Members of the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs will hear testimony tomorrow regarding S. 1323: the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which seeks to normalize relations between state-licensed cannabis businesses and financial institutions. The bill currently has 39 Senate sponsors, including six Republicans and two Independents.

In an op-ed published today in The, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano urges Committee members to prioritize passage of the bill.

“No industry can operate safely, transparently or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions and it is self-evident that the players in this industry (smaller and minority-owned businesses in particular), and those consumers that are served by it, will remain severely hampered without better access to credit and financing,” he states. “Every day that Congress fails to act endangers the livelihood of these small businesses and their customers, puts local regulators and law enforcement at a disadvantage, and facilitates the activities of unlicensed operators and criminal organizations.”

Members of the US House of Representatives previously approved the SAFE Banking Act seven times as either a stand-alone bill or as part of broader legislation, but it has never been advanced by the Senate. Attempts by Senate Democrats in the 117th Congress to include the language in a last-minute omnibus spending package were ultimately blocked by Senate Republicans.

Federal law discourages banks and other financial institutions from maintaining relationships with marijuana-related businesses because the plant remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. According to data provided by the US Treasury Department, only about 11 percent of all US banks and about 4 percent of all US credit unions are “actively providing banking services to marijuana-related businesses.” Survey data compiled in February by Whitney Economics reported that over 70 percent of participating cannabis businesses say that the “lack of access to banking or investment capital” is their top challenge.

Over 70 percent of voters, including nearly two-thirds of Republicans, support allowing licensed cannabis businesses to lawfully access US financial systems.

Senate Banking Committee members will debate the bill on Thursday, May 11, at 9:45am. The hearing will be streamed live online.

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