Thursday, May 11, 2023

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2023, with Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley providing testimony on his bipartisan legislation with Montana’s U.S. Senator Steve Daines. The SAFE Banking Act would ensure legal cannabis businesses finally receive access to critical banking and financial services.

In Merkley’s testimony, he highlighted that outdated statutes have forced nearly three-quarters of legally-operating cannabis businesses to operate entirely in cash, creating major threats to public safety.

“Forcing legal business to operate in an entirely cash economy is terrible for accountability but great for crime, as it has left these businesses and all those connected to them open to violent crime, money laundering, theft, tax fraud and more,” said Senator Merkley in his testimony. “The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act – or SAFE Banking Act – that Senator Daines and I have introduced and led together – would ensure that these legitimate businesses, operating in compliance with state cannabis laws in those states where citizens have said they want recreational or medicinal cannabis, will have the opportunity to access the same financial services as every other business.”

Video of Merkley’s testimony is available to download by clicking here.

During the hearing, Merkley submitted into the official record letters from current Oregon cannabis retailers on their challenges and dangers working in an all-cash environment. These stories from cannabis small business owners, lawyers, farmers, and employees in the cannabis industry all share that being shut out of banking services has resulted in incredible hardships such as personal bank account closures, denial for auto loans, inability to get a mortgage to buy a home solely because of their source of income, and inequitable access to basic necessities like bank accounts. They share the fear, violence, and trauma that legal cannabis industry and related business employees have from working in stores ripe for robbery and physical harm. Most of all, they all share the sense that a lack of access to banking services means they are living at the edge of society even while complying with all state regulations, paying taxes, and operating as strictly-regulated legal cannabis businesses.

Last month, Merkley and Daines introduced the SAFE Banking Act and announced their intentions to move the bill through regular order starting with today’s hearing the Senate Banking Committee. SAFE Banking, as introduced, includes provisions within the jurisdiction of the Banking Committee; and provisions constituting a so-called ‘SAFE Banking Plus’ package, such as the HOPE and GRAM Acts, will have the opportunity to be added when the bill gets to the Senate Floor.

“I urge Chairman Brown, Ranking Member Scott, and committee members to quickly markup and pass the SAFE Banking Act to send it to the floor,” said Merkley. “We have a piece of legislation that enjoys bipartisan, bicameral support from people who believe the time has come to act and address the gaps in federal and state cannabis banking laws – let’s get it done!”