Give cannabis businesses access to financial institutions - pass the SAFE Banking Act

Common sense should be common, but it’s damned elusive in Washington.

But sometimes — and only rarely — Capitol Hill has an opportunity to get something right, solve a major problem, and enhance liberty and justice for all.

Wednesday, Sept. 25, is one of those opportunities. Rep. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterFor safety and economic recovery, Congress must prioritize cannabis banking Eight surprises in House Democrats' T coronavirus relief bill Democrats introduce bill to include cannabis businesses in coronavirus relief MORE’s (D-Colo.) bill, the SAFE Banking Act, is coming to the floor for a vote, and it is my hope that Republicans and Democrats will work together to pass this important legislation.

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This bill is simple: it allows cannabis businesses to access financial institutions.

The problem, and why the bill is necessary, is that financial services institutions, like banks and credit unions, cannot legally do business with cannabis companies. Doing so is considered ‘money laundering,’ since cannabis remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance. (That’s a mistake, too, but that’s a topic for another day).

Thirty-three states allow their citizens to use medical cannabis in some form or another, and 11 states allow both medical and “adult-use” cannabis. Legal cannabis is big business, and the industry is worth big money: the cannabis industry is currently worth around $10 billion, and some projections indicate the industry will be worth $80 billion by 2030.

With few exceptions, the inability to access financial institutions means that the vast majority of cannabis businesses must operate in cash. This poses several risks:

1) Theft and violence. Large-scale dispensaries, particularly in high-volume markets like California and Colorado, face serious risks. Without access to banks, companies are forced to sit on huge cash reserves, incentivizing crime and jeopardizing the safety of both patrons and employees.

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2) Encouraging fraud and money laundering. If businesses operate in an all-cash basis, who’s to say all their financial dealings are on the up-and-up? Normally, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) is able to work with financial institutions and catch bad actors who try to abuse the financial system — but FinCEN can’t catch what they can’t see. Access to the banking system will improve transparency and honesty, and minimize fraud and financial crime.

3) Outsourcing. Sadly, the dream of many American cannabis companies is to become big enough to become Canadian cannabis companies. Because cannabis businesses have no access to the banking system, they often seek greener pastures abroad, so they can stop doing businesses in America’s uncertain legal limbo.

America has recently seen a mass exodus of cannabis companies. The business model tends to be for an American cannabis company to buy an existing, publicly-traded Canadian company, take it over, and enjoy the advantages of being listed on the Canadian stock exchange. Locking cannabis companies out of the banking system has hemorrhaged jobs and capital from America to our northern neighbors.

Even though American research has led to groundbreaking discoveries in the cannabis field, our current system rewards foreign companies at the expense of American jobs. It’s telling that a cannabis-derived medicine was recently approved by the FDA, but the company is not an American pharmaceutical company. Letting cannabis businesses access the banking system will be an “America first” win.

The old-fashioned “prohibition at all costs” mentality has harmed the American economy and the American citizenry. America should be leading the world in cannabis research and development, but our outdated and ineffective laws are holding us back.

It’s time to face facts: like it or not, the vast majority of states have legalized some form of cannabis. If a business is legal in a state, shouldn’t it have the same basic financial access and protections as any other business?

I am proud to be an original co-sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act. With over 200 co-sponsors, this bipartisan bill is a refreshing bit of sanity here in the D.C. swamp. Let’s keep state-legal businesses safe, and let’s keep American companies and American jobs in America, where they belong. Let’s get the SAFE Banking Act passed.

Congressman Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzImpeachment figure among those chosen for Facebook's new oversight board House GOP urge Trump against supporting additional funding for state and local governments GOP lawmakers press Trump to suspend visas over coronavirus job losses MORE represents Florida’s 1st District.