Bill to allow banks to service legal pot businesses introduced in Senate

A bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would allow legal marijuana-related businesses to access banking services.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2017 would ensure financial institutions can service marijuana-related businesses without the fear of reprisal from the federal government.

Currently, hundreds of licensed and regulated businesses do not have access to the banking industry and are unable to accept credit cards, deposit revenues, or write checks to meet payroll or pay taxes. Thus, these businesses must operate using large amounts of cash. This creates safety risks for businesses and surrounding communities, and makes it more difficult for local and state governments to collect taxes.

Eight states and Washington, D.C. now allow for adult-use recreational marijuana and 29 states have legalized medical marijuana. The legislators said it is time to align federal and state laws for companies in the marijuana business.

A companion bill was introduced in the House earlier this month.

“Conflicting federal and state marijuana laws make it difficult for legitimate businesses to use the basic financial services they need access to and this bipartisan legislation gives them that access they need,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said. Gardner co-sponsored the bill along with Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Patty Murray (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Brian Schatz (D-HI)

“We must also take into account the risk to public safety as these businesses are being forced to carry around bags of money to pay for their employees and rent. Legal businesses should not be treated like this, and I’m glad that Republicans and Democrats are working together to address this issue,” Gardner said.

Specifically, the bill would prevent federal banking regulators from prohibiting, penalizing or discouraging a bank from providing financial services to a legitimate state-sanctioned and regulated cannabis business, or an associated business.

It would also prevent regulators from terminating or limiting a bank’s federal deposit insurance solely because the bank is providing services to a state-sanctioned cannabis business or associated business.

The bill also creates a safe harbor from criminal prosecution and liability and asset forfeiture for banks and their officers and employees who provide financial services to legitimate marijuana businesses.