WA Pot Shops Could Finally Get Bank Accounts Under Bill Cosponsored by Cantwell

SAFER Banking Act would provide licensed cannabis businesses access to same financial services as any other business Cantwell: Bill will “take the target off the back of our state’s dispensaries” imposed by cash-only operations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) cosponsored the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act of 2023, which would ensure that licensed marijuana, hemp, and cannabidiol (CBD) businesses are able to access banking and financial services.

“Last year there were more than 50 robbery attempts at marijuana dispensaries in the State of Washington. This bill will take the target off the backs of our state’s dispensaries by updating federal banking laws so they don’t have to do all their business in cash,” Sen. Cantwell said.

Today, the majority of states have moved away from blanket prohibitions on cannabis and have adopted state laws and policies that permit some forms of cannabis use, including medical or recreational use.  However, currently, most cannabis businesses across the United States are denied access to financial institutions because banks fear prosecution due to existing federal restrictions on cannabis. As a result, many marijuana, hemp, and CBD retailers – including those licensed by the state in which they operate – are forced to conduct their business entirely in cash. This practice makes the businesses more susceptible to theft, leaves the employees more vulnerable to violence, and increases the likelihood of tax evasion.

The bill would prevent federal banking regulators from prohibiting, penalizing, or discouraging a bank from providing financial services to a legitimate cannabis business, as well as those associated with a cannabis business (such as a landlord or attorney). Under the bill, federal banking regulators would also be prevented from terminating or limiting a bank’s federal deposit insurance primarily because the bank serves a cannabis business. The legislation would also maintain banks’ right to choose not to offer those services.

The SAFER Banking Act would additionally:

  • Direct financial institutions to serve and develop banking relationships in the communities in which they reside, including low-and moderate-income communities;
  • Require federal and state banking agencies to issue rules or guidance to increase access to deposit accounts, including accounts of unbanked customers and businesses;
  • Build on existing federal guidance to ensure that banks and credit unions are operating in a safe and sound manner and have in place processes and procedures to identify fraudulent or illegal activity; and
  • Reaffirm the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify or discuss issues regarding a bank’s financial condition, governance, consumer protections, internal controls, unsafe, or unsound conditions.

In 2012, Washington state voters became the first in the country to legalize both the use and sale of recreational marijuana. Since then, Sen. Cantwell has been working to ensure that licensed and legitimate cannabis retailers have a stable legal environment in which to do business. In 2013, she and six of her colleagues sent a letter to the White House expressing their concern surrounding the enforcement of federal banking laws, and how they could lead to forced cash-only businesses. In 2014, she was one of four senators to send a letter to the White House urging the establishment of “consistent and uniform” marijuana guidelines across the administration.

In 2017, after the Department of Justice had established a policy of permitting states that had legalized marijuana to have primary authority for enforcing laws related to marijuana use, Sen. Cantwell joined a bipartisan group of colleagues sending a letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing concern that the Trump administration would reverse that policy. The letter also asked the U.S. Department of Justice to clarify the Trump administration’s policy on law enforcement in states that had legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  In 2018, after the Trump administration did reverse that longstanding guidance, Sen. Cantwell joined a bipartisan group of more than 50 Members of Congress to send a letter to then-President Trump criticizing his decision to rescind existing DOJ guidance on state marijuana laws, which had allowed states and localities to decide how best to enforce marijuana laws as long as they have sufficient regulations in place.