People in the cannabis industry aren’t the only ones who want to see banking access opened up — attorneys general from 34 U.S. states and territories have sent an urgent message to Congress to make it happen.
Calling the status quo “an untenable situation,” the attorneys general signed a letter in favor of the Safe and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would clarify regulations for financial institutions to work with cannabis-related businesses. Cannabis businesses, and those businesses that provide services and goods to them, are largely cash-based thanks to federal prohibition and no rules outlining how banks should work with state-legal companies.
The attorneys general emphasize in their letter that Congress agreeing to pass the SAFE Banking Act is not endorsing cannabis legalization, but “a recognition of the realities on the ground and an embrace of our federalist system of government that is flexible enough to accommodate divergent state approaches.” This latest letter also points out that COVID-19 has made this issue even more paramount, due to the public safety concerns of handling cash in a pandemic. Being able to effectively collect taxes without delays or worries about managing so much physical cash would also help local and state governments navigate the financial impacts of COVID-19. The attorneys general estimate there were $15 billion in sales in 2019.
Relying on cash is also a risk to customers, according to the attorneys general letter. People have to carry large amounts of cash to be able to make purchases from most dispensaries, and while some dispensaries have found non-traditional, cashless solutions, such as launching a credit card just for dispensary customers, a majority have not. This makes customers more vulnerable to theft and makes transactions harder to audit.
Although there was an increase in the number of banks working with cannabis-related businesses in 2019, there was a short decline in that figure at the end of the year. This likely has to do with the fact that Congress was closer than ever before to passing the SAFE Banking Act, so some banks are likely waiting to see if this passes rather than jump in now. And the odds were looking good when the SAFE Banking Act passed the House of Representatives. Then it got locked in committee in the Senate.
This latest letter echoes a letter that 38 attorneys general sent in 2019 in support of the SAFE Banking Act. A few of the names have changed, but not many. The attorneys general that signed the 2020 letter represented the following state and territories: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Northern Mariana Islands, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Missing in the 2020 letter are five attorneys general that signed the 2019 letter from Arizona, Kentucky, Mississippi, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico; however, North Carolina’s attorney general is a new signer.