Senators sponsor bill to get cash out of the cannabis industry

Dozens of cannabis dispensaries have been robbed in recent years while the laws force the shops to be cash-only.

As of Feb. 27, a bill that would allow cannabis dispensaries to access banking and federally-backed financial services — making them no longer a cash-only business — has been co-sponsored by multiple U.S. Senators, including the two representing the state of Washington.

In 2022, cannabis industry stakeholders and business owners called upon Congress to pass policy that would allow cannabis dispensaries to use banking services and to transition away from being cash-only, after dozens of robberies targeting dispensaries had occurred through a 90-day period.

On March 29, 2022, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board held a roundtable meeting with cannabis retailers, industry advocates and state leaders to discuss the dangerous state of the industry and ways it could be supported by policy changes.

During that meeting, Michael Correia, lobbyist with the National Cannabis Industry Association, said credit card processors and financial institutions fear the possibility of punitive action by the Department of Justice because cannabis remains criminalized as a Schedule One drug, despite being legal in most states.

Correia said financial institutions do not want to get involved in the cannabis industry for that reason, forcing dispensaries to operate their business only in cash — and making them a lucrative target for robbers that know the businesses will have plenty of cash on-hand.

On Feb. 27, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced that she would join Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in her sponsorship of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act of 2023, which would ensure that licensed marijuana, hemp, and cannabidiol 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 in a statement regarding her sponsorship of the SAFER Banking Act.

According to Cantwell’s statement, 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 was introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on Sept. 20, 2023, and has been sponsored by 34 senators. For more information about the bill and its status, visit this link.