House passes SAFE Banking Act with defense bill

The U.S. House of Representatives included the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act passed last week.

The House of Representatives has now passed the SAFE Banking Act seven times, but Senate approval has been elusive. The Senate has yet to take up its version of the defense bill but reportedly plans to in September, according to Politico. 

The SAFE Banking Act would prohibit federal regulators from disciplining depository institutions that provide banking services to government-licensed cannabis-related businesses. As of April, 37 states had already legalized medical marijuana. Eighteen had legalized recreational sales. Only four U.S. states have not decriminalized cannabis. 

 Partisan differences have previously complicated the chances of passing the bill: Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), has said the Act is too limited and should include sentencing reforms, a stumbling block for some Republicans. Without congressional approval, cannabis remains illegal federally, and cannabis-related businesses are banned under federal law from accessing bank deposits, loans, money transmission, and credit cards for payment, even in states where the drug is legal.

The inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act in the nearly $840 billion defense bill came after a bipartisan group of two dozen Senators called for the passage of the act earlier this year in a letter to House and Senate leadership. 

Last week, the Independent Community Bankers of America, American Bankers Association, Credit Union National Association and National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions expressed support for including the SAFE Banking Act in the defense bill. Though the groups did not take a stance on legalization, they said the bill is crucial for “businesses and individuals involved in the cannabis market who need access to traditional depository and lending services, the absence of which creates a significant public safety issue.”