Merkley, Rosen Lead Bipartisan Effort to Improve Safety for Legal Cannabis Businesses

Merkley, Rosen Lead Bipartisan Effort to Improve Safety for Legal Cannabis Businesses

Bipartisan Group of Senators Calls to Include the SAFE Banking Act in Compromise House-Senate Competitiveness Bill

Washington, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) led 22 of their colleagues in a bipartisan effort requesting that congressional leadership include the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2021, which would allow state-legal cannabis business to access banking services, in the final version of competitiveness legislation currently being negotiated between the House and Senate. Passage of the SAFE Banking Act, which Merkley has introduced since 2015, would help ensure that legal cannabis businesses do not have to operate in all-cash—the current reality for thousands of small businesses across the country, which has led to ongoing threats of robbery and assault for business owners and employees.  

The letter sent to Senate Leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Leader Kevin McCarthy in the House, notes the SAFE Banking Act has passed the House six times—most recently as an amendment to its version of the bipartisan competition bill, and urges leadership to ensure the text of that amendment remains in the final conferenced version of the bill to be considered by both the House and the Senate.  

“The SAFE Banking Act, as included in the House-passed America COMPETES Act, would allow banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions to offer banking services to legally-operating cannabis businesses without fear of punishment by federal regulators,” wrote the lawmakers. “Currently, thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use, and eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow adult recreational use. As a result, the cannabis industry has become a powerful job creator and a significant generator of tax revenue. However, financial institutions are often reluctant to transact with cannabis-related businesses, even in states that have some form of legalized cannabis, due to legal and regulatory risks arising from inconsistent federal and state laws. 

“Allowing cannabis businesses operating legally and in compliance with state law to access financial services without federal reprisal would address public safety and compliance challenges, helping communities reduce cash-motivated crimes,” they continued. “Law enforcement organizations have publicly testified before Congress about these cash-related safety risks, including theft, robbery, and serious violence perpetrated against employees responsible for conducting what should be routine business operations.1 The same law enforcement organizations also have testified about the importance of moving these large amounts of cash in the cannabis industry into the banking system, where accounts are monitored in accordance with existing federal anti-money laundering laws and the Bank Secrecy Act. Enacting the SAFE Banking Act via the jobs and competitiveness legislation before us would support a rapidly growing industry that creates jobs, fosters innovation, supports small businesses, and raises revenue in states that have chosen to legalize cannabis, while reducing safety risks to industry employees and the public alike.” 

Senators Merkley and Rosen have repeatedly advocated for the bipartisan SAFE Banking Act and have been a vocal advocates and leaders for federal action that treats Oregon’s and Nevada’s legally-operating cannabis businesses fairly. 

In addition to Senators Merkley and Rosen, the letter is signed by Senators Steven Daines (R-MT), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Gary Peters (D-MI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Chris Coons (D-DE). 

Full text of the letter can be found here and follows below: 

May 12, 2022

Dear Leader Schumer, Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader McCarthy, 

We write to request that the final conferenced American competitiveness, jobs, and innovation package retain the text of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act) of 2021 included in the House of Representatives’ American COMPETES Act of 2022. The House has now passed the SAFE Banking Act six times, including most recently as an amendment to its version of the bipartisan competition bill, and we ask you to ensure that the text of that amendment remains in the final conferenced version of the bill to be considered by both the House and the Senate. 

The SAFE Banking Act, as included in the House-passed America COMPETES Act, would allow banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions to offer banking services to legally-operating cannabis businesses without fear of punishment by federal regulators. Currently, thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use, and eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow adult recreational use. As a result, the cannabis industry has become a powerful job creator and a significant generator of tax revenue. However, financial institutions are often reluctant to transact with cannabis-related businesses, even in states that have some form of legalized cannabis, due to legal and regulatory risks arising from inconsistent federal and state laws. Allowing cannabis businesses operating legally and in compliance with state law to access financial services without federal reprisal would address public safety and compliance challenges, helping communities reduce cash-motivated crimes. Law enforcement organizations have publicly testified before Congress about these cash-related safety risks, including theft, robbery, and serious violence perpetrated against employees responsible for conducting what should be routine business operations.2 The same law enforcement organizations also have testified about the importance of moving these large amounts of cash in the cannabis industry into the banking system, where accounts are monitored in accordance with existing federal anti-money laundering laws and the Bank Secrecy Act. Enacting the SAFE Banking Act via the jobs and competitiveness legislation before us would support a rapidly growing industry that creates jobs, fosters innovation, supports small businesses, and raises revenue in states that have chosen to legalize cannabis, while reducing safety risks to industry employees and the public alike. 

The House of Representatives already added the SAFE Banking Act as an amendment to the America COMPETES Act by a bipartisan a vote of 262-168, and on February 4, 2022, passed the amended America COMPETES Act by a bipartisan vote of 222 to 210. The standalone legislation on which the amendment is based previously passed the House of Representatives 321-101, garnering the support of more than three-quarters of the chamber and a majority of the members of each party. The bill’s list of co-sponsors is also bipartisan in both the House and the Senate. Given the demonstrated broad support for this measure, we ask you to ensure that the text of the SAFE Banking Act remain in the forthcoming final conferenced version of the jobs and competitiveness bill when it comes to the House and Senate for final votes. This will help cannabis-related businesses, support innovation, create jobs, and strengthen public safety in our communities. We look forward to working with you on this important issue.  

Sincerely, 

###