Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, those in the cannabis industry are required to deal almost exclusively in cash. Because financial institutions don’t want to risk federal penalties, that leaves distributors unable to open bank accounts or accept credit cards. In addition to being highly inconvenient, it places dispensaries at great risk of robbery.
This could change if the SAFE Banking Act passes in Congress. The heads of some of the country’s top cannabis businesses have been lobbying lawmakers of both parties to pass this legislation as soon as possible.
Lawmakers have generally become more accepting of marijuana legalization. However, those in the cannabis industry fear that if Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress in the November elections this year, any chance of passing the law is gone.
A stand-alone bill or part of comprehensive legislation?
There have been conflicts over whether the SAFE Banking Act should be separate from a larger bill that would decriminalize marijuana on a federal level and allow those previously convicted for certain offenses to have their records expunged.
Some cannabis industry executives believe there’s a better chance of passing the SAFE Banking Act on its own than if it’s under the umbrella of a larger decriminalization measure. While it has the needed support in the House of Representatives, such a bill would never get the required 60 votes in the current 50-50 Senate.
However, some, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, believe that if the SAFE Banking Act passes on its own, many in Congress will have less incentive to pass broader legislation. Leader Schumer recently said, “If we let this bill out, it will make it much harder and take longer to pass comprehensive reform.”
Cannabis executives who have recently met with lawmakers of both parties have expressed optimism about the growing understanding of the industry and its role in the economy on Capitol Hill. It may help that former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who was staunchly anti-legalization during his tenure, is now a pro-cannabis lobbyist.
It may just be a matter of when – not if – federal legislation passes that makes doing business easier for those in the industry. However, it’s crucial for those in the cannabis business to follow the often-complex and ever-evolving local, state and federal laws