Editorial: Illinois’ cannabis industry has a lot riding on this

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Without access to banking services, cannabis businesses operating in states where the trade is legal are forced to operate their businesses using cash. Aside from making those cash-based businesses vulnerable to crime, the restrictions on banking services have hobbled the growth of the cannabis sector — and that’s been bad news for Illinois, which is home to some of the industry’s biggest players, including Cresco Labs, PharmaCann, Green Thumb Industries and Verano. Representatives of these companies and more have been lobbying Congress for years to loosen up the rules and allow these legal businesses to tap into the sorts of financial services that any legal business needs to grow and thrive. And yet, year after year, their efforts were thwarted. Perhaps, that is, until now.

When the Senate scheduled its first-ever hearing on cannabis reform legislation in April, the move surprised many. “For the first time, we have a path for SAFE Banking to move through the Senate Banking Committee and get a vote on the floor of the Senate,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon. “Let’s make 2023 the year that we get this bill signed into law.”

The legislation — which already has broad support from a wide range of stakeholders, including cannabis industry associations, financial services industry associations, law enforcement organizations and civil rights groups — would shield financial institutions from federal prosecution for offering services to cannabis companies. Currently, banks that do business with cannabis companies risk losing their federal deposit insurance or even criminal prosecution. But with a president who campaigned on the idea that no one should be incarcerated for using or possessing marijuana — and whose administration is reviewing how marijuana is scheduled while also funding medical marijuana research — attitudes at the federal level seem to be shifting.

So it appears the tide may finally be turning for the SAFE Banking Act and the industry that’s fought so hard to push it through Congress after seven failed attempts to pass it out of the House. With so many major cannabis companies headquartered here, Chicago has a lot riding on the bill getting done during this session of Congress. Illinois’ Democratic senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, should help shepherd this important legislation through the Senate and get this bill to the president’s desk.

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May 1, 2023 at 07:01AM

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