In 2019, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act, was introduced in both the House and the Senate. This legislation would establish protections for depository institutions that provide financial services to legal cannabis-related businesses and their service providers. As every state in New England allows medicinal cannabis, and three states have legalized adult recreational use, the discrepancy between state and federal law is a concern across the region. Under current law, providing banking services to legitimate, state-licensed marijuana businesses is a challenge for financial institutions. Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, funds generated by cannabis-related businesses are subject to federal anti-money laundering regulations and institutions can face significant legal and regulatory risks for serving these local businesses. The result has been that legal and legitimate cannabis businesses operate primarily on a cash-only basis, creating opportunities for tax evasion, money laundering, robbery and other crimes that could negatively impact the region.
Because of these concerns, the Council endorsed the SAFE Banking Act and encouraged the region’s Congressional delegation to support the legislation. In May 2019, the Council sent a letter to the New England House delegation in support of the House version of the bill, which was passed on September 25, 2019, with the entire New England House delegation voting in favor of the bill. In August 2019, the Council sent a similar letter to the New England Senate delegation in favor of the Senate companion bill. As of the end of 2019, the SAFE Banking Act was still awaiting a vote in the Senate.