The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to approve a bill that would allow legal cannabis businesses access to the nation’s banking system. The measure, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, was passed with a House floor vote by a margin of 321 to 103.
If passed by the Senate and signed into law, federal banking regulators would be prohibited from penalizing banks that choose to serve cannabis firms doing business in accordance with state law. Under current regulations, banks are subject to penalties under federal money laundering and other laws for servicing such companies, leaving the cannabis industry to operate in a risky environment heavy in cash.
Activists Laud House Vote
Justin Strekal, the political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), noted the historical significance of Wednesday’s vote in the House.
“For the first time ever, a supermajority of the House voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization.”
Steve Hawkins, the executive director of cannabis policy reform group the Marijuana Policy Project, noted that passage of the bill will result in greater opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking licensure under state and local social equity programs.
“It is important to recognize that the SAFE Banking Act, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President, would strengthen efforts to increase the diversity of the cannabis industry,” he said.
“Many states that have legalized cannabis for adults have launched efforts to ensure that there are economic opportunities for communities of color that have been most severely impacted by marijuana prohibition,” Hawkins added. “Access to capital remains an obstacle to this goal, and the SAFE Banking Act would help to address this problem.”
Senate Action Needed Next
In the Senate, a companion bill (S. 1200) was introduced by Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado in April and now has 33 cosponsors. Aaron Smith, the executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, called on senators to follow the House’s lead.
“Now, it’s time for the Senate to take swift action to approve the SAFE Banking Act so that this commonsense legislation can make its way to the President’s desk,” said Smith. “This bipartisan legislation is vital to protecting public safety, fostering transparency, and leveling the playing field for small businesses in the growing number of states with successful cannabis programs.”
Neal Levine, the CEO of industry group the Cannabis Trade Federation, called on lawmakers to quickly pass the bill into law.
“This is a serious public safety matter that needs to be addressed by Congress this session,” Levine said. “It is only going to grow in urgency and magnitude as states continue to roll back cannabis prohibition policies. Enacting the SAFE Banking Act would greatly bolster states’ efforts to promote safety, regulatory compliance, and equity within the cannabis industry. Cannabis-related companies are lawfully operating in states around the country, and they deserve the same access to banking that is afforded to every other type of lawful business.”
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