US House passes bill giving pot businesses access to banking

Marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, California, on Aug. 15. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Sept. 25 that would grant legal marijuana businesses access to banking, a measure that would clear up a longstanding headache for the industry. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Three Oklahoma members of Congress, including 1st District U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern, were part of a bipartisan House majority voting last week to allow state-licensed cannabis companies into America’s banking system.

Oklahoma and 32 other states have legalized marijuana use in some fashion, but legal cannabis companies have been shut out from federally regulated banks. They operate on a cash-only basis. They aren’t able to get loans. They can’t even open checking accounts.

Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug on par with heroin and LSD in the eyes of the federal government. Laws and regulations that target drug kingpins have shut the bank door in the face of businesses that are legal in their eyes of state governments.

The SAFE Banking Act would prohibit federal regulators from punishing financial institutions on the basis of services to cannabis companies, their owners and their employees. The House passed the bill 321 to 103 last week. In addition to Hern, U.S. Reps. Kendra Horn and Tom Cole voted for the measure.

Even if you oppose legalizing marijuana, the SAFE Banking Act makes sense. There’s no reason for the federal government to make legal businesses into crime targets by forcing them to deal exclusively in cash. That potentially endangers not only cannabis companies and their employees, but also people completely unconnected to marijuana who happen to live, work or simply be walking past those companies.

The majority of the states, representing the majority of the population have acted to make marijuana legal either for medicinal purposes or more broadly. Oklahoma’s medicinal marijuana law is very permissive and makes possession of marijuana a misdemeanor for anyone who can claim a medical use, with or without diagnoses or medical evidence of efficacy.

The House was right to pass the SAFE Banking Act. The Senate should take up the measure and bring the nation’s banking system into the 21st century.


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