We have big news to share: Just now, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1595) in a 321-103 floor vote! Today’s vote was historic, as the SAFE Banking Act is the first standalone cannabis bill to ever receive a full vote in Congress.
This legislation would prevent federal financial regulators from punishing financial institutions that provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses. Currently, most banks are unwilling to work with the cannabis industry because they fear federal prosecution. A version of this legislation has been introduced in the Senate (S. 1200) and currently has 33 cosponsors.
As more states implement and expand cannabis-related programs, Congressional action is urgently needed to provide clear banking policies, which would reduce the illicit market, promote public health and safety, increase consumer safety standards, ensure broader patient access, help with business transparency and compliance, and reduce safety risks associated with running high-volume, cash-only businesses.
It is also 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. 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. Access to capital remains an obstacle to this goal, and the SAFE Banking Act would help to address this problem.
MPP is proud to support this legislation, and we’d like to thank all of our allies who worked so hard to get this bill to a House floor vote. We’d also like to thank you, our supporters, for reaching out to your representatives on behalf of the SAFE Banking Act.
Onward to the Senate!
The emerging cannabis industry — with $17 billion in sales this year — is currently troubled by a lack of racial diversity within its ranks. It is impossible to ignore the fact that members of the African American community and other racial minorities have paid a particularly high price in the war on cannabis. When the business community that follows legalization leaves behind people of color, there is cause for concern.
Recently, equity in the cannabis industry has moved to the forefront of many legalization discussions around the United States. It became the most significant issue in passage of Illinois’ recent legalization bill, and equity remains central in the discussions in New Jersey and New York. It can include many facets — from additional points on license applications for minority-owned businesses to incubator programs that help businesses get off the ground.
Yet, the single biggest advancement in equity in the near term will come from an unlikely and perhaps even unremarkable source — access to regulated financial services.
African Americans have access to far less wealth than their white counterparts. As a result, it has been difficult for black entrepreneurs to enter into the cannabis industry, which has relied on private equity to seed business opportunity. Opening banking services to the cannabis industry helps not only existing companies, but also minorities seeking access to that industry.
For example, many of the specific equity policies that states are putting in place require banking services to be meaningful. In Illinois, the state’s new landmark law to legalize and regulate cannabis establishes a fund to provide tens of millions of dollars in grants and loans to social equity applicants. Yet it remains to be seen if the financial institutions that serve the state will be willing to provide the banking services necessary to implement that portion of the law. The SAFE Banking Act would create a “safe harbor” for banks that provide small business loans, which could help level the playing field and increase opportunities for diverse representation within the cannabis industry.
Additionally, the SAFE Banking Act would establish important reporting requirements that do not exist today. It would mandate an annual report to Congress on access to financial services for minority- and women-owned cannabis businesses and recommendations to expand access for them. It would also require the Comptroller General to study barriers to marketplace entry for minority- and women-owned cannabis businesses and report to Congress on recommendations.
Members of Congress should allow banks to provide financial services to cannabis businesses. This creates access to resources for minority and women entrepreneurs and increases the chances for success in state equity initiatives. The SAFE Act is the best next step toward establishing a more equitable cannabis industry in the U.S.
Steven Hawkins, Executive Director, Marijuana Policy Project
Today, 33 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws allowing for either medical or adult-use cannabis. An additional 14 states allow for limited medical use. But under current law, financial institutions providing banking services to legitimate and licensed cannabis businesses under state laws are subject to criminal prosecution under several federal statutes, such as "aiding and abetting" a federal crime and money laundering.
In March, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act (HR 1595) to address this discord between state and federal policy. This bipartisan legislation recently hit 200 cosponsors in the House, and a House floor vote is expected soon.
Please email your U.S. Representative to urge them to support the SAFE Banking Act! If your rep is already a cosponsor, you can thank them for their leadership on the issue.
This legislation would prevent federal regulators from punishing financial institutions for providing services to cannabis-related businesses operating in compliance with state laws. While some cannabis businesses have been able to find banking services, most banks are unwilling to work with them because they fear federal prosecution. As a result, many cannabis businesses are forced to operate entirely in cash.
Solving the banking issue would promote public health and safety, as access to banking would ensure broader patient access, help with business transparency and compliance, and reduce safety risks associated with running high-volume, cash-only businesses. In addition, the legislation would make it easier for financial institutions to provide loans to cannabis-related businesses, allowing those with the least access to capital — often minorities — to participate in the new legal cannabis industry.
Please contact your U.S. Representative in support of this bill TODAY, then share this link with friends and family who support sensible cannabis policies so they can do the same.