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SAFER Act Passes Key Vote to Advance to Senate

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In a major development for the US cannabis industry, Members of the Senate Banking Committee have voted to approve the SAFER Banking Act, paving the way for its final vote in the Senate.

The recently updated legislation – formerly known as the SAFE Banking Act – would transform the cannabis industry in the US.

While the bill has been in discussion for ten years, it was first introduced as a standalone bill in 2019, meeting a number of blocks. However, it was then attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to be passed as an emergency bill during the COVID-19 pandemic before being removed and never making it past the Senate.

The long-awaited Act would allow cannabis businesses to have access to vital banking services, preventing banking regulators from penalising banks for providing services to cannabis businesses, as well as preventing proceeds from cannabis-related businesses from being subject to money laundering laws and enable loans and financial services to cannabis businesses.

Additionally, this would allow businesses to no longer have to operate as cash only, a problem that has been hindering the industry for years and has seen businesses subject to armed robberies.

Last week, the SAFER Act saw a number of key amendments before heading to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Clearing the vote at 14 – 9, the bipartisan support for the bill now sets the stage for the Act’s vote in the Senate – the first time the Senate will give a full floor vote to a piece of cannabis legislation.

In a statement to members, cannabis reform group NORML, commented: “Similar bills have previously been passed in the House of Representatives seven times, but this is the first time that the Senate has voted on legislation to protect cannabis consumers and licensed providers from the threat of violent robberies, while also providing access to financial services that small cannabis businesses desperately need to survive and thrive in the face of unregulated operators and massive corporate interests.”

Rob Nichols, President and CEO of the American Banking Association stated: “We applaud the Senate Banking Committee for advancing the SAFER Banking Act and thank Senators Brown, Merkley, Daines, Schumer, Sinema, Lummis and Cramer as well as the additional cosponsors for their leadership.

“This urgently needed, bipartisan legislation will resolve the ongoing conflict between state and federal law so that banks can serve state-authorized cannabis and cannabis-related businesses while enhancing public safety, tax collection and financial transparency. The status quo is simply untenable for consumers, small businesses and banks operating in states where cannabis is legal.

“Based on today’s bipartisan vote, we urge the full Senate to promptly consider this bill.”

The Teamsters Union General President, Sean M. O’Brien, also commended the passing, stating in a letter to the committee: “As Congress works to establish the necessary guardrails around cannabis legalisation, the labour and safety interests of workers must be paramount.

“Passing SAFER banking is a necessary part of this process and can help improve working conditions while easing operational burdens for employers across the country.”

“Everyone in the cannabis industry — workers, consumers, and business — supports the SAFER Banking Act. It puts rank-and-file cannabis workers one step closer to securing sustainable, middle-class union jobs. Congress needs to act on this commonsense bipartisan legislation as quickly as possible,” added Peter Finn, Teamsters Western Region International Vice President and Director of the Teamsters Food Processing Division.

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