Lawmakers call for SAFE Banking Act passage

A bipartisan group of two dozen Senators recently called for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act in a letter to House and Senate leadership.

The May 12 letter called for the Senate to pass the SAFE Banking Act as part of the America COMPETES Act of 2022, after the House of Representatives included the SAFE Banking Act as an amendment to the larger bill it approved in early February. The SAFE Banking Act would prohibit federal regulators from disciplining depository institutions that provide banking services to government-licensed cannabis-related businesses. The SAFE Banking Act has passed the House six times, but not received Senate approval. Partisan differences have complicated the chances of passing the bill: Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown, (D-Ohio), believes the Act is too limited and should include sentencing reforms, a stumbling block for some Republicans. 

Thirty-seven states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical use. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have legalized adult recreational use. “The cannabis industry has become a powerful job creator and a significant generator of tax revenue,” the lawmakers noted. “However, financial institutions are often reluctant to transact with cannabis-related businesses, even in states that have some form of legalized cannabis, due to legal and regulatory risks arising from inconsistent federal and state laws.” 

To the lawmakers, the SAFE Banking Act would also ease the public safety and compliance challenges marijuana-related businesses face due to the industry’s heavy reliance on cash. “The same law enforcement organizations also have testified about the importance of moving these large amounts of cash in the cannabis industry into the banking system, where accounts are monitored in accordance with existing federal anti-money laundering laws and the Bank Secrecy Act,” they said. 

During the American Bankers Association’s Washington Summit in March, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said he supports the bill as a way to ease safety challenges and provide bankers with clarity on how to handle cannabis businesses. He predicted the measure would pass the Senate if it was brought to a vote. 

Sen. Steve Daines, (R-Mont.), one of nine Senate Republicans co-sponsoring the bill, recently told The Hill that he believes other Republicans could support the plan. “We’ve got nine Republican co-sponsors officially on it, close to 50 Democrats,” Daines said. “There are some other Republicans that I’m confident, if we had a vote, would vote for it. So, we’ve got the votes to pass the SAFE Banking Act as a standalone, if we’d like to.”