Oregon AG: Pass SAFER Banking to aid cannabis businesses

By Oregon Attorney General
Press Release,

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum today joined a coalition of 22 Attorneys General in urging congressional leaders to advance the SAFER Banking Act of 2023, which passed out of the Senate Banking Committee this morning and heads to the Senate floor for a full vote. The SAFER Banking Act would lift banking restrictions that prevent legal, regulated, state-licensed cannabis businesses from accessing a full range of regulated banking and financial services.

“It is a dereliction of duty for Congress to continue putting legitimate cannabis businesses in jeopardy by denying them full access to banking services,” said Rosenblum, who has been a consistent voice in support of sensible, enforceable cannabis laws. “Forcing cannabis businesses to operate in cash and denying them access to credit is putting Oregonians who are working hard to grow a legitimate Oregon industry at risk.”

Oregon cannabis sales have totaled nearly $6 billion since the fall of 2016, according to data from the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. Yet, despite the growing number of states with legally authorized, regulated cannabis businesses, cannabis remains classified as an illegal substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act and certain federal banking statutes. Because cannabis remains classified as an illegal substance, banks providing services to state-licensed cannabis dispensaries and related businesses are at risk for criminal and civil liability.

This risk has significantly inhibited the ability of financial institutions to provide services to regulated cannabis operators and leaves those businesses struggling to find financing. The lack of access to banking services creates both barriers to entry into the industry and instability for existing businesses. In addition, the current banking restrictions constrict state agencies’ effort to collect taxes and conduct oversight. Further, as too many states have seen, when regulated businesses can only conduct business in cash, employees and customers are at greater risk of violent crime in pursuit of that cash.

The Attorneys General argue that passage of the SAFER Banking Act, which will enable regulated banks and financial institutions to provide services to state-licensed cannabis businesses, will enable economic growth, facilitate state oversight of tax obligations, and reduce the public safety risks associated with high-value, cash-based businesses. The SAFER Banking Act would establish a safe harbor for depository institutions providing a financial product or service to a regulated business in states that have regulations to ensure accountability in the cannabis industry.

The Attorneys General argue that an effective safe harbor would bring billions of dollars into the banking sector, enabling law enforcement, federal, state, and local tax agencies, and cannabis regulators in thirty-eight states and several territories to monitor and ensure compliance of cannabis businesses and their transactions more effectively.

Led by Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown, Washington D.C. Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb, and Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, the letter is also joined by the Attorneys General of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

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