Congress to Act on Marijuana Banking Bill This Month

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A bipartisan bill to protect financial institutions providing services to cannabis businesses is expected to be put to a floor vote in the U.S. House by the end of the month.

A marijuana banking bill appears to be headed to a landmark vote in Congress.

Top leaders in the United States House have announced that they will take up a bipartisan marijuana banking bill by the end of the month. According to Marijuana Moment, who first reported on the breaking news on Sept. 13., the office of Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed the upcoming vote after a closed-door meeting on Thursday.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was approved in March by the House Financial Services Committee with a resounding 45-15 vote. Although some expected the SAFE Banking Act to find its way to the House voting floor before August adjournment, the cannabis banking developments seem to be a focal point as Congress returns from summer recess.

The bill would permit cannabis-related businesses in states and territories that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana to access the federal banking system. Bipartisan support has poured in for the safe harbor legislation from state attorney generals as well as banking associations.

Prior to receiving confirmation from Hoyer’s office, four other sources had predicted the marijuana banking bill vote would soon take place, according to Marijuana Moment. Some such sources suggested the vote would be made under suspension of the rules, a process to expedite non-controversial measures.

Voting on suspension would require two-thirds (290) of the members to be present and voting in favor of the SAFE Banking Act for it to pass.

Cannabis Banking Legislation in the Senate

Recent developments suggest marijuana banking legislation could also be considered by the U.S. Senate soon.

Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) announced last week that he would like the Senate Banking Committee to hold a vote on legislation allowing banks to service state-legal marijuana businesses.

“We’re working to try to get a bill ready,” Crapo said in an interview with Politico. “I’m looking to see whether we can thread the needle.”

Although Crapo did not pinpoint a specific date for the completion of the legislation, reports indicate that he hopes to see a vote before the end of the year. The Republican senator did make it clear the legislation was not about lifting the federal ban on cannabis but creating a system for the businesses impacted by the cannabis industry, including blue-collar workers in the industrial and service trades.

“The impact on the ability of small and large businesses to operate justifies our attention,” he said.

Whether Crapo would allow his committee to vote on a SAFE Banking Act companion bill is not yet known. Several cannabis banking bills have been introduced, including by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) Crapo has also suggested that he may write a new bill.

“There are other bills out there,” Crapo told Politico. “We may craft our own bill or we may work with them to craft any amended legislation.”

Crapo heard testimony on the SAFE Banking Act in July by its sponsors, as well as cannabis business leaders and banking executive officers. The bill has 206 cosponsors, including 26 Republicans. A companion Senate bill has more than 30 sponsors.

Impact of Marijuana Banking Bills

Currently, state-legal medical and recreational marijuana industries have difficulties obtaining bank accounts and financing. Because marijuana is illegal and classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law, banks and credit unions that service cannabis industry businesses risk federal enforcement action.

As a result, most marijuana businesses are forced to deal in cash, raising public safety and other concerns. Licensed cannabis companies are currently operating in more than 30 states have established legal marijuana markets.

The SAFE Banking Act would address the discrepancies between federal and state laws that inhibit banks from serving legitimate cannabis businesses. The bill would provide safe harbor to financial institutions that service marijuana businesses.

Advocates for the bill argue that allowing banks to work with marijuana companies would reward taxpayers and licensed businesses who play by the rules, facilitate the growth of the industry, and reduce crime related to dealing in cash.

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