In a now familiar move, the US House of Representatives voted for legislation containing provisions that would shield financial institutions servicing state-legal marijuana businesses from federal interference.
The House-approved America COMPETES Act of 2022, which includes provisions of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, means the marijuana banking reform measure has now cleared the lower chamber six times either as stand-alone legislation or as an amendment.
The SAFE Banking Act was included as an amendment by the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), and it would allow state-legal cannabis businesses to make use of the same banking and financial services that are standard in other industries. Given the federal prohibition of cannabis, many banks are currently hesitant to work with canna-businesses which means they are often forced to operate on a cash-only basis or seek alternative forms of digital payments.
Not only does this incur extra costs for marijuana businesses, it also puts them at greater risk of theft, fraud, and cash mismanagement.
This situation, borne of the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws, was cited by 72 percent of 396 marijuana business owners as their main challenge, according to a recent survey by Whitney Economics. The lack of access to banking and investment capital is therefore by far the greatest hurdle marijuana businesses face, more so than onerous state marijuana regulations or competition from the illicit cannabis market.
NORML’s political director, Morgan Fox, reacted to the latest House approval of the measure by calling on the Senate to act.
“The fact that the people’s chamber has approved this measure in various forms so many times is a clear indicator of where voters stand on this issue,” she said. “Continued inaction by the Senate on this popular bipartisan reform puts workers and customers at risk of violence, makes it harder for regulators to accurately track cannabis revenue, and perpetuates the high costs and lack of access to capital that are increasingly widening the gap between large and small businesses in the cannabis space when it comes to their chances to succeed.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, has stated on multiple occasions that he would prefer to first pass comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation before piecemeal measures like the SAFE Banking Act.
Schumer recently indicated that his bill to federally decriminalize marijuana, the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, could receive a hearing in the Senate in April. Nonetheless, as state-legal cannabis markets continue to mature and with more states set to launch legal marijuana industries this year, pressure is mounting to resolve what is an untenable situation with regards to marijuana business finances.