WASHINGTON, D.C. – A hearing on Capitol Hill shows that despite building momentum among the public and the U.S. House of Representatives, cannabis reformers still have their work cut out for them when it comes to the U.S. Senate.
The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing titled “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives.” At the hearing, cannabis industry members, lawmakers, and activists spoke to the difficulties businesses experience in accessing basic financial services such as having bank accounts and accepting credit cards for payment.
One of the main focuses of the hearing was the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. If passed, the SAFE Banking Act would allow banks and other financial institutions to do business with the cannabis industry. While there seems to be growing support for the bill, this week’s hearing may have slightly tamped down some of the optimism. Republican committee members, with the lone exception of Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, were no-shows for the hearing.
“It really highlights the fear of Republicans to emphasize their prohibitionist policy positions,” said Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Although Republicans may have been scarce at the hearing, National Cannabis Roundtable spokesperson Terry Holt was pleased that Senator Crapo and non-committee member Cory Gardner of Colorado voiced their support for banking reform.
“Today’s hearing perfectly captures why state-regulated cannabis businesses deserve and need access to basic financial services,” said Holt. “The fastest growing industry in the U.S. shouldn’t be forced to operate almost exclusively in cash. The SAFE Act will make our communities safer and unlock the full potential of this growing industry. We applaud Chairman Crapo and Senators Gardner and Merkley for their leadership and commitment to advancing cannabis banking reform.”
Besides making operations more convenient for dispensary operators, access to banking services would increase transparency for the cannabis industry.
“Without access to the banking system, legal cannabis businesses are forced to operate in the shadows,” said ranking member Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “Dealing in large amounts of cash puts a robbery target on the backs for workers, creates a safety hazard for communities, and makes it harder to combat money laundering.”
Passage of legislation that will allow banks to work with cannabis businesses does seem like a matter of when and not if. The cannabis industry is poised for tremendous growth and sooner or later banks will want the legal obstacles from reaping the rewards out of their way. Though it may take additional time to pass significant cannabis banking legislation in the Senate, the Democratic-led House may be ready to do so very soon.
“We look forward to a robust discussion of this much-needed legislation in the Senate going forward as it gets nearer to passing the House,” said Aaron Smith, executive director for the National Cannabis Industry Association. “Access to banking for the cannabis industry is necessary for public safety, transparency, and equal access to this burgeoning industry.”