With an effort to give cannabis businesses access to financial institutions stalling in Congress, some lawmakers in Pennsylvania are taking matters into their own hands.
A committee in the state Senate on Wednesday approved bipartisan legislation to “afford state-legal cannabis better access to banking and insurance services,” according to local television station WHTM. This would help with the overwhelming problem in legal cannabis of the lack of access to safe banking resources.
Per the station, the bill “authorizes but does not require financial institutions to provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses,” while also permitting “Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry the ability to take out ordinary business expenses when filing state taxes.”
According to Local 21 News, the “bill puts safeguards in place so banks and insurers can do business with the medical cannabis industry without fear of penalty.”
The bill was written by two state senators: Republican John DiSanto and Democrat Sharif Street. It was then approved by the State Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.
“Access to financial and insurance services is essential for operating any business, and it is against the public interest to relegate a multi-billion-dollar industry to deal in piles of cash,” DiSanto said, as quoted by WHTM. “Banking this cash safely in Pennsylvania provides certainty for businesses, is a huge opportunity to grow our economy and should ultimately lower costs for medical cannabis consumers.”
“This is a huge step in the right direction making it easier for banks to do something because right now, most banks are scared to do anything,” said Street, as quoted by Local 21 News. “The law is set up in a way where we are treating these folks like they are involved in illegal drug trafficking.”
The bill represents an effort to bring state-level reform in an area of cannabis policy where Congress has fallen short. It could mean more access to basic financial resources for local businesses.
Earlier this year, the House of Representatives once again passed the SAFE Banking Act, which would enable banks to provide financial services to cannabis businesses. It was the sixth time that the House passed the legislation, which was first introduced in 2013 by Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter of Colorado.
“Cannabis-related businesses—big and small—and their employees are in desperate need of access to the banking system and access to capital in order to operate in an efficient, safe manner and compete in the growing global cannabis marketplace,” Perlmutter said in a statement at the time.
Street said that he is confident the bill will be approved in both the state House and Senate. And there is cautious optimism among advocates that the SAFE Banking Act will finally clear both houses of the Democratic-controlled Congress this year.
There is growing urgency to get something done. In Washington state, a series of armed robberies at cannabis dispensaries has underscored the dangers that accompany having so much cash on hand.
The Seattle Times reported earlier this month that “there have been around 67 armed robberies so far in 2022,” up from 34 in 2021 and 27 in 2020.
That worrisome trend has prompted officials in Washington to take action when it comes to banking access.
A Republican state senator in Washington introduced a bill last month that would tack on an additional year of prison time for any individual convicted of robbing a cannabis store.
And earlier this month, the state treasurer, Mike Pellicciotti, traveled to Washington, D.C. to urge passage of the SAFE Banking Act.
“You rob the places where the cash is,” Pellicciotti said, as quoted by local television station KING5. “These robberies are tragic. But these robberies are also preventable.”