The Burning Question – When Will SAFE Banking Get A Vote?
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The Burning Question – When Will SAFE Banking Get A Vote?

by Michelle Rutter, NCIA Government Relations Manager

With Congress returning from their annual August recess, all I seem to be asked is “when will we get a vote on SAFE Banking?” And while it’s unclear whether that vote will be in September or beyond, it’s important to remember that this is the farthest a standalone, pro-cannabis bill has ever gotten in the U.S. House of Representatives. Since the House Financial Services Committee hearing on this topic earlier this year, it seems like the momentum to pass this legislation has only increased. Let’s take a look back and what’s happened and what’s to come:

First, in February, the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions held its first-ever hearing on marijuana and financial services, entitled: Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses. Up for discussion at the time was a draft of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. Later, in March, HR 1595/S. 1200: the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Denny Heck (D-WA) and in the Senate by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Cory Gardner (R-CO). In a stunning, historic surprise, the legislation was introduced with a whopping 106 original cosponsors in the House. By July, that number rose to include more than 205 cosponsors.

As a refresher, the SAFE Banking Act would prevent federal banking regulators from punishing banks for working with cannabis-related businesses that are obeying state laws or halting their services, taking action on loans made to those businesses, or limiting a depository institution’s access to the Deposit Insurance Fund. The bill would also protect ancillary businesses that work with the cannabis industry from being charged with money laundering and other financial crimes, and requires the Financial Institution Examination Council to develop guidance to help credit unions and banks understand how to lawfully serve cannabis businesses.

After the bill was introduced, the House Financial Services decided to take the next step in the legislative process and schedule a mark-up of the bill. A markup is the process by which a congressional committee debates, amends, and rewrites proposed legislation. 

The bill is read for amendment, one section at a time, with committee members offering their amendments to each section after it is read but before the next section is read. Committees do not change the texts of the bills they mark up. Instead, committees vote on amendments that their members want to recommend that the House adopts when the House considers the bill on the floor. The bill passed out of committee with flying colors — by a margin of 45-15. 

In May, we got another signal that the SAFE Banking Act is being taken very seriously on Capitol Hill- the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a cost estimate, or “score” of the legislation. The report stated, “CBO estimates H.R. 1595 would decrease net direct spending by $4 million over the 2019-2029 period.” 

Then, in July, we couldn’t believe our eyes and ears when it was announced that longtime cannabis opponent and Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) planned to hold a hearing entitled, “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” to discuss the current banking challenges faced by the legal cannabis industry and to assess the unintended consequences and public safety risks associated with commercial businesses operating in an all-cash environment. 

Chairman Crapo dedicated much of his time to understand how the SAFE Banking Act would regulate financial institutions and ensure the banking industry could and operate in compliance with a business selling a Schedule I product. Towards the end of the hearing, Crapo said, “I think the case has been made pretty strongly here today about the need to get the banking industry issues relating to cannabis resolved.

This week, Congress returns to Washington, and we at NCIA are preparing for a House Floor vote on SAFE in the next one to two months. In the meantime, we need you to call your Representative and Senators and ask them to ask leadership to hold a vote on HR 1595/S. 1200, the SAFE Banking Act! You can find tips and talking points here.

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