Legislation that would open financial services to marijuana-related businesses operating in states that have legalized marijuana took another small, but important, step Tuesday. The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee held a bi-partisan hearing on the challenges facing financial institutions serving marijuana-related businesses.
The committee first heard testimony from Sen. Corey Gardner (R-CO) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), two of the sponsors of the SAFE Banking Act. Sen. Gardner, who once opposed legalization, called the hearing “an important step toward the federal government waking up to the reality that the cannabis issue is not going away and needs action.” The committee also heard testimony from Rachel Pross, Maps Credit Union, John Lord, CEO and Owner of LivWell Enlightened Health, Joanne Sherwood, Citywide Banks, and Garth Van Meter, Smart Approaches to Marijuana. With the exception of Mr. Van Meter, who represents an organization that opposes the commercialization of marijuana, the consistent message throughout the hearing was that our current system must be fixed. Indeed, Sen. Gardner said, “[the federal government] has closed its eyes and plugged its ears and pretended the issue will go away. It won’t.”
The fact that a hearing was even scheduled came as a surprise to many given past statements from Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID), who is seen as one of the gatekeepers to federal legislation, voicing his reluctance to take up the issue. Thus, all eyes were on the receptiveness of Sen. Crapo during the hearing. Sen. Crapo closed the hearing by stating that a strong case had been made to resolve the issues related to banking with marijuana-related businesses, signaling that financial reforms are being taken seriously on both sides of the political divide. Having passed out of the House Financial Services Committee in June, the SAFE Banking Act continues to gain momentum, and we will continue to provide updates as they become available.