We have seen the U.S. House of Representatives pass some form of the SAFE Act seven times. The House’s willingness to lead the way on banking reform for the cannabis industry has become almost a seasonal thing. And guess what? The SAFE Act season has rolled around again (at the time of this writing). Will the eighth time be the charm?
Medical cannabis advocates hope so. They are clinging to positive remarks made by the like of Sens. Chuck Schumer (NY), Ron Wyden (OR), and Cory Booker (NJ). But we’ve all been down this road before. The House passes the SAFE Act only to see it stalled in the Senate. What is so different this time around that we should expect passage?
The Senate’s Two Biggest Problems
The Senate has two big problems when it comes to banking reform for the cannabis industry. The first is the tendency among senators on both sides of the aisle to muck things up. The second is the filibuster. As long as senators keep mucking things up, those in opposition will use the filibuster to ensure the legislation never sees the light of day.
How Things Get Marked Up
So how do things get mucked up in the Senate? It usually happens when senators either refuse to be satisfied with a clean bill or take an all-or-nothing approach to amendments. Both issues are rooted in the same core: amendments.
When a Senate bill clears committee and heads to the floor for a vote, senators usually have opportunities to offer amendments. Those amendments do not have to clear committee. They can be added to a bill just prior to a floor vote. This is what continually causes problems for the SAFE Act.
Informal vote counts suggest SAFE would pass a floor vote as a clean bill. What is a clean bill? It’s a bill that deals only with cannabis banking reform and nothing else. But certain senators aren’t happy with that. They want to add amendments related to social justice and criminal expulsions. Both types of amendments are a no-go with enough senators to kill any vote.
Then there are those senators who will not vote for a compromise bill. For them, a bill isn’t worth supporting unless it includes both social justice and expungement amendments. Their all-or-nothing approach prevents passage as effectively as failing to offer a clean bill.
If It Ever Passes
If the SAFE Act ever passes and makes it to the president’s desk, its chances of being signed are pretty high. What would happen then? Banks, credit unions, and other federally regulated financial institutions would be free to do business with cannabis companies without fear of federal repercussions.
In Utah, the Beehive Farmacy cannabis dispensary could open a standard business bank account. The pharmacy could start accepting debit and credit card transactions. It could pay employees with regular checks or direct deposit. The fact that the business operates as a medical cannabis pharmacy would be irrelevant.
The same would be true for cannabis companies around the country. Cultivators, processors, retailers, and testers would all be free to participate in the banking system like their counterparts in other industries. Cannabis home delivery might even finally take off thanks to online payments and the extra security of not dealing in cash.
At any rate, will have to wait to see what happens in Washington. It is SAFE Act season once again. Yet there are no guarantees that the eighth time will be the charm. We could be having this exact same discussion a year from now. It’s just the way Washington plays the game.