Language added to the latest United States House of Representatives Covid-19 relief bill would exempt banks serving the cannabis industry from enforcement of laws that have stymied financial services in the sector. But with signs pointing to struggles across the industry, this may be a case of too little, too late.
Anybody who’s bought legal marijuana has probably noticed that paying with a credit or debit card isn’t an option. This is because banks and card processing companies who serve cannabis growers and retailers could fall afoul of regulations intended to prevent them from doing business with drug traffickers. Even where cannabis is legal at the state level, banks are subject to federal regulation. But with language from the SAFE Banking Act included in the House’s Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, banks could be exempt from these regulations when serving dispensaries and growers. This would reduce banking costs to the cannabis industry and pave the way for credit and debit card sales.
Two important hurdles remain for the cannabis industry. Though similar language has passed the House in the past, it has not been brought up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. Should this language clear the House this time around, it’s unclear whether it will survive the reconciliation of House and Senate language as it passes through the Conference Committee.
But more importantly, even should it achieve the important step of opening up banking for the marijuana industry, it would leave cannabis businesses, because of their federally illegal status, ineligible for the relief measures to small businesses included in the package. As unemployment peaks and many dispensaries operate under reduced hours, it’s possible that without the federal support afforded to most other industries, we may see around closures and consolidation within the cannabis industry across states nationwide.