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Bill Could Fast-Track Marijuana Industry Growth

The potential-for-high-growth cannabis industry is held back by banks fearful of making loans to a segment not yet fully legal. But a bill in Congress could change that.

WASHINGTON – A landmark marijuana financing bill allowing banks to serve state-legal marijuana businesses cleared the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Wednesday on a 14-9 vote.

The Secure Banking and Fair Enforcement Regulation Banking Act (SAFER Banking Act) would allow legal marijuana businesses in states throughout the United States to utilize the banking system to operate their businesses and protect their workers, according to committee chair Sharrod Brown, D-Ohio.

“Cannabis banking is just one part of the necessary conversation about marijuana policy,” Brown said in a statement. “There is still much work to be done to acknowledge and mend the damage done by the war on drugs, work to make sure everyone – including our veterans – has access to the medicine they need and allow medical and scientific research on cannabis.”

In April, Delaware became the 22nd state to legalize recreational marijuana when Gov. John Carney allowed the bill to become law without his signature.

During a May Senate hearing, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Vice President Ademola Oyefeso testified that UFCW members face robbery dangers working in the all-cash, legal marijuana business. He said they also face problems trying to prove their income when getting mortgages or renting a home because state-level marijuana businesses have no access to the banking system because of federal regulators’ long-established rules disallowing financial services to companies working with a federally banned substance such as marijuana.

Brown said he looks forward to sending the bipartisan bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a bill to legalize marijuana federally in July 2022. Currently, marijuana is included as a federal Schedule I drug, existing in the same category as far-different substances such as heroin.

Legalization bill co-sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said then that the overwhelming majority of Americans support marijuana legalization and with so many states already moving ahead, a majority of Americans now live in states where some form of cannabis is legal.

Combined U.S. recreational and medical marijuana state-legal sales are expected to reach $33.6 billion by the end of 2023.

The Secure Banking and Fair Enforcement Regulation Banking Act would give legal protections to banks and other financial institutions that serve or want to serve state-legal marijuana businesses.

Charlie Bachtell is CEO of the multistate marijuana company Cresco.

He said the vote advancing the bill is a big step forward on the issue but lots of work remains to get it passed by both houses of Congress.

Getting the bill passed by the Republican-controlled House may be harder than getting Senate approval.

In a joint statement Sept. 20 from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer – (D-N.Y.) alongside Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), – said the marijuana banking bill would prevent federal bank regulators from closing a bank or credit union based on “reputational risk.”

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