Thursday, February 21, 2019

SAFE Banking Act for marijuana businesses to get another go in Congress

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2019 at 10:03 AM

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While they're used to dealing green stuff, most marijuana dispensaries would avoid banking in cash if they could help it. But financial institutions, including banks and lenders, remain dubious about supporting an industry that's illegal under federal law.

Sponsors of the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act say the incoming legislation would make life easier for dispensary owners and employees who constantly have to worry about burglaries, and can't take out loans to grow their businesses or start up new ones.

Last introduced in 2017, the bill would prohibit federal regulators from punishing financial institutions that provide services to cannabis-related businesses and their owners and employees.

Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and Denny Heck (D-Wash.), along with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), plan to re-introduce the bill at the end of this month, they said at a hearing on Feb. 13.

“Thousands of employees, businesses and communities across this country... have been put at risk because they have been forced to deal in piles of cash while Congress sticks its head in the sand,” Perlmutter said in a written statement following the hearing, which was titled "Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses."

"The SAFE Banking Act is focused solely on taking cash off the streets and making our communities safer," Perlmutter continued, "and only Congress can take these steps to provide this certainty for businesses and financial institutions across the country.”

Perlmutter and Merkley last introduced the bill in May 2017. Its original cosponsors included five Coloradans: Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) in the Senate, and former Rep. Mike Coffman (R), Rep. Diana DeGette (D) and now-Gov. Jared Polis in the House.

While the bill didn't get a full vote in either chamber, the political landscape is somewhat different now.

For one, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who has voiced lukewarm support for cannabis reform, is now the top lawmaker in the House. And weed-hating Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been replaced by William Barr, who told lawmakers he doesn't plan to go after companies who relied on Obama-era guidance protecting them from federal scrutiny on cannabis. (Sessions rescinded that guidance, known as the Cole Memorandum, in January 2018 — reportedly leading some banks and ATM companies to stop serving marijuana businesses for fear of a Justice Department crackdown.)

This year's version of the SAFE Banking Act will also include some revisions, summed up by the National Cannabis Industry Association: "It adds protections for ancillary businesses providing products or services to a cannabis-related legitimate business; specifies how businesses on tribal land could qualify; and requires the Federal Financial Institution Examination Council to develop guidance to help financial institutions lawfully serve cannabis-related legitimate businesses."

View the draft legislation discussed Feb. 13 here.

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