An Editorial: How can we protect cannabis workers and customer? Approve the federal banking act

Jan. 6, 2023
The SAFE Banking Act generally would allow banks and other financial institutions to provide services to legitimate cannabis-related businesses

Jan. 4—As federal lawmakers rushed to pass last-minute bills before the new Congress convenes, they failed to pass one piece of legislation, a failure that ensures Washington workers in cannabis businesses will continue to be at risk.

Introduced in March 2021 as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, the legislation kept getting tripped up in the Senate. The final obstacle was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., who was adamant about excluding the bill from the omnibus spending package.

The SAFE Banking Act generally would allow banks and other financial institutions to provide services to legitimate cannabis-related businesses.

Currently, federal law classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, just like cocaine and heroin, which makes it difficult for federally regulated banks and credit unions to work with cannabis businesses.

Without such protections for financial institutions, cannabis retailers are targets for robbery because of the cash-only transactions they are forced to operate under. Allowing cannabis shops to access banking services would make for a safer environment for those who work and shop at cannabis retailer stores.

There have been at least hundreds of robberies at such businesses in Washington over the years, including in August in Maple Valley when gunmen entered a store and forced employees and customers into a bathroom before running away with stolen merchandise.

Some of the robberies have been deadly, such as in March when three people were killed in four days of cannabis-related robberies in Tacoma, Bellevue and Covington.

The Craft Cannabis Coalition, representing cannabis businesses in the state, reported 27 armed robberies in 2020 and 34 in 2021. Some estimates have put this year's robberies at close to 100.

In addition to the safety issue, industry employees often have difficulty accessing financial services because of the source of their income. Under the SAFE Banking Act, banks would not be at risk for servicing cannabis employees for savings, checking accounts, or making loans to would-be investors.

In 2020, licensed cannabis businesses in Washington directly generated $1.4 billion in sales and employed 11,330 workers with total wages of $465.4 million.

The SAFE Banking bill has received overwhelming bipartisan support from Washington's congressional delegation, and nine Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors.

"I will continue pressing my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to come together to get SAFE Banking passed and signed into law in the next Congress — and I am ready to get this done however possible," said Sen. Patty Murray, D- Wash.

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(Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Erik_Verduzco
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