Banking Bill Dies in Congress

Stephen Andrews
21 Dec 2022

The SAFE Banking Act, which is supposed to open access for cannabis businesses to regular services from financial institutions, was excluded from the $1.7 trillion government funding bill. This important cannabis banking reform measure will have to wait to be reintroduced to the next congressional session, which begins on Jan. 3.

Opposition from top Senate Republican leaders slayed efforts to get federal government support for the cannabis banking reform measure. Cannabis advocates will have to wait until next year, possibly through the end of next September, for something significant to happen. 

Proponents such as U.S. Sen. Cory Booker attempted to draft legislation that would enable banks to offer financial services to legal cannabis operators while also including restorative justice allowances. 

"For months, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and made significant progress, to reach a deal on cannabis that included both banking reform and essential restorative justice provisions," Booker said. "Our failed marijuana policies have caused harm to so many communities in our country, and our failure to act now will especially hurt burgeoning businesses like those in my home state of New Jersey." 

Other proponents also mourned the loss of what seemed the best chance thus far to push the banking measure forward. 

"The failure to pass my bipartisan 'SAFE Banking Act' means communities in Montana and across our country will remain vulnerable to crime where legal businesses are forced to operate in all-cash," Sen. Steve Daines, R-MT, said in another statement. 

"In failing to enact the SAFE Banking Act, the Senate missed an opportunity to pass one of the rare pieces of legislation that has the support of both Republicans and Democrats, along with the majority of the American people," said Khadijah Tribble, chief executive of the U.S. Cannabis Council. 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnel of Kentucky, who has blocked other efforts to include marijuana banking legislation before, was adamant once again the measure was a no-no. 

It would be the third time in 2022 that the SAFE Banking Act, which has previously passed in the House multiple times, to fail make it through the Senate. Principally, the bill protects financial institutions in providing regular monetary services to legal cannabis businesses. 

In one instance, the measure was removed from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDDA) text, although it was included in the House version of the bill passed during the summer. 

SAFE Banking was also dropped from the America COMPETES Act, a manufacturing and innovation bill essentially aimed to boost the competitiveness of the U.S. on the international stage. 

With no access to credit cards and checking accounts, legal state-licensed cannabis operators remain forced to deal with cash, making them vulnerable target to burglars. In addition, businesses are put in a situation to spend extra money for security. 

Congressional action is more than welcome so that legal cannabis businesses and the hundreds of thousands of employees in this sector can work with more ease. 

A recent poll found that 65% of U.S. voters support introducing banking services for cannabis operators in legal states. 80% of voters are aware that working with cash follows a higher risk of robbery and theft. 

The SAFE Banking Act has been supported by governors from 21 states and territories as well as organizations such as the American Bankers Association, the American Council of Life Insurers, the American Financial Services Association, the National Association of State Treasurers, and many more. 

Stephen Andrews