US lawmakers have reintroduced the SAFE Banking Act to allow cannabis businesses to access banking services. The bill seeks to protect banks that work with legal state cannabis businesses from federal regulator penalties, as under current federal law, banks risk lawsuits and penalties. The lack of financial services for legal cannabis businesses currently forces them to operate in cash.
The US Congress will be considering for the eighth time a bill aimed at allowing cannabis businesses to use banking services after a group of bipartisan lawmakers reintroduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the House of Representatives and Senate last Wednesday.
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Another SAFE Banking Act Revision
Following previous SAFE Banking Act blockages, the last one being last year, the bill, which has been modified since the last session, was introduced by Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley and Earl Blumenauer and Republican Senators Steve Daines and Dave Joyce.
The SAFE Banking Act bill, which has always enjoyed strong bipartisan support, has already been passed seven times by the House of Representatives.
First Senate Vote for SAFE Banking Act
“For the first time, we have the opportunity to get the SAFE Banking Act through the Senate Banking Committee and to have it voted on by the Senate,” said Merkley in a statement. “Let’s make 2023 the year this bill gets signed into law to ensure that all legal cannabis businesses have access to the financial services they need to keep their employees, businesses, and communities safe.”
SAFE Banking Act Criminal Justice Provisions
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expressed his support for the SAFE Banking Act legislation on Thursday and said he would ensure that it includes provisions related to criminal justice when it is considered.
“The SAFE Banking Act will provide urgent assistance to cannabis businesses of all sizes and serve as a springboard for broader reforms,” said Matt Darin, CEO of cannabis operator Curaleaf, in a statement after the bill was reintroduced.
Under current federal law, banks and credit unions face federal lawsuits and penalties if they provide services to legal cannabis businesses, as cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. The SAFE Banking Act sets out to change this.
Without New Legislation, Cannabis Businesses Suffer
Without the SAFE Banking Act, cannabis businesses face limited access to financial services, with many legal cannabis businesses forced to operate solely in cash. Besides being incredibly inconvenient in an increasingly cashless society, this can also promote theft, money laundering, and organized crime.
“This legislation will save lives and livelihoods. It’s high time for Congress to take on the irrational, unjust, and dangerous ban on basic banking services for legal cannabis businesses,” said Blumenauer, founder, and co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
What the SAFE Banking Act Sets Out to Achieve
In broad strokes, the bill seeks to protect banks that work with legal state cannabis businesses from federal regulator penalties. According to the SAFE Banking Act, federal regulators will not be allowed to take several punitive measures against banks, including:
- Prohibiting, penalizing, or discouraging a bank from providing financial services to legal cannabis businesses.
- Ending or limiting a bank’s federal deposit insurance if it provides these services.
- Encouraging a bank to stop providing banking services to cannabis businesses or to persuade it to do so.
- Taking action regarding a loan granted to an owner or operator of a cannabis business.
The SAFE Banking Act legislation also creates a safe harbor against criminal prosecution, liability, and asset forfeiture for banks, their officers, or employees.
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