US House of Representatives Passes SAFE Banking Act
In a historic display of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives came together on Wednesday to pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019 by a vote of 321-103.
The measure, which would protect financial institutions that work with state-approved cannabis companies, required a two-thirds majority to pass.
Nearly all of the House Democrats, along with 91 House Republicans, backed the bill, paving the way for banks to conduct business with marijuana businesses in legal states without facing criminal or civil charges.
The SAFE Banking Act is the first standalone cannabis bill to pass through either chamber of the U.S. Congress. It will now head to the Senate, where it could face opposition from Republicans.
"We applaud the House for approving this bipartisan solution to the cannabis banking problem, and we hope the Senate will move quickly to do the same," Cannabis Trade Federations CEO Neal Levine said via a statement.
The Senate’s version of the bill has support from 33 senators (only 5 Republicans), and it has not advanced beyond the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. It’s unclear when the Senate will take up the measure, however Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo told POLITICO earlier this month that he’s working to “thread the needle” on a bill and that a vote could happen before the end of the year.
Numerous industry stakeholders support the legislation, including the Marijuana Policy Project and the American Bankers Association.
“We applaud House lawmakers for voting in favor of the SAFE Banking Act,” Marijuana Policy Project executive director Steve Hawkins said in a statement. “The cannabis industry can no longer proceed without the same access to financial services that other legal companies are granted.”
Since the sale of marijuana is not federally legal, cannabis companies deal mostly in cash, a practice that invites nefarious behavior such as theft and tax evasion, according to advocates for the legislation.
“By helping to provide clarity for the financial sector in those states where cannabis is legal, this bill will help banks meet the needs of their communities while reducing cash-motivated crimes, increasing the efficiency of tax collections and improving the cannabis industry’s financial accountability,” American Bankers Association President and CEO Rob Nichols said via a statement following the House’s passage.
The SAFE Banking Act would prevent federal financial regulators from punishing banks and credit unions that provide services to state-legal cannabis operations, and could serve as a first step toward federal legalization.
"Allowing lawful cannabis companies to access commercial banking services and end their reliance on cash will greatly improve public safety, increase transparency, and promote regulatory compliance,” Nichols added.
For his part, Hawkins believes the House’s passage indicates that federal lawmakers are coming around on the idea of legal marijuana.
“This decision is an indication that Congress is more willing than ever to support and take action on sensible cannabis policies,” he said. “The passage of the SAFE Banking Act improves the likelihood that other cannabis legislation will advance at the federal level.”
Press releases with additional comments are linked below.