Because of marijuana's federal prohibition, the vast majority of business and customer transactions involving licensed pot businesses are cash-only. The Safe Banking Act, a bill proposed by U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter that would create federal protection for banks and financial institutions that serve state-legal marijuana businesses, has already passed the House, becoming the first pot reform bill to do so. (The Colorado Democrat had been pushing various versions of his banking measure for seven years.) But that victory was almost eight months ago, and the bill has not yet moved in the Senate, with Senate Banking Chair Mike Crapo vocal regarding his objections to the bill and how it would further the plant's social acceptance.
After the Safe Banking Act hit a roadblock with Crapo, Perlmutter sent a letter to the senator, but got no movement. Now, as marijuana businesses are blocked from receiving any COVID-19 financial aid — another issue that Perlmutter and several other members of Congress are fighting via legislation — Safe Banking Act proponents are willing to look at other routes, like a wide-ranging COVID-19 economic relief package expected to be introduced in the House next week.
In advance of that, Americans for Safe Access, the Marijuana Policy Project, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the National Cannabis Industry Association sent their letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
"Collectively, we represent consumers, patients, and thousands of state-regulated and ancillary cannabis businesses. This industry, composed primarily of small to medium-sized businesses, continues to provide safe cannabis medicine to more than 3 million medical cannabis patients in the United States. Despite the essential designation in most states, these essential businesses lack access to the financial services necessary to optimize social distancing measures to ensure the safety of medical cannabis patients, workers, and the public," the letter reads. "The cannabis industry lacks access to banking services that could eliminate cash transactions and minimize virus transmission."
Perlmutter also issued a supportive statement. “Cannabis businesses and their employees already face a significant public safety risk without access to the banking system, and the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated this risk with these essential businesses having to move their cash-only transactions outside the store,” he says. “At the same time, many of these businesses are facing disruptions in their supply chain and in normal operations, and they should be eligible for relief just like any other legal, legitimate business during this pandemic. I will continue to push for inclusion of the SAFE Banking Act or other forms of relief for this industry in the next package.”
Even if it passes in the House, the inclusion of a Safe Banking provision in any relief packages would likely face an uphill battle in the Senate. Senator Cory Gardner tried a similar move in 2018, when he attached language from his States Act — a measure giving states the right to govern their own marijuana policies — to the First Step Act, a set of legislative reforms for the federal prison system.
Gardner's States Act addition was shot down.