Bank officials and cannabis industry representatives joined together on Wednesday to urge Congress to allow marijuana businesses access to banking services. At a hearing of the House Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions Subcommittee, lawmakers heard from advocates of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019 who are seeking support for the bill.
Due to federal drug and money laundering regulations, even cannabis businesses operating legally under state laws are often unable to obtain financial services regularly used by other industries. As a result, companies in the cannabis industry often do business only in cash, putting the firms and their employees at great risk. The SAFE Banking Act would protect financial institutions and likely make more banks willing to serve the cannabis industry.
Gregory S. Deckard, speaking for the Independent Community Bankers of America, said that the legislation “would offer the needed clarity” to financial institutions hesitant to provide services to marijuana businesses.
Mason Tvert, the communications director for the advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project, noted that the SAFE Banking Act is not about legalizing cannabis at the federal level.
“Lawmakers are not being asked to weigh in on whether marijuana should be legal or not. They are simply looking at whether banking services should be available to these businesses in states where it is already legal,” said Tvert.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Congress, said that lawmakers needs to find a solution to the banking issue.
“I’ve worked on this for years all over the country,” said Blumenauer. “Nobody thinks it’s a good idea to prohibit them from having banking services.”
The only person to testify at Wednesday’s hearing in opposition to the bill was Johnathan Talcott, the chairman of anti-legalization group Project SAM. Backers of the SAFE Banking Act noted that Talcott is an attorney for the firm Nelson Mullins, which was hired by Weedmaps to lobby for the cannabis industry.
“He believes in his position enough to be here and testify in Congress, but he works for a firm whose clients oppose what he’s testifying to,” said Marijuana Policy Project director of federal policies Don Murphy. “Anybody with a shred of integrity would just leave, it’s that simple.”
Justin Strekal, policy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was also critical of Talcott.
“Mr. Talcott is a hypocrite of the worst kind,” said Strekal.
In response to the criticism, Talcott said there was no conflict of interest.
“I don’t take any money from the pot industry,” Talcott said. “In fact, if I really wanted to make a lot of money I wouldn’t be standing here right now.”
Murphy said that Talcott’s presence at the hearing showed that the bill has little opposition.
“If this is the best the opposition can do — to get a guy this conflicted to sit in Congress, to stand before Congress, and oppose our position — they don’t have much,” he said. “They didn’t bring a doctor, they didn’t bring a scientist, they brought a hack.”
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