The lead Republican sponsor of a congressional bill to expand marijuana banking services said on Tuesday that lawmakers are “close” to advancing the reform measure.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said that passing the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act and allowing cannabis businesses to access financial services would improve overall industry transparency in California, Colorado and other legal cannabis states.
The measure made history this past September when it became the first standalone cannabis reform bill ever to be approved by the House, passing along largely bipartisan lines. But it’s been stalled in the Senate, where Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) has held it up and recommended changes that industry stakeholders view as untenable.
Even so, Gardner said lawmakers are “close to finding common ground to getting everyone signed off to move this forward.”
“We need to get this all-cash economy into the disinfectant of sunlight, out of the shadows and get some transparency so we can put it into our financial system,” the senator said during a speech at the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) annual governance meeting in Washington, D.C. “It’s a challenge we have to rise to meet. We can’t ignore it.”
— CUNA (@CUNA) February 25, 2020
Gardner’s proposed bill would protect federally regulated financial institutions from being punished for working with state-legal cannabis businesses. Current law forces many marijuana companies to operate in cash because most banks won’t let them open accounts, making them targets for robberies.
— CUNA (@CUNA) February 25, 2020
The senator said “sensible regulations for the financial services industry only work if we allow the financial services industry to touch the money in the first place” and that’s “why I believe we need the SAFE Banking Act—to bring the nearly $2 billion of cash from Colorado’s state-legal cannabis industry into the financial system.”
“Every day that Congress continues to ignore reality, unintended consequences pile up for legitimate businesses,” he said. “I sincerely appreciate CUNA’s support for the SAFE Banking Act and their work to pass this commonsense, states-rights approach to the legal cannabis question.”
Earlier this month, 12 Republican members of the House who voted against the bill in that chamber wrote to Crapo, thanking him for proposing a series of restrictive changes to the bill. The letter claims that even relatively low levels of THC can cause “IQ loss, increased risk of serious mental illness, and addiction.”
“We thank you again for your examination and consideration of these important public health topics,” the group wrote. “We remain opposed to liberalizing drug laws (including around banking), and we see these as some of our areas of greatest concern. We must protect our youth by preventing investment into companies that would prey upon them.”
Meanwhile a group of more than 1,300 cannabis industry representatives wrote to Crapo urging him to pass the legislation as written.
Gardner said that he, Crapo and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have “made great progress on the details of the SAFE Banking Act.”
“We are working through some of the objectives Sen. Crapo has in terms of safety, research, and guidance. We’re doing it in a way that respects state’s rights, that respects the voters of the states, that moves forward on this,” he said. “I believe that in a matter of months we can have a vote on a compromise version in the Senate that will have the support of 60-plus of my colleagues and of the House of Representatives.”
Last week, the American Bar Association (ABA) endorsed the expansion of banking services to the cannabis industry, passing a resolution that “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banking and financial institutions to provide services to businesses and individuals, including attorneys, who receive compensation from the sale of state-legalized cannabis or who provide services to cannabis-related legitimate business acting in accordance with state, territorial, and tribal laws.”
Gardner has emerged among Senate Republicans as a leading voice of cannabis reform. In April 2019, he and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) teamed up to file a landmark bill to exempt legal marijuana states from federal interference. He noted at the time that “95 percent of Americans are living in states with laws allowing some form of cannabis.”