Yesterday, Cannabis Trade Federation Board Chair John Lord — CEO of LivWell Enlightened Health — represented the cannabis industry during the U.S. Senate hearing on “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking.”
The hearing allowed John to directly address key senators as they consider the SAFE Banking Act, the Senate companion bill to legislation that passed out of committee in the House this spring. The committee also heard testimony from sponsors of the bill — Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) — as well as Maps Credit Union Chief Risk Officer Rachel Pross, Citywide Banks President and CEO Joanne Sherwood, and Smart Approaches to Marijuana Vice President of Government Affairs Garth Van Meter.
Below you’ll find my quick takeaways from yesterday’s hearing, as well as additional resources for anyone who would like to take a closer look.
1. Lawmakers and witnesses agreed the issues around cannabis banking are not going away. Conversations focused on the safety hazards created by cash-only businesses, the hurdles to state-legal cannabis banking, and the need to pass the SAFE Banking Act.
2. The only witness opposed to the SAFE Banking Act did not appear to convince policymakers. Mr. Van Meter argued that Congress should not pursue a banking fix without first dealing with safety studies and other issues, but lawmakers’ questions refocused the group on the banking issue.
3. Lawmakers and witnesses were supportive of federal regulations related to cannabis. Ms. Pross and Ms. Sherwood emphasized the need for regulators to expand upon the 2014 FinCEN guidance, in order to provide greater clarity to financial institutions. This could occur before or after passage of the SAFE Banking Act. Under questioning from the committee, John voiced his support for additional federal regulation of the cannabis industry and said he looked forward to being part of the system as regulations evolve. He explained why it is so critical for cannabis businesses to have access to the regulated banking system, and he noted that cannabis’s illegal status and the lack of a regulatory framework on the federal level have blocked effective research.
4. This hearing was only the first step, albeit an important one. The consensus among committee members around the need to resolve the cannabis banking crisis — including Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID), who has not been forward-leaning in his support for cannabis reform in the past — marks a turning point in the conversation. While this opens the Senate for action around the SAFE Banking Act, it may not necessarily herald immediate action on the legislation. CTF is committed to continuing to advocate for the SAFE Banking Act and other positive reforms to federal cannabis laws.