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  • Christopher D.

Breaking News: The Senate Banking Committee Approves Marijuana Banking Bill Amendment

In a historic move, the Senate Banking Committee has approved an important amendment to the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act, bringing the cannabis industry one step closer to addressing a significant hurdle that has long plagued it – access to banking services.

This groundbreaking development signals a potential shift in how the United States approaches cannabis on the federal level. In this blog post, we will delve into the details of this significant move, explore what the amendment means for the cannabis industry, and discuss the broader implications of this decision.

A Landmark Moment

The cannabis industry has been grappling with a fundamental challenge for years – a lack of access to banking services. Due to the federal illegality of cannabis, many financial institutions have been reluctant to provide their services to state-licensed cannabis businesses, leaving them to operate largely on a cash-only basis. This cash-centric approach not only poses significant security risks but also complicates financial management and transparency for businesses operating in compliance with state laws.

However, on September 27th, 20XX, a monumental step was taken to address this issue. The Senate Banking Committee, during a markup hearing, voted 14-9 to approve an amendment to the SAFER Banking Act.

This legislation, officially titled the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act, aims to offer safe harbor to financial institutions that wish to provide services to state-licensed cannabis businesses. It's designed to bring transparency and traditional banking opportunities to the cannabis industry, making it safer and more accessible for businesses and consumers alike.

A Pathway to Banking for the Cannabis Industry

The SAFER Banking Act represents a significant milestone for the cannabis industry. This legislation, which has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives seven times since 2019 under the name SAFE Banking Act, has now made unprecedented progress in the Senate. This progression is remarkable given the historical reluctance of the Senate to address cannabis-related reforms.

The bill's core objective is to facilitate financial transactions between state-legal cannabis businesses and financial institutions, offering these businesses a much-needed alternative to cash-based operations. By providing safe harbor, it aims to reduce the risks of theft, tax evasion, and organized crime often associated with cash-only operations.

The introduction of the word "regulation" to the revised SAFER Banking Act (S. 2860), which was presented on September 20th, signifies the extensive bipartisan negotiations that have taken place over nearly four months to shape this legislation. This nuanced approach acknowledges that while cannabis policies vary from state to state, the challenges faced by legal cannabis small businesses are often quite similar.

The Rationale Behind the SAFER Banking Act

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown emphasized the importance of the SAFER Banking Act, highlighting its role in ensuring the safety of legal cannabis businesses, their employees, and the communities they operate in. Regardless of individual opinions on state-level cannabis legalization efforts, Brown stressed the necessity of this bipartisan bill in fostering safer operations within the industry.

Senator Steve Daines echoed this sentiment, underscoring the vulnerability of all-cash legal cannabis businesses to theft, tax evasion, and organized crime. Daines emphasized the importance of granting legal businesses access to the banking system, and he also highlighted the need for financial account closure reforms.

The critical aspect of the legislation is the recognition that legal businesses in high-risk industries should not be categorically denied banking services. Rather, financial institutions should conduct due diligence on individual customers to ensure compliance. This approach aims to mitigate risks associated with reputational harm, enabling state-licensed cannabis companies to operate like any other lawful business.

The Journey Ahead for the SAFER Banking Act

With the Senate Banking Committee's approval, the SAFER Banking Act now advances to the Senate floor for a full vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a co-sponsor of the bill, has committed to bringing it to a floor vote promptly. However, Schumer's intent to include provisions related to expungement and gun rights in the final bill has raised questions about potential modifications.

The official placement of the SAFER Banking Act on the Senate legislative calendar on September 28th, under general orders as calendar No. 215, signifies its progress. While a specific date for floor action remains to be determined, the momentum behind the bill suggests that substantial changes in how the U.S. approaches cannabis-related financial services are on the horizon.

Key Figures in SAFER Banking Act Negotiations

The four months of negotiations leading up to the approval of the SAFER Banking Act involved several key figures, including Senators Jeff Merkley, Kyrsten Sinema, Cynthia Lummis, and Jack Reed. Their dedication to addressing concerns related to the legislation played a pivotal role in shaping the bill's final form.

Senator Jack Reed's involvement was particularly notable due to his concerns regarding Section 10 of the legislation. He argued that this section, which was initially added to the SAFE Banking Act before its first passage in the House in 2019, extended beyond the cannabis industry's scope. Section 10 was introduced to allay the fears of Republicans who believed that the legislation might unfairly target other industries.

Senator Mike Crapo, who voted against the measure in the committee hearing, expressed concerns about the potential resurgence of "Operation Choke Point." This Obama-era initiative pressured banks to sever ties with certain "high-risk" industries, including firearm manufacturers and payday lenders. Crapo raised these concerns again during the markup, emphasizing that Section 10 did not adequately address them.

Addressing Concerns and Enhancing Access

Despite concerns about the SAFER Banking Act's potential impact on industries and broader cannabis-related issues, the legislation includes provisions aimed at addressing them. One important aspect of the bill is the requirement for financial institutions to perform due diligence on individual customers rather than categorically refusing banking services to high-risk industries.

The legislation emphasizes the importance of identifying fraudulent or illegal activities and promotes increased access to financial services, particularly for disadvantaged communities and start-ups. By collaborating with the U.S. secretaries of commerce and treasury, the bill seeks to ensure that depository institutions serve rural areas, low- and moderate-income communities, and tribal communities.

The bill also mandates the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to conduct biennial surveys to assess efforts to provide greater access to deposit accounts for small and medium-sized businesses and to identify any barriers encountered by these businesses.

What's Next for Cannabis Banking Reform?

The passage of the SAFER Banking Act through the Senate Banking Committee represents a significant breakthrough for the cannabis industry. However, it also raises critical questions about the federal government's approach to cannabis legalization. Some argue that addressing cannabis-related financial services before broader cannabis legalization may be putting the cart before the horse.

The debate on this issue continues in the U.S. Senate, reflecting the complex and evolving landscape of cannabis reform in the country. As the industry eagerly awaits the full Senate vote on the SAFER Banking Act, the outcome could shape the future of cannabis banking and financial services, paving the way for safer, more transparent operations within the industry.

Why Medical Marijuana Remains a Vital Choice

While the SAFER Banking Act's progress is encouraging for the cannabis industry, it's essential to remember the importance of medical marijuana in this context. Medical marijuana continues to be a vital choice for patients who rely on its therapeutic properties to manage various health conditions. Whether the bill becomes law or not, medical marijuana provides a proven and effective treatment option for individuals seeking relief from chronic pain, epilepsy, anxiety, and many other conditions.

Access to medical marijuana through a medical marijuana card remains a crucial pathway for patients to obtain the relief they need. By obtaining a medical marijuana card, individuals can access a regulated and safe source of medical marijuana, ensuring quality and consistency in their treatment.

As the cannabis banking reform journey unfolds, it's essential for individuals to stay informed and engaged in the evolving landscape of cannabis legislation. Whether you're a patient seeking relief or someone interested in the broader cannabis industry, understanding the changing legal framework is crucial.

Stay tuned for updates on the SAFER Banking Act and other developments in the world of cannabis. Your proactive involvement and advocacy can contribute to the advancement of responsible cannabis policies that prioritize safety, equity, and access for all.

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