Historic US Senate hearing eyes cannabis banking hurdles, but major reform seen as long shot

The GOP-controlled U.S. Senate will hold its first marijuana hearing Tuesday on the challenges that state-lawful marijuana companies confront when seeking banking services, but it’s unlikely the chamber would approve major reform anytime soon.

“I remain pessimistic unless and until somebody signals to me that either Sen. (Mitch) McConnell, as the leader of the Senate, or his caucus is strongly supportive (of reform),” said Douglas Berman, director of Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.

The Senate Banking Committee hearing, “Challenges for Cannabis and Banking: Outside Perspectives,” will be streamed live here.

A number of the scheduled witnesses are expected to advocate for the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, a bill that would enable financial institutions to serve legal cannabis-related businesses without fear of federal prosecution.

SAFE passed a House committee, and there is a strong chance of it being approved by the full chamber later this year.

The Senate hearing reflects how the SAFE Banking Act is a legislative priority for an increasing number of industries impacted by cannabis banking, such as the American Bankers Association, said Saphira Galoob, CEO of the Liaison Group and executive director of the National Cannabis Roundtable.

“It’s really the voices of these groups that have given the momentum and traction to the issue in the Senate,” she noted.

Those groups and numerous lawmakers worry about the public safety risks of the often cash-only cannabis industry. They see the need for a regulated system to follow the flow of money.

Scheduled witnesses include:

  • Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican and a co-sponsor of the SAFE Act.
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who introduced the SAFE Banking Act of 2019.
  • John Lord, CEO and owner of LivWell Enlightened Health, a Colorado-based MMJ company. Lord also is chair of the Cannabis Trade Federation, an industry group.
  • Rachel Pross, chief risk officer of Maps Credit Union in Oregon. Pross is speaking on behalf of the Credit Union National Association.
  • Joanne Sherwood, president and CEO of Citywide Banks in Colorado. She will testify on behalf of the American Bankers Association.
  • Garth Van Meter, vice president of government affairs of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a nonprofit concerned about the impact of marijuana policies on public health and the youth.

Jeff Smith can be reached at [email protected]

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