New Amendments to Marijuana Banking Bill Revealed
Senate Panel Approves Amended SAFER Banking Act for Regulated Marijuana Industry Access to Banking Services.
A bill to give the regulated marijuana industry access to basic banking services was amended before being approved by a Senate legislative panel last week, with several of the changes designed to appease opposition from Republican lawmakers.
The legislation, known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act, was introduced on September 21 and was approved by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with amendments on Wednesday.
Originally titled the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, the new version of the bipartisan legislation was introduced by Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana, and Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley. If passed, the legislation would ease access to traditional banking services to cannabis companies operating legally under state or tribal law. Under current federal law, providing such services is strictly regulated, leaving many businesses—particularly small, independent operators—without access to bank accounts, credit card processing and other financial services. As a result, many businesses operate strictly in cash, leaving operators, their customers and staff vulnerable to crime.
The new SAFER Banking Act is the result of months of negotiation between senators over several provisions of the original SAFE Banking Act. Under the measure, federal regulators would be required to “develop uniform guidance and examination procedures – including legacy cannabis-related deposits” and “update guidance related to hemp-related businesses and service providers.” Regulators would be prohibited from ordering banks to close an account “unless there is a valid reason.” The legislation also includes language to protect employees of state-legal cannabis businesses attempting to obtain residential mortgages funded by federal programs.
SAFER Banking Act Amended Last Week
Less than a week after it was introduced, the SAFER Banking Act was the subject of a markup hearing by the Senate Banking Committee on September 27. After approving a new amendment to the bill from committee Chairman Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, the committee voted 14-9 to advance the legislation to the Senate floor for consideration by the full chamber. The text of the new amendment has not yet been made available publicly. But the amended language of the bill was shared with Marijuana Moment, according to a report from the online cannabis news source on Friday.
The amendment is described as a mix of revisions requested by members of both parties and technical changes to the legislation. Among its provisions are changes to federal guidance for financial institutions that serve the marijuana industry and reframed protections for banks and enforcement discretion for federal banking regulators.
The newly revised legislation gives the Treasury secretary one year to publish updated guidance for banks that serve the cannabis industry. The previous version of the SAFER Banking Act allowed only 180 days for the update to the guidance, which was first issued under the Obama administration in 2014. The guidance requires banks, credit unions and depository institutions that serve marijuana businesses to submit Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) about their cannabis clients. The bill was also amended with technical changes that revised language on how cannabis-related financial transactions should not be considered “proceeds from an unlawful activity.”