‘Historic’ U.S. Senate hearing on banking for legal cannabis businesses set for Tuesday

WASHINGTON — The House Financial Services Committee already has passed legislation to allow federally regulated banks to offer credit cards, savings accounts and other financial services to legal marijuana businesses.

Now the Senate Banking Committee is taking up the issue.

The panel is to hold its first-ever hearing on the subject on Tuesday. Witnesses include U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., lead sponsors of the Senate version of the banking bill; as well as proponents and opponents of legalizing the drug.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a member of the banking panel and a bill co-sponsor, said just the act of holding a hearing is significant.

“I don’t like using the word historic too easily, but it is a historic hearing because we have never had a hearing specifically on how to we bank the marijuana industry in and of itself,” said Menendez, D-N.J.

“We’ve come to the point that a full formal hearing of the banking committee on this issue has now created a maturity that it’s something that needs to be dealt with,” he said. “There’s an increasing consensus that to the extent that states have legalized marijuana, either for recreational or medicinal purposes, we should find a way to bank them.”

The legislation is known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Act, or SAFE Act. Since cannabis remains illegal on the federal level, federally-regulated banks can’t provide services such as credit cards or checking or savings accounts to dispensaries and other cannabis-related enterprises. That means those businesses have to deal entirely in cash.

The National Cannabis Roundtable, the lobbying group that counts former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as honorary chairman, said the Senate committee should follow its House counterpart and pass the bill.

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“Legally operating cannabis businesses deserve to be on a level playing field with other businesses,” spokesman Terry Holt said. “The fastest growing industry in the U.S. shouldn’t be forced to operate almost exclusively in cash. The SAFE Act will make our communities safer and unlock the full potential of this growing industry.”

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