The biggest obstacle faced by businesses that want to sell legal marijuana in New Jersey may not be the failure of the Legislature to pass a bill, but the nation’s banking laws. In Congress, though, there are signs that attitudes are changing, if not the laws themselves.
Thursday, the House Committee on Financial Services voted 45-15 to report the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019, which would allow marijuana-related businesses in states with existing regulatory structures to access the banking system.
The move represents a big change from the status quo. Because cannabis is illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, financial institutions providing banking services to legitimate and licensed marijuana businesses are subject to criminal prosecution.
This has led businesses trying to operate in states like California and Colorado without lines of credit, business loans or even checking accounts. Stories proliferate of businesses paying their taxes with bags of cash instead of checks or electronic filings.
“Our federal banking laws were designed to prevent illicit activity and help law enforcement do their job,” said bill sponsor U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO). “These laws need to be applied to legitimate marijuana businesses and employees in order to improve transparency and accountability and help root out illegal transactions. Most importantly, the SAFE Banking Act will get cash off our streets, reducing the risk of violent crime and making our communities safer.”
Enactment of the SAFE Act is far from a sure thing. It may pass the House this year, but will face a chilly reception in the Senate as well as a Trump administration that has shown no inclination to tolerate legalization by those states that want it.
But marijuana legalization is becoming increasingly mainstream. The SAFE Act, for instance, has the support of the American Bankers Association, Credit Union National Association, Independent Community Bankers of America, the Electronic Transactions Association, the National Cannabis Industry Association, Mid-Size Bank Coalition of America, The Real Estate Roundtable, and various U.S. trade associations such as American Land Title and American Property Casualty Insurance Association, according to Perlmutter’s office.