Legalization of certain cannabis-related activities by over 30 states has led to a surge in companies that grow and produce cannabis and related products. However, banks and other financial services companies have been hesitant to serve this growing population of potential customers due to conflicting statutes and enforcement policies under federal law. On Thursday, March 28, 2019, the Financial Services Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives took a step toward clearing some ambiguity, at least for federally insured financial institutions.
The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (“SAFE Act”), which the Committee approved on a vote of 45-15, with 11 of the panel’s Republican members voting in favor, has been cleared for consideration by the full House. The SAFE Act would, if enacted, provide a safe harbor against retaliatory enforcement action by federal bank regulators directed at banks (including federal branches of non-U.S. banks), savings associations, and credit unions that provide services to cannabis businesses or service providers. In addition, the SAFE Act would prohibit federal regulators from discouraging depository institutions from offering financial services, including loans, to an account holder on the basis that the account holder is a cannabis-related business or service provider; an employee, owner, or operator of a cannabis-related business; or an owner or operator of real estate or equipment leased to a cannabis-related business. Furthermore, the SAFE Act would provide that officers, directors, and employees of depository institutions and the Federal Reserve Banks may not be held liable under federal law or regulations based solely on their provision of financial services to cannabis-related businesses or for investing any income derived from such businesses. The protections would apply only to cannabis-related businesses located in states, political subdivisions of states, or an Indian country where local law permits the cultivation, production, manufacture, sale, transportation, distribution, or purchase of cannabis.