The House Just Voted To Let Marijuana Businesses Legally Use Banks

It's a historic moment in Congress, but Senate support remains uncertain.


On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of letting state-legal marijuana businesses have access to banks and other financial institutions.

It was a historic bipartisan moment, and an important one—though one that skirts the larger and more important matter of changing how the federal government treats marijuana.

The bill was the first stand-alone marijuana legalization bill to pass either chamber of Congress. The SAFE Banking Act—the acronym stands for "Secure and Fair Enforcement"—would shield banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions from being held liable for doing business with marijuana growers and pot shops in states where the drug has been legalized. Under current law, any financial institution that so much as allows a marijuana business to open a business checking account could potentially violate a host of federal banking and drug laws.

"People in states and localities across the country are voting to approve some level of marijuana use, and we need these marijuana businesses and employees to have access to checking accounts, lines of credit, payroll accounts, and more," said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D–Colo.) during debate on the bill. "Most importantly, this will also reduce the risk of violent crime in our communities. These businesses and their employees become targets for murder, robbery, assault and more by dealing in all cash."

The bill also protects third-party vendors—like plumbers or electricians—that might have to do business with state-legal pot shops.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R–N.C.) called the bill "one of the biggest changes to U.S. drug policy in my lifetime."

But McHenry voted against it, saying that he worries the bill could give drug cartels access to U.S. financial institutions. The SAFE Banking Act, he added, is a "half answer to a much larger question," specifically whether marijuana should remain on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. That's a category that's supposed to only include drugs with "no currently accepted medical use" and "a lack of accepted safety for use"—terms that obviously do not accurately describe marijuana.

It's certainly true that Congress should have a larger debate over the federal status of marijuana, but it's also easy to see why the SAFE Banking Act is the first bill to break the seal and earn a full vote. During debate on the floor, for example, Rep. Steve Stivers (R–Ohio) voiced support for the bill while noting that he would vote against any effort to legalize marijuana nationally.

The SAFE Banking Act passed by a final vote of 321–103 (with 10 members abstaining), enough to clear the two-thirds majority required for the bill's passage under the suspension of rules that allowed it to be brought to the floor without any amendments being offered.

With the bill's passage, it moves to the Senate, where a companion bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D–Ore.), has 33 cosponsors. That total includes only four Republicans, making passage through the upper chamber more of an open question.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R–Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, told Politico earlier this month that he would like to hold a committee vote on the bill before the end of the year, despite the fact that he has not signed onto Merkley's bill.

But neither the larger questions surrounding Congress' slow-walking of the end of the federal war on marijuana nor the fate of the SAFE Banking Act in the Senate should take away from the significance of Wednesday's vote, which gave members of Congress their first chance to affirmatively vote for legalization and regulation of marijuana businesses over the decadeslong failed efforts of prohibition.

"For the first time ever, a supermajority of the House voted affirmatively to recognize that the legalization and regulation of marijuana is a superior public policy to prohibition and criminalization," said Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, a national marijuana legalization advocacy organization, in a statement. The group is "cautiously optimistic" about the bill's future in the Senate, he said.

"American voters have spoken and continue to speak," said Perlmutter just before the vote. "Prohibition is over."

NEXT: Oceans Are Getting Hotter and Ice Sheets Are Melting Faster, Says New Report

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “The House Just Voted To Let Marijuana Businesses Legally Use Banks”

    STATE-LICENSED and STATE-CONTROLLED marijuana business

    1. “STATE-LICENSED and STATE-CONTROLLED marijuana business”

      Losing business to the black-market as we speak.

  2. When Dry Hope Herbert Hoover found out investment banks were funding The Demon Rum and Beer Barons in October of 1929, bad things happened. Still, the soi-disant experts act as though Prohibition’s Five & Ten law and The Crash were pure coincidence.

  3. Well, this is good news indeed.

    1. They will find a way to screw it up.

      1. Well, of course.
        It would be far better just to legalize it and then don’t put people in this type of financial jeopardy for the sake of simple banking services.

        1. It’s a federal crime to sell marijuana, but it’s fine for banks to launder the money from selling it.
          What could go wrong?

          1. They’re already paying the relevant taxes. So, not “laundering”. Don’t be dumb.

  4. Hell, someone who works at a dispensary can’t even open an IRA with most (maybe any?) firms. When they legalized it in Colorado, dozens of cops quit their job to work as private security for the dispensaries. They drive around in armored cars to deliver their tax bill – in cash – to the department of revenue. All the while banks like HSBC have been slapped for banking with legitimate drug lords. Fucked up indeed.

    1. That doesn’t sound right – if the State of Colorado is knowingly profiting from the marijuana trade, wouldn’t that make them liable to asset forfeiture seizures by the Feds? There’s a fight I’d pay good money to see.

