What’s more powerful than the political conflict between Democrats and Republicans? You guessed it: cannabis.
On Tuesday, bipartisan Pennsylvania state senators revealed a plan to introduce a bill protecting banks and insurers who work with legal medical cannabis businesses from repercussions of state regulators.
Senators John DiSanto (R) and Sharif Street (D)—chair and minority chair of the Banking & Insurance Committee, respectively—hope their bill not only insulates financial institutions within the Commonwealth, but also serves as a catalyst for passage of the larger Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act at the federal level.
Federal guidelines from 2014 overseeing lenders’ interaction with weed companies do not firmly shield the former from prosecution. While this has only been sporadically enforced at best, it doesn’t give most banks the reassurance they need to comfortably provide capital to cannabis-related businesses.
“As a result, many cannabis-related businesses are locked out of the banking system without access to financial tools and are forced to operate exclusively in cash,” the DiSanto-Street memo says. “This is a public safety risk as dispensaries are targets for robberies that put patients, employees, and communities at risk.”
Furthermore, the memo states, banking difficulties in the cannabis space “are not limited to just those businesses that have direct contact with the cannabis plant, but also those entities that receive payments from a cannabis firm such as real estate owners, security firms, utility providers, vendors, and employees.” In other words, the entire cannabis food chain.
DiSanto and Street’s proposed legislation would not only grant immunity to banks and insurers for after-the-fact dealings with legitimate cannabis businesses, but also preempt any bullying tactics that state authorities may use to discourage the parties from doing business in the first place.
Whether the marijuana banking protection bill passes in the Pennsylvania legislature remains to be seen, but support in the state for comprehensive marijuana reform has been generally well-received. For example, a bill was filed last year to increase the number of licensed cannabis cultivators to thwart monopolies and ease supply chain burdens. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), a 2022 U.S. Senatorial candidate, is championing restorative justice via cannabis record expungement.
Similar to DiSanto and Street, last year Rep. Amen Brown (D) announced plans to file a bipartisan legalization bill co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Regan (R). And in November, Philadelphia voters also approved a referendum on marijuana legalization that expands the city charter to include language empowering the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor to pass full-scale marijuana reform laws.
Happy is the day in Pennsylvania when you can pay for your medical weed on your credit card. But the change will be symbolic of far more than just convenient purchasing; it would mark another huge step in the destigmatization of cannabis.