MTN News: Daines, Tester backing bill to give marijuana businesses access to banking

by Jonathon Ambarian

HELENA – Montana’s U.S. senators are backing a bipartisan bill that would give legal medical and recreational marijuana businesses in the state access to banking.

Sen. Steve Daines is the lead Republican sponsor of the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, or “SAFE Banking Act,” introduced on Tuesday. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon is the lead Democratic sponsor, and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is among 27 co-sponsors.

Cannabis businesses – even those that operate legally in their respective states – aren’t typically able to use banks or credit unions because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That means much of the industry operates in cash. Supporters of the SAFE Banking Act say the heavy use of cash could increase the risk of tax evasion and of robberies at marijuana businesses.

The bill would prevent federal banking regulators from taking action against banks or credit unions that work with cannabis businesses that follow their state laws, or discouraging financial institutions from working with those businesses. It would let banks keep the right not to serve customers in the marijuana industry.

In Montana, once the state’s recreational marijuana system is implemented, both medical and recreational businesses would qualify for these protections. The proposal would also apply to hemp and hemp-derived CBD products.

Daines said it was important to create a more secure system.

“Montana businesses shouldn’t have to operate in all cash-they should have a safe way to conduct business,” Daines said in a statement. “My bipartisan bill will provide needed certainty for legal Montana cannabis businesses and give them the ability to freely use banks, credit unions and other financial institutions without the fear of punishment. This in turn will help increase public safety, reduce crime, support Montana small businesses, create jobs and boost local economies. A win-win for all.”

Tester’s office echoed those concerns in a statement.

“Forcing legal, fast-growing Montana industries to operate in all cash raises serious public safety concerns, which is why Senator Tester believes that banking institutions should be allowed to provide services to legitimate Montana businesses,” said spokesperson Roy Loewenstein. “As the first member of the delegation to sponsor this bill, Senator Tester looks forward to leading this effort that will support Montana jobs and improve public safety.”

Daines is one of seven Republicans signed on to the bill. In 2019, a similar bill passed the U.S. House, but it never received a hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Another version of the SAFE Banking Act was introduced in the U.S. House last week. A spokesperson for Montana’s lone House member, Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale, said he has not yet taken a position on the bill.