The latest COVID stimulus package proposed by House leadership maintains provisions permitting licensed cannabis businesses to legally and explicitly partner with banks and other financial institutions.
The newly proposed legislation, which is an updated version of The HEROES Act initially passed by the House in May, includes the SAFE Banking Act (HR 1595). The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act creates legal pathways so that state-licensed marijuana businesses may legally engage in relationships with banks and other financial services.
If passed by the House, this will mark the third time that the full body has approved SAFE Banking legislation. House members initially passed the legislation as a stand-alone bill by a more than 3 to 1 margin in 2019. House members passed the language again in May in the initial HEROES Act.
“The inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in the HEROES 2.0 package is a positive development,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “In the majority of states that regulate the marijuana marketplace, cannabis businesses have been deemed essential during this pandemic. Unfortunately, at the federal level, prohibition compounds the problems that this emerging industry faces. Small cannabis businesses in particular are facing tough economic times and access to traditional financial tools will help ensure that they can weather this pandemic.”
He added: “Without access to much needed capital to maintain throughout the crisis, it is possible that we could see an acceleration of the corporatization of the cannabis industry in a manner that is inconsistent with the values and desires of many within the cannabis space. Enactment of the SAFE Banking Act would ensure that small businesses could compete in this emerging marketplace.”
Federal law currently defines all marijuana-related endeavors as criminal enterprises, including those commercial activities that are licensed and legally regulated under state laws. Therefore, almost no state-licensed cannabis businesses can legally obtain a bank account, process credit cards, or provide loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs.
The SAFE Banking Act explicitly allows banks and other financial institutions to work directly with state-legal marijuana businesses. Currently, almost no cannabis businesses can legally utilize a bank to process credit cards, open a bank account, or take business deductions on federal taxes. As a result, this rapidly growing multi-billion dollar industry must operate largely on a cash-only basis, which makes businesses more susceptible to theft and more difficult to audit. This ongoing federal prohibition also places the safety and welfare of these businesses’ customers at risk, as they must carry significant amounts of cash on their persons in order to make legal purchases at retail facilities. For these reasons, NORML has long advocated that federal lawmakers enact The SAFE Banking Act.