Many in the financial crimes community have been waiting for some sort of guidance on banking cannabis-related businesses. The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was introduced to address the cannabis banking issue and the accompanying lack of banking services to the cannabis industry, forcing significant amounts of cash to be stored in vaults or underground. It does not remove marijuana from the classification as a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act but it does give certain safe harbor comfort for financial institutions who choose to provide traditional banking services to state-legalized cannabis-related businesses.
The current conundrum of banking cannabis-related businesses is that marijuana is still federally illegal, so any funds derived from these businesses and placed into the U.S. financial system is money laundering. While some financial institutions have taken on these risks and are currently providing services to these businesses in states that have legalized marijuana, most have not been willing to open the doors to federally illegal businesses.
The communities where cannabis has been legalized are flooded with cash associated with these businesses and have no place to deposit the funds, creating a major safety issue. According to the Denver Police Department in a statement to the American Banker’s Association (ABA), on average more than 100 burglaries have been reported each year in Denver since the state legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.