While full federal legalization of marijuana is likely a ways off, advocates continue to chip away at hurdles for the industry.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs approved the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation Banking Act in a bipartisan vote, sending it to the full Senate for approval.
The SAFER Banking Act, as it’s known, “will help make our communities and small businesses safer by giving legal cannabis businesses access to traditional financial institutions, including bank accounts and small business loans,” said a statement from the bill’s supporters, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; and Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-OR; Steve Daines, R-MT; Kyrsten Sinema, I-AZ; and Cynthia Lummis, R-WY.
“It also prevents federal bank regulators from ordering a bank or credit union to close an account based on reputational risk,” the senators added.
Currently, cannabis being illegal under federal law means “it can be hard for cannabis businesses to get access to financial services such as checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, insurance, loans and investments,” according to the California Department of Cannabis Control.
The federal government, however, has moved to ease some restrictions on marijuana.
Cannabis is currently a Schedule I drug, meaning it’s viewed to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Joining marijuana in that classification are heroin, ecstasy and LSD.
For comparison, fentanyl is listed as a Schedule II drug.
Last month, Rachel Levine, the assistant director for health, sent a letter to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram asking for marijuana to be lowered two levels to Schedule III, which includes “drugs with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence,” as defined by the DEA.
Examples of Schedule III drugs include anabolic steroids, ketamine and Tylenol with less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dose.
While the federal classification of marijuana remains incomplete, federal officials are working to ease the burden on cannabis companies that are in compliance with state law.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, medical cannabis has been legalized in 43 states, districts and territories, with 11 more states allowing cannabis products with low levels of THC – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – to be used for medicinal purposes.
Companies in these locations would be the primary beneficiaries of the SAFER Banking Act, which Schumer has vowed to bring to the floor for a full vote. Daines confirmed that they have “got enough votes to get it passed,” according to NBC News.