association (ABA) applauded the bill’s passage in the House. The trade group’s president and CEO, Rob Nichols, on Monday urged the Senate "to move quickly to pass this much-needed legislation to clarify these issues for both the banking industry and regulators."
"This legislation is an important step toward resolving the conflict between state and federal law so banks can serve legal cannabis and cannabis-related businesses," he said in a statement. "This includes ancillary businesses that provide the cannabis industry with goods and services such as vendors and utility companies that have been needlessly forced out of the financial system."
The Independent Community Bankers of America also voiced support for the SAFE Banking Act and said it will "press the Senate" to follow the House vote and pass the legislation.
The future of the SAFE Banking Act is now in the hands of the Senate, where it will likely receive its first hearing with the chamber's Banking Committee, now led by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH.
Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-OR, and Steve Daines, R-MT, introduced the Senate’s version of the bill last month.
Brown has expressed a desire to pass the SAFE Banking Act this year, but has also said he wants the legislation to be accompanied by marijuana sentencing reform, according to Cleveland.com.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-PA, the panel's ranking member, said at an ABA virtual conference last month he wants to find a solution to the cannabis banking issue but declined to endorse a particular bill.
"In an ideal world, we'd have a harmonization of federal and state drug laws, but that's not likely to happen, so I am sympathetic to the argument," he said. "I am very open to working with my colleagues. There's interest on both sides of the aisle. And I would like to see if we could make some progress on this front relatively soon."