Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives made history by voting in favor of the SAFE Banking Act with overwhelming bi-partisan support. This marks the first time that a solely cannabis-based bill was considered and approved by the entire U.S. House of Representatives. The vote yesterday, passed in the chamber by a 321-103 vote with almost all Democrats and half of Republicans agreeing that the SAFE Banking Act should be law.
The primary focus of the SAFE Banking Act is to allow legal cannabis business to access banking services from any of the federally insured financial institutions. As a bonus, lawmakers are also hoping that this will eliminate the cash-only element from the legal marijuana market and reduce the risk of theft and armed burglary. The bill’s primary sponsor Colorado Representative Ed Perlmutter noted that the SAFE Banking Act will ideally support “public safety, accountability, and states rights.”
Also known as HR 1595, the SAFE Banking Act could be transformative for legitimizing the cannabis industry and could potentially lead to even more growth. House members such as Representative Steve Stivers see the bill as an effort to protect the public rather than marijuana focused legislation. "For me this bill has nothing to do with the larger debate about marijuana and whether it's a good or bad thing," he noted.
Prior to the vote, the author of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, Rep, Perlmutter, tweeted:
#SAFEBanking is a big deal for the thousands of employees, biz & communities who have been forced to deal in piles of cash. Only Congress can provide the certainty financial institutions need to start banking cannabis-related legitimate businesses. It's time to pass #SAFEBanking. https://t.co/ldZRxiMHsm— Rep. Ed Perlmutter (@RepPerlmutter) September 25, 2019
It is important to note that while this banking bill received wide support in the House, getting it passed in the Senate will prove to a bigger challenge. Cannabis lawyer Rachel Gillette was quick to point out that, “What it ends up doing in the Senate is anybody’s guess, to be honest, but it does have bipartisan support. The reality is that this is a bill that will allow banks to feel safe banking with the industry, and it removes the risk of them banking the marijuana industry. Cannabis is here to stay.”
Despite the uncertainty of the SAFE Banking Act in the Senate, cannabis advocates enthusiasm hasn’t diminished. Political Director or NORML, Justin Strekal released a statement saying, “For the first time ever, a supermajority of the House voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization.”
If HR 1595 does make it through the Senate, it could serve as a precursor to future cannabis reform. It would definitely be a major step in that the federal government is finally recognizing the legitimacy of state legal cannabis businesses. The next major hurdle would be to reschedule cannabis or relinquishing regulatory oversight entirely to state governments.
As for now we’ll celebrate this lower house victory and continue to urge Senators to support the passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act in the coming weeks.