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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. 
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Oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Bureau) by the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to become more aggressive when the 116th Congress convenes in January 2019. On December 11, 2018, members of the new Democratic House majority nominated Representative Maxine Waters to chair the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the Bureau. During Rep. Waters’ time as ranking member on the Committee, she heavily criticized many of the changes Acting Director Mick Mulvaney made at the Bureau. Mayer Brown summarized those changes in a recent Legal Update.

As chair, Rep. Waters will set the Committee agenda, enabling her to turn her criticism into more direct pressure on the Bureau and its new Director Kathleen Kraninger. Proposed legislation sponsored by the incoming chair may hold some clues to the actions the Committee may take.

In September 2018, Rep. Waters introduced the Consumers First Act. The bill is largely designed to restore the Bureau to how it looked and functioned before Acting Director Mulvaney’s tenure. Some of its major topics include the following:
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UPDATE June 8:
The House of Representative approved the Financial CHOICE Act, with a vote largely on party lines of 233 to 186.  While the Senate Banking Committee is and has been considering financial reform proposals, it is unlikely that the Financial CHOICE Act as passed by the House will progress in the Senate.

UPDATE

FinCEN itself says that there’s not much new in the guidance to money services businesses that the agency released last Friday (March 11, 2016) on agent monitoring (the Guidance).1 But MSBs that rely on agents should still review the Guidance carefully. The fact that FinCEN has decided to release this Guidance now shows that