Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine, has changed her tune when it comes to marijuana and the banking reform bill. In 2016, Collins voted against allowing banks to provide financial services to cannabis-related businesses, including those that were operating legally under state laws. The effort had been included as an amendment to a funding bill, and was introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
Last month, that toned shifted as Collins signed onto the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act. The SAFE Banking Act reform bill “generally prohibits a federal banking regulator from penalizing a depository institution” if it provides banking services to legitimate cannabis related businesses. That is, those businesses who are operating within the guidelines of their state laws, as cannabis remains federally illegal.
The move was expected, as Maine recently voted in favor of recreational marijuana. Since that time, marijuana has become Maine’s most valuable crop.
In an interview with Marijuana Moment, NORML Political Director Justin Strekal highlighted this glaringly, saying “It literally took marijuana becoming Maine’s largest agricultural commodity for Senator Collins to support the SAFE Banking Act… Unfortunately, she has yet to oppose the policy that labels Maine’s famers, shopkeepers and consumers to be labeled as criminals under federal law.”
Outside of the simple security the SAFE Banking Act would provide to cannabis businesses, who currently struggle with keeping accounts open, the act could also open up the doors for small businesses to secure funding and other traditional financial services, without fear of retaliation from bankers.
With Collins, the SAFE Banking Act now has 37 Senate cosponsors. Additionally, the House passed its version of the bill with bipartisan participation in May off 2021. Despite the progress, the reform bill is generally expected to sit on the back burner in the Senate. This is at least partially due to the forthcoming Booker-Wyden-Schumer bill, a more expansive bill to federally legalize cannabis.
Senator Schumer has expressed that he wants to take a stronger, wider approach to the issue first, and tackle cannabis prohibition as a whole. In an interview with The Ringer, Schumer stated “we’re not going to bargain against ourselves” with the two bills, and work to legalize marijuana first, rather than take the incremental step to protect banks that work with marijuana businesses.
IMAGE: Medill DC, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons