Steve Marcus

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., talks with reporters after being interviewed by students at Mater Academy Mountain Vista campus Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. The interview will be included in a national CSPAN video documentary contest.

Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023 2 a.m.

A federal bill that would enable state-sanctioned cannabis businesses to access the banking system cleared a key hurdle in the U.S. Senate this week, and appears to enough bipartisan support to clear the upper congressional chamber.

On Wednesday, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act advanced out of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee by a bipartisan 14-9 margin. Proponents of the measure say it would ensure legal cannabis businesses are able to access banking and insurance services without fear of a crackdown by federal law enforcement, and would expand economic opportunities and create a safer working environment for those in the cannabis industry.

“Right now, many legitimate businesses in Nevada and across the country are shut out of banking services and they’re paying high fees for access or being cut from national banks,” Nevada Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a member of the committee, told the Sun in a phone interview. “It’s an all-cash business; they (cannabis businesses) are concerned about their security and how to pay vendors.

“So, for me, this is just an opportunity to make sure that these legitimate businesses have access to several banking financial institutions, can pay their employees and keep their businesses today,” Cortez Masto continued.

Cortez Masto was among a group of senators who introduced a similar version of the bill in 2017, and has advocated for its passage since. Similar iterations have cleared the U.S. House during previous congressional sessions, but has never been approved in the Senate.

In order to advance to the House, the legislation would need to pass in a general floor vote in the Senate, which Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said Thursday would be “soon.”

“The next step is to bring SAFER Banking to the floor for a vote, which I will do soon,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. “SAFER Banking’s bipartisan vote in the Banking Committee underscores how much momentum we have right now on cannabis banking, and how important the issue is for so many business owners and communities across the country.”

While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have signaled support for the bill, the likely government shutdown looming would likely slow down the process for House approval, according to the pro-cannabis publication MJBizDaily. Lawmakers would instead prioritize brokering an agreement to reopen the government.

“While Nevada has been regulating cannabis since 2017, legally operating cannabis businesses in our state still cannot access fundamental services like banking and insurance as a result of outdated federal policies,” Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, said in a statement Wednesday. “I’m glad to see the bipartisan legislation I helped introduce to right this wrong and support legal cannabis businesses in Nevada has passed out of committee. I’ll always work across the aisle to advocate for this important industry for our state.”

In November, Rosen introduced the Fair Access for Cannabis Small Business Act, which would allow certain loan programs offered by the Small Business Administration to be made available to cannabis-related businesses and other vendors that serve cannabis companies.

That bill ultimately failed to advance in time of the end of the last Congress, however, but Cortez Masto said its not out of the realm of possibility that lawmakers could amend the SAFER Banking bill to include similar provisions to what Rosen wrote in her proposal last year.

“Now it’s got to go to the floor of the Senate and there’s potentially amendments that could be added,” Cortez Masto said. “At the end of the day, the legislation opens the door for any federal financial institution to be able to work with these businesses.”

The Sun reported in December shortly after Rosen introduced her bill that access to banking would prove an essential lifeline for Nevada’s budding cannabis industry.

“Safe banking will be crucial for us, an absolute game-changer,” said Andre Hitchcock, co-owner of Nature’s Chemistry cannabis cultivations, adding that access to loans and venture capital could help expand the beyond just cultivation. “We’ve attempted to buy a retail location, but the licensing is at such a price, to buy one would crush us because we would put every penny from our cultivation and our dispensary to our debts.”

 A federal bill that would enable state-sanctioned cannabis businesses to access the banking system cleared a key hurdle in the U.S. Senate this week, and appears to enough bipartisan support to clear the upper congressional chamber …  Read More