American Bankers Association (ABA) CEO, Rob Nichols, recently predicted the passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. Last week, Nichols was interviewed on the podcast Engage with Andy Busch, saying, “This is legislation that has already passed in the House [and] Financial Services Committee early in this calendar year by a huge bipartisan margin, and this is something that I predict…as early as September – probably no later than October – will pass the full House of Representatives by a bipartisan majority, which is exciting.”
The SAFE Banking Act was submitted to Congress last spring; Democratic Representatives Denny Heck (WA) and Ed Perlmutter (CO) introduced the legislation, with over a third of the House co-sponsoring. Back in February, industry representatives and business owners spoke at a hearing in front of the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions, then in April, the House and Financial Services Committee voted 45-15 in favor of passing the banking bill.
Despite state-wide legalization in recent years, cannabis dispensaries have faced significant barriers in becoming legitimate businesses. Due to marijuana’s federal status, banks still won’t take cash deposits from businesses selling cannabis, even those attempting to do so legally. As a result of federal restrictions, dispensaries have remained cash-only businesses, prompting high rates of crime, and in response, increased security. Business owners are continually concerned over how they will pay employees and rent.
Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters has been a strong proponent of the bill, calling it “part of a holistic approach toward providing criminal justice reform to those who have been harmed by the criminalization of marijuana. ABA spokesman, Ian McKendry, told The Hill, “The American Bankers Association does not take a position on the legalization of cannabis, but the conflict between state and federal law is challenging for banks in communities that are encouraging them to bank cannabis-related businesses because of the public safety concerns that arise when they don’t have access to the banking system. The SAFE Banking Act would provide some clarity for banks operating in the 33 states that have legalized some form of cannabis.”
Even if the bill successfully passes the House, it’s unlikely that any meaningful reform will occur on the federal level, at least not this year, and probably not next year either. Unfortunately, given the current state of politics, the bill could easily be dead on arrival once it reaches the Senate floor. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has historically opposed any efforts at federal legalization, and critics are skeptical that this time will be any different. McConnell has officially dubbed himself the “Grim Reaper,” dismissing outright any potential legislative proposal by his Democratic colleagues, saying, “They won’t even be voted on.”
In order for real change to happen, federal law needs to change first. And that’s not going to happen on McConnell’s watch. Thankfully, McConnell is up for re-election in 2020; Democratic challenger Amy McGrath is planning to unseat McConnell once and for all.