Cannabis Banking: SAFE Banking Act Gets a Hearing
By Michael Harlow, Partner, CohnReznick
Last week, Congress held its first-ever hearing on the issue of cannabis banking, titled “Challenges and Solutions: Access to Banking Services for Cannabis-Related Businesses.” The hearing before the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions addressed a draft of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act) introduced by Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.).
The SAFE Banking Act would:
- Provide a safe harbor for financial institutions to legally provide services to cannabis-related industries in states where cannabis has been legalized in some form;
- Allow legal businesses to access financial services in states where cannabis has been legalized;
- Address a void in banking that faces cannabis-related businesses, and increase the number of banks providing financial services to these businesses; and
- Help prevent tax evasion, fraud, and public safety issues.
CohnReznick observed the historic hearing, held five-and-a- half years after the August 2013 issuance of the Cole Memorandum, which provided U.S. attorneys with guidance about enforcement actions against cannabis businesses in states which had legalized marijuana. In 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, subsequently creating confusion and uncertainty for many cannabis business owners.
Impact on the Industry
The SAFE Act could have a tremendous impact on the cannabis industry. Given the burgeoning rise of medical and adult-use cannabis businesses, it is critical that banks and financial institutions be able to provide services and have a presence sufficient to serve such a rapidly growing industry. While there was much debate during the hearing, with many proposed improvements to the bill, it appears that the bill has the votes necessary to advance it out of the committee.
Increase Transparency and Accountability
CohnReznick does not take a position on federal cannabis legalization but supports any efforts to enable access to banking through the SAFE Banking Act. Access to the regulated banking industry will increase financial transparency and auditability. This should be of significant benefit to investors, regulators, and taxing authorities.
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