Governor Issues Request for Legislation Allowing Marijuana Industry to Operate Safely Under National Banking System

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and 20 other Governors yesterday issued a letter urging Congressional leaders to pass the SAFE Banking Act of 2021. The bill would allow states that have legalized medical or adult-use cannabis to operate safely under the national banking system. It would also allow banks and credit unions to provide services to state-licensed, cannabis-related businesses. Currently, 36 U.S. states, four U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of cannabis. Additionally, 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use by adults over 21 years of age. On March 31, Governor Cuomo signed legislation (S.854-A/A.1248-A) legalizing adult-use cannabis, fulfilling a key component of his 2021 State of the State agenda.

The full text of the letter is available below:

April 19, 2021

Dear Congressional Leaders: 

As our States’ chief executives, we urge Congress to pass legislation allowing states with legalized medical or adult-use cannabis to operate safely under the national banking system. We strongly support the passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2021 (H.R. 1996/S. 910) or similar legislation that would remove the legal uncertainty and allow banks and credit unions to provide services to state-licensed cannabis-related businesses.

We were pleased that the House passed similar legislation in the 116th Congress (H.R. 1595). The SAFE Banking Act of 2021 already has more than 165 bipartisan House cosponsors and more than 30 bipartisan Senate cosponsors. The legislation has also received support from more than 30 associations.

Currently, 36 U.S. states, four U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of cannabis. Additionally, 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use by adults over 21 years of age. Despite legalization of cannabis at the state-level, our financial institutions face enormous legal risks and criminal and civil liability under the Controlled Substances Act. These barriers disincentive financial institutions from providing banking services to state-licensed and regulated cannabis businesses.

Because few banks and credit unions provide these services, state-licensed cannabis businesses predominantly operate on a cash basis. Without banking services, state-licensed cannabis businesses are unable to write checks, make and receive electronic payments, utilize a payroll provider, or accept credit and debit cards. Cash only businesses pose a significant public safety risk to customers and employees. The cash-only environment also burdens state and local government agencies that must collect tax and fee payments in person and in cash, which creates additional public expenses and employee safety risks.

State and federal governments have a shared interest in upholding the rule of law, protecting public safety, and transitioning markets out of the shadows and into our transparent and regulated banking system. Many of our states have implemented laws and regulations to reduce these risks while ensuring financial accountability of the cannabis industry. These public safety risks can be further mitigated on the federal level by passing the SAFE Banking Act to provide state-licensed cannabis businesses with access to banking service providers.

We urge you to pass the SAFE Banking Act of 2021 or similar legislation that would provide a safe harbor for depository institutions that provide a financial product or service to a state-licensed cannabis business in states that have legalized cannabis. We look forward to working with you as legislation progresses to address this urgent public policy and safety concern.

SIGNED BY: Governor Andrew Cuomo, State of New York; Governor Jared Polis, State of Colorado; Governor Gavin Newsom, State of California; Governor Ned Lamont, State of Connecticut; Governor JB Pritzker, State of Illinois; Governor John Bel Edwards, State of Louisiana; Governor Janet Mills, State of Maine; Governor Charlie Baker, State of Massachusetts; Governor Gretchen Whitmer, State of Michigan; Governor Steve Sisolak, State of Nevada; Governor Phil Murphy, State of New Jersey; Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, State of New Mexico; Governor Doug Burgum, State of North Dakota; Governor Kate Brown, State of Oregon; Governor Tom Wolf, State of Pennsylvania; Governor Spencer Cox, State of Utah; Governor Albert Bryan, Territory of U.S. Virgin Islands; Governor Ralph Northam, State of Virginia; Governor Jay Inslee, State of Washington; Governor Jim Justice, State of West Virginia; Governor Tony Evers, State of Wisconsin.