      1. In United States v. Sullivan the Supreme Court found that income from illegal sources was still lawfully taxable. The government is literally the only organization allowed to profit from marijuana trade

  5. Now if we can just allow the banks to all legally use marijuana then we’re good, right?

  6. this is a historical day for USA. I hope the same happens in other countries
    زوج درمانی قطعی

  7. We have four Senate Democrats compelling the Ukrainians into investigating Trump, threatening their support for US aid to the country if they didn’t get their way.

    Where’s the reason outrage article on this?

    1. I know, right? Why isn’t Reason dutifully obeying Trump’s whataboutism deflection defense strategy?

  8. Technically, they didn’t vote to let marijuana businesses legally use banks. They voted to let banks legally extend services to marijuana businesses.

    If you think that’s a distinction without a difference, think about Operation Choke Point. Nothing in this guarantees that any bank WILL do business with marijuana businesses, and there are plenty of ways besides illegality to stop them from doing it.

    1. The SAFE Banking Act is an important step toward providing the certainty we need as financial services providers to serve the growing recreational cannabis industry and protect our members, as well as the taxpayers of Colorado,” said Scott Earl, the president of the Mountain West Credit Union Association

      Who needs national banks.

      1. I’m a member of a credit union, and I like it just fine, but our debit cards are “VISA” debit cards. If VISA decided I had to be denied a card for some reason, heck, that the credit union needed to be denied cards for some (“Do it or you’re going to hate your life!” says the regulator.) reason, there’s diddly squat the CU could do.

        1. Other than give Discover Card a long-overdue window of opportunity.

          At any rate – since D’s voted for this bill 229-1 w 5notvoting, I think it would be safe to say that your scenario depends on R’s making regulators do that. In which case, I’m sure we can look forward to the usual suspects here defending the R’s doing it and finding it altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

          1. That wasn’t working during Operation Choke Point, probably because Discover and Visa face the same regulators.

            Sessions was a drug warrior, and so is Barr, so it wouldn’t shock me. I wouldn’t approve, my point here is that the statute has an obvious weak point.

            1. All statutes have a ‘weak point’. None are self-enforcing so they depend on a human to enforce. And humans find all sorts of ways to do whatever they want rather than something else (like enforce the law as written or intended).

              The issue I’m raising is that the humans who voted for this statute are far more likely to enforce what they voted for than the humans who voted against it are likely to enforce it.

  9. Ever tried to use an ATM while stoned?

  10. About freaking time. Here in CO, there have been at least two murders as a result of armed robberies for the cash.

    Looks like the two asshats (Lamborn and Buck) voted against it.

  11. The R vote really is surprising though. 47 states have decriminalized some element of medical/recreational/CBD – yet still more than half the R’s vote against this bill – against their own freaking constituents.

    Looks like ‘let states run themselves without fed interference’ is just the usual bunch of R bullshit.

    1. Clingers gonna cling.

      Until they take their stale, prudish thinking to the grave and are replaced by better Americans, fortifying our liberal-libertarian mainstream.

      1. Hi, gecko!

    2. I’d have to look at the details. It might be like the recent “election security” bills the House was originating, larded down with poison pill amendments because the purpose wasn’t election security, it was to stage votes that could be claimed to be Republicans voting against election security.

      As I keep saying, poison pill amendments are a real thing.

  12. If Trump legalized weed he’d win 45 states.

    1. If he believed that he would do it.

      Brad Parscale must disagree with your assessment.

      Probably because he recognizes the ceiling imposed by Trump’s bigotry.

      1. Heck, Trump doesn’t even drink, his favorite tipple is diet Coke. Maybe he’s just hostile to getting wasted, ever think of that?

    2. LOL

      Drumpf’s Presidency is over. #TrumpUkraine marks the tipping point. Impeachment is guaranteed now, exactly as I’ve been predicting since I started posting here.

    3. I did not mean to flag you, sorry! I was trying to agree, Trump would win 45 States, you’re right. I find it sad that that is what would bring people out to vote but it definitely would.

  13. “Prohibition is over.”


  14. Someone recently argued to me that since Marijuana businesses are “cash only”, they are perfect money laundering fronts for illegal activity, and therefore, Marijuana businesses should be illegal.

    I pointed out that the “cash only” option was imposed by Federal Law.

    She pointed out I had a comprehension problem.

  15. Great posts! I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend.

  16. So, the people who could vote to eliminate Federal marijuana law instead voted to legalize certain sorts of financial transactions involving marijuana.

    Thus leaving all those people and their businesses in continued legal limbo and in need of future legislation.

    From those same legislators who now have a mechanism for accepting campaign contributions NOT in the form of bags full of cash. Bags of cash being highly problematic, bank transfers not so much.

    Anyone who calls himself a libertarian and didn’t see this coming should be ashamed. This is what permissitarianism gets you.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.