State treasures from across the U.S. participated in a panel on Tuesday that focused on federal marijuana banking reform as part of a three-day conference organized by the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST) that was attended by stakeholders and congressional officials.
Moderated by Colorado Treasurer Dave Young, the panel discussed the “history, challenges, and prospects for SAFE banking laws that would allow legal cannabis businesses into the mainstream banking system,” according to an event description.
— Colorado Treasurer Dave Young (@ColoTreasurer) March 15, 2022
The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was a focal point of the discussion. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), would protect financial institutions that choose to service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. It’s passed the U.S. House of Representatives in some form six times but has yet to advance in the Senate under either Republican or Democratic control.
Perlmutter’s senior legislative assistant Colin Anonsen spoke on the NAST conference panel, alongside representatives of Scotts Miracle-Gro and the American Bankers Association (ABA).
ABA recently released a poll it commissioned showing majority support for marijuana banking reform among Americans.
State treasurers have been among the consistent voices pushing Congress to take action on the issue, submitting multiple letters to leadership on the issue over the years, for example. In 2019, NAST adopted a resolution endorsing “common sense federal laws and regulations to provide essential banking services to state legalized cannabis businesses.”
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“NAST supports common sense federal laws and regulations to provide essential banking services to state legalized cannabis businesses, promote public safety and financial transparency, and facilitate local, state, and federal tax and fee collection without compromising federal enforcement of anti-money laundering laws against criminal enterprises,” the organization said in a statement to Marijuana Moment.
However, a spokesperson emphasized that NAST “takes no position as to whether cannabis should be legalized under the laws of the United States or of any state.”
On the first day of the NAST conference on Sunday, members of the organization’s Banking and Cash Management Committee also met to discuss the organization’s previously adopted banking resolution, which is due to be renewed this year. Washington State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti serves as a member of that committee and told Marijuana Moment in a statement that he’s “committed to doing everything my office can do to urge Congress to legalize cannabis banking this year.”
In DC, affirming support for banking reform for the cannabis industry. “As the first state with legal #cannabis a decade ago, WA must convince #congress to finally get our state’s legal #marijuana retail stores out of the cash business an into banking.”
– Treasurer Pellicciotti
— WA State Treasurer (@WaTreasurer) March 14, 2022
“Legal retailers must be allowed out of the cash business to stop the inequities and traumatic daily robberies taking place in Washington state and around the country due to a decade of congressional inaction,” he said. “I’m focused on uniting state treasurers around the country to amplify this critical equity and public safety issue in America, and I look forward to meeting with members of Congress this week to explain why it must pass cannabis banking now.”
While he is in D.C., Pellicciotti plans to meet with lawmakers to discuss cannabis banking and other issues of interest.
In the House, Perlmutter has been vocal about his frustration over inaction on his SAFE Banking Act in the Senate. He has also continued to raise the issue in committee hearings, even those that don’t necessarily pertain to the issue.
At a recent event hosted by ABA, the congressman promised to “continue to be a real pest, and persistent in getting this done” before he retires from Congress at the end of the session.
Following the bipartisan House passage of the banking bill, Perlmutter said he naively expected it “to sail through the Senate, which is always a bad assumption, because nothing sails through the Senate.”
But he’s taken pains to build support, including from current Senate leadership that has insisted on enacting comprehensive legalization with firm equity provisions in place before advancing a bill viewed as friendly to the industry.
Despite recently saying that he’s “confident” that the Senate will take up his bill this session, the congressman recognized that while he’s supportive of revisions related to criminal justice reform, taxation, research and other issues, he knows that “as we expand this thing, then we start losing votes, particularly Republican votes and we got enough votes in the Senate to do it” as is.
Perlmutter also brought up the fact that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has addressed the federal-state marijuana banking conflict and “she wants to get this off her plate and get it done.”
Meanwhile, the number of banks that report working with marijuana businesses ticked up again near the end of 2021, according to recently released federal data.
It’s not clear if the increase is related to congressional moves to pass a bipartisan cannabis banking reform bill, but the figures from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) signal that financial institutions continue to feel more comfortable servicing businesses in state-legal markets.
Some Republicans have questioned how Democrats have so far failed to pass the modest banking reform with majorities in both chambers and control of the White House, too. For example, Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized his Democratic colleagues over the issue in December.
In the interim, federal financial regulator Rodney Hood—a board member and former chairman of the federal National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)—recently said that marijuana legalization is not a question of “if” but “when,” and he’s again offering advice on how to navigate the federal-state conflict that has left many banks reluctant to work with cannabis businesses.