Nearly a quarter of the members of the U.S. Senate are joining together to call on congressional leaders to ensure that marijuana banking provisions are enacted into law as part of a large-scale manufacturing bill.
The 24 senators—including 19 Democrats and five Republicans—wrote in a letter that the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act would “help cannabis-related businesses, support innovation, create jobs, and strengthen public safety in our communities.”
The lawmakers, led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV), want the marijuana provisions included in the America COMPETES Act, which a bicameral conference committee will discuss at its first meeting on Thursday.
Noting that cannabis banking legislation has passed the House six times at this point, including as a standalone bill “garnering the support of more than three quarters of the chamber and a majority of the members of each party,” the bipartisan group of senators said that finally getting the reform enacted into law has “demonstrated broad support.”
“The cannabis industry has become a powerful job creator and a significant generator of tax revenue,” they wrote. “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. Allowing cannabis businesses operating legally and in compliance with state law to access financial services without federal reprisal would address public safety and compliance challenges, helping communities reduce cash-motivated crimes.”
“Law enforcement organizations have publicly testified before Congress about these cash-related safety risks, including theft, robbery, and serious violence perpetrated against employees responsible for conducting what should be routine business operations. 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.”
Also siging the letter are Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Hickenlooper, (D-CO) and Chris Coons (D-DE).
“Enacting the SAFE Banking Act via the jobs and competitiveness legislation before us would support a rapidly growing industry that creates jobs, fosters innovation, supports small businesses, and raises revenue in states that have chosen to legalize cannabis, while reducing safety risks to industry employees and the public alike,” the lawmakers said.
Despite continually passing though the House, the Senate has been reluctant to advance the measure under Democratic and Republican control. Current Senate leadership has insisted on passing comprehensive legalization legislation first before the cannabis banking bill.
A top aide for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is working to finalize his own legalization bill, recently tempered expectations about the prospects of moving marijuana banking through the America COMPETES Act.
The standalone Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act currently has 42 cosponsors, including nine Republicans.
That reluctance on the Senate side was also the subject of a letter that SAFE Banking Act sponsor Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) sent to leadership last month.
The congressman has even made a point to talk about enacting the reform legislation during committee hearings on ostensibly unrelated or wider-ranging legislation, like at a recent House Rules Committee hearing.
Despite recently saying that he’s “confident” that the Senate will take up his bill this session, Perlmutter recognized that while he’s supportive of revisions related to criminal justice reform, taxation, research and other issues, he knows that “as we expand this thing, then we start losing votes, particularly Republican votes and we got enough votes in the Senate to do it” as is.
Meanwhile, the governor, attorney general and other top officials in Washington State sent a letter to congressional leaders last week, again emphasizing the urgent need to pass marijuana banking reform as a public safety imperative.
With respect to the AMERICA Competes Act, the third-highest-ranking Democratic member in the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), has taken special interest in the issue, describing marijuana banking reform as a priority as an appointed member on the bicameral conference committee.
Separately, Washington State officials also recently held a virtual roundtable to address the spate of deadly robberies targeting marijuana retailers, with regulators reiterating their call for a federal policy change and discussing steps the state can take on its own while Congress fails to act.
Washington State’s treasurer has been especially vocal about the need for congressional reform, and he wrote in a recent letter to his colleagues in other states that it’s “just not safe to have this financial volume in cash.”
He made similar remarks at a recent conference of the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST). And Colorado Treasurer Dave Young echoed that sentiment in a recent interview with Marijuana Moment.
In the absence of congressional action, more states are moving to enact marijuana banking reform policies on their own. For example, Pennsylvania House lawmakers filed a companion bill to a Senate-passed measure late last month that would provide banking protections and tax relief for marijuana businesses.
Meanwhile, the number of banks that report working with marijuana businesses ticked up again near the end of 2021, according to recently released federal data.
It’s not clear if the increase is related to congressional moves to pass a bipartisan cannabis banking reform bill, but the figures from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) signal that financial institutions continue to feel more comfortable servicing businesses in state-legal markets.
Some Republicans are scratching their heads about how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House, too. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue in December.
Read the full Senate letter on cannabis banking below: