United States House of Representatives votes to pass the SAFE cannabis banking bill
Historic news from Congress today, as the House of Representatives has voted to approve the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking act, which would finally allow cannabis-related businesses to have access to banking services and financial institutions. Currently, the cannabis industry has a money problem — they’ve got plenty of it coming in from legal sales, but because cannabis is illegal on the federal level, a lot of banks won’t take that money, resulting in dispensaries holding on to piles of cash, and being unable to take advantage of normal small business services, like loans and insurance. The SAFE Banking Act, if passed by Congress, would allow cannabis-related businesses to take out checking accounts and lines of credit, but ensure that banks don’t have to worry about federal investigation.
Unfortunately, there are at least two big concerns here. While this bill is historic for sure — it’s the first time that the US Congress has passed any permanent and substantial cannabis reform legislation — the battle is not nearly done yet. The House is relatively liberal at this point, thanks to Democrats’ success in the last election cycle, and the bill still has to go through the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans (this same Senate did pass a bill making hemp legal, but they likely won’t be so friendly to cannabis). And that’s not to mention that this bill was passed through a suspension of the rules (and even then, one Democrat, Representative Terri Sewell from Alabama, voted against it), and one of the reasons that it passed was that it undid an Obama-era rule that helped prevent banks from doing business with payday lenders and firearms dealers. So concessions, it seems, were made.
Even if the bill makes it through both houses, though, it’s not quite the solution that the cannabis industry is waiting for. Giving access to banking services will help the cannabis industry, but it will also more specifically help businesses who are already successful and already have money. It will open the floodgates for banks to do business with cannabis, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll do business with people who could use that business, like the minority owners who were unjustly hurt the most by cannabis prohibition. And banks, of course, are usually better at making the rich richer than anything else.
A number of cannabis advocate groups have actually argued against this bill, suggesting that it’s half step towards more responsible and more permanent legislation in favor of cannabis. Of course, those groups are now as happy as everyone else that there’s action on this bill moving forward, but even if the SAFE Act passes, it’s definitely not enough to undo all of the damage that the War on Drugs has wrought on this country. Passing the SAFE Banking Act in the House is a great victory for cannabis advocates, but it’s definitely not the last word on this bill, and it shouldn’t be the last word on creating a cannabis industry that’s just, fair, and inclusive to all. Getting access to banking services is a solid move forward, but there’s a lot more work to be done.