Sponsors See “Path Forward” for Cannabis Banking Bill

The SAFE Banking Act has passed out of the House of Representatives seven times but failed in the Senate.

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Sponsors of a bill that would allow legal cannabis vendors to access traditional banking services say they see a path forward for the bill, which has passed out of the House seven times but died in the Senate.

But this time, the bill’s 40 sponsors — who include two members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation — are optimistic about the chances for the SAFE Banking Act of 2023.

“For the first time, we have a path for SAFE Banking to move through the U.S. Senate Banking Committee and get a vote on the floor of the Senate,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said in a statement. “Let’s make 2023 the year that we get this bill signed into law so we can ensure that all legal cannabis businesses have access to the financial services they need to help keep their employees, their businesses and their communities safe.”

The SAFE Banking Act of 2023 is scheduled for a hearing before the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Thursday morning. Sen. Merkley and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) are among the bill’s chief sponsors, along with Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) and Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio). They introduced the current iteration of the bill at the end of April.

Recreational marijuana is legal in 21 U.S. states, including Oregon. The drug is fully illegal in just three states, while others have decriminalized the drug in recent years or made it legal for medical use. But the push toward more liberal cannabis laws at the state level has created a multibillion-dollar industry.

However,  because the drug is still illegal federally, most cannabis businesses are cash only.

In an era when retailers and restaurants are increasingly going cashless, that puts cannabis vendors in a vulnerable spot. In 2020 the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission recorded more than 100 robberies at cannabis businesses. 

The SAFE Banking Act would prohibit federal banking regulators from prohibiting, penalizing or discouraging a bank from providing financial services to legitimate state-sanctioned and regulated cannabis businesses; terminating or limiting a bank’s federal deposit insurance primarily because the bank is providing services to a legal cannabis business; recommending or incentivizing a bank to halt or downgrade providing banking services to such businesses; or taking any action on a loan to an owner or operator of a cannabis-related business.

The newest version of the bill also explicitly extends safe harbor to Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions to ensure they can also serve cannabis businesses.