Last week, a bipartisan slate of U.S. Senate co-sponsors introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (the SAFE Act) that would allow the cannabis industry to tap the federal banking system. If passed, this could be a game changer for marijuana companies.
The SAFE Act has already been passed by the House back in September 2019 but was never brought up for a hearing, much less a vote, in the Senate.
The bill’s author, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, a Colorado Democrat, has introduced several versions of this bill many times over the last eight years. During that time, the legalization of marijuana has moved from a pie-in-the-sky hope of a few legislators to something that may actually have the votes to pass.
Forty-seven states have already legalized either recreational or medical marijuana (as well as the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories). That should have been pressure enough to overcome lawmakers’ resistance and yet, the legal status remains the same. Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug that makes it illegal on the federal level; as such, most cannabis companies are excluded from utilizing banking accounts. They have to operate on a cash-only basis.
At the same time, the banking sector, as well as numerous public companies that might want to enter the cannabis space, are precluded from doing so in fear that they will run into problems with federal insurers and the federal government.
The cash-only model hamstrings marijuana companies that would like to borrow in order to expand but can’t because bank loans are unavailable. It is both frustrating and somewhat ludicrous to many that this U.S. sector, which is valued at $17 billion, remains a cash business. It has also developed into a public safety issue since cash-laden tills of cannabis companies are prime targets for robberies and burglaries.
During the pandemic, many states deemed the cannabis industry an essential business due to medical marijuana prescriptions. That also presents a public health concern, since more and more of these medical marijuana companies are dealing with increased demand. Many of them need access to the banking system to insure the continued flow of product to their patients.
In any case, in order for the SAFE Act to pass in the Senate, a minimum of 60 votes would be needed. At last count, advocates believe they have 59 votes, which would be more than enough momentum to at least field a Senate committee hearing. After that, the bill could be moved to the full Senate for a vote within the next month.
In the meantime, the New York State Legislature is expected to vote on its own Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, any day now. Passage would legalize recreational marijuana, as well as provide $350 million in tax revenue per year. This could be another large boost in revenue for several marijuana companies. The market for recreational pot could become a multi-billion-dollar industry in the state. Some forecasters expect sales to grow as high as $7 billion throughout the next four years.
And while investors focus on the U.S., don’t forget that Mexico has already passed legislation in their lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, this month. The bill will now go to the Senate before being sent to President Andres Lopez Obrador, who already supports passage. The legislation is expected to be approved by their Senate any day now. Mexico, with 130 million people, would represent the largest marijuana market in the world by population.
With all this good news on the legislative font, it appears to me that we are on the cusp of a major series of catalysts that should benefit the cannabis industry and propel the stock prices of several, well-positioned and profitable marijuana companies here in North America.