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Merkley And Colleagues Call On Banking Committee To Hold Hearing On SAFE Banking Act

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Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) on Wednesday joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in sending a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), urging them to hold a legislative hearing on S. 1152, the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow cannabis and cannabis-related businesses that are legal under state law to access financial services in the banking system and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions.

“As of today, twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia and various U.S. Territories have enacted legislation allowing for either medical or adult-use of cannabis. An additional seventeen states allow for limited medical use,” wrote the senators. “While the February 2014 Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) guidelines offer some clarity to financial institutions that are offering financial services to cannabis businesses, these institutions are forced to operate in an uncertain legal environment.”

The senators continued, “Holding a legislative hearing on S. 1152, the SAFE Banking Act, would offer members of the Senate Committee of Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs an opportunity to question witnesses who have various perspectives and experience in financial services for the cannabis industry. As more states are considering legislation to legalize cannabis for medical and adult-use, it is critical that this Committee examine the financial sector’s role in serving the growing cannabis industry.”

Merkley is the lead sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, which he wrote after hearing from legal cannabis and cannabis-related businesses in Oregon that were struggling to find banking services after Oregon legalized recreational marijuana in 2014. The lack of banking services has forced many businesses to operate in all-cash, which endangers community safety by making these businesses a target for crime and robbery, and makes it more difficult to trace money laundering and track whether businesses are fully paying the taxes they owe.

The letter was signed by U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

A full copy of the letter can be found below.

Dear Chairman Crapo and Ranking Member Brown:

We respectfully request that you hold a legislative hearing on S. 1152, the Secure And Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. A legislative hearing would provide members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs the opportunity to question witnesses on the proposed bipartisan legislation. It would also allow for a better understanding of the current state of financial services for cannabis-related businesses, the need for legal certainty for financial institutions, and other important issues relating to financial services and the cannabis industry.

As of today, twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia and various U.S. Territories have enacted legislation allowing for either medical or adult-use of cannabis.  An additional seventeen states allow for limited medical use. Currently, financial institutions, both state- and federally-chartered, are operating under guidance issued in February 2014 by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) for cannabis related businesses.  While the February 2014 guidance offers some clarity to financial institutions that are offering financial services to cannabis businesses, these institutions are forced to operate in an uncertain legal environment.

Additionally, cannabis and cannabis-related businesses, such as landlords and security companies, have had limited access to or are locked out of the banking system, including accessing a checking account, meeting payroll and paying tax revenue, among other financial services. In an industry conducting hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions, the lack of access to financial services has forced many to operate as cash only businesses, raising concerns regarding public safety, money laundering, and other potential crimes.

A hearing would give members the opportunity to hear directly from witnesses who have direct experience with the challenges facing the financial sector, the cannabis industry, and law enforcement. Witnesses should include representatives from the cannabis industry, financial institutions, state and federal banking regulators, and law enforcement.  Recently, a bipartisan group of nineteen state attorneys general wrote a letter calling on Congress to consider legislation, such as the SAFE Banking Act, which would harmonize state and federal law regarding financial services for the cannabis industry and give law enforcement the ability to monitor these transactions, while respecting the rights of states.

Holding a legislative hearing on S. 1152, the SAFE Banking Act, would offer members of the Senate Committee of Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs an opportunity to question witnesses who have various perspectives and experience in financial services for the cannabis industry. More than half of the states in our country allow for medical or adult-use of cannabis. As more states are considering legislation to legalize cannabis for medical and adult-use, it is critical that this Committee examine the financial sector’s role in serving the growing cannabis industry.

Thank you for your consideration of our request.


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