When Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives in November, it was considered a big win for cannabis reform legislation. Congress is finally poised to move forward with key measures aimed at advancing the marijuana industry nationwide—from bills that would allow for more cannabis research to those that would increase access to medical marijuana for patients in need.
Not surprisingly, the subject of cannabis banking is also back on the table.
Despite the fact that marijuana has been legalized or decriminalized in 47 states and the District of Columbia, and that well over half of the population now supports legalization, the cannabis industry still faces a significant hurdle in terms of financial support from banks and credit unions.
As it stands now, most marijuana businesses are strictly cash-only operations.
Because cannabis is still considered a Schedule I illegal drug at the federal level, the big-name banks and credit unions have all but avoided marijuana businesses like the plague, prohibiting them from opening accounts or obtaining credit cards for fear of legal repercussions from the federal government.
Unfortunately, this leaves the majority of U.S. cannabis growers and sellers—including state-licensed dispensaries—with no other option than to operate as cash-only businesses. On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal, but it quickly turns into a public safety issue when all that cash laying around becomes a tempting opportunity for crime.
Studies like this one have found that areas with one or more marijuana dispensaries have higher crime rates, including instances of robbery and aggravated assault. As a result, cannabis business owners are often forced to invest in top-notch (read: pricey) security systems to safeguard employees and patients.
Dealing with only cash also becomes a regulatory nightmare; how do you ensure transactions are secure and eliminate the possibility of fraud? Some progressive marijuana businesses are looking to digital currency as a viable alternative.
On the bright side, some smaller financial institutions are stepping up to the challenge.
It may not be news you see on the front page, but more than 400 smaller banks and credit unions nationwide currently cater to the cannabis industry. Operating within guidelines established by the U.S. Treasury Department Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) under President Obama, they believe in working toward a safer banking option for marijuana growers and sellers—one that also provides a clear paper trail to better protect businesses from legal action.
Following an unsuccessful battle with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City a few years ago, Fourth Corner Credit Union Executive Vice President Mark Goldfogel told the Los Angeles Times, “In 2016, $1.2 billion in cash will be transacted by the cannabis industry in Colorado. That’s all in $20 bills. At some point, someone is going to die. And then we will be allowed to bank.”
Now, there is renewed hope it may not come to that.
Enter the SAFE Banking Act (once more).
On February 7th, a new version of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, this one called the SAFE Banking Act of 2019, was introduced to Congress. If approved, it would allow financial institutions to work with legitimate cannabis-related businesses without fear of violating federal laws. (Financial institutions would still be required to file suspicious activity reports in accordance with FinCEN guidelines.)
A month later, on March 28th, the House Financial Services Committee voted 45 to 15 to advance the legislation to the full body. It will still need to pass in both the House and Senate before being signed into law, but this is no doubt a clear win for pro-legalization legislators; never before has a cannabis banking bill advanced to this point in the legislative process.
“Depriving state-legal cannabis businesses of basic banking services and forcing them to operate entirely in cash presents a significant safety risk, not just to those businesses and their employees, but to the public,” Don Murphy of the Marijuana Policy Project told Forbes magazine in February. “Support for addressing the cannabis banking problem is strong and bipartisan, and it appears Congress may be ready to adopt a real, commonsense solution.”
But is it, as one representative said, putting the cart before the horse?
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) thinks even having the cannabis banking discussion at this point in time makes little sense—at least until the federal government removes the Schedule I classification. Luetkemeyer, a ranking member of the Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions Subcommittee, believes what is needed first and foremost is decriminalization at the federal level.
In his opening statement at a marijuana banking hearing last month, he had this to say:
“Now throughout my life as I’ve gone through the educational system, civics classes have always said that federal law trumps state law. Until that changes, until the Supreme Court says that the Constitution is a list of suggestions instead of law, I believe that we probably can’t do much today other than realize that we have got a problem and we solve it by descheduling the drug. Then I think we can move on to Mr. Perlmutter’s suggestion.”
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), along with Reps. Denny Heck (D-WA), Warren Davidson (R-OH) and Steve Stivers (R-OH), introduced the SAFE Banking Act of 2019.
Every new action takes us one step closer to marijuana legalization.
With a new wave of supporters in the House of Representatives, things are looking up for the cannabis industry. In the upcoming weeks and months, we can expect more cannabis-related measures to gain momentum and hopefully bring us closer to the ultimate goal of national legalization. Until then, you can count on Desert Rose Dispensary to keep you informed about the latest news and updates.
Located on the corner of 7th Avenue and Happy Valley Road, close to the Norterra shopping center (click here for Google Map), Desert Rose specializes in top-tier flower at the lowest prices in town. We also offer a full selection of cannabis concentrates, edibles, tinctures, topicals and more.
New patients are always welcome and can look forward to compassionate, personalized treatment from our team of knowledgeable budtenders. Right now, first-time patients receive $20 off their total purchase!
Give us a call at 623-516-7881 to learn more or stop by the dispensary from 8:00AM to 10:00PM any day of the week.