A Senate legislative committee has scheduled a hearing on a bill that would give cannabis businesses operating legally under state law access to the U.S. banking industry. The hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives” will be held on Tuesday, July 23 and will include testimony from sponsors of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019 (S. 1200) and representatives of the cannabis, banking, and credit union industries.

Under federal drug and money laundering regulations, even those cannabis businesses operating legally under state laws are usually not able to obtain access to common financial services. Consequently, companies in the cannabis industry often do business only in cash, putting the firms and their employees at risk of crime. The SAFE Banking Act would prohibit federal regulators for penalizing financial institutions and their employees for providing services to legal cannabis businesses, likely making more banks willing to serve the industry.

Witnesses Set to Testify

Witnesses scheduled to testify at next week’s hearing include Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the sponsor of the SAFE Act, and Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado who is one of the 31 Senate co-sponsors of the bill, and John Lord, the CEO of LivWell Enlightened Health and board chair of the Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF).

Neal Levine, the CEO of the marijuana industry trade group, said in a press release that the upcoming hearing is an indication of cannabis policy reform’s new support in Congress, including the Republican-led Senate.

“This hearing is yet another sign that Congress is taking the cannabis banking problem seriously and intends to take action to correct it,” said Levine. “Cannabis businesses operating legally under state and local laws should have the same access to banking and financial services as any other type of business.”

Levine added that Lord’s appearance before the committee would give him the opportunity “to discuss the challenges of operating a cannabis business without full banking services.”

“With his decade of experience complying with regulations in this constantly evolving industry, John has a perspective shared by few others in the country,” he said. “We expect his testimony will be educational for members of the Committee and make a compelling case for the SAFE Banking Act.”

Keeping Communities Safe

Jim Nussle, the president and CEO of the Credit Union National Association, said the SAFE Act is about keeping communities safe.

“At its heart, cannabis banking is a public safety issue. It’s an $8.3 billion industry that’s currently being forced to operate almost entirely in cash,” Nussle said. “While 33 states, territories and DC have legalized cannabis, it’s been overwhelmingly difficult to provide these businesses financial services because handling transactions are currently considered money laundering. Credit unions have been leading the way in helping to get this money off the streets. We are dedicated to finding a solution to this ongoing challenge that impacts every community around the country, and look forward to working with Senate leaders during this hearing and with Congress at large.”

The SAFE Banking Act is also pending in the House, where it is sponsored by Colorado Democrat Rep. Ed Perlmutter.

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