This could be the year when marijuana businesses finally get to stop socking away loads of cash as if they were in the show “Breaking Bad” and open up a bank account. A Congressional panel in the U.S. House of Representatives advanced piece of legislation earlier this week intended to legalize banking services for the cannabis industry. It is a move that could signal the real support of Capitol Hill concerning this and other marijuana reform measures, or their true colors could soon be revealed.
The bill (SAFE Banking Act) is relatively simple. It would give the banking industry permission to deal with companies that grow and sell marijuana without the risk of federal prosecution. Right now, even though no financial institution has been put through the ringers for accepting cannabis funds, banks are still at risk of getting busted for money laundering when opening accounts for a business sector that remains against the law in the eyes of the federal government.
The word on the street is that the measure will have no trouble finding the traction needed to pass on the House floor, yet it remains uncertain just how well-received it will be in the Senate.
Lawmakers are hoping for the best.
“I feel really confident that we will pass this in the House in the next few weeks. I think it will pass with an overwhelming vote, Democrats and a lot of Republicans as well,” U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, one of the leading gatekeepers in the House, told a Boston Herald Radio Program on Wednesday. Still, McGovern added, it could take the Senate until the end of the year to embrace the idea.
“I think that there’s bipartisan support in the Senate on this as well and I would expect something to happen this year,” he said.
It is true that some cannabis operations already have access to financial services, but the situation isn’t always under the best conditions. These dealings essentially allow dispensaries to use credit card machines but leave them short when it comes to establishing payroll, paying bills, and making huge cash deposits. The SAFE Banking Act would remedy all of these problems by making relationships between banks (large and small) and cannabis operations completely legitimate.
Cannabis industry advocates say the bill is desperately needed.
“The SAFE Banking Act would go a long way toward improving safety, transparency, access, and justice in the cannabis industry,” said Aaron Smith, executive director at the National Cannabis Industry Association. “The amendments agreed upon in committee should solidify the already overwhelming support for this legislation in the House. The cannabis and financial services industries have been waiting for clarification and protection for far too long, and we are confident the House would approve this bill if allowed to vote on it without further delay.”
There is still a chance the banking bill could fail. At this juncture of the legislative process, anything is possible.
Although McGovern feels good about gaining support in the Republican-dominated Senate, we still haven’t heard from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on whether he will allow it. If he does, there is a good chance that the state of marijuana reform could get interesting soon on the Hill.